Beats Music

Beats Music, the streaming music service from Beats By Dre, goes live today. Boasting the involvement of Dre himself plus Chief Creative Officer Trent Reznor, Interscope mogul Jimmy Iovine, and Topspin founder/former Beastie Boys webmaster Ian Rogers, it promises to improve upon existing services through sleek design and human curation, presenting listeners with the ideal personalized music experience. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Beats intends to know you better than you know you.

Yes, another wannabe big fish is trying to make a splash in an already crowded pool. Beats Music’s competitors include Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, Grooveshark, Google Play, and Deezer, and that’s just the ones offering on-demand access to a vast catalog, not even considering radio-centric services such as Pandora and iTunes Radio. There are so many of these products for a reason — in this proto-Matrix cloud world we live in, everybody realizes streaming is the future of music — so it’s difficult to believe Beats Music will stand out. But someone is going to end up winning this war, and those who inevitably will give this new service a chance thanks to the big names attached will probably be impressed. After toying with an advance copy of the mobile app this weekend, I think Beats Music is at least a fascinating alternative to the pack and, yes, maybe an improvement too.

The interface looks slick from the start. After registering, you’re presented with an array of bubbles, each one containing the name of a genre, and instructed to pop the ones you hate (by pressing them until they disappear) and expand the ones you like or love (one tap for like, two taps for love). It looks like this:

Then comes a similar display with a range of artists’ names based on the genres you specified. Here you’re instructed to select at least three artists you like, though you’re allowed to keep clicking as many bubbles as you want:

Having completed your preferences, you’re launched into the main interface. There you can slide sideways through pre-programmed departments chock full of playlists. JUST FOR YOU presents recommended playlists based on your stated preferences (“Blur: Best Non-LP Tracks” and “Best Of LaFace Records” were among those I tried) and album picks (mine included OutKast, Bright Eyes, Animal Collective, and the Who). The HIGHLIGHTS tab gives you more playlists, many of them timely; “Oscar Nominees” and “Game Day Warm Up Mix” popped up on Sunday. The FIND IT tab allows you to peruse even more playlists organized by genre, activity (BBQing, Chilling Out, Getting It On, Starting A Riot) or curator. Curators range from magazines, websites, and radio stations to Target and Ellen DeGeneres. I tried out Decibel’s “Just Shut Up Already” (Baroness, Pelican, Faith No More) and Country Weekly’s “Top 15 Songs Of The Year (2013)” (Tim McGraw, Lee Brice, Kacey Musgraves, the Band Perry). As for activities, in the Chilling Out section I toyed with “Stoned, Alone And Turning Off My Phone” (Cocteau Twins, the xx, Modest Mouse, Grizzly Bear), which proved entertaining even while sober; under Getting It On, I found a list called “From Ignition To Climax” that indeed included R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” and Usher’s “Climax.”

So, yeah, a whole lot of playlists — that’s where the curation comes in. Beats Music has assembled a seemingly bottomless bucket of expert opinions to provide an on-demand version of what you get from Sirius XM satellite radio’s highly specialized stations. Like Spotify, Beats also offers a behemoth library of music on demand, searchable by artist, album, or song. I didn’t notice differences between the selection on Beats Music compared to Spotify; they both provide access to almost any music you could want, but they both lack, say, the Drag City catalog and Atoms For Peace. No alarms and no surprises there.

The strangest feature in the main interface, and Beats Music’s closest thing to a radio function, is called THE SENTENCE. Borrowed from Songza, it’s basically a game of musical Mad Libs: You select a setting, a mood, who you’re with, and a genre of choice, and Beats creates an infinite playlist based on those factors. Theoretically this is the coolest service Beats has to offer; it definitely helped me discover more music than iTunes Radio’s parade of headliners did, but I also struggled to figure out what difference some of the variables made. Selecting “I’m On A Boat & Feel Like Punching Walls With Robots To Oldies” queued up an enjoyable stream of music from the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, and Gene Vincent, but I’m not sure what robots or punching walls had to do with it. “I’m In The Car & Feel Like Chilling Out With Your Ex To Rock” resulted in music as disparate as Isis and post-Freddie Mercury Queen, and frankly I don’t think I would have enjoyed any of it in the car. It’s unique, sure, but compared to the bounty of hyper-focused playlists, it’s not as useful.

