Zane Lowe didn’t join Apple Music / Beats 1 to tell artists what they can and can’t do.
Lowe, Apple Music’s Global Creative Director, says 24/7 radio station Beats 1 sets out to create a “club room” environment for artists; a place where they can hang out and express themselves – whether “on cycle” with a record or not.
It’s a pretty smart strategy: Build genuinely meaningful relationships with the world’s biggest artists, give them a platform to say and play whatever they want, and drive the global conversation around music in the process. And you only need look at Beats 1’s schedule from the past week to see the impact it’s having.
Case in point: On Saturday (October 19) Frank Ocean released his new single DHL on a new episode of his Beats 1 radio show, blonded, which aired for the first time in two years. The track marked the artist’s first new music since 2017.
And then, yesterday (October 24), Beats 1 grabbed the world’s headlines via Lowe’s two-hour long interview with Kanye West. It was the rapper’s first interview in over a-year-and-half, in which he discussed the making of his new album Jesus Is King – released today.
“We want artists to be able to do whatever they want, ultimately. That’s always been the dream.”
This past week has also seen the launch of the first Beats 1 Rap Life Radio show with Ebro Darden, centered around Apple Music’s popular Rap Life playlist. In addition, there’s been a Gucci Mane interview, plus today’s debut of Lowe’s new, weekly New Music Daily show with guest appearances from Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Chris Martin, bringing to life Apple’s New Music Daily playlist launched last month.
Says Lowe: “We are just trying to create lots of depth and lots of opportunities and not just be a conduit for one experience. We want artists to be able to do whatever they want, ultimately. That’s always been the dream.”
Here, MBW catches up with Lowe to find out about the new playlists, live shows and how Apple Music and Beats 1 are committed to super-serving artists and fans…
Why are Apple Music and Beats 1 getting these exclusive interviews and premieres? And why are some of the world’s biggest radio stations… not getting them?
I can’t speak for anyone else. I know that we’ve really spent, coming up on five years, trying to build up what I would consider to be a deep and valued experience. We opened our doors from day one. We really relinquished as much of the control over the experience as possible, in terms of [not] asking artists to do things that benefited us more than them.
We were very, very transparent from the beginning in terms of wanting artists to be able to use Beats 1 as a function on Apple Music to be creative; to do what they want to do. To make radio shows or take over the station or play their projects in full or interview each other. Or do one-off our specials about subjects or causes that mean something and mattered to them.
“We opened our doors from day one. We really relinquished as much of the control over the experience as possible, in terms of [not] asking artists to do things that benefited us more than them.”
I hope there isn’t an artist, we’ve worked with, certainly when it comes to them making their own shows and seasons and content and creative, that would say that we’ve kind of put our own ideas or our own interests before theirs.
In terms of the distribution and the way that music reaches an audience now, streaming is the meeting place. It’s the club room, where artists and fans come together and share that really precious thing. The fact that we built this kind of environment within a streaming service, ultimately just kind of ticks a lot of boxes.
You mentioned that notion of ‘clubhouse’, like a collective identity, but at the same time that’s a celebration of a sort of eclecticism…
It creates a more eclectic experience and it actually fosters individuality more than, I think, driving individuals to a place where the brand is the star. I want to get away from a place where artists are [considered] lucky to be a part of a brand. It’s like, No. We are lucky to be around you.
“I want to get away from a place where artists are [considered] lucky to be a part of a brand. It’s like, No. We are lucky to be around you.”
That really was the 180 that I did when I came here. I realized that this is a privilege. I just didn’t want to expect anything of anyone. I just wanted us all to create a really open offering and say, ‘Here is what we have. We reach over a hundred countries.
We have great resources and great support from a great company. We built a great radio station, a great audio satellite that can reach a lot of people. And, and we have got really good people working here who really value what you do.’
It’s a playlist that reflects creative distribution; before, distribution was very much in the hands of the industry, deciding when and how music came out. Now artists can decide when they want to put music out.
I’ve been in studios with artists listening to music and I’m like, ‘When’s it coming out? And they are like, I don’t know, an hour?’ It’s really inspiring to be around that because they can reach their audience quickly and effectively.
The reason I’m in the room or Beats 1 is in the room, or Apple Music is in the room is because they want our help to do that. So we need to create opportunities for artists to be able to reach their audience and not slow them down, not try to herd them into a place where they do it on our terms.
So with New Music Daily, we update that every day because music is coming out all the time. And the fans can access it and realize that information immediately.
