Apple had its Special Event Productpalooza yesterday and both led and closed the show with Music. They started with Tim Cook and ended with Sia. By the end of the electro-post-modern-half-nude dance-pop number, I had concluded that Apple, despite the rote claims about its DNA, does not actually understand the future of music and probably won’t be driving it.
Before my musical shade-fest begins, I’d like to recap some personal facts for context.
- I am a lifelong, fanatical musician, specializing in bass
- I own an absurd breadth and depth of Apple products and software, including Logic Pro X and Apple Music
Yesterday’s event seemed shockingly ignorant of the strategic trends in the future of music. That feels really weird to write about Apple, but this is the kind of year 2016 has shaped up to be.
On the general lack of coolness
Music, if you hadn’t heard, is supposed to be cool. Bands are cool. Pop stars and rock gods are cool. Music is the soundtrack of our lives. It moves us. Hadn’t you received the message? Yes, music, very cool.
I have absolutely no doubt that Tim Cook is the best CEO for Apple’s stock price. I believe that Apple’s board selected him for his reported genius with long-range forecasting and logistics. And yet, inexplicably, because Steve Jobs used to do this stuff, he has also been chosen to represent The Coolness of Music and Why It’s In Apple’s DNA.
My God, just please stop.
We cannot be all things to all people, and I would frankly be shocked if there were executives who could simultaneously interact with Chinese bureaucrats in Shenzhen to make a supply chain secure for the future, and appear like a savant genius who also, when nobody was looking, loved to rock out at home in his underwear to Cream and just radiate cool. Steve Jobs was that bizarrely rare individual, and probably not as good at the Chinese supply chain stuff as his successor. But dear God, people, why are you shoving poor Tim Cook onto stage to make me feel how cool music is. He sounds like South Park‘s Mister Garrison became an actuarial and is trying to tell his teenage daughter’s friends how “hip” he used to be “back in the day.”
I get it, he had fun in the Car Karaoke thing. He can have fun and sing. OK. Got it. But, no, he is not able to carry that spirit of the future of music onstage. There is nothing less cool than telling people you’re cool. And you can close with this:
But not even a giant bow two-toned hair head is cool by default. You gotta work it a little harder.
The products that will not be driving the future of music
Here’s what Apple rolled out.
There’s a music event. It’s in London. It’s their tenth, and the tenth one I won’t be excited about, because I live on a different continent. Also, it’s featuring Britney Spears, which doesn’t strike me as the cutting edge of cool in 2016, but I’m middle-aged and losing track of such matters.
There’s Apple Music, which has 17 million subscribers. Tim Cook tried to make this sound triumphant, but they’ve sold a total of one billion iPhones, about a quarter billion per year. The service is automatically on the device, and it’s free for three months. They’ve been out there a year. This is not a smashing success the way Apple normally describes one.
Cook says that there’s yet another revamp for the Music app. Well, that’s good, because I can actually master a record on Logic Pro X, and even I find the Apple Music app confusing.
It doesn’t really matter. Apple has lost the competitive advantage it once had in digital music. Once upon a time, the world was filled with clunky digital music players and a lot of dodgy, pilfered music files. Then, Apple showed up with these cool little iPods and an online store. You could get the real thing and it would play on one cool little device! This was before smartphones, before nearly-ubiquitous WiFi, before Spotify and YouTube music. Now, Apple has one more streaming app on a phone that also runs multiple other kinds of streaming. Competitive advantage? Nope. Not any more.
Then there was the lead weight heaved out from the stage that the next iPhone won’t have a 1/8th-inch headphone jack, the standard for 638 bajillion devices around the world. Nope. Lightning now. But we’ll get you a jack. Or something. That you’ll lose. (It’ll only be $20-30 to replace, no worries.)
Also, here are some wireless Bluetooth headphones. They look like expensive white ear penises.
Oh, yeah, and we paid $3 billion for Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s company, Beats. No announcements there, but here, you can totally rep the St. Louis Cardinals, headphone-stylee.
Anything about Garage Band or Logic Pro? Nope.
Then they closed with some modern dance pop on stage in nude suits.
And that’s the future of Music according to Apple.
I have some comments.
What Apple should do instead to drive the future of music
There are a whole lot of things Apple could be doing for the future of music. But first, it needs to quit screwing around with name-dropping Taylor Swift and Drake and blathering about “music in the company’s DNA genes” and get back to driving how things work. This company makes user interfaces and new business models, not accessories. I wish they’d get back to the stuff they’re good at.
I know that the market for streaming music is bigger than music production, but I want to start with Logic Pro. It’s great music production software – but it’s not the cutting edge, and it’s not the standard. If you’re in the business, you almost invariably use Avid’s ProTools, especially for tracking, mixing, and mastering. If you’re producing music itself, Ableton Live and PropellerHead’s Reason are far more creativity inspiring, flexible tools – especially for electronic music. And they take advantage of control surface technologies to help the musician even further. That app for Logic Pro on the iPad? Barely functional. Apple should pick a direction, to compete with Avid or with the creative companies.
Moreover, there is a huge opportunity given the amount businesses now use content to market their stuff. The Internet demands more audio and video than ever from businesses. Apple sells Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, but the fact is, these software platforms don’t play together nearly as well as they should. When producing a quick video to put up for my customers, I should be able to master the audio tracks at the touch of a button in Final Cut, since I also own Logic. But nope – you gotta output share, re-upload, and lose half a day. There is a big opportunity here.
Getting paid for stuff
As far as Apple Music is concerned, if the company wants to own the future, it needs to cut it out with all the leg-humping of lowest-common-denominator pop stars. You want to know what the future needs? A way for the next generation of musicians to actually make a living. Playing live can barely sustain you, unless you’re in a handful of cities. The future of living as a pro musician will be in understanding and exploiting the intellectual property system for cash, not just “connecting with fans.” It’s about multiple streams of revenue from creativity.
Yeah, you’ve got iBooksAuthor and iTunesConnect, and these are really headed in the right direction. If I may be so bold, killer app that shit. Remember what you guys did for iTunes back when the MP3 thing was a dumpster fire? Do that for being a songwriter. Now that would be cool.
Then, promote those musicians more, so there’s something to come after the current crop of big names that dominate all these apps.
You’ve actually got this pretty well in hand. You’ve got computers, the handheld, the TV, the ear-thingees. Make it so that all of those things work together a little more smoothly, but you’re already doing that. It’s why it’s frustrating when you act like chip-driven, wireless ear pods are cool. They’re neat, but they’re not a step ahead in a meaningful sense. That lies in addressing the challenges above.
And also in doing something with Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Those guys know what cool is. Put them on stage next. And listen to them.