Beats Music subscription service arrives in January to take on a crowded market

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Does the world need another music streaming service? Beats Audio seems to think so. Purveyors of those nearly ubiquitous colorful headphones have announced a release date for its upcoming music subscription service: January 2014.

The news came from the personal blog of Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers, who explains that the service (originally expected to launch sometime this year) has been operating in an internal private beta mode with a group of unnamed, notable music lovers. Last year, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor told Pitchfork he was among those early beta testers and praised the fledgling service’s ability to intelligently curate music for the listener, and help potential subscribers discover new tunes.

Discovery is a tricky problem for music distribution sites. Pandora uses the familiar radio model, with stations that select tracks based on their relation to an artist or song of your choosing. Spotify relies on the power of social networking, with friends and strangers sharing playlists to clue you in to what you should be listening to. Beats’ algorithm-driven recommendation system is supposed to be akin to the wizened record shop employee who is aware of your tastes, but also adds a few suggestions from music connoisseurs to the mix. 

Without any sort of demonstration of how the tech works, this all sounds a bit mysterious to me. But Beats Music still has the potential to be a great thing for the already crowded streaming music market, because it might end up pushing up royalty payments to artists.    

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Spotify could pay artists more with a larger subscriber base, but a rival streaming service could swoop in and offer more cash outright.

I’m a satisfied Spotify subscriber, but even in light of the company’s push to cozy up to artists, the sums they pay out to rights holders—an average payout between $0.006 and $0.0084 “per stream”—seem awfully low. If the music-consuming public jumped on board the Spotify bandwagon, those average payouts would certainly rise a bit.

New streaming alternatives will force Spotify to be a bit more proactive as artists (or more accurately, their corporate paymasters) lend their catalogs to whichever service offers the most cold, hard cash.

There are two possible options here: Artists can simply seed their albums to all comers and let their fans choose the streaming service that suits them best. A noble concept, but not likely the route that some of the larger, established players will take. For superstars with rabid fan bases, I suspect we’ll see something akin to the sort of exclusivity that plagues video game consoles: A streaming service offers Joe Songsmith a large sack of cash to keep his tunes off of its competitor’s services.

And services like Beats and Spotify will live and die by their catalogs: What good are all of Spotify’s social networking perks if I can’t find anything in its catalog I’d actually want to listen to?

All said, things are likely going to be a bit confusing even after Beats unveils more information about its business plan. Which artists are on board? How will the free version (if there is one) compensate artists? And how much is this going to cost, anyway? We’ll need to wait till January to find out, but the future looks bright for all-you-can-eat music.

If you’re interested in securing your username and being a part of whatever comes next, pop over to Beats Music and make your reservation.  

This story, "Beats Music subscription service arrives in January to take on a crowded market" was originally published by TechHive.

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