The Sound of Music

One of the more common statements out of Apple is that “Music is very important to us.” This is one of those easily dismissed Apple platitudes. Like caring about products or customer privacy or other such nonsense. But if you pay attention you notice music is always a consideration for the company. The obligatory music act at the end of Apple events, the multitude of speakers and audio accessories in an Apple Store, the headphones branded Apple and Beats, the music-heavy ads. It’s as if Apple’s brand had a musical score.

And of course there is the history.

Steve Jobs not only put music at the heart of the brand but he re-built Apple’s business around music starting in 2001. The Rip, Mix, Burn campaign, the iPod and iTunes which not only oriented the company away from Computers but also disrupted the “record industry,” unbundling the album and destroying peer-to-peer sharing at the same time.

Apple was so powerfully oriented around music that I remember someone at Google in 2006 dismissing Apple as “that media company”.

So there is some good reason to honor music at Apple. If it wasn’t for music, Apple would probably not exist today.

But it seems that music has faded in importance or at least in mindshare. Music is the least exciting media type in an age of increasingly pervasive visual stimuli. AR, VR is what we’re supposed to dream of and of course screens, screen are everywhere. I note that at least in the US TV screens are now placed in public spaces bombarding us with imagery instead of speakers pumping out muzak.

Music has been relegated to offering personal space. We only use it through headphones to isolate us from the auditory pollution around us. Racks of audio components and enormous speakers are gone from our living rooms replaced with outrageously large screens.

And so pundits are calling for Apple to “do something” about video. To buy Netflix or to chase after content and build or buy properties. Look, Disney just bought Fox and Amazon is making movies and so is, apparently, everyone else.

But instead Apple sill sells songs and has a radio station. And it has a streaming subscription with “only” 30 million subscribers.

Even when it comes to original video content it rolls out a Karaoke show, of all things. It still maintains an app called GarageBand. It goes and buys Shazam, and paid $3 billion for Beats and still makes AirPods and is about to launch a speaker. Yes, a loudspeaker called HomePod.

How quaint.

But all the cynicism around music is tone deaf to the sheer emotion that music can create. Music touches people like nothing else. I’ve seen young and old cry and burst with joy listening to music. For its low bandwidth, music delivers enormous emotional bandwidth. It always has and always will. It’s not obsolete and will never be. Music imprints itself in hearts and remains there for a lifetime.

It’s poetry for the senses.

Business models for music will come and go but music consumption is increasing. Access to the long tail has meant genres proliferated and production has spread to everyone who cares to try to make music.

And so it is that more people listen to music on their widescreen iPods in more places and more times than ever before.

Apple realizes this and the acquisition of Shazam and the launch of AirPods and of HomePod are to serve music.

Siri or intelligent assistance are nice new services but they are not in lieu of the need for music. Chatty robots are appealing to intellect. Music appeals to the soul. These new products are in service of music because music is what people hire far more than advice.

HomePod will surprise not because it will be a better at chatting. It will surprise because it will cause you to sit down and listen in awe.

  • Accent_Sweden

    So, follow the music.

    • Al Rocco

      Hi Res music. Have a 256 GB iPhone. Apple should supply Hi-Res music to help fill it.

  • Luis Alejandro Masanti

    Apple & Music…

    There is an story told by Don Johnson that says that he and Steve went to see the model of the first Apple Store (built in a warehouse) and Ron telling Steve that
    “They missed the point. We arranged it by product lines. We should arrange by user’s use!”
    (The story continues that Steve yield to him “We lost 100.000 buck!” And then, they drove to a meeting in silence. When they arrived, Steve just said: “He has a good idea. Follow it!”)

    I think that this is the strongest point on Apple’s way of doing business: Follow the users’ use.
    iPod followed the music listener, as AirPods, and HomePods.

    ‘Speaking assistants’ as for Amazon and Google are serving those companies thru ‘bad-music speakers.’
    HomePod will provide the best sound it can deliver… and, if you want, the convenience of Siri.

    The same has happen with cellphones: they are no more a carrier device, they serve the user that pays for it.

  • hannahjs

    Music is perennially exciting. Apple grasps this. Their iPod catapulted them to the ionosphere. It made them relevant in the coolness marketplace. The pursuit of cool is a theme that runs through jazz, culture, and marketing. Apple gets it, in a way that makes other companies look stodgy.

  • berult

    Music transcends all other languages by being both transnational and trans-rationales. And it transcodes damn well…just so smoothly…both human interactions and humanity’s inter-factions. Music soothes away, and even does so while it riles up. Music is a live arbiter between travails…and sublimations. Very Jobs-like, very Apple-like as a semiotic art form.