On balance, could I see myself using Beats Music instead of Spotify going forward? Quite possibly! It looks good; it sounds good; I found what I was looking for and what I wasn’t. But if I want it, I’ll have to pay for it. Unlike Spotify, Beats isn’t offering a free version of the service, which means (a) no irrepressible ads lulling you into Stockholm Syndrome and (b) only those willing to commit $10 a month will get on board — that is, after a seven-day free trial. But I feel more inclined to pay for Beats than I’ve ever felt about Spotify. Using the app was a smooth experience all-around; I encountered no bugs, and, Thom Yorke or no Thom Yorke, everything was in its right place. (Yes, Beats does have Radiohead.) That smoothness can be attributed to Beats being designed as a mobile-first product; as of now, there is no desktop app, so all the design work went into making the mobile product great. That seems to have paid off; there are so many nooks and crannies to explore, and more often than not, exploring them was rewarding. More than any service I’ve encountered, Beats is the complete package.

What does that mean for the big picture? Only time will tell, but today’s launch might be a beachhead toward Beats’ eventual domination of the streaming game. Only a small handful of these services will last long enough to really thrive, and Beats is bringing something both functional and sexy to the table. Given Pandora and Rdio’s well-documented financial struggles and the pile of headphones money Beats is starting with, the newest kid on the block seems poised to dictate terms of the battle going forward — if in fact Beats hasn’t already won by simply existing. Its name recognition alone should give it a leg up. Furthermore, Beats seems to be targeting folks who are not traditionally big streaming users: DeGeneres is promoting the app on her daytime talk show and a partnership with AT&T will allow users to sign up their whole family for $15 a month. If Beats can successfully cast such a wide net, it will be well on its way to becoming for music streaming what Google has become for search engines.

World domination is not going to happen overnight. Beats is still in the U.S. only, whereas Spotify is already up and running in about 60 countries. Many wealthy and powerful companies have a dog in this race, and something else may yet emerge to squash Beats — Deezer or YouTube’s forthcoming service might catch fire in America, or, far more hypothetically, a preexisting power like Pandora might launch its own on-demand libraries to complement its much-loved radio component. Who knows what else is brewing in Silicon Valley and around the world? There are always more next big things around the corner.

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Comments (37)
  1. Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

  2. My friend is going to pissed if he finds me chilling out with his ex.

  3. Spotify’s mobile app is the worst. Always losing track of my browsing or play position. Right now I’m using Rdio, which is much better in that regard. As for Beats Music, I don’t know if I want to support the company responsible for those godawful headphones.

    • Spotify’s mobile app definitely needs some work, but I wouldn’t say it’s the worst. It needs to pay attention to some of the things you mention though and fix them soon.

      For me, Beats’s lack of a desktop counterpart seals the deal for me. For those of us who research and consume music on our desktops and phones, I want my experience to be seamless between the two devices. I think Spotify’s desktop app is the best out there. If they can fix the mobile issues, I think Spotify wins this war easily.

  4. Does it have limits on how many songs you can download for offline listening? I’m thinking about switching from Spotify b/c I’ve hit the 3,333 song-limit on my phone.

  5. News like this just make me realize: I have no use for streaming services. I think I have a Pandora account somewhere that I haven’t logged into for years, I sometimes will pull up Spotify if I’m looking up something really quick and I registered a name for this new contraption, but old dude me is always going to go to my bedroom where the stereo system and turntable are and pop in a CD, cassette or LP. The most digital I get is loading up my iPod with albums while I’m out, but eff whatever thinks its smart enough to choose what I should I listen to.

    • Well Pandora is fucking horrible so maybe that’s part of the reason why.

      • Is Pandora horrible, or is it simply just that it’s a radio-esque model, and people demand the ability to curate specific songs? Not trolling, I just hear a lot of anti-Pandora vitriol on the internet and I’ve never quite understood it.

        • It is very easy to understand.
          Pandora has around 1,000,000 songs.
          Spotify has around 20,000,000.
          WAY deeper crates on Spotify.
          Plus you can save playlists and albums to your phone and computer and play them offline.
          etc, etc, etc

  6. skow  |   Posted on Jan 21st +17

    I just spent $120 hard earned dollars down at the ole local record store. Get off my damn lawn Doctor Beats Man!

  7. What should be created is a definitive Indie/Alternative stream service that localizes the genre while also figuring out a way to give back to the ‘starving’ artist through its membership with some financial joint partnership.

    I realize this is a sorta Robin Hood fantasy but someone needs to rise from the shadows and save the day or we’ll just continue to be saturated with these services that have no remote care about ‘choosing’ music for you, offering ways to mood listen or whatever effing marketing ploy they want to shove down your throat as a cloak to hide the true goal; greed at the artists’ expense.

