Apple Music Hits 20 Million Subscribers, Execs Want "More, Faster — We're Hungry!"
Eddy Cue and Zane Lowe on exclusives and why their service rules hip-hop.
Apple has released the latest numbers for the music subscription service Apple Music. In the 18 months since the service was launched, the tech giant reveals that it has just crossed the 20 million paid subscribers mark. It last reported 17 million subscribers in September, marking a 15 percent jump in three months.
In addition, the company announces that 60 percent of customers using Apple Music have not bought content from the iTunes Music Store in the last 12 months — a portion of which are dormant users but "the vast majority are new customers," Apple's senior vp of internet software and products Eddy Cue tells Billboard. Now available in more than 100 countries, over 50 percent of Apple Music subscribers live outside of the U.S. — in such markets as Canada, China, South Africa, Japan, Russia, Brazil and India — states the company.
Apple is also touting its success in launching a slew of No. 1 albums, among them releases by Drake, both solo (Views) and with Future (What a Time to Be Alive); Frank Ocean's Blonde; Future's Evol; DJ Khaled's Major Key; and Travis Scott's Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.
"It's been quite a year," Cue says. "We were thrilled to see that we could take [artists'] passions and drive them all the way to No. 1. Chance the Rapper, who we put on Apple Music exclusively, hit the top 10 on the Billboard charts and I can't recall that being done before."
And despite a mandate from Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge, exclusives will continue in the near future "where appropriate," Cue adds. "They work really well for everybody concerned — they're great for the label, they work for the artist and for us." But an across-the-board Apple policy concerning such promotions doesn't exist. "It's really about launching things," Cue says. "Sometimes it makes sense to do that."
In the case of hip-hop artists, Apple is clearly leading the streaming charge and helping influence traditional radio and club play as well. Not surprising with Interscope Records founder and Dr. Dre bestie Jimmy Iovine at the helm, but Cue adds that Apple has long looked to give the genre more exposure, even if the Silicon Valley institution has traditionally been affiliated more with rock acts like U2 and Cue's favorite Bruce Springsteen. "We’ve always thought that hip-hop was underrepresented both in iTunes and in the streaming chart. And more people listen to hip-hop now than ever before, so we’ve done a lot of work in that area."
The speed with which Apple has built the streaming service — essentially starting from zero in June 2015 — may be even more impressive than the latest numbers, which still trail competitor Spotify by 20 million. Cue, who spoke to Billboard alongside Beats 1's Zane Lowe, says "of course we want more and we want it to go faster — we’re hungry!" But, he adds, "We can’t forget that, as an industry, we still have very few music subscribers. There are billions of people listening to music and we haven’t even hit 100 million subscribers. There's a lot of growth opportunity."
There is also increasing competition, with Amazon and iHeartRadio jumping into the subscription game and Pandora having just launched Pandora Premium. Is there room for all these services? Cue seems to think so. "If they drive more people to pay and buy music, then that's a good thing for all of us," he says. It's a sentiment shared by Lowe. "It's great for fans. Here are people trying to make music valuable, and that's part of the conversation. Whether it's Chance or Car Seat Headrest or Russ, our job to reflect the most exciting music of the day. And personally, I want music to take its rightful place as a priority in people's lives. I want it to be front and center."
A version of this article originally appeared on Billboard.com.