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Apple Music is a streaming service that offers users curated music collections, algorithmically generated playlists, and live radio. Customers have access to all 60 million songs, music videos, and content for $9.99 per month for an individual, $14.99 per month for a family, or $4.99 per month for a student. The service competes directly with Spotify with its offerings, and has captured a large portion of the streaming market in only a few years.
● More than 60 million songs
● More than 60 million users
● Human-curated playlists for artists and genres
● Personalized algorithmically generated playlists
● iTunes Match integrates user's library
● Live radio
● Scrolls lyrics in time to the music
● Available on Android, Alexa, and the web
Apple's move to streaming came when Spotify was dominating the market, so Apple purchased Beats by Dre for $3B in its biggest acquisition to date. The headphone business continues to operate within Apple, but the digital music service called Beats Music transitioned into Apple Music.
Apple Music Features
The music service has always existed on three primary tent poles: human curation, personalization, and 24-hour live radio. From these, Apple has branched its streaming service into a monolith capable of competing directly with Spotify and YouTube Music.
Apple employs music experts and brings in external talent to curate playlists based on specific genres or moods. The early version of this feature saw playlists from influencing companies and curators like MTV, but now Apple has taken control of their playlist crafting.
The custom playlists are maintained weekly and feature custom artwork. As of iOS 14, the artwork is animated when browsing the Music app.
The human element goes deeper than playlists, as Apple has its own host of live radio shows, interviews, and concert films under the umbrella Apple Music radio.
Artists and users can curate their content too. Each user gets a public profile with their latest tracks and public playlists available. Users can follow each other and artists to see what content they are listening to.
Fans of the "lofi hip hop music-beats to sleep/chill/study to" playlists created by ChilledCow on YouTube can find them on Apple Music too. Just follow the profile and add the playlists, and you will get updates as they happen.
Apple also curates a few specialty playlists that encompass many genres and styles. These playlists serve as a great starting point for any user, new or veteran.
The flagship playlist is called "New Music Daily" and features a new artist and song every day. The playlist maintains 100 songs at all times, and the playlist description will change to describe the latest addition each day. This playlist is meant to show users new music that appeals to everyone.
Apple promotes new artists and their upcoming music using the "Up Next" playlist. Each update brings a new song from an artist that curators think will be the next big thing.
Other popular playlists include genre-specific playlists like "Today's Hits" and "Rap Life." There are curated sets and playlists for every genre and mood.
While the human element is a big part of Apple Music, algorithms are too. As you listen to music, like songs, dislike artists, and add music to your library, the algorithm will learn what you like.
When users first create their account, they are taken through an on-boarding process that gets a base sample of what the user likes. From there, each interaction on Apple Music shapes the algorithm profile for the user.
Within the "Listen Now" tab, there will be curated music selections based on this information. There are multiple playlists updated each week as well:
- New Music Mix
- Favorites Mix
- Chill Mix
- Friends Mix
- Get Up! Mix
The playlist names are pretty self-explanatory. New Music will guess what new music you may like while Favorites pulls from your listening history. Chill plays lower BPM based on your likes, Get Up! plays higher BPM, and Friends will curate music based on what your friends listen to. These playlists are updated once a week.
A unique set of playlists are generated based on listening habits across an entire year. Apple Music Replay functions as an algorithmic look back at your music taste and how it changes year to year.
Replay playlists become available at the beginning of the year and are updated each week until the end of the year. At the start of a new year, a new playlist is started.
There will be a Reply playlist for each year since an account was created.
Apple Music radio
When Apple Music launched, it started a live radio station called Beats1 radio. This station was a 24-hour radio show with a rotating schedule of 12 hours of live shows, then 12 hours repeating that content.
Launching in over 100 countries, the station matured with many blockbuster artists hosting their own shows. Now that the service is over five years old, Apple is transitioning the radio brand into Apple Music radio and the Beats 1 station is now Apple Music 1.
The change brought two new radio stations with it—Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country. Each of the three channels retain the same concept of a 24-hour live radio station with rotating artist shows.
Hits will focus on the last 40 years of hits with artists like Snoop Dogg and Alanis Morissette hosting their own shows. Country will focus on the sound of country music and the superstars within the genre like Carrie Underwood and Dierks Bentley.
Apple Music 1 will continue Beats 1's styling with a focus on modern hits around the world. When Beats 1 first launched, the criticism mainly focused on a lack of variety outside of Rap, House, and Pop. The new stations directly address those issues.
While these stations all perform live all day, if a listener has a favorite show, the show can be streamed on-demand. The live stations are all free and do not require an Apple Music subscription, however, replaying old shows requires an active subscription.
