|Beats' Music aims to crush all other streaming music providers by using a complex and unique algorithm to find music specifically catered to your listening tastes|
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"Beats Music won’t be joining the most-tracks arms race when it launches Tuesday. Instead, the new subscription service brought to you by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will win converts through a potent mix of smarter algorithms and human curation. From the moment you first open the app, every interaction is recorded and used to determine the next album, playlist, and track to serve up. The result is more like a personalized mixtape than an online jukebox.
“No one was doing a music service; everyone was building a music server,” Beats Music chief executive Ian Rogers told WIRED. While services like Spotify, Rdio, and Rhapsody have some social discovery tools built in, they all launched similar products in an era when the rule was he with the most tracks wins. As a result, those companies got caught in a race to be the biggest. As they concentrated on the enormity of their music catalogs, their discovery mechanisms lagged. For instance, Rdio’s “Heavy Rotation” discovery option presents you with music your friends currently are enjoying, but it’s not smart enough to tell you to listen to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory because you love Lou Reed’s Transformer.
That’s where Beats Music is different. The service is betting on smarts instead of sheer depth. While it will have enough songs to compete — anybody entering the game at this point has to — with a library millions of tracks deep, it hopes its unique approach to music discovery tools will give it an edge.
As soon as you begin using the streaming service, Beats starts logging your “music DNA.” This serves as a personal profile used to determine which albums and tracks would be most relevant to you. To start generating your DNA, the service asks rudimentary questions, like which bands and genres you love.
But it takes other things into account. Your age is especially important to Beats Music. Tell it when you were born, and it figures out when you were in high school. The music of your youth — the stuff that was popular when you first got a Walkman or an iPod, the band that made it big when you got your driver’s license, the record that was all over MTV just before your freshman year of college — is the music with the strongest memories for you. It’s a fixed point in time that’s the most culturally and musically relevant to you. And it’s being crunched by the company’s algorithm.
Your sex matters, too; women and men usually have different tastes. Also important to Beats: the volume at which you listen to music. Which artists do you crank up? Who do you play quietly? It even tracks the music you send to Airplay speakers. The songs you use to fill your home are given a different mathematical weight than the songs you use to pass time at work.
But the system doesn’t solely rely on algorithms. It’s also backstopped by a small army of curators and behavioral scientists. This human element is there to help present music that doesn’t simply sound like the music you might enjoy, but also feels like it. Just because you listen to Mumford & Sons doesn’t mean you’d want to listen to a bunch of songs featuring banjos, for instance. You’d probably be more at home listening to Arcade Fire than Earl Scruggs. Humans can help make that determination. Algorithms can’t.
At launch, the app takes all this information and presents a personalized “Just for You” list of albums and playlists. The Influencers’ picks are especially fun. My love for Depeche Mode (especially Violator) was picked up by the service without my direct input. The list is filled with David Bowie, T-Rex, Joy Division, The Ronettes, The Beach Boys, and others. While listening, the connection is suddenly apparent.
All this personalization and curation is the result of input from music producer Jimmy Iovine, a longtime proponent of subscription services, and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who is the company’s chief creative officer. Reznor was key in fine-tuning the curation and personalization aspects, but both he and Iovine wanted an experience that resonates with listeners and artists. That includes fixing how the artists’ pages are presented.
When you discover a new band, it can be difficult to determine which of their albums you might enjoy. The app solves this by presenting the essential albums for any given artist. Search the Beach Boys, and you’re shown Pet Sounds and The Smile Sessions, not that horrible Still Cruisin’ album from the late-’80s. Plus, actual album release dates are used instead of the date they were added to the streaming service. This is great when you want to hear 1970s Bowie instead of 1980s Bowie. Yes, there is a difference.
Beats Music won’t have a free tier. It’ll cost $10 a month, with a special for AT&T customers of $15 a month that includes five family members and 10 devices. This is an anomaly in a field where almost every service offers a free way in for listeners. But then, Iovine and Dre were instrumental in convincing people we didn’t need the lousy earbuds that ship with smartphones and music players.
“We know people will pay for something where there is value,” said Rogers. “Enough people pay for headphones, it’s an exciting business. We think we can do the same thing here.”"