    Jobs’ unreeling quest for mortal perfection just couldn’t have sustained itself without music pitching to his inner ears all of its interstellar yardsticks. There’s a beat to a business model that codes for its mission statement. To hear it distinctly, is like fusing one’s soul to someone else’s creed, without any second thought. For there can’t be a second thought without it being preceded by an initial thought process. Of which there are none that could not be more appropriately described as…attunement of instincts.

    Many a fate, playing vibratos within…one…soulful diapason. Mortality, playing out within an immortal framework. And vice versa. Ad finitum! …ad infinitum…
    Very Jobs-like…, …very Apple-like… berult.

    • obarthelemy

      And yet, when Apple buys a headphones company, they buy Beats, mostly known for overmarketed, bassy+crappy stuff.

      It seems they got the marketing/PR down pat, it’s working !

      • klahanas

        This is part of what I was referring to.

  • klahanas

    And yet we live in an age where sound quality is terrible, and musical instrument companies are deeply on the red, where what is called music is not quite the same. What kid strives to learn guitar so they can be like…. who? John Meyer? He can play. How many care?

    • obarthelemy

      We’re also simply becoming old farts.When I listen in dismay to the vocally inexistant (and autotuned), melodically simplistic, MP3-compressed and artefacted and lyrically 5th-frade-ish crap my nephews and nieces listen to, I lose faith in humanity.

      And then I remember that, when I was their age, my first music player was a mono cassette deck designed for dictation not hi-fi, on which I played 2nd- or 3th-gen copies of pop, rock, disco,… that must have made my parents’ ears bleed too. And I get the same looks from them now when I push Bowie or Jazz onto them as I gave my parents when they tried to have me like Piaf, Opera and such.

      A guitar is no longer required to make music. Neither is an orchestra. Both are probably Good Things.

    • Space Gorilla

      As a musician who has performed and recorded music for three decades I can say with certainty that you are misguided. Audio technology has been steadily improving. You’re probably referring to all the kids with earbuds, but even those are better than what I had 20 years ago as far as reproducing accurate sound. Pop music (top 40) has always been criticized by the older generation, but that isn’t where the best music is. There’s plenty of great music out there, you’re just not finding it (no offense but you don’t strike me as much of a music aficionado). As your pal obarthelemy complains “the vocally inexistant (and autotuned), melodically simplistic, MP3-compressed and artefacted and lyrically 5th-frade-ish crap my nephews and nieces listen to”, well, that’s just his nephews and nieces. I know plenty of young kids (mine included) that are listening to excellent modern music, created by musicians that can play and sing extremely well. I am blown away by some of the music being created by the next generation. If you’re not, that’s because you’re listening to junk.

      As for instrument sales, I know Guitar Centre is in the red but I also just read a report from 2017 that retail music instrument sales are doing well. Perhaps you read that Washington Post story about the death of the electric guitar and assumed it applied to the entire industry? That story also references John Mayer, so it seems like that’s where you got the idea. Fender recently announced sales of acoustic instruments are on the rise. Yamaha is seeing double digit growth in China and other parts of the world. I imagine there’s a normal ebb and flow like most industries, but there’s no reason for your knee-jerk cynicism. The next generation cares deeply about music, make no mistake about that. They’re just not asking for your approval re: how they create or enjoy music.

      • klahanas

        “As a musician who has performed and recorded music for three decades I can say with certainty that you are misguided.”

        Why am I not surprised?

        And of course this qualifies you to say whether my opinion of sound these days is what it should be. By the way, how do you know I’m not a musician, in that I play musical instruments too. Anyway, as a consumer of music, it’s I that judges you.

        Yes, I am referring not only to the kids that wear earbuds, but the Beats and Bose crowd too. Yes, I include myself as part of the Bose crowd.

        Also I’m not judging genre, that’s like judging language, rather I’m judging sound quality. Neil Young (one of your boys) has the right idea with Pono. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on sound, lossless with top lossless worthy gear is the way to go.

        Not only is Guitar Center in the red… Gibson and Fender are too. Couldn’t tell you if it was the Post story, but you’re on the right track. Yes, they referenced John Meyer. I found that story interesting. And who are the guitar heroes today anyway?

        Also, how is Godin and by extension Seagull doing? Also one of yours. You should be proud of them.

      • Space Gorilla

        You didn’t contradict a single thing I said.

      • klahanas

        Have a nice day!

