WIRED gives musical power duo, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, the cover of their September issue, in which they discuss the success of Beats, the current state of music and more.
Below for excerpts from the September cover story, titled “RELENTLESS,” and check the full article at WIRED.com.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is move the needle on popular culture,” Iovine says
“He finds one great idea, gets rid of everything else, and chases it to the end of the earth until it’s everywhere,” says Luke Wood, president of Beats Electronics.
By his count, Iovine has pulled this off four times over the past couple of decades by (1) introducing the world to Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Chronic-era Dr. Dre, (2) shepherding the careers of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, (3) giving Eminem his start, and (4) creating Beats, the hardware company that turned headphones into a fashion accessory and today accounts for 34 percent of US stereo headphone sales.
STATE OF MUSIC
“If you tell a kid, ‘You’ve got to pick music or Instagram,’ they’re not picking music,” Iovine says. “There was a time when, for anybody between the ages of 15 and 25, music was one, two, and three. It’s not anymore.”
It’s this divide, Iovine says, that accounts for the sorry state of the music industry. He describes tech companies as “culturally inept”—skilled at collecting and distributing data but unable to appreciate the less quantifiable properties of emotion and taste.
Iovine fears things will only get worse. “The last 15 years of the record industry allowing itself to get pounded and not moving the ball forward, I think it’s going to affect popular music,” he says. “The next Prince might just get really good at something else.”
“I don’t feel like there’s exciting stuff happening now,” Dr. Dre says. “A lot of the real artists are not motivated to go into the studio. They have real jobs.”
Success of BEATS
One day in 2006, Iovine was hanging out at David Geffen’s house in Malibu when he ran into Dre on the beach. Dre’s lawyer had been encouraging him to design a line of sneakers. Iovine, in a flash of inspiration, suggested they make headphones instead. (Will.i.am had been encouraging Iovine to get into the hardware business.) Dre and Iovine had long complained that the younger generation didn’t care about audio quality, thanks in part to the iPod’s cheap earbuds. “It was crazy to see my kids listening to my music on these headphones,” Dre says. “I was like, ‘This is not how it’s supposed to sound. This is not what I spent all this time in the studio for.’ We decided we had to do something about it.”
“F*ck sneakers — let’s make speakers,” Iovine says he told Dre.
Iovine’s response to those who criticize Beats: they’re referring to technical standards, whereas his headphones are tuned for feel. “It took me six weeks to record ‘Refugee'”—the Tom Petty rave-up—”and another eight weeks to mix it,” he says. “When I play that song over our headphones, it’s as exciting as I wanted that song to sound.”
They signed up a network of high-profile endorsements—including Le-Bron James, Richard Sherman, and Nicki Minaj. Will.i.am, to whom Iovine granted an ownership stake, wore a nonworking prototype around his neck during an interview with Larry King and wormed a reference into the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.” Morris says that Iovine agreed to serve as a mentor on American Idol largely because he thought it would be good exposure for the company. “He wouldn’t have done it unless he could get the people to wear Beats,” he says.
Iovine now says that he founded Beats with the hope of getting acquired by Apple. By this point, he was speaking on the phone regularly with Steve Jobs and also with Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue. In the meantime, noticing that Apple was falling behind Spotify and Rdio in the burgeoning music-streaming wars, he launched his own streaming offering, called Beats Music.
Partnership with APPLE MUSIC
Iovine could sense that Jobs was different—a technologist who was not only obsessed with music but who cared about making a cultural impact. “I knew in the first two seconds,” Iovine says. “People say, ‘Oh, I like music.’ No kidding. You also like spaghetti and meatballs, but you’re not a chef. Just because you like something, that doesn’t mean that you have a feel for it. Steve did. He understood what popular culture was, and how to move it.”
With Beats, Iovine doubled down on the idea of expert curation, assembling a team of music-industry veterans to custom-build playlists to guide listeners through the chaos of an unbridled music catalog. Beats Music never really took off—just over 300,000 subscribers signed up—but it accomplished its primary goal. On May 28, 2014, Apple announced it was purchasing the entire company for $3 billion and bringing Iovine and Dre aboard.
“Apple got the best people in pop culture,” Iovine says. “Whether it succeeds or not, it’s the beginning of what the future should look like.”
When Iovine unveiled Apple Music at the company’s developer’s conference in June, he appeared uncharacteristically rattled, seemingly rambling off-script and struggling to land his argument. “When I was in Little League, I was the guy who was terrified they were going to hit the ball to me and embarrass me in front of my friends,” he tells me a couple of days after the event. “From the day I mixed my first John Lennon record, I never felt that fear again about anything—until two days ago. I said, ‘Oh God! There’s that feeling!’ I was just out of my element.”
After WWDC, I ask Iovine why he didn’t pick a more established superstar. “Apple Music is about getting things early and pushing them out,” he says. “We picked the right song, we premiered that song, and now it’s going to be the biggest song of the summer.” The following week, The Weekend’s “Can’t Feel My Face” was Billboard’s Hot Shot Debut, charting at number 24 on the Hot 100. By August 1 it had reached number 2.