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Beats Music sets US launch date

By | Published on Monday 13 January 2014

Beats Music

“Beats Music is here”, announced Beats Music in a blog post at the weekend. Except it isn’t. But it will be on 21 Jan, when the streaming service finally goes live in the US.

We were already expecting Beats Music to launch next week, and as also expected, it is aiming right away for a mainstream audience. As such, many of the things it’s currently talking up as unique selling points – particularly human-curation – are features now offered by pretty much all rival streaming services. But anyone who’s never used a streaming service before might not know that.

The trick, of course, will be convincing those people to sign up and pay for the service, which will have no freemium option – individuals will pay the industry standard $9.99 per month, with a one month free trial.

The key, possibly, comes with one of two key launch partners, mobile provider AT&T, which is offering its customers family bundles (giving five users access across ten devices) for $14.99 a month, and the first 90 days free. That offer goes live on 24 Jan and, interestingly, is being promoted as offering “unlimited music downloads”, with no mention of streaming.

Target, meanwhile, will be the exclusive retail partner for Beats Music gift cards, and the retailer will also curate its own playlists, which presumably no one will ever listen to, but they’ll help execs at the company feel like they are both ‘cool’ and ‘down with the kids’. So that’s nice.

Another selling point that Beats is talking up is it being an “artist-friendly” service, paying the same royalty rate to everyone – ie so bigger labels aren’t getting a better per-play payout. Though whether or not that’s actually friendly to artists depends on what the labels then do with the money, to an extent anyway (and Pandora pays out equally to all, because it is licensed via the collective licensing system, and most music-types feel that service isn’t “artist-friendly” because the equally distributed payments are too low). But whatever.

Certainly artist Trent Reznor, in his role as Chief Creative Officer, thinks the new service’s royalty arrangements are fairer, saying in a press release: “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans. We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans”.

But it’s the curation that’s really front and centre. “We’re digital music consumers, too, and have used every service on the scene”, wrote Ian Rogers in his blog post. “But a feeling kept nagging at us – these aren’t actually ‘services’, they’re ‘servers’. Lots of ways to access music, but we noticed they provided little more than access to a catalogue – we still found music from trusted human sources, from friends to magazines to DJs”.

While that claim that other services don’t give you any help in finding something to listen to really isn’t the case any more, and hasn’t been for some time, Beats does have an OK line-up of curators to offer from across various genres, particularly hip hop and country.

Talking up the service himself, Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine said: “Popular music is created in bite size pieces, one song at a time – but most people need more than four minutes to be truly satisfied. It takes a highly curated, uninterrupted sequence of songs to achieve a fulfilling music experience, where the only song as important as the song you are listening to is the song that comes next”.

Interestingly, Beats’ other founder, Dr Dre, is seemingly not involved in this project at all, it being very much talked about in the press release as an Iovine thing. Dre’s name was key to the branding of Beats’ mediocre headphones range, and you would think he would be more useful in grabbing the attention of that mainstream audience than Trent Reznor.

We’ll see how it goes when Beats Music launches next week. An advert during the Super Bowl is expected, which will certainly hit a big mainstream audience, and it’s likely that there will be some activity around the Grammy Awards on 26 Jan.