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    Dr. Dre’s Beats Music faces tough streaming competition

    You don’t have to be a hip-hop fan to listen to Dr. Dre. The rapper and entrepreneur has built a $1.2 billion business selling gaudy audio gear.

    Those huge headphones you see on subway riders are probably his.

    Now Dr. Dre is giving us something else to hear — millions of tunes, available practically anywhere.


    Beats Music, which launched on Tuesday, is the latest service to deliver streams of Internet music to our computers and mobile devices. But perhaps we should abandon the word streaming — a tidal wave is more like it.

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    Internet music was popular only with deskbound nerds a decade ago. But these days, hordes of us are tuning in.

    Now Dr. Dre and his business partners — Jimmy Iovine, the chairman of recording company Interscope Geffen A&M, and singer-songwriter Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails — want a slice of this nice, plump market.

    Trouble is, they’re late.

    A horde of strong rivals is already in place, including market leader Pandora, Google Inc., the European titan Spotify, Apple Inc., and plenty of others.


    How can the good doctor hope to break through?

    He’s counting on marketing help from AT&T Inc., and on a new way of delivering exactly the kind of music each listener wants.

    You can try a week’s worth of Beats Music for free at AT&T customers can get a month for free, or up to three months for those on a family plan. After that, it’s $9.99 a month. AT&T family plan customers can share the service with up to five relatives for $14.99 a month.

    Unlike most rival music services, Beats doesn’t offer a free version. But at least your listening will never be interrupted by ads.

    Beats Music runs through the Web browser of a personal computer, or through apps for Apple iOS, Google Android, or Microsoft Windows Phone devices.


    I set it up on an Android phone, and was greeted by a lovely screen interface — brightly colored bubbles containing the names of musical genres and performers.

    Touching the right bubbles helps the Beats software select the best music for each listener.

    The Beats app then displayed a “Just For You” screen, with links to music that is supposed to suit me.

    The results were happily eccentric.

    I suggested a fondness for the Allman Brothers, country singer Ernest Tubb, and soul diva Jill Scott.

    Back came pointers to the music of Cream, Erykah Badu, and Roy Rogers.

    Not quite what I’d expected, but close enough to tempt me into expanding my musical universe.

    An even slicker innovation awaited on the app’s next page. It’s called “The Sentence,” and it helps Beats deliver the music appropriate for countless commonplace situations.

    Just touch the screen to modify four highlighted variables in a sentence.

    For instance: I’m at work and feel like dancing with my co-workers to metal. The Beats software chose a suitably edgy playlist topped with a tasty slice of the band Megadeth. Ask for soft rock instead of metal, and here comes Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”

    If you’re too lazy to write complete sentences, Beats Music has dozens of prepackaged playlists suitable for many circumstances, from getting dumped by a girlfriend to getting pumped at the gym.

    Each song features a link to the underlying album so you can easily find more music by the same artist.

    Every musical genre is well-represented, including a deep selection of classical stuff.

    And since it is a subscription service, Beats Music lets you download thousands of songs to your mobile device, for listening even when you’re not online.

    You can keep the songs as long as you keep paying the monthly fee.

    In all, Beats Music is a first-class offering, but I suspect it will be a hard sell. A fumbled launch hasn’t helped; the Beats service crashed on Wednesday, perhaps due to so many new customers, or maybe a showstopping software bug.

    Meanwhile, rivals are fighting back.

    For instance, Spotify now allows free unlimited music streams to mobile devices. Indeed, most streaming services have a no-cost option that will deliver more than enough music to satisfy many listeners.

    So Dr. Dre needs a few million music lovers willing to pay for their pleasures. It won’t be easy, but people tend to listen to this guy.

    Hiawatha Bray can be reached at