Apple’s history of music-related acquisitions is familiar ground: SoundJam in 2000 to form the basis of iTunes; streaming service Lala in 2009; Beats Electronics (including its Beats Music service) in 2014, of course; and analytics tool Musicmetric’s parent company Semetric later that year.
So who next?
Music certainly isn’t the biggest driver of Apple’s business in 2015 – where songs once sold iPods, now it’s apps that sell iPhones and iPads. But music remains an important part of Apple’s cultural makeup, while its anticipated relaunch of Beats Music this summer could see music once again becoming a key selling point for its devices. And with deep reserves of cash to draw on, Apple could make acquisitions a part of that strategy.
With that in mind, here’s some speculation from us about the companies that might make for appealing targets for Apple, as it strives to build a new music subscription business and fend off the likes of Spotify and YouTube – who if any of the companies below ever do come up for grabs, might also be in the running as potential acquirers for some of them.
We’ve banged this drum before in our What if Apple bought SoundCloud and Merged It With Beats Music? piece in November 2014. With SoundCloud CEO Alexander Ljung in regular touch with Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine, the communications channel is already open. SoundCloud could bring Apple a platform for independent artists to upload their music directly to iTunes in its new streaming incarnation; more analytics to blend with Musicmetric; and a community of DJs and independent musicians – and their listeners – to iTunes’ historical store focus.
Another topic on Music Ally’s wishlist: much better integration between the worlds of streaming music and crowdfunding. One way for Apple to push that idea forward would be to acquire – Kickstarter’s general nature might not make it the best fit, but PledgeMusic’s focus on musicians and labels might make more sense. PledgeMusic started off by helping musicians raise the money for new projects, but has grown into something used by labels (major and indie) for pre-order campaigns – while helping artists keep their fans connected with the recording process as they go along.
This would be an expensive deal to do, and in some ways a startling one: would Apple really want to buy another hardware firm? And of course, that Beats Electronics deal says yes, it would if the rationale were there. In Sonos’ case, Apple would be getting a company with deep experience in the world of connected hi-fis, including an understanding of how people are using its various models and the streaming services that are piped through them. A world where Apple TV isn’t the only Apple-owned device streaming music to the living room? We can imagine it.
Launched in 2014 by creative studio ustwo as a joint venture with music biz veteran Phil Hutcheon, Dice started with a focus on live music. People use it to browse a list of upcoming gigs chosen by Dice’s editors – initially in London – and then buy booking-fee-free tickets to be redeemed on their device itself. And Dice even has staff inside venues to greet those fans (the live music equivalent of Apple Store staff, if we stretch a point). If anyone’s going to do a good job connecting curation, the Apple Pay payment technology and PassBook ticketing app for music purposes, it’s Dice.
Another massive acquisition, and the most unlikely of all here given that one of the co-owners that Apple would have to persuade to sell is Google. But Vevo has been mooted as a target for Apple in the past – the equivalent for taking iTunes’ music video store into the streaming era that Beats Music has been for iTunes’ music downloads. Apple could build a music videos platform in-house, and it probably is, but Vevo would be a ready-made network complete with brand partnerships and a funnel onto YouTube.
6. Disciple Media or Freeform Development
We’re cheating here with two companies, but neither has officially launched yet, so it’s difficult to choose between them. This acquisition would be more about a type though: a startup capable of working with artists and labels to turn artist apps into effective businesses. Both startups – Disciple co-founded in the UK by musician Benji Vaughan and former WMG exec Leanne Sharman, and Freeform in the US by former Rhapsody and Google exec Tim Quirk and SoundExchange / Kanye West strategist Bryan Calhoun – are trying to take artist apps beyond pure containers for social feeds. Disciple seemingly sees individual artist subscriptions as the key, while Freeform is thinking hard about freemium / game mechanics. Either could complement Apple’s platform and get the music industry excited about apps again.
At some point, Apple will lay to rest the ghost of Ping, which journalists (us included) are duty-bound to mention whenever talk rears up of the company doing something around social music. But if the company intends to make its relaunched music app for iOS as much about sharing as listening, something like Rithm could make a sensible small buy. Launched as a “music messaging” app for iOS and Android, it gets people to share songs, emojis – including some exclusive ones from artists – and stream from its catalogue of licensed tracks. As an acquihire to connect the worlds of Apple Music and iMessage, it could be just the ticket.
If Apple opted to look elsewhere than Dice to bolster the live elements of Apple Music, Songkick would be another sensible choice. The London startup has been building its community of live music fans for years now, including an app that’s rather too successful (says my groaning wallet) in its ambition to get people attending more gigs through the simple process of telling them when bands they like are playing. More recently, Songkick has become a ticket-seller in its own right, quietly part of the mini-wave of startups chipping away at the likes of Ticketmaster. Songkick’s Detour platform, where fans request bands to play in their town, could be rocket-charged if built in to Apple’s music service too.
Does Apple need an in-house digital music distributor? Possibly not, although Tidal’s recent announcement of plans to let artists upload directly to its platform without a middleman may be giving the company pause for thought. Audiam is interesting though: founded by former TuneCore boss Jeff Price, it’s as much about helping artists make money from YouTube videos as audio tracks – something that could be useful as part of the B2B back-end side of Apple Music.
The thought of Bandcamp being bought by Apple, given its status as the plucky independent underdog in the digital music industry, might make a lot of people sad. But there’s a lot that Bandcamp could bring to the world of iTunes in terms of indie artists running their own stores within Apple’s streaming service – selling merchandise and physical music (think limited-edition vinyl or beautiful CD box-sets) within a streaming ecosystem, rather than at one remove as is currently the case on Spotify and other services.
Who have we missed out? Who are we dead wrong about? The comments section is open for your thoughts and suggestions.