Consumers are about to learn a confusing lesson: Apple Music and the vast iTunes Music Store catalog are not equal. Later this month, you'll be able to start paying Apple $9.99 per month for on-demand streaming access to over 30 million songs. The Apple Music library is very different from the iTunes store. And that's a critical distinction; what you're not getting is an all-you-can-eat listening feast that pulls in everything iTunes has to offer. If that were the case, that 30 million figure would balloon to an enormous figure. So the iTunes store and regular old music purchases remain a significant piece of the puzzle. Apple describes it as "the heart" of everything, because without iTunes, this catalog would look awfully similar to Spotify's.
It seems Apple is no more immune to the same annoying catalog holes that have nagged other streaming services. But it may prove better at navigating them thanks to people like Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor. That said, hurdles are already coming up. For one, don't expect to stream The Beatles discography without paying for it separately. The Fab Four went unmentioned during today’s WWDC keynote, which was the first clue that they’ll be absent from Apple Music’s catalog come June 30th. There was no cover art for Abbey Road or Revolver when Eddy Cue showed a slide with a huge grid of albums that can be streamed. If a deal were in place, Jimmy Iovine or Cue almost certainly would've told us about it. Bloomberg reports that the company still hasn't managed to finalize a deal with Apple Corps.
Apple and The Beatles share an interesting history; for years the tech company and the band's Apple Corps record label sparred over trademark conflicts. That feud was settled in 2007, and in 2010 the whole Beatles catalog was finally made available digitally with lauded remasters. Apple landed a big-time exclusive in bringing Paul, John, George, and Ringo to a new generation of listeners; you still can't buy Beatles albums from Amazon MP3 or other digital music sellers. Yet there's something keeping the band and its label away from the subscription-based music model popularized by Spotify. That's the same model that Apple would have you believe is the right way forward. (Of course, there's more to Apple Music than just music.)
Plenty of artists, both young and old, share that strict attitude about where and how their music can be accessed. Above is the full grid that appeared behind Cue on stage As for another big name, Taylor Swift, Bloomberg says that Apple has successfully brought the pop music star on board. That's not entirely a surprise; Swift kept her albums on Beats Music after famously pulling them from Spotify over frustrations with that company's free, ad-sponsored tier. (Cue did feature Swit's music in a playlist on stage.) Taylor Swift alone will get plenty of people to start that 3-month trial. But The Beatles could've been an equally important influence for moving other customers to the streaming model. It would be an enormous thing to hold over Spotify.
For tech-savvy users, this separation between iTunes and the Apple Music library may not prove confusing. But plenty of people are already getting it wrong, and Apple itself is partially to blame. Over at the Beats Music website, this FAQ page falsely claims that you'll gain unbridled access to all of iTunes upon signing up for Apple Music. That's just flat out incorrect; your $9.99 won't earn you "all of the songs in the iTunes catalog" unless you've bought millions of them yourself.
Internal confusion aside, Apple is still trying to lock down deals with music labels and publishers ahead of that impending June 30th launch date. A few weeks can make all the difference when it comes to this sort of thing, and it's been said that Eddy Cue and Jimmy Iovine are pretty effective negotiators.
Just don't forget about the iTunes piece. Like Google Play All Access, Apple seems to think that combining a digital music store with a streaming service is the right way to build a single, all-encompassing music product. If you've already bought The Beatles discography or anything else missing from Apple Music, those songs — your songs — will appear on your phone right alongside the same library that's open to all subscribers. And iTunes Match, the $24.99-per-year service that uploads ripped CDs to the cloud, is sticking around to preserve the other obscure sections of your music collection that even Apple doesn't have.
But if you were expecting Apple Music alone (sans your past iTunes purchases) to march out and eclipse Spotify's catalog, that's a bit unrealistic. The dream is obviously paying $9.99 for unlimited access to everything, but we're not close to that point yet. Right now, both Spotify and Apple are pointing to that 30 million number. Thankfully for Apple, its own tally includes Taylor Swift. If the company manages to add The Beatles and a few other names that have resisted Spotify, the outlook could swing dramatically in Apple's favor.