Time is becoming so increasingly valuable. Our relationship with time is changing and the efficiency in which [we] can receive information and share things is making us really address our relationship with and attitude towards time. So we want to create shows that do that.
We want to be able to say, ‘Hey look, you know, at the end of the day, in the last like 12 hours, all this music has come out and, you know, in the last couple of days Selena Gomez has come back and she’s going to come talk about her music and Taylor is going to talk about this. Here is Chris Martin, he’s going to join us on Facetime video talking about his music. And the idea is that it extends that ‘clubhouse’ idea into a place where, once a week, artists can come and speak to their fans direct and say, ‘I’m really excited.’’
Apple music launched the Rap Life playlist earlier this year and the first Rap Life Radio show aired last week. How important is it for Apple Music and for Beats 1 to be leading the global conversation around hip-hop? And do you think you’re achieving that?
It’s incredibly important that we reflect and play a role of value in the conversation of any genre of music. But we are the number one service for hip-hop in the world in terms of the amount of people that are subscribing to [Apple Music]. We’re number one for hip-hop worldwide and in America.
That’s a reflection of the relationships we’ve had with the artists that we have collaborated with, from Drake right through to Dr Dre who helped us launch things on Beats 1. You know, great relationships and helping develop new talent, from Rich the Kid right through to Megan Thee Stallion and Young MA most recently.
But also all of that rests with Ebro Darden and what he’s been doing from New York City. And the fact that Ebro, when he joined Apple Music was already one of the most respected voices in hip-hop and hip-hop culture. His role in Hot97 is a very valuable one in rap and in hip-hop.
To have him at Apple Music and, and now [for him] to be running the hip-hop editorial space globally and to be able to create a playlist property like Rap Life – again, in the same way that New Music Daily is taking new music that’s been released that week and all the excitement around the biggest and most exciting releases and trying to get the space where the conversation can be. And created a space of context.
That’s what Rap Life is doing. Rap life is saying, hip-hop moves fast, hip-hop moves loud, it’s visceral, and we need a space where we can put context around that and have that conversation and talk about what’s moving and what’s important.
You said in an interview with MBW earlier this year that ‘functionality is so important: the service needs to work and it needs to be intuitive, but there should 100% be room for creative discovery and it should be 100% driven by the artists, or at least in collaboration with the artists’. Could you elaborate on that notion?
It has always been about the artists from day one. I look at my life and how I’ve watched the ability for artists to be able to control their own careers and their own creative and their own relationships with fans, and ultimately make their own decisions. It has been one of the greatest experiences for me as a music fan, to watch that change over time.
When I was growing up, there were very few Fugazis out there. There were very few artists that would carry their own equipment into town, and book their own motels, and cook dinner for the support bands, and release their own music. And that is because it was a long road. There weren’t the tools [available] for artists to do that and still be able to really focus on music, which is what most artists want to do.
“Functionality is important and we’re getting really good at that, but we’re not going to sacrifice our commitment to the artist and the fan. We are just not. It’s not about one or about the other. We’re not here if those two aren’t having a conversation; we don’t exist.”
And now we’re at a point where that idea of being able to distribute your own music, reach your fans, to DM artists and ask them for collaborations or ask them to support you, and just be very much in control ultimately of your environment, is so exciting.
I love it when an artist signs a record deal and they are happy about it. I love it when an artist finds a lawyer or a manager, an agent, or does an interview with me and they’re happy about it. More than ever, artists are in a position whereby they can do what they want, when they want, and decide how they want to expand their business model and who they want to work with.
We’re living in a time where the artists have so much more control over their own destiny. And [Apple Music is] in a space where we’ve been so artist-orientated from day one. I look at a streaming service like TIDAL and I respect them for the same thing. They came out very artist-orientated.
We’ve been quite exemplary at that. We’ve been very artist-focused, very supportive of their creative identity, and not really tried to compromise that for our own benefit.
We have a lot of space and an increasing amount of tools, playlists, shows, ideas, and creative that is there to support the artists and connect them to the audience because their audience are our subscribers. I am their audience, I am a subscriber. When I go on Apple Music, I want to have the best experience as a subscriber, not just because I work here. I want to have a deeper experience because that is the kind of music fan I am.
And that’s why I say, functionality is important and we’re getting really good at that, but we’re not going to sacrifice our commitment to the artist and the fan. We are just not. It’s not about one or about the other. We’re not here if those two aren’t having a conversation; we don’t exist.Music Business Worldwide