Between Spotify, Rdio, and Google Music All Access, there is no shortage of premium streaming-music services to pluck from when you need to set the mood—whether that means going for a tempo run or staring at a spreadsheet alone in your cubicle.
On Tuesday, Beats Music—yes, the same company known for its glitzy, thumping headphones—became the newest competitor in the land-grab for your eardrums. For $10 a month, Beats Music subscribers receive access to some 20 million songs, a catalog that CEO Ian Rogers promises isn't bloated with low-quality karaoke versions or weird covers.
With pretty iOS and Android apps (a Windows Phone version will reportedly roll out on Friday) now available to download, the music service has a few things going for it that might be worth checking out. Its main draw is that the underlying engine relies on human curation rather than algorithms alone to give you better stuff to listen to. Upon firing up the app, you're prompted to select a few genres (classic rock, Motown) and artists (Bruce Springsteen, the Temptations, etc.) to get you started. From there, you're presented with a few options for easy listening once you swipe left or right:
1. Just For You presents playlists and albums "handpicked by experts" that are tailored to your sensibilities. I picked Motown, for example, and was delightfully granted some Jackson 5.
2. The Sentence is like a game of mad libs, only instead of a story it generates a playlist. You fill in blanks like "I'm [in my car? at my computer?] & feel like [running? dancing? etc.]" It recommends good stuff, too—at least when it works. (More on that in just a sec.)
3. Highlights is exactly what it sounds like, floating the crème de la crème picked by Beats' "music experts" to the top.
4. Find It let's you sift through playlists based on genres ("Beats classic country," for example) or activities (the best appears to be "breaking up"). It's also where you'll find the vaunted "Curators" section, where publications like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone tell you what they're listening to, too.
"From our perspective, what a lot of the services out there do, from a personalization or a recommendation point of view, is more 'sounds like' than 'feels like,'" says Rogers. "They do this trick where they say, oh, if you like Mumford and Sons, they'll give you another song with banjos, or things that are just aren't that intuitive."
"That's not what a human would do," he adds.
While the app is indeed quite lovely, and its selections quite smart, there do appear to be some initial hiccups bogging down the user experience. More than a few users are complaining on Twitter that the app is unusably slow. Meanwhile, others are being asked to annoyingly re-input their musical preferences every time they boot the app back up. It's even happening to a few of us here at Fast Company.
We've reached out to Beats for comment and will update this post with any further information on why the app is currently sputtering. Update: 1/24/2013: Beats released an official statement: "Due to the extremely high volume of interest in our service some users are experiencing issues. Most people are unaffected but our priority is to give everyone a great experience. We prepared for issues like these, have a plan, and are going to hold off on letting more people in while we put this plan in action."