The Nine Inch Nails frontman breaks down the company's hugely anticipated new service.
On Tuesday, Apple will launch its biggest new music product in years, Apple Music, an all-encompassing service that looks to take on music consumers’ favorite apps and websites (from Spotify to Pandora) into one easy-to-navigate new product. Starting Tuesday, the on-demand service will be available free for a three-month trial basis, after which time it will offer two-tiered packages: $9.99/month for a single membership and $14.99 for a family plan up to six users.
Leading up to its launch, Apple has had no shortage of fans and musicians voicing their concerns over the service—only to come around and endorse it. Taylor Swift, for instance, called out the company for not paying royalties to artists during the three-month trial period—a policy which has since been reversed. And indie labels like Beggars Group, home to artists like Adele and Radiohead, are now endorsing Music, after voicing skepticism over how they would be remunerated for Apple licensing their catalogs.
But Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, who was chief creative officer for Beats when Apple purchased the company for a reported $3 billion in 2014, collaborated with Apple on the new app and says it’s one he’s been anticipating, as both an artist and fan, for years.
“My interest in this space of how people listen to music started in the mid-2000s, when I was signed to a label,” Reznor tells EW. “It was a weird time because I found myself furious one day that a lot of people were listening to my music and that was two weeks before the album release, on a piece of plastic they didn’t want. I had gotten tired as an artist hearing we’re in between business models.”
Over the last few years, Reznor has experimented with many different ways of distributing music, whether giving it away for free online, bundling releases with concert tickets, or through different price points for the same release (2008’s Ghosts I-IV). At Beats, along with former Interscope Records head Jimmy Iovine and rapper-producer Dr. Dre, he tried to develop a service that relied on tastemakers’ selections, only to learn that it was a challenge “trying to sell a subscription service to an audience that is largely apathetic towards curation.”
But Reznor says the streaming model is one that’s here to stay: “Subscription is what’s going to wind up being the winner. The idea that you can have all the music in the world for a flat fee, that seems fantastic.”
And he adds that such an enjoyable, user-friendly experience has arrived with Music.
“[Working with Apple was] very respectful and embracing and collaborative,” he says. “We talked about features and I was the voice of how it would feel from an artist’s or fan’s perspective, hopefully arriving at a place where the sum of the platform–it works in a holistic way. If you want to deep dive, there’s places to do that. It’s kind of like a record shop, when you don’t feel like thinking, there’s a place to have a lean-back experience.”
Reznor is particularly psyched about Beats 1 Radio, which broadcasts shows hosted by tastemakers like former BBC host Zane Lowe—think terrestrial radio gone global. He hopes the service will help music fans to broaden their tastes through personally-selected song choices (and not algorithims).
“I was on tour a year and a half ago,” Reznor recalls, “and I heard Zane on BBC and a couple of things stood out to me: There aren’t great stations like this in the States. I’m listening to a super obscure track followed by a pop hit, and the glue between it is that this is a guy who loves music. I’m feeling included. It doesn’t feel repulsive or mainstream and it doesn’t feel exclusive and niche-y. I thought, what if something like this could exist in America? What if we did something like this worldwide? What if it was done well enough and with enough integrity and without someone saying, ‘Research and demographics show…’ Who gives a sh– about that.”
Reznor is also optimistic about Connect, Apple Music’s social element that allows artists to connect and engage with fans through a feed that echoes Instagram or Facebook. And he promises to use it as a way to deliver news and music about Nine Inch Nails and other projects, too, including instrumental versions of songs from 1999’s The Fragile. As for new music, he says, “Right this second, I don’t have a new album coming out.”
While other musicians might be skeptical about Music, Reznor is hoping they’ll give it a shot and embrace it. “At Apple, we’re on the artist’s side of getting them paid. We believe in that tremendously,” he says. “I’m proud of the work we’re doing here. [But] it’s a process. There are battles that can be won and this is the first step. It feels pretty good right now and encouraging. I want my kids to feel like being a musician is something you can do.”