Apple Music vs. The Industry
The same idea around unlimited streaming drives both Apple Music and Spotify. As of October 2019, Spotify claimed to have 248 million users compared to Apple's 60 million. A majority of Spotify's users are on the ad-supported free version, with only 113 million choosing to pay for the premium service.
That's still nearly twice that of Apple's user base, but Apple reached that number in less than half the time. This can be attributed to the default music app on the iPhone offering the service, and the education of the market surrounding streaming in 2015 versus 2008.
Apple does not let users select a default streaming service on devices like iPhone, iPad, or HomePod. This has caused anti-trust investigations into Apple's streaming platform and if it has too much power within the Apple ecosystem.
Apple attempts to diversify itself from its competitors through exclusive deals and its radio programs. Apple frequently bids on entertainment deals for live show streams or concert films as well.
Apple Music offers an extensive free trial –– originally three months, now just one. Initially, artists and musicians were not going to be paid for the use of their music during that time. Users can also find free trials attached to new device purchases, or even as part of Verizon or T-mobile contracts.
Following protests from the likes of Taylor Swift, who pointed out that free streaming would impact album sales, Apple recanted. Apple pays artists regardless of the trial status of a user.
On the more positive side, Apple has, from the start, been a better payer for artists than its rival services. Whereas the likes of Spotify often find themselves in lawsuits for missing payments or underpaying artists, or even stealing music outright.
Overall, Apple Music and the paid premium tier of Spotify, have contributed to the music industry's financial fortunes improving.
However, there have also been what is now called streaming wars, when one service will arrange an exclusive deal with an artist that excludes others.
For example, in 2016, Frank Ocean released the album "Blonde" to Apple Music and iTunes for a two-week exclusive. It was reportedly Ocean who decided to do this, the album's record label was not involved, and the album's record label was not amused, either.
Universal called for an end to exclusives. Speaking later for Apple, Jimmy Iovine distanced Apple from the whole arrangement.
"We had a deal —we were working with Frank Ocean, and he controlled where his music came out," Iovine said. "Why would it be in our interest to be part of a fast one, a slow one or any one? We were getting the record no matter what. Whatever happened with him and Universal is really between him and Universal. It has nothing to do with us. Nothing."
Speaking of putting distance between artists and the streaming service, Apple shut down its much-touted Connect feature in December 2018. This was a music social media service intended to connect artists and audiences, much as Apple's previous Ping service had.
It wasn't exactly the same as Ping, but it met the same fate. Since then, Apple has reached out to Genius, a service that interviews artists about their music and provides lyrics to supply content to Apple exclusively. Artist bios and album descriptions, along with Beats 1 interviews and radio shows, allow users to connect with their favorite artists still, but not as directly.
Apple has started a $50 million fund for indie music labels and distributors. This is to combat the lack of pay and damage to the music industry caused by social distancing practices brought on by the coronavirus.
It appears that the fund will go toward one-off advance payments pulled from future Apple Music royalties. Only labels and distributors with a direct distribution deal in place with Apple qualify and those that do must also meet a minimum of $10,000 in quarterly earnings on the service. The limitation rules out indie labels distributed through larger labels.
Another Apple Music initiative called "Stream Local" was created to promote South African musicians during the crisis. Starting April 11, users can check out playlists and albums in a special section of the App Store featuring popular South African artists.
Updates in 2020
Autoplay Mode, designated by an infinity (∞) symbol, has been added to allow users to stream music endlessly. First, the Music app will play all queued songs, albums, and playlists. Once finished, it will play music based on music in your library and playlists, similar to an existing Spotify feature.
The original landing page, which was once titled "For You," is now rebranded as "Listen Now." The tab will serve as a one-stop-shop for all your favorites and curated playlists for your mood. There are widget-style tiles within this tab, which makes using the app more accessible and more visually appealing.
It also brings in new Stations For You features, which focus on artists you actively follow. Lastly, the tab will also include "Friends Are Listening To," which allows you to see what music your friends are into lately.
iOS 14 also receives a new search tab, with an overhauled autocomplete feature, suggested categories, and updated filter settings to find exactly what you want to listen to.
In iPadOS 14, Music looks more akin to the macOS version. It allows users to browse via an easy-to-use sidebar quickly. The sidebar is customizable with collapsable sections, allowing users to tailor the experience to what they prefer.
iPad users will also be able to take advantage of a full-screen Now Playing experience. You can easily toggle between seeing time-synched lyrics or the Up Next queue, too.
Apple Music Pricing
The regular price for an Apple Music subscription is $9.99 per month for one person. There's a family subscription which, for $14.99 per month, is for up to six people in the same household.
Apple also offers a student rate of $4.99 per month, and there is a one-month free trial for any user.
Apple Music may also be included in a subscription bundle called "Apple One," which may launch fall 2020.