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Apple Music Launch Departs From the Apple Playbook

To save its music biz, Apple is borrowing ideas from the music biz.


Casual observers could be forgiven for not knowing why “The Voice” celebrity coach Pharrell Williams was in a studio beat-boxing with Grammy-winning pop singer Justin Timberlake and model-actress Cara Delevingne, who stars in the upcoming movie “Paper Towns.”

Nevertheless, the 15-second clip on Instagram and Twitter snatched thousands of views, shares and comments. The only clue is in the fine print of the post: @applemusic.

#OTHERtone @caradelevingne @justintimberlake @brokemogul @applemusic

A video posted by Pharrell Williams (@pharrell) on

Apple Music will certainly get its share of mainstream commercial promotion around Tuesday’s launch — the Cupertino technology giant has promised label executives as much. But this quiet social media campaign to tease Williams’s latest project as a host on Apple Music’s Beats 1 livestreamed global radio station represents a subtle departure from the classic Apple launch playbook.

The guerrilla marketing campaign to drive awareness of Apple’s new service is a sign that a company accustomed to controlling every part of the narrative around its products is open to different thinking, said one ad industry executive who worked for years on Apple’s campaigns.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s marketing strategy.

Since its $3 billion acquisition of Beats Music, music industry sensibilities are creeping into Apple’s strategy. The deal added high-profile talent including veteran producer and Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine, former TopSpin Media executive Ian Rogers, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and rapper-producer Dr. Dre. Their influence is noticeable throughout the remastered service — beginning with the notion of returning personality to music programming. People bond with humans, not jukeboxes, MTV founder Bob Pittman once said.

And look at how quickly Apple reversed a decision to not pay artists for music streamed during Apple Music’s three-month trial period after Taylor Swift complained about it publicly. With Apple Music, Apple is playing to the artist by extolling the virtues of its paid subscription service over free alternatives.

For Apple, the stakes are high. The company that redefined music with its iPod music player and iTunes software and made the digital music market viable through its store is now racing to catch-up to streaming service rivals such as Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud, which now dominate how consumers prefer to enjoy music.

The trend is reflected in Nielsen’s sales data. The number of songs listeners streamed rose 91 percent in the first 25 weeks of the year, as compared with 2014. Track downloads fell by double-digits over that same period.

Apple will seek to recapture its lost mojo with a subscription music service that distills aspects of virtually every other streaming service, but emphasizes the human touch of expert music curation — yet another hallmark of the traditional music industry and a distinguishing feature of the former Beats music service.

With the new Apple Music, a user’s library — the songs downloaded from iTunes or ripped from CDs — sit alongside Apple Music’s catalog of some 30 million tracks. A listener can stream any song or album, or download the tracks to listen offline. A “for you” section recommends albums or playlists based on the individual’s music preferences.

In a bid to do Pandora one better, Apple offers a live, 24-hour a day radio station, Beats 1, that’s broadcast to more than 100 countries worldwide and programmed by such influential DJs as BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York and Julie Adenuga in London.

Apple also dramatically overhauled its anemic iTunes radio and replaced it with stations where the selections are hand picked — not selected by algorithms. The playlists, which are updated weekly, help listeners discover new music by starting with the familiar, like an alternative rock channel that serves up tracks from Nirvana, the Pixies and PJ Harvey before playing a single from the British alt-rock band Clinic.

A SoundCloud-like free feature called Connect will allow artists to upload and share their photos, videos and more with fans, who, in turn, can share it via Messages, Facebook, Twitter and email.

Apple hopes that this all-encompassing music offering will give it an edge over the free versions of Spotify or Pandora, and help justify the $10 monthly subscription fee (or $15 a month for up to six family members). For a more comprehensive look at the service, check out Walt Mossberg’s first look.

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