Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) foray into the crowded subscription-based streaming-music market has certainly been memorable. First was a splashy introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. Using his predecessor Steve Jobs' famous catchphrase of "One more thing...", Cook introduced the audience into the launch of Apple Music, an ambitious undertaking where Cupertino has combined the aforementioned streaming-music service, social-media interface Connect, and the 24/7 broadcast Beats 1 radio.
But memorable hasn't always had a positive connotation. More recently, Apple's had to backpedal from a controversial decision not to pay artists during the introductory three-month period under pressure from popular artist Taylor Swift, who threatened to withhold her newest album, 1989. Very quickly after her open letter, Apple reversed course, and will now pay artists, although they're taking in no revenue.
But while many have focused on the subscription-based streaming-music offering, it's highly likely that the most interesting features for artists could be Apple Music's free services, Connect and Beats 1 radio.
Beats 1 Radio is a huge opportunity to build your brand
Interestingly enough, the first interview on Beats 1 radio will be DJ Zane Lowe interviewing Eminem. And while Eminem certainly has earned the right as the best-selling hip-hop artist of all time, it's a powerful signal to have him as the first interviewee. On SiriusXM, Eminem has his own channel Shade 45, which serves as a powerful brand awareness and marketing tool for the emcee. And that's important because it seems as if Apple is looking to recreate that format on its Beats 1 Radio service.
Specifically, Apple appears to be enlisting musicians for radio shows. Early reports are that Dr. Dre will be hosting a show entitled The Pharmacy, while Sir Elton John will host The Rocket Hour. Other hosts with unnamed shows include Drake, Josh Homme, and indie pop artist St. Vincent. For artists, these outlets, free to subscribers, should be powerful marketing and brand awareness outlets in the same vein that Shade 45 is for Eminem.
Connect is another powerful marketing channel
For those who have not been chosen to host an Apple show, or for those who'd rather not become a DJ, Apple's Connect feature also serves as a marketing tool to increase digital downloads. Essentially, the service serves as a direct connection from the artist to fans with the ability to share content. This is similar to a website, a Tumblr page, or any other social-media site, but its proximity to the iTunes store puts artists in a stronger position to convert interactions into sales. And while some functions of Connect are reserved for paying subscribers, many Connect functions are free of charge.
Connecting to fans is more important for artists than ever before, as digital downloads are more lucrative than streaming-based ones. Simply put, the more digital sales an artist can make, the better the per-song monetization.
While Apple doesn't report its iTunes revenue separately, instead reporting it within the services category, digital downloads are under attack from streaming. The Wall Street Journal reported that iTunes sales fell 13% during the year. That's a statistic that both Apple and artists hope to reverse.
In the end, while most discuss Apple Music in terms of its new subscription-based streaming-music offering, it appears that the service is rather comprehensive in its artist focus. Musicians, it appears Apple's got your back.