In Depth

Apple Music: what you need to know about the streaming service

The tech giant's long awaited music streaming service launches today – but how does it differ from its rivals?

Apple will make its highly-anticipated entry into the music streaming business today with the global launch of Apple Music.

The service will be available to customers in more than 100 countries from 4pm BST and integrates on-demand music streaming, a 24 hour radio station and a new social network.

Here's everything you need to know about Apple Music:

How much will it cost?

Customers can access the service free for the first three months, after which they will be charged £9.99. Apple will also offer family streaming, allowing up to six people to use the service for a monthly fee of £15. Unlike Spotify, Apple Music will not offer a free service supported by adverts.

How else will it differ to rivals?

"Apple has a few tricks up its sleeve to separate itself from the pack," says Tech Radar. Apple Music will recommend songs for users based on their tastes, curated by the "world's leading music experts", rather than powered solely by computer algorithms.

A Connect feature, which will allow musicians to share photos, music and other updates with fans, is another unique feature of the service, adding a social-networking element to the service.

Apple Music will also boast a 24/7 global radio station called Beats One, broadcast from three cities: LA, New York and London. It has recruited former Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, US hip-hop DJ Ebro Darden, and Londoner Julie Adenuga as presenters. Pharrell Williams, Elton John and Drake are already confirmed to do guest DJ spots, says NME.

Apple has also secured exclusivity deals with other artists, including Dr Dre and Pharrell, limiting the amount of material that can be streamed on rival platforms. 

What about the Taylor Swift controversy?

Following a very public spat, Swift persuaded Apple to back down on its plan to not pay artists any royalties during the three-month trial period. 

Independent labels had warned that their clients face a "three-month blip" in earnings if lots of people suddenly switch from iTunes to Apple Music – and Swift's intervention appears to have been the "tipping point" in the row, says The Guardian.

In a blog post entitled To Apple, Love Taylor, Swift said it was unfair to ask musicians to miss out on a quarter of a year's worth of plays on their songs. She added that the protest was not about her, but about new artists and bands that cannot afford to support themselves.

Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president for internet software and services, announced the U-turn on Twitter: "Apple will always make sure that artists are paid.  Apple Music will pay artist for streaming, even during customer's free trial period. We hear you Taylor Swift and indie artists. Love, Apple."

What impact will the service have on music streaming?

The CEO of Sony Music, Doug Morris, believes Apple's move will represent a "tipping point", accelerating an overall shift to streaming, reports Venture Beat.

"My guess is that Apple will promote this like crazy and I think that will have a halo effect on the streaming business," he said. "A rising tide will lift all boats. It's the beginning of an amazing moment for our industry."

About 41 million people globally now pay to stream music from the likes of Spotify, Deezer and Pandora. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, subscription revenue grew by 39 per cent to $1.6bn in 2014, but download sales fell by eight per cent to $3.6bn.

Apple's move could pose a "significant threat" to the future of iTunes downloads, in much the same way that its launch of the iPhone effectively "cannibalised" the iPod, says the Daily Telegraph.

How have commentators responded to the launch?

Soundcloud founder Alex Ljung told an industry festival: "The amount of listening happening on streaming is still very small. Apple is going to rapidly increase the market for all of us."

But Marc McLaren, technology expert and editor of Stuff.tv, was less enthusiastic. He said: "Overall it feels like Apple's looked at its rivals and taken a bit from here, a bit from there, pulled it all together in one place and announced that it's revolutionary. It's not."

Even so, independent music artists and distributers are confident the new service will give them a boost.  "Apple has the clout and the brand loyalty to end up with a lot of subscribers if its service is good," says Portia Sabin, the president of Kill Rock Stars and board member of the American Association of Independent Music. "If that happens I certainly think streaming revenue from that service [for indie artists] could end up being significant," she told Wired.

Gizmodo's James O'Malley says Apple's challenge will be joining the streaming party late and somehow getting ahead. "But if anyone can do it, cash-rich Apple can." 

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