Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Beats’ New Music Subscription Service Gets a New Boss: Topspin’s Ian Rogers

There are a ton of digital music services out there, with more on the way.

So how will Beats Electronics, the headphone maker, stand out when it rolls out its own version this year?

The company won’t spell that out quite yet. But it is talking about the guy they’ve hired to run the venture: Ian Rogers, a much-respected industry veteran who has been running music services startup Topspin for the last five years.

Rogers’s job will be to take MOG, the subscription service Beats bought last year, and build a new company using its technology and licenses, then relaunch it with the help of Beats’ marketing muscle.

There’s no name or firm launch date yet, but for now the company is calling the service “Daisy,” and hopes to have it up and running by next fall.

Rogers says he’ll stay involved with Topspin via a new role as executive chairman, and COO Jeremy Bellinghausen will take his CEO spot. As part of the job switch, Beats will also make an equity investment in Topspin, and the two companies say they’ll have a strategic relationship.

Beats won’t get into details about Daisy, but it is starting to talk in general terms about what it will be like: A subscription service, likely priced around the same $10-a-month level that the rest of the industry has settled at, which gives you on-demand access to a huge catalog of music, just like the rest of the industry.

It won’t have a direct connection to the company’s signature Beats by Dr. Dre headphone line, but will be designed to work with devices running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, just like the rest of the industry.

Daisy’s big differentiator, the company said, will be that it will work hard to curate and program music for users, instead of hoping they find interesting stuff on their own.

But don’t all the other services also push curation and discovery? Spotify, for instance, recently announced an overhaul that’s supposed to make it much easier to find new music.

Nope, not good enough, says Beats CEO Jimmy Iovine, the longtime music producer and label executive, who has worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Eminem to Lady Gaga. “These companies, these services, they all lack curation. They call it curation, there’s no curation,” he says. “That’s what we did as a record label, we curated. There’s 150 white rappers in America — we served you one. We curated it.” (Much more from my talk with Iovine here, including his efforts to lobby Steve Jobs on subscription services.)

You can read Rogers’s take on curation via this presentation he made a couple years ago at an industry conference. Short version: In a digital media world of nearly infinite choice and infinite niches, consumers will increasingly rely on a handful of trusted tastemakers — who aren’t today’s tastemakers.

Prior to Topspin, Rogers headed up music at Yahoo, which makes him one of the very few digital music executives to leave the business and return. He also has a fascinating life story, which includes a stint as the Beastie Boys’ digital guru; you can read about it in this very fun Wired profile.

His departure from Topspin will raise some eyebrows about the startup’s trajectory, since by the company’s own admission it has found it harder to scale its business — designed to help music acts market themselves digitally, directly to fans — than it originally thought. But Rogers says that a newly launched product is ramping up nicely, and that Topspin is moving into areas like digital video, where he has less expertise, anyway; more from him here.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work