Apple announced a series of big changes to Apple Music this week, for the company’s radio output part of what Apple describes as “the most complete music experience on the planet.”
It signaled the end for Beats 1, the 24-hour music radio station it launched in 2015 with Zane Lowe as the key personality.
Now, Beats 1 has been renamed Apple Music 1 – which might leave you wondering if Apple is going to rename its Beats headphones as well – of which more later.
When I heard changes were coming, I presumed Lowe had decided to move on. In fact, the news was anything but that. Hearing Lowe talk, it seems clear that the Apple Music Global Creative Director is as committed as ever and has been instrumental in the development of the new Apple Music 1 and the other two radio stations which were announced.
These are Apple Music Hits which has a remit of focusing on songs from the eighties, nineties and the early 2000s. Given the way many radio stations are locked to much smaller varieties of music, this is pretty expansive, leaving only the most recent music out of its reach – which will still be on the newly named Apple Music 1.
Oh, except for Country music which has its own station called – how did you guess? – Apple Music Country.
The striking feature about all these stations is that Apple is making a big investment in people, stressing repeatedly that it’s curation by experts that makes these radio stations stand out from the algorithm-driven playlists used elsewhere (such as Spotify).
And the parade of show hosts across the three stations was impressive, with some familiar names, some new, and the prospect of big-name acts hosting shows, too. Elton John has been hosting on Beats 1 almost since it started and other names were bandied about by Apple, from Billie Eilish to The Weeknd and Lady Gaga. As well as Los Angeles and London, the stations will be broadcasting from Berlin, Paris and beyond. Apple Music Country will broadcast from Nashville, appropriately enough.
So, does the move to change the name of Beats 1 to Apple Music 1 means Beats by Dre will see a name-change, too? There have been rumors that the Beats headphones brand would disappear, with Apple headphones taking over. After all, why does Apple need two headphone brands?
Though this could make sense, I don’t believe it will happen, at least not soon. Beats is a leading audio brand worldwide and has a very loyal following. Both brands co-exist well and seem to appeal to different audiences. Right now, it feels like Apple is keen to support Beats. Five years from now, well, who knows?
Meantime, it’s as though Apple feels it’s justified spending $3.2 billion on a company with a streaming service and popular headphones. It could have bought Spotify instead, and relieved itself of one competitor in the field (assuming Spotify would have agreed to be bought). Instead, it created a powerful and comprehensive streaming service of its own, in a move which arguably began in earnest Apple’s move to embrace services. Which has led the company to be a force in TV, news aggregation and gaming as well.
For now, the focus is the radio station with Apple wanting to be different from traditional radio stations and throw the rules out of the window. Zane Lowe’s aspirations include ideas like hosts casually moving across shows, across stations even, and hanging out on each others programs, as Lowe says he’s already doing. This way, it seems, they can organically create something that reflects the importance of the line-up of hosts and their relationships with each other, with the artists, with listeners and – most of all – with the music.