How Apple Is Going to Reinvent the Music Industry (Again)

In the first few months of Tim Cook’s stewardship of Apple, it was hard not to feel like the company was about to have a very loud, very violent mid-life crisis. With Steve Jobs’ direct influence gone, but his shadow still very much in evidence, the world was holding its collective breath to see what would come next for the Titan of Cupertino.

A couple years later, Apple is having something of a renaissance. I’ve always been a fanboy, but even I could plainly see the growing pains Apple was having along the way: namely, products and services that lacked Apple’s characteristic fit and finish. While the build quality of Apple’s hardware has only gotten better over the years they’ve been in business, plenty of people have expressed worry recently that their commitment to reliable software was heading down a dark road already traveled by the likes of Microsoft. Both iOS 8 and Yosemite were more unstable and buggy than Apple’s typical releases, and they’ve since been busy tidying up their mess, adding missing features, and generally restoring our trust (and our sanity).

But now, we’ve been given assurances that Apple will be taking some much-needed time off from new features in iOS 9 and Mac OS 10.11 to further improve, rather than add to, their operating systems. In other words, Apple is giving their two platforms the full Snow Leopard treatment later this year.

These last two years in particular have been transitory for Apple; they’re not just making products anymore—they’re building an ecosystem. And now that all the pieces are finally there (phones, tablets, computers, watches, desktop and mobile operating systems, and cloud services to power it all), Apple can get back to what they do best: shaking up entire industries.

In this case, Apple is setting their sights on an industry they already helped reinvent: music.

What’s Next for Music?

Like the rest of the world, I’m beyond excited to see Apple enter the streaming music industry in a real way. I’ve subscribed to, and ultimately left, Pandora, Spotify, and Google Music All Access (or whatever the hell it’s called now). I believe that Apple is not only going to give these established companies a run for their money, but they may also change the entire music industry forever.

With Beats now fully under Apple’s control, it’s not hard to imagine an iTunes library that seamlessly combines owned tracks (either purchased or ripped from a CD collection) and tracks available for streaming via Beats. In fact, the very idea of music ownership could be undone if Apple realizes the potential in their owning not just the quintessential music library program, but also the (soon-to-be-) quintessential music streaming service as well. Add to this the fact that Apple already has one of the most impressive install bases in the world when you factor in Mac users and iPhone owners. The other streaming services have, for the most part, embraced the multi-platform approach. But, while rumors says the next generation of Beats will make it to Android, I don’t think that’s really important. The Apple Faithful are plentiful enough already that the success of Apple’s streaming service (What will it be called? Apple Music? iTunes Online?) is all but assured.

Will Apple Court Antitrust Allegations?

Given that, here’s the next question: how long will it take for Apple to be taken to court for antitrust or anti-competitive practices?

Not long, I say. Apple has already had to face the music about eBook price fixing, and it recently came to light that they were in negotiations with record labels to push the cost of a streaming music subscription below the already bargain basement price of $10/month. They were rebuffed, but not before confirming that Apple doesn’t just want to reinvigorate the music industry—they want to own it.

Again, keep in mind that this is coming from an Apple fanboy.

I fear what will happen when Apple—already the most dominant music platform in the world—truly invests in the “pay once per month for access to every song on the planet” business model. I have the same fears now that Google owns the algorithms that power Internet search, they own mobile and desktop operating systems, and also a suite of online tools and services. All of this reeks of a conflict of interest, and folks in D.C. have some of the same fears; investigations are underway to look into Google’s recent antitrust victory.

While Apple will certainly have to tread lightly, I am beyond excited to finally, hopefully, have three very different experiences—my owned music, on-demand music, and online radio—consolidated into a single platform. And so far, the evidence suggests that this is what we’re getting. Spotify has tried and failed to really offer this. I believe Apple is the company that will finally succeed.

I’ve said it before, but Apple is one of the few companies in America that has earned my (near-) unconditional trust. And this isn’t blind faith, either; Tim Cook has repeatedly confirmed that Apple is concerned first and foremost with the customer experience—and with their well-being.

Nevertheless, I fear that Apple’s influence will soon render the music industry unrecognizable. It’s already famously difficult to make a living as a musician, as recent Spotify rate debates have confirmed, and Apple has a long way to go to convince me that they’ll value the output of the world’s musicians as much as fans do. It’s true that CD and full album sales are not long for this world, and streaming is the future, but I hope that Apple can lead in a way that no other streaming platform has managed to do. They need to find a way to provide not just value for the listener, but a reason for the world’s musicians to take part in it. With the likes of Taylor Swift, and other best-selling artists jumping ship from Spotify, I hope Apple is asking themselves, “What can we do better?”

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