Beats Music, from the Dr. Dre company that brought you expensive headphones full of booming bass, will soon be on the music-subscription market competing with Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and the rest. Yesterday, they launched a sign-up for where you can grab your username. But what will distinguish it? Real, live musicians and music-business people picking the songs for you, as well as perhaps an experienced critic or two — not some Internet robot. Here's seven things you need to know about the service and what to expect.
1. Jimmy Iovine knows what he's doing.
It's a new service from Beats by Dre, the headphones giant run by rapper-producer Dr. Dre and longtime Interscope Records power player Jimmy Iovine. If you're wondering how yet another music-streaming service can survive in a world that already contains YouTube, iTunes Radio, Spotify and Pandora, consider that Iovine knows what he's doing. In addition to running the label home to Lady Gaga, Eminem, M.I.A., U2 and 50 Cent, Iovine's Beats sold $1.6 billion worth of headphones in 2012, according to The NPD Group, which was more than 30 percent higher than the previous year.
2. The launch is right around the corner.
It will come out in January 2014. That's roughly the same time frame (well, early next year) that YouTube plans to release its subscription service, sources say. So good luck, music-subscription-service fans, keeping straight Spotify, Rhapsody, Xbox Music, Rdio, Slacker and Deezer (which is supposed to expand to the U.S. next year as well).
3. "Curation" is the buzzword.
You know that overwhelmed feeling you get upon firing up Spotify or Rdio and having no idea which song to play out of tens of millions? Beats wants to avoid that. Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, the project's chief creative officer, told an interviewer last year: "It's like having your own guy when you go into the record store, who knows what you like but can also point you down some paths you wouldn't necessarily have encountered."
4. Good people work there.
Reznor, for one. Ian Rogers, who once helped the Beastie Boys figure out the Internet and has spent the last several years running TopSpin, a company that connects artists to their fans, is the chief executive. And Scott Plagenhoef, the former Pitchfork editor-in-chief who knows something about music discovery, is global head of programming and editorial.
5. It could give Spotify a run for their money.
It still has a chance to "win" the wide-open subscription market, which many record-label executives see as the future of their business. "While Spotify is in the lead, there's still no worldwide, clear winner yet in music subscription," says Heather Moosnick, YouTube's head of music label partnerships. "It's just still a brave new world and nothing has met all of the needs yet of the future digital-music consumer – or we would have seen a clear winner, like we've seen with Amazon, in terms of buying things."
6. You should be able to jump right into Beats Music.
In the end, Beats may not be any different than any of the others. Remember, for all the hype surrounding iTunes Radio earlier this year, it's essentially Pandora Part Two. "[Beats] has some of the features that iTunes Radio has – 'I'm in the mood to work out.' There's a lot of that," says a source in the record business.
7. Humans will pick your music in real time.
Beats-style curation means real people recommending your songs, not an algorithm concocted from years of laboratory science. "Essentially, somebody would go through all the things that go through the scientific algorithm curation and call 'bulshit,'" says a source familair with the service. "If Mumford and Sons comes up as 'indie' – 'No, it's not!'"
You can reserve a username here.