      • Space Gorilla

        Here’s an interesting article:

        Seems this music shop is seeing an increase in guitar sales to women. But also try to keep in mind that the guitar is just one instrument and just one way to create music.

      • klahanas

        Agreed. And as my pal Obart said, you can make music without any instruments at all. I was just using guitars as an example, and as most likely the most popular instrument over the years.

        Musically, gender has nothing to do with it, but I confess the accompanying visual stimulus of a talented women playing live is synergistic with the music, and I don’t mean “titty bar” level stimulus… 😉

        This wouldn’t surprise you about me, but I’m not interested in the financials, but the Guitar Heroes, the role models, the ones that will propel the next generation. The next Beck, Page, Clapton, West, Knopfler, Santana, etc…. or to not be guitar only… the next Joel, Wakeman, Cain, etc..

      • Space Gorilla

        There’s lots of great artists in the next generation, lots of role models that will inspire, you just have to know where to look.

      • klahanas

        I’m certain there’s no shortage of talent today, but there was no avoiding the greats of the past generations. They didn’t need to be flushed out, they were in your face.

        I blame the MBAing and executive aspect of the industry for screwing all that up. They gave us Milli Vanilli, as some cheered.

      • Space Gorilla

        I’m afraid you need to brush up on your music history. The greats of past generations were not always “in your face”. See the recent documentary “RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World” as just one example. The record industry also routinely pushed garbage on the masses with payola and other corrupt tactics. This is not a recent phenomenon.

        You’re suffering from a disease I describe as “the older we get the better things were”.

      • klahanas

        Yeah, Hendrixx, the British Invasion, Elvis, I had to dig them up…

        They could not be contained… That’s why they wer emore easy to find, as “in your face”.

        That said there is truth the “not always in your face”. Musicians in more recent years have been more like App developers trying to get in the App store…totally managed, no full creative control, or staying power…

      • Space Gorilla

        You’re obfuscating and deflecting, as you do when you’re wrong and cannot admit it. I’m out, talking to you is pointless.

      • Space Gorilla

        You might be interested in this article as well, which explains why humans can’t hear the ‘better’ audio Pono is selling:

        There are blind tests you can look up as well that confirm this. In one study people chose the iTunes master recording over Pono, even on expensive headphones.

        Of course ‘audiophiles’ (who can’t tell a sharp from a flat) won’t let science stop them from claiming they can hear the difference.

      • klahanas

        Yeah, same issue with “Retina Display”, but I look for “clean” and “true”. What is that? I consider that to be authenticity. And if I’m looking to see if they played the 4 fingered or 3 fingered G, I would use headphones, for listening though, I prefer ambient music from a good sound system.

        Thanks for the link however.

      • Space Gorilla

        It is not the same issue with Retina Display, your eye can actually see the difference and we can have better screens yet that will make a real difference. Pono is selling you something you can’t hear, and it would seem you fell for the marketing. iTunes master recordings are the right idea, and they’re real. I have no doubt Pono sounds much better than a crappy MP3, but blind tests show clearly we can’t hear the ‘better’ audio Pono is trying sell you. I thought you hated snake oil?

      • klahanas

        Above a certain resolution (hence why they named it retina) your eye cannot discern. You could say the same for Pono as the auditory analogue. They may be overhyped, but are “more than you need”. In the end, I don’t think we disagree here. There’s hype…and yes, I hate it.

      • Space Gorilla

        You are trying to paint Pono and Retina as the same. They are not. Screen resolution depends on distance, angles, and the size of the screen. There is still work to do when it comes to the screens we view. Here’s a link, but there’s a ton of info around on the subject:

        There is real benefit to the work being done to improve displays today. The same cannot be said of Pono. Current high quality audio files from iTunes are not “less than you need”. Again you’re trying to paint a negative picture of Apple’s approach to music. Your cynicism is not warranted here.

      • klahanas

        Really? Thank you Mr. Obvious. Angles, distances, size of screen? Really? How profound. And here I though ships just sailed over the edge of the earth…

        I don’t know if you’re intentionally being condescending or not. It doesn’t matter, you are.

        Any good high school student can understand things this simple, so stop trying to “teach” me the obvious. Make your point and get on with it.

        Here’s where you are wrong… and there’s no argument to be had. Human senses have finite resolution. And it’s not a singular resolution at that. For instance, you can detect motion with greater sensitivity than detail, but both are finite. Same with sound. Hearing varies by frequency, distance, intensity, on and on…

        Hardware today easily surpasses sensory resolutions. There is such a thing as “more than enough”. Whether such a thing has actually been marketed over all available sensory parameters is another story.

