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First look: Beats Music is off to a promising start

Christopher Breen | Jan. 22, 2014
Beats Music, the subscription music service from Beats Electronics, is finally live. Like Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio before it, Beats Music is an on-demand streaming service that provides subscribers access to a library of millions of tracks, covering just about any musical genre you can imagine. These are my first impressions after spending a little time with the mobile app and site.

The next screen over is Highlights, where you see the not-so-subtle hand of the curators. On launch day this screen delivered a Dr. Dre collection, the Talking Heads' Remain in Light album, Lorde's Influences, a Black Sabbath album, and Best of 60s Soul. The last entry offered four options you get to by swiping. Among the choices were a Bob Dylan live collection, Reasonable Doubt by Jay Z, and Nothing But the Beat by David Guetta.

Move to the Find It screen and you can check out playlists based on genre, activities, and curators. Genres and curators have some great playlists but I found activities the most interesting. You can choose playlists based on what you're doing or how you're feeling. I found entries for Drinking, Feeling Blue, Starting a Riot, Studying, and Punching Walls. These aren't just random assortments chosen by algorithm, but playlists that seem created with a lot of thought behind them.

Curation and exploration
And that's the vibe that you get from Beats Music: The playlists feel like they were human-generated. Not just by someone tasked with churning out 50 lists a day, but by the crusty dude behind the counter of your favorite music shop — the guy who obsesses about music from morning to midnight. He knows what you like and what you don't and he's going to make sure you hear just the good stuff. (Although Beats lacks a feature that sneers at you when you bring a Barry Gibb album to the counter.)

But maybe you're one of those record store customers who prefers to shuffle through the bins, because you're that crusty dude. That's possible too. Tap on the Menu button in the screen's top-left corner and a Search field appears so you can quickly find artists, albums, tracks, playlists, and other users. Tap an entry and you're taken to that item's screen.

For example, enter David Bowie and tap on his name. In the resulting screen you see his picture and, when tapping on the arrow next to his name, his bio. Below are entries for similar artists. You can follow Bowie (meaning that you can more easily navigate to their work, not that you're going to chat with them), see his latest release, top songs, essential albums, and playlists based on his work. Tap the play button next to each musical entry and that thing starts playing. Tap an elipsis (...) to the right of an entry and you can share it to your Beats followers (of course there's a social networking component), mark it as something you love or hate, or tap a plus button that lets you add it to your library or a playlist. Once you've added something you can easily access it via My Playlists and My Library entries in the menu.

 

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