Intro to – Beats Music

by | Jan 29, 2014 | Good Finds, Music

My guess is the majority of this audience doesn’t follow the Beats empire too closely, even if they’re aware of its existence. I fall into that category. So when Beats Music was announced, I assumed it would simply be a way of listening to Drake and Pink and whatever else is on the 18-24 demo radio stations. I signed up anyway, because I really want to find a streaming music service that works1. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Registration & Setup

When you go to the Beats Music website, you’re strongly encouraged to download their mobile apps.  I figured that’s the experience they really want to push, so I went that route.  The mobile screenshots below are all from their Android app.

The registration is easy.  They don’t force you to connect any social services (but you can) and they don’t ask for money.  They just automatically push you into the 7 day free trial2.  They even did a nice job with the gender issue, at least showing they know how to speak to their audience.



After making a username/password, you give Beats an idea of what types of music you like.  When I saw how general this was, I got a bit worried.  I also don’t know how to deal with “pop” as I love pop music, but not pop(ular) music.  I didn’t know which they were referring to and was terrified I’d be hit with non-stop Macklemore.

Minor note, the “press and hold” for stuff you don’t like is a bit annoying.  I know they’re trying to avoid accidents, but you have to hold for three seconds…



Next up, you refine your selections by going through the same exercise on the artist level.  Despite what the screen below shows, you select three artists you like, delete any you hate, and everything else is just stuff you can tolerate, I guess.  I did NOT leave Bon Jovi in there.




The Interface & Usage

The mobile and desktop interface is pretty clean and simple.  You’re immediately greeted with suggestions – called “just for you”.  This includes playlists (curated by Beats or by users) and albums.  Maybe it includes more over time, but so far it seems like they stick to that.  You can also see what’s hot in general – but not tailored to you.




One of the most heavily promoted features is their ability to generate playlists based on your activity or mood.  The major way they do this is with a bit of a Mad Libs process.  The shot below is the result of me filling in their little questionnaire.  It’s fairly dynamic – as soon as I put “on the couch” for the first section, the rest of the sentence changed.

I have no idea if this is a useful feature or a novelty.  When I’m on the couch craving junk food, it’s because I’m stressed and probably need some real ambient stuff to calm me down, not pounding on a snare drum at 180 bpm.  But still, it’s neat.




What’s maybe better, yet seemingly hidden away, is their activity-based playlists.  You select from a long list of verbs, and within, there are numerous playlists that are supposed to fit that experience.  As you can see below, I picked “dreaming” and got some pretty good suggestions.




On a side note – the web interface is all AJAX based (I think – or something similar) so no matter how much you play around with clicking stuff or going into menus, your music doesn’t stop.  That’s nice, and I mention it because I know I’ve run into problems with Pandora, Last.FM and others in that department.  It also means that everything loads really frickin fast.

The Catalog

While curation and discovery are fun – I tend to prefer listening to full albums.  So having a good experience there is essential.  Like *any* legal streaming service, they don’t have everything…


But they do have a really nice catalog.  The artists pages are pretty, albeit full of unnecessary visual styling.


But when you scroll down, everything you’d want is right there.




Being able to find new (to you) music is another essential feature.  From what we’ve already seen, Beats Music is definitely tailored toward this aspect, pretty much on every screen.  Their various algorithms seem to do a great job of finding music similar to the styles you enjoy, and definitely don’t keep it too safe either (I think Pandora suffers from this).  You can connect friends, and get virtually the same experience of sharing/discovery you would on Spotify.

And there’s also one other neat little thing…


It appears most artist pages have this playlist, so it must be generated by an algorithm.  It appears it does not do the obvious, and take the most popular tracks.  It seems to vary stuff across albums and maybe takes some of the internal data of the songs (tempo, dynamics) to give you a real variety of music from a given band.  I think it’s an awesome little feature.  Whenever someone tells me about a new band, and they have numerous albums, it’s unfair to judge them by just one album – so this might be a good way to decide whether you want to invest more time in a band by listening to their full catalog.  I like it.

Is it worth switching?

If you’re currently with a paid streaming service, I would drop everything and do a free trial.  For the same money, this might be worth it.  There’s no free version as of today, so if you’ve been considering something paid, this might be the one to make the jump with.  I think Spotify is still the best free desktop option, Pandora might be the best free mobile option.  Google Play is awesome in that they let you sync your own music and listen for free on any device3.  And certainly others have their own little charms.

But bottom line is Beats Music is impressive.  It does a great job of blending the best features of other services in a quick, responsive and logical interface.  They might not have solved the discovery/curation thing, but their multi-faceted take on it is admirable and very usable.  Give it a try, let me know what you think.

Update – I feel like a jerk for missing this… but I noticed that the web interface is missing all the cool mood/activity based discovery features.  Maybe this is an update coming soon (there’s no sign of it in their FAQ), but it kinda stinks.  If you’re one of many who stream a ton of music at work, that is something to consider.


  1. And I needed something to write about
  2. It was only later I realized this, when I saw in the desktop version that it was a 7 day trial.  I thought it was a bit of a ripoff, since I’m conditioned to get 30 days for free.  But I guess everyone knows how streaming music works, so you should only need a week to decide if Beats is better.  Fine.
  3. but everything else about it is bad