Mike Isaac

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With Beats, Jimmy Iovine — Not Facebook — Will Tell You What Music You Want

“There’s an ocean of music out there,” said iconic engineer, record producer and Beats CEO Jimmy Iovine. “And there’s absolutely no curation for it.”

This is a familiar pitch from Iovine, who comes from the “old school” of the music industry. It’s the tastemaker school of thought; labels, producers and music vets know what the public wants to listen to before the public even knows itself.

But, as Iovine discussed at our D: Dive Into Media conference on Tuesday, times have obviously changed. The compact disc happened. Napster happened. Spotify, iTunes, Facebook happened. Essentially, technological change happened.

While times have indeed changed, Iovine doesn’t think the old ways are entirely dead. His proof positive comes in the form of Beats, the massively popular line of high-end headphones that he’s managed to sell at a premium to millions of kids who were once satisfied with low-grade, Apple-produced earbuds.

He has managed to turn the tides of the headphone hardware industry with his ways, and believes he can do it again with his forthcoming Beats music subscription service.

The main sell? Just what he has always been able to do well: Curation. Iovine plans to blend a mix of human music curators alongside smart algorithms to serve up a better way to listen to music. A “guide” that doesn’t have to be used to listen, but one that Iovine believes we’re better off using.

Who can’t do this sort of thing, according to Iovine? All the players that are currently trying to.

“Everyone … really struggles to get the absolute right kind of music for where you’re going,” he said onstage in conversation with Walt Mossberg. “Apple knows a lot about your music taste. Google knows a lot. Facebook. But no one is using it to curate.”

Indeed, the major pitch from tech companies over the last few years has been the power of technology blended with social; we’ll be better served by the recommendations of friends and automated algorithms, both smarter than the tastemakers of the past.

Obviously, Jimmy isn’t down with that.

“Who doesn’t know what song comes next is your best friend on Facebook,” Iovine said. “When you put that record on, you don’t want somebody guessing … somebody has gotta be interacting, building real music and serving it up for you.”

Can Iovine upend the music industry yet again? There are many subscription services in the space, and aside from the smart, curated “guides,” Iovine’s Beats service doesn’t sound terribly different from the existing players.

But for now, Iovine is playing it close to the chest. He’ll let you know when he’s ready for us to start listening.

Here are highlights from the session:

And here is the complete session:

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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post