        To be clear, I am referring to human senses, lower level primates would be different. Mental logical gymnastics are sure to follow. Maybe cartoon physics too.

      • Space Gorilla

        Heh, you just can’t stand being wrong can you? Hardware does not surpass “sensory resolutions” as you put it when it comes to display technology, there’s still work to be done both on the display side and the capture side. But we have surpassed “sensory resolutions” when it comes to audio. You simply cannot hear the ‘better’ audio Neil Young was trying to sell you.

        Not sure I can explain it any more concisely than that. If you want to argue I’m wrong you’ll be arguing against science. But hey, don’t let science stop you. By the way, what exactly is so hard about admitting you were wrong about something? That’s how we learn things. We have an idea or belief, we obtain information that tells us we were wrong about that idea or belief, and then we change are minds. You’re allowed to change your mind you know, it’s a sign of intelligence.

        Pono is discontinued by the way, although Young has some other music service scheme now.

      • klahanas

        At least you admit that for sound we surpass sensory resolutions. I could not hear the sound Neil Young was trying to sell me because it exceeded the theoretical maximum, and that’s desirable. The rest is price.

        Now, for some science…

        You might be aware of high speed photography, or high speed data capture. I say “might” because you’ve been so stubbornly wrong. Why do you think it exists? Could it be because we don’t “see” fast enough to see a hummingbird’s wings still during a hover, or every nanosecond of a bullet’s trajectory, or a particle pattern in a particle collider, All examples of grossly exceeding human visual resolution.

        Now how about seeing galaxies 13.7 billion years in the past with the modern telescopes, or adaptive optics, or individual photons released during a chemical or physical process. Now let’s get into the non-visible wavelengths that machines can see just fine.

        I will nominate you for your IgNoblel prize, Mr. Science Gorilla.

      • Space Gorilla

        Goodness, you don’t seem to realize you just made my point for me. Thanks I guess. But that really will be all for me. Note to self *stop feeding the troll*.

      • klahanas

        What was your point that machine resolution car exceeds visual, because that was mine. Bugger off, I won’t debate facts with you.

  • Jazzbo

    20 years ago, I conducted a brass ensemble of 8 to 12 players mainly oriented towards Renaissance “antiphonal” music. We traded “rent gigs” providing music for services to a church in exchange for being able to rehearse in their sanctuary every other week.

    For one Sunday, we used Giovanni Gabrieli’s “Sonata Pian’ e Forte” (pub. in 1597) as the offertory.

    For the second service that morning, I felt an astonishing thing, rarely touched in live music. The musicians seemed literally to be in my hands. Every emotive gesture was instantly rendered by the 8 of them, in echo across the front of the sanctuary.

    After the service, an older man in his walker worked his labored way up the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to thank me (the group, through me) and said, “You made me cry.” If we touched his soul, he touched ours.

    One of the brightest highlights of my musical endeavors, which got started in 1959.

    Yes, music can reach one. Yes, we need youngsters to come up behind us oldsters and bring something new to the art.

    I am glad that Apple thinks that music is important.


    PS. Sorry if that’s overly sappy and sentimental.

  • Kristian Iskanius

    “Apple remained the top brand in the local market in November, capturing a 37.8% share in terms of sales volume and 71.2% in terms of sales value”

    Lets think about that for a moment.
    650000 Units. iPhone ASP (averege selling price) is predicted to be $740 with the iPhone X. Apple sells 245700 units with the total value of $181818000. The total market value is then 255362359 leaving $73544359 for the competitors who sell 404300 units. ASP for the rest is then $181. Second hand iPhone 5S sells around $150 (16 Gig). If iPhone ASP is $650 then the rest gets an ASP $159.

    Say what you want, but Tim Cooks Apple is crashing the competition in the meanest way and that is the money way. Got to love Tim.

    I know that this is not the right context, but this info was really interesting.

  • Kristian Iskanius

    Sorry. Needed some editing…
    “Smartphone sales rebound in Taiwan in November; Apple iPhone dominates with top five bestselling models”

  • fstein

    Music, and Apple’s other focus, AR, both “add to” but do not replace the “real” world. We can drive or read and listen to music. We can augment every flat screen experience, from the watch to jumbotrons to games with AR text and visual effects.

    Looking further, Apple’s demographic is aging and hearing acuity declines. Apple AirPod may well be a precursor to augmented hearing devices. Disclosure; I’m 70 with bad hearing.