The music industry news this week was all about the possible acquisition of Beats Audio by Apple. While Apple has characteristically said nothing about the supposed $3.2 billion deal, there’s been a lot of speculation about what such an acquisition could mean for the music industry.
Here are our two cents about what it could mean for the mastering side of music production.
Many have speculated that the big draw for Apple with Beats Audio is the Beats Music streaming service. Since the lackluster performance of iTunes Radio, Apple has failed to really capture a sizable share of the streaming market. With the Beats Music service launching earlier this year with an excellent mobile interface and some innovative curation features, a combination with iTunes could be just the thing to give it a boost into the streaming top spot over Pandora and Spotify.
If this were the case, it would mean yet another streaming service to capture more of the music listening world. With a proliferation of MP3 streaming over other formats, it’s likely that mastering would have to start favoring that format. MP3 tends to offer less resolution on bass and in the treble frequency. You’d likely see more mixes being mastered for online streaming, with cleaner, less textured bass and a boost in the high ranges.
In spite of the Beats Music service, the chief money maker for Beats Audio is still their headphones, the key feature of which is the signature Beats soundstage which is said to make music sound punchier and more moving. This is accomplished with a built in equalizer in the hardware that boosts the bass and treble. On a side by side demo, Beats headphones make the music sound more powerful than ones without the built in EQ.
For audiophiles, Beats headphones sound artificial. But a large portion of the consumer market has already proven that they’re willing to pay a lot more for what they think sounds better.
If Apple were to acquire Beats Audio, it’s probable that they would incorporate the Beats sound into the earpods of new iPhones, or offer new headphones with a hybrid design. Such a move might make a streaming service–where music tends to sound flat–have richer experience. This might continue to tip the scales further toward mobile listening over home speaker systems, and mastering studios would be emphasizing a sound that favors headphones–where bass can be weak and trebles too high.
Another potential product of an Apple / Beats Audio combination would be that Apple incorporates the Beats soundstage, with boosted bass and treble, into iMacs and Macbooks. Even the best sounding laptops fall short of full sized speakers and Apple is always looking for innovative ways to get more magic with less size.
Being the trendsetters that they are, if Apple were to do this it would likely follow that many other computer manufacturers would follow suit. As music is played more and more over laptop speakers and through phone speakers with artificially boosted bass and treble, it would soon follow that mixing and mastering would need to adapt to the format of the market majority. This might actually look like cutting down on bass and treble to compensate for the equalization.
While there’s still much speculation about the possible acquisition, there’s no question that Apple and Beats are iconic brands, garnering loyalty from fans as status symbols. Were they to come under the same company, it would no doubt make some waves in the ever-evolving music industry.