Music services: product and surrounding culture

I am an avid listener of Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio and a Spotify power user. It is been interesting to see how both services are developing their product in different directions.

One way to look into it is through the automation/manual dichotomy. Spotify is doubling down on their efforts of curation using automation through initiates like Discovery Weekly and Releases Radar. Apple Music is taking a more manual approach to curation through playlists created by people as well as their 24 hour radio service.

Though, the most interesting perspective for me is related to culture. I think Apple Music as a product is acknowledging that music is a global cultural phenomenon and building a great music streaming service is not only about the technology stack but about being part of this cultural zeitgeist.

I spend most of my mornings listening to Beats 1 radio, and it is impressive the thoughtfulness they put into being part of the culture. When the soundtrack for the show "The Get Down" came out they did multiple interviews with people involved in the show and soundtrack, and gave a remarkable perspective into the music and the show. A great deal of my recent musical discoveries have been dramatically influenced by the diversity of music posted in Beats 1 radio and the way they contextualize it. While exclusive content like Frank Ocean’s album gets all the media attention, I think it is only the tip of the iceberg. Apple Music’s real magic is having a show where St Vicent makes a mixtape for her fans, or where Elton John plays a song from De La Soul or from a mysterious Icelandic rock band, or where artists can talk about albums that dramatically influenced them.

On the side of Spotify I see very few initiatives on this front aside from Spotify Sessions which has some great content but seems limited when compared to the whole Beats 1 radio program.

If you look into the Bandcamp, you will see a similar thread to Apple Music’s, the core tech product is about allowing artists to create pages where they can sell their art, yet the product is also an opportunity to participate in the musical cultural phenomenon and convey the company’s love and admiration for the medium. And somehow at some subliminal level the product affects me in a different way due to this approach and I as a customer want to be part of it.

From a marketing perspective, what Apple Music is doing is akin to Redbull’s strategy of being associated with radical sports or Bevel’s strategy of being associated with black culture. Probably this strategy alone won’t ensure Apple Music "owns the music streaming game" but it will most certainly put the brand on the top of mind of customers/artists and that might help Apple Music succeed.