Three years ago, when Apple Music was launched, many thought it would just be another subscription-based music streaming service. In 2018, about 50 million people pay to listen to a music catalogue of over 45 million tracks on Apple Music in over 100 countries. And while these figures do tell us a lot about how the streaming service is faring against competition, for Apple this is not the only metric of success.
For a company that is beyond the number game, Apple did something different with its music streaming service, focusing on the independent music scene and encouraging new artists to launch their tracks on Apple Music first. The local strategy it adopted in India is not only keeping music listeners hooked to Apple Music but also shaping the careers of many upcoming singers and musicians.
One such newbie artist is Kavya Trehan, who has recently released her first single “Underscore” on Apple Music. Trehan says Apple has created the system in such a way that it is easier for an independent artist like hers to approach the company and pitch for a new idea.
“As someone who is releasing a [new] single, the two things that makes sense for me is the [exclusive] Hear it Hear. First. What they do with that here is they genuinely put you in the best playlists… the playlists that suits you and the playlist that is according to your sound. The second thing is Spotlight; you could put your music out but the way it is marketed also matters,” Trehan adds. “And that’s where Apple Music works for me personally.”
Raman Negi, a Delhi-based musician and lead vocalist of The Local Train band, says Apple places young artists and musicians on the homepage of Apple Music, which is a big deal. Prabh Deep, the popular rapper from Delhi, adds that Apple was ready to take risks on him, despite his music’s controversial elements when others backed out.
Artists here feel Apple is very communicative, listens to them and takes feedback. But it’s not easy to get a single or an album out on Apple Music as an exclusive. Apple is very particular when it comes to the kind of music that will end up being an exclusive on its platform. That is a long process that involves multiple listening sessions.
But as Apple Music grows in India, the company continues to focus on the independent music scene and acquiring fresh exclusive content. Over the past 12 months or so, Apple Music has seen 40 exclusives, roughly 3 exclusives a month.
Apple has a team of editors, distributed in all the markets where the music streaming service is available, including India. The Editor and his team decides on the single/album to be included as well as keeps tracks of the analytics. A team also interacts with colleagues in other markets to see which track/album is doing well there and decides on whether it needs to be showcased here. For example, if A-list Bollywood track like Tareefan from Veere Di Wedding is doing well in India, chances are, it might get prominently featured in the US market. For Apple, the basic criteria is the music, not so much the lyrics and language.
Localisation is another big part of the so-called Apple Music experience, something that might help the company in the longer run. In India, Apple is stressing on the localised flavour, where people like to listen to music in their own language. There are 14 localised radio stations that are combination of popular local languages like Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi and Bengali. Plus, there are stations for different eras of music like 90s Bollywood Radio, Telugu Romance, and Hindustani Classical.
India’s digital music scene continues to grow. Consulting firm Deloitte claims the number of online music listeners in India is expected to grow to 273 million by March 2020. From international players like Apple and Amazon to domestic players including Saavn and Gaana, many see India as the next big opportunity. Spotify, the world’s biggest on-demand music streaming service, has plans to enter India soon.
India offers room to grow for Apple, which has over 50 million paid subscribers for its music streaming service worldwide. Apple Music allows users to listen to favorite ad-free music tracks and stream them to multiple devices, including iPhone and iPad. The on-demand music streaming service includes an expansive catalogue of Indian and International music, exclusive albums and playlists, Internet radio station Beats 1 that broadcasts live to over 100 countries 24 hours a day and access to music videos.
Apple has deals with all leading Indian and International music labels including T-Series and Sony Music to ensure it has the right content for listeners in the country. Earlier this year. Apple tied up with Radio City, a popular radio channel, for a Bollywood countdown chart show titled ‘Apple Music Top 25’.
Apple Music is not free, though. A membership costs Rs 120 per month for one person and Rs 190 for a family plan covering up to six people. If you are a student, you can get a cheaper student discount at Rs 60 per month. The e-commerce giant Amazon also offers its music streaming service in India but at no additional charge for Amazon Prime members.
Compared to Apple Music, Saavn and Gaana have an ad-funded model that makes it free for listeners. There, users can opt for premium plans if they want to stream music without ads and unlimited downloads. Chinese internet giant Tencent has recently invested $115 million in Gaana, which is owned by Times Internet. In March, Reliance Industries inked a strategic deal with Saavn to merge its own digital music offering, Jio Music. The deal is valued at $1 billion, with Jio Music’s implied valuation at $670 million.