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Review: Beats Music May Just Know What You Want to Listen to Before You Do

Let’s start with a simple question: How much time a day do you spend staring at Spotify, or iTunes or your song library? Do you wish your music service could do a little more heavy lifting — could figure out what you wanted to listen to before you wanted to listen to it?

That’s the idea behind Beats Music, a new, $10-per-month streaming music service from the record company millionaires and hip-hop moguls behind Beats headphones. 

It breaks down like this: Spotify, Rdio and other unlimited music streaming services assume that you know what you’re looking for. They offer you the world’s largest record store for $10 a month. Have at it.

Beats assumes a lot less about you right out of the gate. It hopes you’ve got some idea of what you like — maybe some genres and a couple of bands. “Tell us what music you’re into, and we’ll find stuff that’s right for you,” Beats asks right off the bat, helpfully. It then asks you to choose what you like from a collection of genres and bands, and then calculates based on your selections. 

And then: Boom, you’ve got yourself a music app. 

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The hard part out of the way, Beats Music is ready to serve you. The app is broken up into four primary options, each designed to help you listen to the music you want to hear. Front and center is Just for You, a dynamic page that brings together tailored results for that big quiz you took up top. There are playlists and artist and album recommendations. Scroll up and down, and when you find something you like, tap on the big Play icon in the middle of each. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the choices I received, so I went on to the next option.

A swipe to the left brings up Play the Sentence. It’s sort of like Mad Libs, only for your musical emotions. Beats gives you a generic sentence to start off — well, perhaps “generic” isn’t the right word. Mine was “I’m at home and feel like running with my BFF to jazz vocals.” None of those things have ever applied to me all at the same time (really, Beats? Running to Jazz vocals?) but, thankfully, a tap of the keywords lets you change things up. 

The closest I could get to “I’m sitting in a cubicle reviewing the new Beats app to the new Stephen Malkmus album” is “I’m on the subway and feel like BBQing with my ex to seminal indie.” I fired up the playlist and boom, it’s The Sea and Cake, a seminal indie band — decent music for app reviewing on a snowy Tuesday, so we’re good. 

Really, it’s all just a clever way of getting to the heart of what the Beats app was designed to do: tailor music to your mood. A Beats representative mentioned to me that future plans include getting the app to pick music based on your location. That means if you listen to running music at the gym, the app will pick it for you next time you’re there. Now, that’s helpful.

Another swipe to the right gives you Highlights. This is basically where Beats’ expert-curated playlists come in. In that sense, it’s not entirely unlike the Just for You page, albeit a bit broader. Find It, the final page, is a bit more my speed. From here, you can find music broken down by genre, activity and curators.

Genre is pretty much what you’re expecting — though the inclusion of the Beats brand leads to some pretty unfortunate sentiments, such as “Beats Folk” and “Beats Family.” Activities is also fairly straightforward, though, again, there are some odd options, such as “Breaking Up” and “Starting a Riot.” The list of curators, meanwhile, is pretty commendable, including the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and XXL. Hey, even Target got in on the fun with its “Be Cool in the Carpool” megamix. 

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If you’re more of a self-starter and prefer the Spotify/Rdio method of searching for specific artists or songs, then you can always click the menu on the top left, which will bring up options for searching for music and users and looking at your library and playlists. Beats Music has some 20 million tracks in all — similar to the size of Spotify’s library — so there’s a pretty good chance it has what you’re looking for. Or at the very least, if Spotify has it, Beats probably does, too (with a few glaring omissions — Zeppelin, anyone?). 

Play a song and you get a mini player at the bottom of the app featuring the track name, artist, album thumbnail and Play and Skip icons. You can also repeat, shuffle, send to a friend via social, add a track to a playlist or love a track. Loved tracks will, naturally, help inform the app about your tastes.

And that’s the thing here. Beats Music is designed to work with you. Using matching algorithms and some music experts, the more you let it know about what you like, the better job it can do.

In the meantime, again, Beats Music is totally worth the free trial. It’s also entering an already-crowded market. But if Spotify and Pandora haven’t been helping you get to the music you want, then good news: Beats Music is more guided than Spotify and a bit deeper than the simple-to-a-fault Pandora. 

In other words: Give it a try. If you’re spending hours searching for something to jam to, Beats might just beat your current music setup.

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