By John Seay, Atlanta Entertainment Lawyer
Let’s get this out of the way early: I’m excited about Beats Music. Although I’ve defended Spotify at times, I’ve done so mostly because (1) there’s a lot of bad information out there about it; and (2) it needed to succeed because, what else is there? Well, starting on January 21st, there’ll be at least one more big fish in the interactive music streaming pond: Beats Music, a service that, according to its tagline, “combines the power of human curation with the technology to always deliver the right music to you at the right time.”
Although I can’t yet speak to the veracity of that statement, I do know that come January 21st, Beats Music will roll out on iOS, Android, Windows, and the web for a $9.99 monthly subscription. AT&T customers will have access to a discounted “family plan,” which includes up to 5 people and 10 devices for $14.99. Right off the bat, the service will apparently include some 20 million songs, although I’m curious to see if some of the notoriously hard-to-license catalogs, such as Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, are included.
So why am I excited about Beats Music? Here are some initial reasons.
(1) Egalitarian Royalty Payouts
Beats Music will pay every artist, label, etc., the same per stream royalty, regardless of whether the artist is an independent or major label artist. As the company has said, “Beats Music is committed to the principle that music has real value and will be acting accordingly by paying the same royalty rate to all content owners major and indie alike, while simultaneously providing a platform for fan interaction.” Sure, maybe that’s lip service and yes, we don’t know what that rate is nor what kind of deals were struck with the major labels in order to secure their catalogs, but I still appreciate the sentiment. I hope this statement means that Beats Music has learned from the mistakes of Spotify and is committed to transparency as far as its financials and royalty payouts are concerned.
(2) Higher Per-Stream Royalty Payouts
Beats Music is a subscription-only service. That means there’s no need to subsidize the free user experience by airing and displaying ads. And no ads means no expensive ad support, and no expensive ad support should – theoretically anyway – mean more money in artists’ pockets. Of course, all of this works only if people sign up to pay the subscription fee – after all, it’s not like Spotify didn’t push their premium service. Whether the extras of this service are enough to convince people to part with $9.99 every month remains to be seen – there are, though, some big names (Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor) behind this service which may add to its cachet in some circles.
(3) Better User Experience
Beats Music purports to have real people working in conjunction with computers to develop algorithms for music recommendation. If that’s the case, and assuming those people are good at what they do, then Beats Music may truly function as a music discovery service. I’ve heard good things so far about the Beats Music curated playlists. Along similar lines, Beats Music will apparently include a Mad Libs-esque feature which will allow you to create a playlist based on your mood by filing in some blanks to create sentences like, “I’m on a first date and feel like setting the mood for my lady.” That may be a little gimmicky, but I gotta admit, I’m excited to try it out. I hope they also beef up the social component of the service, which is something – along with their shoddy music algorithms – I found pretty majorly lacking on Spotify’s platform.
(4) Tethered Downloads
Beat Music isn’t the first music subscription service to offer tethered downloads, but I’m glad they’re doing it in conjunction with their interactive music streaming service. I’m a little old school, as I explained here, and so I like to feel like I own the songs I’m listening to. Being able to download them is key for me; plus, if they’re downloaded, then they won’t eat up my phone data if I’m away from my own internet connection. Of course, you only have access to those downloads for as long as you maintain your subscription, and I don’t know yet whether you can download them into, say, iTunes, which would be nice.
(5) New Service, New Start
As the first large-scale and fully-licensed interactive music streaming service, Spotify had to blaze a trail through exceedingly rough terrain. The landscape was different when Spotify launched in America in July of 2011 – the deals that were struck with the major labels back then contained terms that hopefully Beats Music was able to avoid. Just based on what I already know about Beats Music, it seems as if some improvements – both to the business model and to the way the service itself works – have occurred.
But will the public use Beats Audio? Will those changes and the relatively low monthly fee be enough to persuade Americas to part with their money, especially when illegal download sites do still exist? My hope is that more people pay for Spotify or Beats Audio. After all, we went from buying music to stealing it to streaming it (mostly) for free – I hope the next step is paying a simple monthly fee for streaming music on an elegantly designed platform that also actually works as a music discovery and social networking tool. And speaking to social networking tools, follow me on Twitter! @TheSeayFirmLLC. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.