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Why, music apps, why?!?
An exploration of how modern media operates
Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen the worst and best of music in the modern world.
Let’s begin with the worst.
At its recent ‘Stream On’ event, Spotify announced a god-awful overhaul of its app’s home page, effectively turning a static source of information into a nightmare-ish TikTok clone.
The app’s homepage, then, will become a feed that plays snippets of songs as you scroll. Positioned as a form of discovery, users will be able to find new music by catching short bursts of video, saving them with a click.
And the issue with this you may ask? Easy! It’s vile. The entire project is effectively changing Spotify from a tool into an algorithmically-driven billboard.
Yet, amidst this darkness springs light: the announcement of Apple Music Classical.
At first you may say, “big deal, who neds another app?” But here’s the thing, pal: this is actually useful.
Current streaming apps are geared towards pop music categorisation, where we have an artist and a song title. Classical music doesn’t work like this.
Let’s take Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 as an example. This has been professionally recorded thousands upon thousands of times over the past hundred years, often by different eras of the same orchestra (like the Berlin Philharmonic).
For clarity on what you’re listening to, you need to know a range of information, such as which orchestra in what year and conducted by who.
And that’s just a simple example — the requirement for specific details on music goes far deeper in the classical world, something this wonderful thread explains.
Here’s the crux: Apple Music Classical is designed with this in mind.
The company has taken into account the needs of people who listen to that genre with this new bit of software; users are placed first and foremost.
Sadly, this sort of people-first app design is getting rarer and rarer.
I don’t want to piss all over Spotify because I understand why it’s destroying usability in search for engagement; the company is independent, meaning it has to actually make a profit.
Because users spend a lot of time on the app, Spotify wants to monetise that, effectively selling advertising slots on the redesigned home screen to record labels, artists, or whoever can pay.
Attention, after all, is cash.
Apple on the other hand is in a completely different situation. It can view its music streaming service as a loss leader. The company makes so much money that it can spend huge amounts on media to try and attract more people to its devices and services.
And this is what Apple Music Classical is about.
Studies have shown classical music fans have the highest average income and this new app is an excellent way of attracting this wealthy, older audience into the Apple ecosystem.
In many ways, these two contrasting stories are a microcosm of how the whole entertainment industry is changing. Gargantuan companies are spending unbelievable amounts of money to attract users, either collapsing smaller players or forcing them to compromise their own services.
If this continues — and I see no reason why it won’t — media-first companies will fold, leaving most of the art we love controlled by a few tech businesses.
And I’m not sure there’s much we can do about it. So, uh, have a nice weekend?
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