Zane Lowe is on a whirl-wind tour of Australia. He’s here to present at the ARIA Awards and broadcast his famous Beats 1 radio show live from Sydney.
Among a handful of other very important engagements today – including running an ARIA Masterclass with Briggs, Kwame and Sampa The Great – his team squeezed me in for a 25 minute podcast interview. Not 30 minutes, just 25, that’s how busy he is.
An hour later, here I am at the Apple Store on George Street in Sydney considering getting a new tattoo: “Don’t forget to turn the mic on”.
Note to self when you’re interviewing the world’s most influential radio figure: do a test run of the equipment, even if you’ve used it a bunch of times before.
I remember being struck by how charming and accommodating Zane Lowe was, which makes this article even more mortifying.
Throughout our conversation about how he helps push emerging artists across the whole Apple network – or how his time in Australia gave him the opportunity to embed himself in an industry he champions all the way from LA – Zane Lowe used the 25 minutes we had together to confirm his reputation as an avid music fan and tastemaker.
— Zane Lowe (@zanelowe) November 26, 2018
For someone who’s spent so long on the other side of the microphone (turned on I’m sure) the ease of which he slips into the role of interviewee is clearly a result of his passion and belief in his product.
He spoke fondly of how the Beats 1 team were all in agreement on the music of Amy Shark; someone whose success he understands he can’t take full credit for while also recognising Apple’s hand in propelling her into new territories.
In November last year Amy Shark was crowned Apple Music’s ‘Up Next’ artist. The campaign included larger than life billboards all over LA, and a performance slot on James Corden’s The Late Late Show, where she was introduced by Zane himself. These are the kind of opportunities not even money and a favourable algorithm could provide.
We actually spoke at length about Amy Shark, and while he knew all of the signpost moments of her career like any well-positioned industry figure should, it sounded more like he was talking about an old friend, while still being ‘Zane Lowe the music fan’.
“As a fan,” he mused, “all I want her to do is get back in the studio and record the next album as soon as possible” – (this quote is more or less accurate due to aforementioned ‘technical issues’).
It’s this ‘fan before industry’ approach (or ‘human before algorithm’) that sets Zane and Beats 1 apart. He recognises that most streaming services have more or less the same catalogue, their own takes on the same algorithms, and their own powerhouse playlists. This is why Apple Music has brought the best parts of radio to streaming, and in some ways really given it a voice.
Perhaps my favourite part of the interview (that you’ll never get to hear) was when I questioned him on what his KPIs are. He responded “what’s a KPI?”
As Creative Director and DJ behind Apple Music’s Beats 1, Zane Lowe doesn’t have KPIs, and why should he? It’s clear his task instead is to balance the algorithm with a human ear and voice.
“It has to be good. It has to connect. And it has to be loud,” he said (I think).
Apple CEO Tim Cook once said he was worried the humanity is “being drained out of music” in an interview with Fast Company. But upon speaking to Lowe, it’s clearly not the case – I just wish you all could have heard the earnestness in his voice too.
Tattoo parlours of Sydney, enquire within…