Music Business

Why You Won’t See Beats Music, Pono or YouTube Music Till Next Year

Expect-Delays-signBy Eliot Van Buskirk of

It’s one thing to see what on-demand music services and stores Spotify, Rdio, Amazon, iTunes, and the rest are doing to help people collect music again, and see something missing from their approaches.

It’s quite another to launch a new service to fix those issues.

This year, three big new upcoming music services attracted the attention of the digital music industry, as well as that of forward-looking music fans curious about where technology will take them next: Beats Music, Pono Music, and YouTube Music. The first two explicitly said they would launch in 2013, while the third was confirmed to be in the works all the way back in March.

All of them have since been postponed until next year.

To be fair, Beats Music should only miss 2013 by a month, but still, all three services have been delayed significantly, suggesting that these bold new approaches are more difficult than their creators might have anticipated. Here’s what’s going on with each of them:

Beats_laterBeats Music

The general idea here is to have celebrities, recording artists, and other music experts provide context around music, curate it into playlists, and generally be your musical best friend. Remember that guy from college who always had the latest jams (here’s one of mine)? Beats wants to be that.

When we heard about it

Beats officially announced ”Project Daisy ” (the codename for Beats Music, cribbed from the name of Beats Music president Luke Wood’s dog) in January 2013, but the ball started rolling well before that. Beats Electronics bought MOG all the way back in July 2012, and Trent Reznor formed a then-mysterious “partnership” with Beats in October 2012.

What it’s trying to fix

Iovine says he is trying to introduce a more human element into music services, because he doesn’t like the mathematical approach taken by most services in their attempts to introduce over 20 million songs and over two million artists to the music fans who will appreciate them. Part of this involves prominent people creating playlists for things like driving around Nashville.

How it’s trying to do that

Beats is repurposing MOG into a way for artists to connect more directly with fans, by recommending music (maybe a bit like this but without the branding). Once they create a following there, artists will be able to sell stuff to fans (remember, Ian Rogers was CEO of TopSpin — here’s me interviewing him in 2009).

Why it was probably delayed

It’s unclear whether handmade playlists and whatever other contextual content and curation Beats has planned will scale alongside Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, or YouTube Music for that matter. Do expert/celebrity musical “best friends” really scale in an internet-friendly way? We shall see.

PonolaterPono Music

When Neil Young saw a young woman walking down the street listening to white earbuds connected to a presumable iPhone, he decided to save music from the audio compression and processing he thinks has ruined music, from the iPod onward.

When we first heard about it:

October 2012

What it’s trying to fix

You know how some people pay a lot for the very best coffee, because they have the very best taste? Pono wants to be like that, in digital music form. Neil Young and company believe there’s room in the market for an artisanal audio format, because today’s popular audio formats are compressed, and lots of people are digging vinyl at home these days. Pono would be like a portable version of that.

Young’s solution actually goes much deeper than this, but we have agreed to keep the details to which we are privvy under wraps, for now, which we had to do in order to learn more about it (Pono understandably wants to preserve some secrecy around its unreleased service). Suffice to say that there’s plenty of work still to be done.

How it’s trying to do that

Part of the Pono plan involves a next-generation audio format that uses a 24-bit format instead of 16 bits. In cases when a high-resolution master is not available, Pono will do some other secret things to the audio to make it sound better. Many of Neil Young’s famous friends (including Beck and many others to be announced later) have loved what they have heard, listening to the prototype device.

Why it was probably delayed

Pono is attempting to locate high-resolution master recordings for as many releases as it can, and to work with various technologists to implement its special brand of 24-bit audio. Then, it has to release its own hardware player to play the files. Oh, and it has to build an iTunes-like store to sell the music. Pono is also talking to nightclubs to install it there, and to many other potential partners. Plus, Neil Young has, like, an entire music career to tend to (like playing Carnegie Hall in January).

YoutubeYouTube Music

It might seem weird that YouTube would launch a music subscription when everything is on there for free already. But that’s precisely why YouTube is doing it.

When we first heard about it

February 2013

What it’s trying to fix

YouTube really, really likes being able to post music videos, because they’re the most popular content on there by a long shot. That means music not only helped create Apple, but YouTube, too. YouTube and then its parent company Google fought hard to license all of that music, and also had to build Vevo for the major labels, to stay in their good graces. The YouTube music subscription is another attempt to stay friends with music copyright holders.

How it’s trying to do that

You know how it’s annoying to listen to lots of YouTube music in a row on an iPhone or Android? It won’t be annoying anymore, for all five of these reasons (which we correctly predicted, it must be said).

Why it was probably delayed

Nobody has ever offered a comprehensive, on-demand music subscription service that includes videos. Google only has one chance to get this right.

Stay tuned for more as things unfold.

(Image courtesy of dsargentblog)


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