The long-awaited launch of Apple Music on Monday focused less on the music service itself and more on the human connection—to both artists and DJs—that comes with it.
Starting June 30, users can pay $10 a month for free streaming, 24-hour radio, music to purchase, and a social platform for connecting with artists. Offering many of the same features as competitors like Spotify and Rdio, Apple aims to distinguish itself through two humanized features—a radio service called Beats 1 and a social platform called Connect.
The problem is, Connect looks a lot like social networks that have been tried before—and ultimately flopped.
It’s described as a platform for artists to give their fans a “closer look at their world” through pictures, videos, song lyrics, and more. “Artists. Fans. Zero Interference,” the opening page reads. Touted as a “revolutionary” concept by CEO Tim Cook, it’s all too familiar to anyone who has paid closed attention to Apple’s music habits.
In many ways, Connect is simply a revival of a failed social network called iTunes Ping, a service that was closed in 2012 after two years of limited use. The press release for Ping, dated September 2010, reads much like Connect’s: “[Ping] lets you follow your favorite artists to see what they’re up to, check out photos and videos they’ve posted, see their tour dates and read comments about other artists and albums they’re listening to.”
Steve Jobs described Ping as “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes.”
MySpace, too, tried its hand at the social media music concept, unveiling its plan at a similarly flashy launch in 2010, headlined by Justin Timberlake. “There’s a need for a place where fans can go to interact with their favorite entertainers, listen to music, watch videos, share and discover cool stuff, and just connect,” said Timberlake. “MySpace has the potential to be that place.”
Wearing a vintage Apple jacket at Monday’s launch, Drake echoed Timberlake. “The dream of being an artist like myself and connecting directly with an audience has never been more close and reachable than right now,” he told the crowd.
The Timberlake-led MySpace, with its new music focus, was unable to enjoy the social network’s previous success. While the app debuted with much fanfare and celebrity support, the music collaboration and connection functions never caught on. Today, the website’s traffic is driven primarily by old users returning to the site to retrieve photos for Throwback Thursday.
The challenge for iTunes Ping and MySpace Music—and perhaps, now, with Apple Connect—wasn’t that artists and fans don’t want to connect, it’s that they’re already doing it.
“Through Connect you can comment on or like anything an artist has posted, and share it via Messages, Facebook, Twitter, and email,” reads the platform’s description. “And when you comment, the artist can respond to you directly. It takes the connection you have with music to a whole new level.”
It’s difficult to imagine a social media platform for music artists working when the mega world of social media has already become one. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more, musicians from around the world share every moment of their lives. Music videos and song lyrics are a drop in the bucket of personal information shared with fans, from a video of Solange Knowles dancing with her son at her wedding to an emotionally charged tweet from Taylor Swift revealing that her mom has cancer.
Unfortunately for Connect, music lovers can already connect with artists—more easily than ever. If it does succeed, it will likely be the streamlining of social media that it promises. “All the ways you love music. All in one place,” read a slide at Monday’s presentation.
“Beats 1,” for its part, is billed as a live radio program with “handpicked” DJs who will “create an eclectic mix of the latest and best in music.” Broadcast to 100 countries around the world it aims to be, according to Apple’s new music czar Jimmy Iovine, the first “truly global radio station.”
Beats 1 is all human, a “radio with soul,” where people, not computers, pick the songs. “Algorithms alone can’t do that emotional task,” Iovine told the crowd at the Monday launch. The service promises exclusive interviews and guest hosts at its three studios (Los Angeles, New York, and London), making it a place to “love the music…together.”
With Drake set to release his next album through Connect and other artists such as Pharrell, FKA twigs, and Alabama Shakes already booked, the app has a fighting chance. Apple has a history of taken broken concepts and fixing them—perhaps it is solving a problem we can’t yet tell exists. But Connect may play out like a one-hit wonder: lots of promise but easily forgotten.