Apple Music Head Honcho Eddy Cue: ‘Every Artist Deserves an Opportunity’
The top executive talks balancing technology with art, nurturing talent and why the next big thing in music might just come from India
In February this year, as many as six unlikely music artists in India made it to gigantic billboards across the country—a space that is almost exclusively home to Bollywood faces and celebrity brand ambassadors. This breath of fresh air in outdoor publicity was courtesy Apple Music which launched its first India-wide campaign, roping in musicians such as Mumbai rappers Divine and Badshah, New Delhi singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad and Kavya Trehan, Chennai film composer and singer Anirudh Ravichander and Mumbai electro-pop act Madboy/Mink. The agenda was simple: to let both artists and fans know that when it came to millennial music, Apple is where the streaming action is.
Last month, Apple Music head honcho Eddy Cue (Senior Vice President, Internet Software and Services) made a trip to India, and among the many things on his itinerary was the announcement of his company’s partnership with KM Music Conservatories in Chennai, founded by celebrated composer AR Rahman. Apple Music will open two Mac Labs at the music school, one in Chennai and the other at its upcoming campus in Mumbai. The Labs’ primary aim will be to educate students in creating music using Apple’s professional software Logic Pro X. Apart from setting up the Mac Labs, Apple will also fund 10 scholarships for music students from underprivileged backgrounds.
“The KM conservatory has some great talent and we want to support it. Apple is committed to discovering and nurturing budding artists around the world, and in India, the conservatory has been doing some fabulous work in this direction. And who better than Rahman to partner with for such a cause! We are honored to be working with him,” says Cue in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India. We are seated in a suite in Mumbai’s Taj Lands End, and although it’s his first time in India, Cue says he feels totally at home. “I am Latin—my parents moved to the US from Cuba—and India has many cultural similarities with that place: the energy, the music, entertainment…” he says.
That Apple is turning its spotlight on India has been apparent for a while now. Cue’s maiden visit to India comes only a year after Apple CEO Tim Cook first came here, to launch its inaugural developmental center in Hyderabad, which will work on Apple Maps, an online navigation service. Earlier this year, the tech giant joined hands with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Wistron Corp. which opened an iPhone manufacturing unite in Bengaluru.
Not to mention Cue’s announcement about the Apple-KM partnership was made at a get-together he hosted for a select group of some of India’s best creative minds from music, cinema and arts. “It was amazing to meet with everyone. I spoke to many composers and producers and they seemed very excited too. We at Apple want to give Indian music a global platform… we have over 30 million subscribers around the world and Indian music is very popular outside of India. We feel every artist deserves an opportunity, and we want to help them reach a global audience,” says Cue, who also heads services like Apple Maps, Apple Pay among others.
Considering the dynamics of music industry can be tricky in India thanks to Bollywood and the continuous cross-pollination between ‘indie’ and ‘mainstream’, ask Cue what Apple Music’s focus here will be, and he says, “It doesn’t matter which entity the music comes from, we are here to make sure the artists get heard. That’s the bigger aim.”
So far, Apple Music’s endeavors in pushing Indian content have indeed been diverse. The past few months have seen the service offering exclusive releases to artists ranging from blues-rock act Blackstratblues, singer-songwriter Tejas, and more recently, Punjabi rapper Prabh Deep. During the festive season, the service also created a special Diwali catalogue featuring releases by Bollywood names like including Shankar Mahadevan, Neha Bhasin, et al. Apple Music also offers student subscriptions at Rs 60 per month, while the individual and family packs are at Rs 120 and Rs 190, respectively. “We want to make our services accessible to everyone,” says Cue, adding that for Apple, India presents a scenario unlike any other place. “You have a very large population of young people that are consuming content online, and it’s growing rapidly. Culturally, there’s a lot of focus on families… And that’s why our services are available at competitive prices here.”
Among these developments this year, Apple Music has also marked one of its biggest milestones so far—the entry into producing original video content, with the launch of two shows, Carpool Karaoke and Planet Of The Apps. To head the new venture, the tech mammoth has hired former television executives from Sony Pictures Entertainment, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg. The foray into the video vertical pits Apple Music directly in competition with giants like Amazon and Netflix, who own the biggest market shares in the original programming business. Reportedly, Apple is going to be spending around one billion dollars in producing content in 2018.
This is only the beginning of what is expected to be a huge strategic move by Apple Music in not only positioning itself uniquely (its biggest streaming competitor Spotify boasts 60 million subscribers worldwide) but also consolidating its already faithful customer base of iPhone, iPad and Mac users who will now get an additional reason to stay hooked to their devices. Talking about his company’s expanding curatorial and creative role lately, Cue says, “Apple has always been at the crossroad of technology and art. I have been with Apple almost 29 years and the focus has always been on the experience–right from the way you experience our products and services… say, from the iPhone box to Apple Music… People have an emotional connect with our products. We try to be the best at what we do. We may not sell the most phones, but we believe we make the best ones.”
Apple Music’s widening pursuits will only add to the quiet cultural revolution the tech behemoth has brought about in the past decade. And if you believe Cue, it is already being experienced in the tiniest but most remarkable ways. Like, for example, the act of sharing music inter-generationally. “My favorite artist currently on Apple Music is [the Italian pianist] Ludovido [Einaudi] and I am sharing that music with my 15-year-old daughter. And she shares her favorite music with me too. Back in the day, we would never do anything like that—share music with our parents!”