As Apple Music users get their ears around the Beats 1 radio station where 'humans not algorithms' spin the tunes, Jonny Kanagasooriam, creative strategy director at Dazed Group, discusses the growing influence of the curator.
Zane Lowe must feel pretty amazing right now. After 12 years championing new music with eye-watering earnestness, the gods have rewarded him. As BBC Radio 1 haemorrhages listeners, he and his family have been handed a one-way ticket to California and a glistening set of Jonathan Ive designed keys to the proverbial city.
Handpicked by Jimmy Iovine, Zane, along with two other key ‘tastemakers’ (Apple hasn’t shied away from the word) Julie Adenuga and Ebro Darden, will drive discovery of new music on a global 24-hour media canvas powered by the world’s smartest tech.
It’s yet another revolution from Apple, as the brightest stars in radio contextualise streaming with their expertise, creating a rich new product that elevates both to far more than the sum of their parts.
If that wasn’t enough, through Apple Connect, Zane and co will be empowering musicians to personally stick it to the greatest and greenest threat to the livelihood of artists since Napster – Spotify and the cult of the algorithm. It feels almost Marvelesque, the geekish humanity of Zane against the terminator-like Daniel Ek and his scientific experiments – the most terrifyingly example being a track from humanoid music box Tiesto that syncs to your running pace.
Whether or not you believe the PRready mission of Apple and Beats, one thing is clear. Apple Music has been elevated from a service to a movement through the power of the curator; be it Zane’s bombastic exuberance, Drake high-fiving Apple product guru Eddie Cue or Iovine’s fiery speeches.
Experienced curators have become a shortcut to making products and content credible. Those that began the journey decades ago in print or radio have accrued a huge wealth of behavioral insight into their listeners and readers. Current consumption habits have escalated into the hourly demands of online editorial, making curators walking trend reports with unique taste, giving them peerless cultural relevance. Brands have noticed, and have become clinical in harnessing curators’ expertise to win hearts, minds and, ultimately, wallets.
Do we risk curators’ credibility in appropriating their influence? For an answer to that, watch Instagram – a community built on a universe of meticulously curated worlds and respective audiences – closely over the next year. With Facebook it is standing on the brink of an e-commerce revolution, trialling state of the art ad targeting with ‘learn more’ and ‘shop now’ messaging. Nowhere will the power of the curator be tested more than in the transition of Instagram’s user base, who deal solely in visual social currency, being nudged into becoming real-world shoppers.
Are curators the future of marketing, or are we risking their quiddity by placing them within the unforgiving structure of ‘test and learn’ and the resultant effectiveness we expect of algorithms?
Be careful with Zane, Apple. He’s only human after all.