Apple Music has 100m songs, says ‘human curation is more important than ever’


Apple Music has announced a new milestone. No, not how many subscribers it has, but the number of tracks available on its service. It’s 100m.

The service’s global head of editorial Rachel Newman announced the milestone in a blog post on Apple’s newsroom site, noting that 21 years after the launch of the company’s iTunes store and iPod “we’ve gone from 1,000 songs in your pocket to 100,000x that on Apple Music”.

“More music than you can listen to in a lifetime, or several lifetimes. More music than any other platform. Simply the biggest collection of music, in any format, ever,” added Newman.

The latest figure for Spotify’s fiercest rival, Spotify, is 80m, although SoundCloud may have some opinions on that ‘biggest collection’ claim, having announced in 2019 that it had reached the 200m-tracks mark.

Newman set Apple Music’s milestone in the context of the “tectonic shift” that has taken place in the music industry over the last two decades.

“Back in the 1960s, only 5,000 new albums were released each year. Today, anywhere in the world, in 167 countries on Apple Music, any artist of any description can write and record a song and release it globally,” she wrote.

“Every day, over 20,000 singers and songwriters are delivering new songs to Apple Music — songs that make our catalogue even better than it was the day before. One hundred million songs is evidence of a more democratic space, where anyone, even a new artist making music out of their bedroom, can have the next big hit.”

That 20,000 figure is interesting. For a while now, received wisdom has it that more than 60,000 new tracks are uploaded to Spotify every day (and by extension, also to its main rivals).

However, in April this year, Bandier Program Director and former Billboard editorial director Bill Werde debunked it by analysing Spotify’s growth over 17 months as shown in its public metrics.

“That’s 706k tracks per month. At best, that comes out to be ≈ 23,000 tracks uploaded a day,” wrote Werde then. Newman’s claim of 20,000 new songs delivered to Apple Music every day appears to back him up.

(Update: alternatively… those 20,000 musicians aren’t necessarily delivering only a single song each, so take your guess as to what the actual number of tracks is!)

Her blog post also touches on another current debate within the music industry: about the recommendation algorithms of streaming services and their impact on artists, fans and the culture of music itself.

In some quarters, this debate has been polarised and over-simplified to ‘humans good, algorithms bad’. Newman’s take, while understandably positioning Apple Music as a force for good, is more nuanced, not least in calling out the role humans play in creating those recommendation algorithms.

“At Apple Music, human curation has always been the core to everything we do, both in ways you can see, like our editorial playlists; and ways you can’t, like the human touch that drives our recommendation algorithms,” she wrote.

“Now more than ever, we know that investment in human curation will be key in making us the very best at connecting artists and audiences… With 100 million songs, human curation is more important than ever for connecting artists and fans.”

Newman also suggested that this challenge involves “elevating artists’ voices and providing opportunities for them to tell their own stories and contextualise their music. It is no longer enough to just connect artists and fans, it’s about making those connections deeper and more meaningful.”

Apple Music is taking another step along that road by launching a new audio show called Apple Music Today.

It will tell the story of a different song every day – starting with Sinead O’Connor’s cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. It will be broadcast live on Apple Music Radio, as well as being made available on-demand.

Streaming services competing to have the most tracks isn’t that interesting or valuable for artists, and besides, SoundCloud likely trumps them all – and YouTube may well trump SoundCloud in turn.

However, streaming services competing to be the best at “elevating artists’ voices and providing opportunities for them to tell their own stories and contextualise their music” would be a welcome trend.

Many musicians do worry about the lack of context around their music on streaming services, fearing the long-term impact of being just a line on a playlist, or not even that if their songs are being served up in a personalised stream. They can feel out of control of their own narrative, and at the mercy of recommendation algorithms whose secret sauce is, by definition, very much a secret.

Apple Music clearly sees a competitive advantage in promising to give narrative control back to artists, and that may in turn encourage its rivals to redouble their efforts on this front (and yes, they are already making some).

Music streaming competition driven not just by reach or revenues, but by context and control for artists? It’s an encouraging thought, but as ever – and yes, we’ve closed many a story with this refrain – we’re optimists.

Written by: Stuart Dredge