From Pandora to Spotify to Rdio to Rhapsody, there's no shortage of music-streaming services on the market. But that hasn't deterred the launch of Beats Music, a new digital music subscription service from the company behind the ubiquitous Beats By Dre headphones. On the surface, Beats seems to offer more of the same; and once you get past its sleek interface, you realize that the service doesn't come with an ad-supported free option.
Given all that, why should you fork over $10 per month to stream your music via Beats?
Beats Music is billing itself as a more responsive streaming service made by real musicians; the company was founded by Dr. Dre and legendary producer Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails serves as chief creative officer. While services like Pandora use elaborate algorithms to make music recommendations, Beats Music is positioning itself as a curator with a human touch.
In addition to featuring playlists handpicked by music critics and other industry gurus, Beats also has a unique feature called "The Sentence," which helps users create custom playlists based on their mood and location. Just fill in the blanks in the Mad Lib, and Beats will spit out the perfect playlist — whether you're at a party with your BFF and feel like listening to dance-pop, or are in the car with your family and are in the mood for vintage soul & funk.
The curation element is Beats' main strength. "Overall, the focus on recommendations works," said Harry McCracken at TIME. "With Beats Music, you'll never stare at your phone, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice and unsure what to do." That's a major plus for people who are daunted by Spotify's endless well of searchable songs, but crave something more personalized than an artist radio station on Pandora.
But Beats Music is hardly without its flaws. Between its buggy interface, which is especially apparent in offline mode, and some of the obvious gaps in its music catalog, you may want to think twice before signing up.
Here's Ellis Hamburger at The Verge on his problems with Beats:
No matter which way you slice it, Beats Music is very late to the game. The service gets off on the right foot by launching on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and web — but in the digital music space, your friends and what they're listening to are increasingly important. Many of them are on Spotify, some are on Rdio, a couple are on Google Music, and none of them are on Beats Music. This is the old chicken-and-egg problem, of course, but despite its daring first effort Beats Music doesn't provide enough value added to convince me to switch. [The Verge]
Even so, we shouldn't forget about the power of a brand. Beats' popular headphones have a devoted following, and the company isn't stingy when it comes to marketing. Beats Music may be off to a shaky start, said Terrence O'Brien at Engadget, but give this newcomer a chance:
It has all the basics down pat and at least partially succeeds in its quest to build unique features around the inherently emotional experience of listening to music. Sure, playlists curated by major music publications aren't quite the same as getting a personal recommendation from a clerk at Other Music, but its a heck of a lot closer than letting Pandora serve up a random series of tracks based on a song's "musical genome." [Engadget]
Still, as long as the service is only available in a paid version, Beats Music might be catering only to dedicated fans, said McCracken at TIME. "[I]f you're interested enough in digital music to spend $10 a month for it — which, if you'll recall the era of paying $15 for a single CD, is a remarkable deal — Beats Music is a serious contender."
And if you're too young to remember what a CD is, you'll probably just keep streaming music for free on Spotify.