When Music 2.0 first arrived on the scene, it treated users like data entry clerks. Sure, everyone dressed it up as “user-generated content,” but it all hinged on some motivated individual updating a database for a service that wasn’t paying them. Those services mostly died out, either because people lost interest or something newer and shinier replaced them. In any case, they asked way too much of users.
The music services that survived from that era understood fundamentally that their users chose their service because they wanted to listen to music. Beats Music takes that a step further; rather than focus doggedly on “discovery,” Beats recontextualizes the music you love. For me, that means Beats recommends artists whose albums languished for too long at the bottom of a box in a closet. Now I can fall in love with them all over again.
But that on it’s own isn’t enough to distinguish a music service from the rest of the pack. Curated playlists and push notifications do. Plenty of services offer the same library, give or take, but none were especially good at anticipating what I wanted to hear. You could go searching for things, but that’s overwhelming. Beats Music makes it simple and offers suggestions. Instead of searching endlessly for a particular album, I just dive into an introductory playlist of an artist I’ve overlooked.
Best of all? They hired really outstanding critics to pull together fantastic playlists. Beats didn’t just hire them to create playlists willy nilly; there’s real strategy at work. Try as I might to listen to everything, I still sought critical shortcuts or a point of entry into an artist’s body of work. If you’re a recovering completist, you can familiarize yourself with Luke Vibert one moment and Waylon Jennings the next. It doesn’t hurt that most playlists were curated by the same critics I came up with in the Aughties.
Mostly, I’m just jealous of kids who get to experience music like this. For more, here’s Eric Harvey’s essay on the development of streaming music over at Pitchfork.