Ian C. Rogers, “Beats Music Is Here”
I get the impression, both from this blog post on Beats Music and from everything I’ve ever read about any streaming platform, that a service like Beats Music or Spotify is meant to replace several of the ways (or maybe more like every way) you previously both listened to and discovered music. Rogers has nine things that Beats Music will do for you, essentially at your command:
1. provide you with music
2. provide you with situationally appropriate music, whether or not you know specifically what that music is.
3. provide you with new music you did not yet know to ask for
4. provide you with new music that you will instantly take an obsessive liking to
5. provide you with new music that satisfies a precise or technical aspect of your listening habits
6. provide you with a mix of music both new and familiar that represents a personal and human, peer level connection
7. harness your unpredictable whims and transform them into slightly complicated math that renders them more or less uniform and in line with the whims of the majority of listeners.
8. serve as a personalized DJ (which may be a fine point on #2)
9. anticipate your boredom and revive your waning interest in music/new music
OMG THAT’S INSANE!!!! WHY DOES ANYONE EVEN WANT THAT IN THEIR LIFE?????
The way I listen to music is not normal, and it’s exactly what Beats Music considers a “curated experience.” I have a limitless assortment of ways to listen to and/or find music. I go to record stores and browse, I go to blogs and browse, I click thumbs up on a peculiar sequence of songs on Pandora and turn my Til Tuesday station into a Richard Marx/Celine Dion station by accident, I watch a Depeche Mode video on YouTube and then don’t stop for the next three months, I watch old tape footage of Stone Gossard quizzing Chris Cornell about Judas Priest and then I listen to Judas Priest for a few weeks and Spotify suggests I listen to White Lion - so I do, I click on Spotify’s mainstream country radio station because why not?, I make myself a playlist of songs that sound like the dead of winter to play on the way to work, I get 40 Bob Dylan CDs for Christmas and dedicate every Sunday to playing one. It goes on and on and on. It’s mercurial and damaged.
But I have contact with the outside world and I understand that most people are satisfied with radio+: a mix that’s about 85% stuff they already know they like and 15% new things that sound like a mixture of stuff they already like. That person does not need a Beats Music subscription. That person needs a car stereo and satellite radio. They are not constantly listening to music. They are not wondering why [SITUATION] + [MOOD] + [SURROUNDINGS] =/= [SONG PLAYING] at all times. My mom, for example, listens to classic rock radio and whatever my dad’s playing at home. She loves the Rolling Stones more than any other band - she wants a heavy mix of Stones rounded out with other things that have an element of Stones to them. Ok, my mom’s in her 50s, she’s not the target market. Everyone I know personally, about my age, uses their cellphone to have a mix of lifetime favorite songs on them at all times (sometimes this is in the form of a Spotify Premium account) and a Pandora account for social gatherings. If they’re out and the DJ plays something they’ve never heard that is enigmatically and momentarily perfect - that’s great, they’ve had a great night. But when that doesn’t happen they don’t even notice. Most of what Beats Music offers is not a palpable absence in their lives, rather it’s a mild bonus when it occurs.
And God, you’re an asshole if you decide to marry someone based on a mix they made you.
Then there are the people like me (hooray! not alone!) who are maybe a little bit seduced by the highly specialized aspect of Beats Music, but have never once in their life been at a loss for new music. I truly don’t understand the emphasis in every streaming platform’s rhetoric on new and discovery. Certainly post-digital awakening new music is absolutely everywhere, but even when I was a kid and fax machines were radical technology, I was never, ever at a loss for new music. I understand that the magic math of Beats Music is “new music” + “I will definitely like it” - but even that isn’t such a novelty. I like most things I listen to! If someone took away all the streaming everything and I could only read Allmusic album reviews and then buy those albums in a record store sound unheard, I’d be ok. In fact, as outlined above, I’d probably be pretty enamored of how much work that involved.
The weird taste robot that controls your Beats Music account is solving a problem no one ever had. And let’s be real here, the problem Beats Music is hoping to solve isn’t even the one Rogers suggests - it’s the problem of not enough money for record execs. No one should pay money for Beats Music, but to the person reading this that does - can you send me Trent Reznor’s playlist?