    Then I bet bands would latch onto this made up, ingenious service and give back to it which would in turn build a typhoon of interactive music options ranging from exclusive live acoustic sets, ‘service’ only remixes, buy albums or digital DL’s direct and so on because the bands would see that the site is indeed helping them fund their careers.

    I bet you’re going to tell me that unfortunately, as good an idea that may appear to be, the big record companies own their asses and would never give up a band that could potentially make them money, but what about the Matadors, Jagjaguwar’s or Sub Pops….these guys could certainly put the brakes on it and join forces if they could just grow a set and take the leap. I’d spend ten bucks a month on that for sure.

  8. me no stream. me buy. me want art to survive.

    me out

  9. Can you download the playlists to your phone like you can with Spotify premium? That’s 80% of why I pay the $9.99 a month charge

  10. Chris, as someone who probably doesn’t need as much “curation” as the average music listener, did you find the service still worth springing for? It seems like the average Stereogum reader may not find something like this as necessary but again I haven’t used it.

    • I mean, I am used to Spotify telling me “If you like Arcade Fire, check out Spoon!” and iTunes Radio giving me all big-font festival headliners on “discovery” mode, so the fact that the Sentence function gave me bands I had never heard of was nice, even if not all of them were something I’d want to explore further. Yeah, a lot of the curated playlists aren’t giving me anything I didn’t already know, but I had fun bumping the “Vampire Weekend influences” playlist because sitting around listening to the Clash, Paul Simon, and the Strokes is fun. The curation probably isn’t worth the expense for a seasoned Stereogum reader, but the smooth functionality might be.

      • Thanks, I’ve had a similar experience. Most of the playlists are of artists I already know, but they are damn good playlists nonetheless.

  11. I live in the remote nation of Canada. What’s “streaming music”, and this Spotify thing?

  12. Well Beats sells millions of piece-of-shit-quality headphones thanks to good marketing, so maybe they’ll also be able to sell millions of subscriptions to listen to piece-of-shit-quality mp3′s.

  13. Beats killed MOG (which was awesome): strikes 1 and 2.
    Beats ipad app is IOS 6 only: strike 3, and out.
    Spotify ipad app graciously offered to download the latest compatible for me. +1

  14. I can’t figure out how to turn on the visualizer where the Beats Pill creature dances to my favorite music. $10 wasted…

  15. Auto  |   Posted on Jan 22nd +1

    Music streaming services are becoming a bit like modern middle eastern warfare themed FPS games. There are so many and they are all kind of similar. Personally I can’t stand not owning my music and I don’t think stream quality is good enough for proper listening.

  16. I don’t stream, I waterfall.

  17. With iTunes and Spotify I think they have pretty much work to do… The competition is fierce!!

    I love my Monster Beats, but I don’t see this new service like a future major business. Not by a long shot.

  18. Spotify has the best streaming service, IMO. If they could get the free mobile app to work properly, they would be the my favorite go to music source. Until then, beats looks interesting.

    http://lalovesedm.com/nightlife

  19. lol @ people who actually listen to Spotify. 160-320 Kbps and being bound to the mercy of your phone/wifi?

    No thanks.

  20. I hear they have a different system for compensating artists too. Surprised this wasn’t covered in the article.

  21. I don’t buy the notion that ‘everyone realizes streaming is the future’. My practical experience is that it works if you are sat as a single location, but try and use any streaming service while moving and you are at the mercy of networks that are simply not built around that model.

    Even with a service that caches a few songs ahead, I find frequent drop-outs.
    And this is despite having an all-you-can-eat data plan plus no less than two WiFi hotspot accounts enabled.

    Plus I live in a major metropolitan area, but I only have to drive 50 miles away to fit places where my phone doesn’t get any reception, let alone 3G/4G.

    And then we get into the failings of the services themselves – ‘How come, if you have 20 million tracks, you’re missing so many of the ones I type in’. Now perhaps younger people will not notice these absences – the great erasure of history or exclusion of people not willing to treat with Dre and Eck – but me, I’ll stick with downloading thank you.

  22. My biggest question was NOT answered.
    I am going to research this.
    What is the size of the Beats Music Library.
    At last check (during Summer of 2013), Spotify had over 16 million tracks in it’s Library.
    I would be surprised if Beats offered more.
    For serious Music addicts, Spotify has been a dream.

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