The witch is dead but the spell remains

witch
Photo by Neil Delete

Update: Jimmy Iovine denied five days after the rumours appeared that he will step down. 

Jimmy Iovine’s time at Apple Music is coming to an end by August 2018. Hits Daily Double rumoured it first with Billboard confirming it today. Let’s recap Iovine’s self-introduction at the 2015 WWDC:

“This is a revolutionary music service curated by the leading music experts who we helped hand pick,” said Jimmy Iovine, Co-Founder of Beats Electronics and Beats Music. “These people are going to help you with the most difficult question in music: when you’re listening to a playlist, what song comes next.” As stated by Trent Reznor, one of Apple Music’s spokesmen, the overall intent of Apple Music is to grow, nurture and sustain careers, while more specifically shaping one shared conversation around music.

The Forbes article is highly recommended as it reflects exactly his differentiation approach for a flat rate music streaming service that Iovine sold to Apple with the aquisition of Beats Music in the first place:

The service combined algorithm-based personalization with expert music suggestions from a variety of sources.

His only asset was his connection to the major music elite and to install them as gatekeepers. One of the championed gatekeepers was Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), read what he had to say in Vulture about Apple Music in July 2017:

I’ve seen a lot, and it’s interesting to be behind the scenes and meet really cool, smart people that I highly respect. Now, and I’m not talking about Apple here: I’m not yearning to be a tech guy. Being in that world has made me realize the true value of being an artist. The economics of music aren’t what they should be, and the culture isn’t giving the arts its fair due, but humans are always going to respond to emotion and storytelling. I believe that as much as I ever did. More, even. (…)  I had all this shit in my head about how people listen to music and consume music. For a couple of years, it’s been full time at Apple immersing myself in this extremely interesting stuff, and doing that has helped me realize how much I appreciate being an artist and how valuable time is. (…)

Do you feel like you’ve been successful with Beats and Apple Music as far as working on subscription streaming?
Without going into detail, I’ll say it’s been an education. I’ve been on the other side of artists bitching about payments and free music, and I agree with those arguments, but you can sit and bitch about the way things are, or you can try to affect some change. Working under the Apple umbrella, I have a unique opportunity to work on a streaming service from the inside. I thought I could help set a precedent where artists could actually be paid and the fans could feel like they were dealing with a service run by people who actually care about music.

Is it working?
It’s been interesting. Where it seems to have wound up is that free music is here to stay. It doesn’t seem like, with all the different services, artist payments are coming together in the way that one would hope, but the data is valuable.

It’s not that he claimed any accolades as a gatekeeper, does he? More like he as an artist sobered up in the environment of Tim Cook, the technocrat that runs the most successful company on earth.

Bent Thompson wrote in October 2017 a remarkable article headlined Goodbye Gatekeepers, he concluded:

Most importantly, though, the end of gatekeepers is inevitable: the Internet provides abundance, not scarcity, and power flows from discovery, not distribution. We can regret the change or relish it, but we cannot halt it: best to get on with making it work for far more people than gatekeepers ever helped.

Now add the news from December 2017 when Apple bought Shazam and it felt very much, that indeed the time of the gatekeepers where over: Shazam is Apple’s Echo Nest.

Apple’s weekly active user (WAU) penetration is far behind Spotify’s, indicating that Apple needs to do a better job of engaging its users. Better playlists, recommendations and algorithm driven curation all help Spotify stay ahead of the curve. Now, Apple will be hoping that Shazam will provide it with the tools to start playing catch up.

Frictionless, automatic discovery based on user behaviour and massive data is what makes the Spotify world go around and the culture-disconnected individual defenseless.

In a way Jimmy Iovine had it right, when he insisted on the importance of “the most difficult question in music: when you’re listening to a playlist, what song comes next.” He believed in the gatekeepers but the algorithms have won.

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