Don’t let anyone tell you album covers are dead. Album artwork continues to express the visions of artists and the musical content of the albums themselves as powerfully as covers did in the era of album-oriented rock. Memorable album covers of 2017 reflect a year in which artists made compelling political and personal statements.
Three years ago, Apple looked like a music dinosaur. The company was reeling from the embarrassment of foisting upon iTunes customers digital copies of U2’s Songs of Innocence – an incident that laid bare Apple’s reliance on downloading at a time when the music industry was marching inexorably toward streaming. But Apple has regained its groove, and the purchase of irresistibly fun and popular music discovery app Shazam is but one indication.
After licking its wounds in the aftermath of the U2 debacle, Apple focused its considerable resources on launching a streaming service, Apple Music, in 2015 — and then proceeded to show how quickly one of the world’s most powerful brands can right the ship.
Apple Music now boasts 30 million paid subscribers. Although its biggest rival Spotify has double that amount, Apple has eclipsed nearly everyone else in the streaming industry within 24 months, making it and Amazon the only alternatives to Spotify to lead the streaming music business. Just as remarkably, Apple had developed its own brand of cool by building a well-regarded catalog and affiliating itself with the right artists through endeavors such as Beats 1 radio.
A Deep, Well-Curated Catalog
Apple Music’s mix of algorithms and human curation appears to be working. The company put the right talent in place to curate its catalog, starting with Scott Plagenhoef, Apple’s global head of programming and editorial. Formerly editor of the oh-so-hip Pitchfork, he joined Beats Music in 2012, and then joined Apple in 2014 when the Apple bought Beats. And although Apple Music’s playlists haven’t gained as much acclaim as Spotify’s vaunted artificial intelligence-based curation, Apple is earning respect. Recently Apple Music scored a major coup when hip-hop tastemaker Andrew Barber agreed to curate Apple Music’s New Chicago playlist, which provides exposure for up-and-coming Chicago talent as Barber’s Fake Shore Drive blog has done for years.
No longer is Apple the brand that forced uncool U2 down our throats. Apple Music is now where you go to stream radio shows hosted by the likes of Charli XCX, Drake, Frank Ocean, Continue reading
In the United States, only 9.6 million people use virtual reality (VR) at least once a month, and by 2019, VR will penetrate 5.2 percent of the population, according to eMarketer. And yet, the VR industry has already become a complex ecosystem. As the VR Fund’s VR Industry Landscape illustrates, the ecosystem encompasses a multitude of companies spanning applications/content, tools/platforms, and infrastructure:
When I recently did a Google search for VR, my top 20 search results revealed diverse uses of VR spanning architecture, entertainment, healthcare, pornography, retail, sports, and travel/hospitality. Why has VR spawned such a complex ecosystem touching many industries when so few consumers actually use it? A few reasons stand out:
- A wide range of corporations are adopting VR. Businesses such as John Deere, KFC, UPS, and Walmart are using VR for training workers. Brands ranging from Alibaba to Audi have launched VR experiences that reimagine retail. Do a Google search of your own, and I suspect you’ll have similar results as I did, uncovering articles such as “Virtual Reality Walkthroughs Are Transforming Architecture” and “Virtual Reality is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment.”
- Venture capitalists have been generous in their funding of VR start-ups. Meanwhile, content specialists for VR have emerged in fields such as healthcare.
The moment was freighted with poetic symmetry: I was on my sofa reading Joe Hagan’s newly published Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine when I noticed our postal carrier dropping off the latest issue of Rolling Stone. The cover of Hagan’s book features Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner standing in front of a gallery of rock legends such as Mick Jagger. The latest issue of Rolling Stone features Elon Musk on the cover.
Welcome to the new generation of rock stars. The giants of Wenner’s generation wanted to change the world with music. Today’s rock stars want to use technology to re-imagine how we live.
The contrast between the old and new felt stark as I read the first third of Sticky Fingers, when Wenner launches a magazine in 1967 as rock gods walk the earth. The first issue of Rolling Stone featured John Lennon. Think about that for a moment. You launch a new magazine with zero promise of ever succeeding and no credibility. And coming right out of the gate you land one of rock’s most influential artists ever. John freaking Lennon.
Recently Amazon and Facebook announced new products that will extend their reach into the corporate world:
- Amazon’s Alexa for Business, unveiled November 30, is a platform for a business’s employees to use the Amazon Alexa voice assistant (in Amazon Echo speakers) to manage everyday tasks such as scheduling conference calls and managing calendars. Amazon believes that with Echo smart speakers embedded in corporate conference rooms and offices to manage the mundane things, people will be freed up to focus on more productive work.
- Facebook’s Oculus for Business, announced October 11, is a bundled set of Oculus products designed to help businesses apply virtual reality (VR) to do everything from train employees to design cars. In fact, although VR has experienced slow adoption among consumers, the corporate world is a different story, where VR is penetrating industries including entertainment, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail. Facebook believes that by making it easy to purchase hardware, accessories, and associated services needed to employ VR in the workforce, more companies will adopt Oculus over competing products.
These announcements are more than landmark moments for Amazon and Facebook. Alexa for Business and Oculus for Business are also manifestations of something else: the ambitions of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg to be market makers with artificial intelligence-based voice assistants and virtual reality.