‘Ottawa’ George Stroumboulopoulos Kicks off Canadian Takeover of Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio Station
Canadians are invading Apple Music’s Beats 1 online streaming radio station during the month of July, and former Hockey Night in Canada host George Stroumboulopoulos is kicking off the global party.
Apple Inc.’s Beats 1 has held what it calls “takeovers” in the past from both Australia and Japan. Part entertainment, part education, these hour-long sessions are a chance for local talent to shine a light on a particular country’s artists for people around the world, or even someone unaware down the street. Now it is Canada’s turn to take the stage for the first time.
“People have spent decades trying to discuss who Canadians are, so it’s impossible to accomplish such a big task in one hour,” said Stroumboulopoulos, a popular voice in the country’s music scene thanks to his work at CBC Radio and MuchMusic. “What I worry about is if I can create a show that gives you an idea globally about what’s cool and what’s happening here … reflecting the coast-to-coast-to-coast of this country.”
The music industry is in an interesting place. Physical media sales are dwindling, but music is more prevalent than ever, with fans having access to a nearly bottomless catalogue of songs for about $10 a month on various streaming services.
Global music streaming revenue increased 45.2 per cent to US$2.9 billion in 2015, accounting for 43 per cent of the industry’s digital dollars, according to a report by the not-for-profit industry group IFPI. Meanwhile, physical music sales continue to fall and totalled just 39 per cent of the market last year.
When it comes to Apple Music’s current 15 million paid subscriber base, the 24/7 radio station Beats 1 is included in the $10 price tag and can be found in the mobile and computer apps.
“One of the great things about the democratization of access to music is that, for a long time, there were no gatekeepers,” Stroumboulopoulos said, referring to past DJs or station managers choosing music based on business decisions.
“So when Beats shows up (with new gatekeepers), you wonder if they are going to hear you — if they are going to know what’s important to your community,” he added. “For them to do these takeovers is a great example of who they are.”
Starting July 2, the Canadian takeover will take place for five successive Saturdays at 2 pm ET with a recognizable name at the controls. After Stroumboulopoulos’s kickoff, Toronto radio personality Josie Dye will host on July 9 with artists from Dine Alone Records followed by Coeur de Pirate and Dare To Care Records (July 16), Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew representing Arts & Crafts Productions (July 23) and finally Metric’s Emily Haines with Last Gang Records (July 30).
Beats 1 doesn’t have much interest in meddling either, letting the local talent do the driving.
“We came to Canada from the point of view of us benefiting,” said Zane Lowe, Beats 1’s flagship DJ who came to the station when it launched in June 2015 after more than a decade at BBC Radio 1.
“It really wasn’t a case of ‘How can we help?’ it was more like, ‘How can you help us get this music across to a global audience and make us sound even more exciting.’”
Beats 1 celebrates its first birthday on June 30, 2016.
From Monday to Thursday, Beats 1 listeners can hear Lowe DJing live from Los Angeles. Full of energy, Lowe weaves in and out of tracks almost like a dance routine as he plays both big hits and songs from artists most have never heard of. He encapsulates the Beats 1 personality, which is an alternative and edgy approach to radio that meshes with mainstream accessibility and genre neutrality.
“Beats 1 is for the music fans,” Lowe said. “We are very committed to the idea of breaking new music and artists, and really feel there is exciting new music being made.”
The timing of Canada’s takeover couldn’t be more perfect. Artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes are putting the spotlight on the country, but there are plenty of others that deserve a profile boost.
“It’s a unique period in time for Canadian music; I call it a perfect storm,” said Chris Taylor, one of Canada’s leading entertainment lawyers, founder of Last Gang Records and president of Entertainment One Ltd.’s music division.
“It’s been a gradual increase in terms of awareness, in terms of what we are doing musically and in terms of our export product,” he added. “Now, some of our independent labels have been able to catch that wave and be part of that excitement around Canadian music.”
This is the biggest wave of Canadian music success that we’ve ever encountered.
Canada has long championed the music it produces, but now there is global awareness from both industry and consumers about the country “punching above its weight,” Taylor said. “This is the biggest wave of Canadian music success that we’ve ever encountered.”
The Beats 1 platform gives that wave some added global momentum. Both Lowe and Stroumboulopoulos said the key to these takeovers, and Beats 1 in general, is building trust with listeners while providing context for the artists’ stories.
“An important part of honouring your relationship with the audience is to recognize that no one is really an expert,” Stroumboulopoulos said. “There is no expert when it comes to taste. I trust my instincts to play the kind of songs that I think are beautiful enough to make your day, break your heart or get you through the night. That’s what I hope to do.”