At his panel on Thursday, Zane Lowe told the story of his love affair with music, detailing his childhood and progress toward his current position with Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio.
Growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, Lowe quickly fell for music, but often lacked access to the tunes he enjoyed because albums would come two or three weeks late to the county with higher prices due to import taxes.
“I’ve always just wanted to get as close to music as I possibly can,” Lowe said. “It might come as a shock, but there are people who just like music. There are even people who don’t like music. They’re parents must have been dicks.”
To compensate for his small music collection, Lowe listened to the radio as often as he could. The business ran in his family - his father was directly involved with a local radio station and his siblings were exposed to radio production at a young age. For Lowe, the passion extended beyond the music — he dreamed of being the person who controlled music.
As genres grew in and out of style, Lowe went on his own personal music journey until he discovered hip hop music. However, he couldn’t get his hands on any of it.
“Anyone who knew about record stores knew that the people who worked there was the coolest and i was just a fucking gromit,” Lowe said. “I’d ask for rap records, they’d point me to to blues and soul records.”
As rap grew, he idolized groups such as the Beastie Boys for their no-cares given attitudes. He was also one of the first of his generation in New Zealand to adopt grunge music - he recalls pirating his Nevermind cassette fifteen or twenty times while on his traditional post-education trip to the north of New Zealand, copying the album over top of already-recorded on cassettes for friends. What stuck with him was not the album, but the experience.
“Sharing music within a community stayed with me,” Lowe said. “And i eventually got lucky. I got a job at a local radio station.”
Lowe wasn’t satisfied in New Zealand, especially considering the country’s reputation as a vacation stop for touring artists because they could barely make money while touring the country. Lowe moved to London where he took a job working at a record store, but quickly learned that England’s outlook on music was at the core the same as his, but vastly different on the surface.
“I worked for two weeks, a trial period,” Lowe said. “And they finally hired me. When i was hired, the guy said to me ‘You need to learn how to make a strong cup of tea, and you need to learn how to stop being so fucking enthusiastic all the time.’”
While Lowe worked at the record store, he saw music evolve into something he never imagined, and he eventually found himself working for BBC radio. At the time, music became digital, with Napster taking over and revolutionizing in the industry. Lowe recalls how divided of a time that was for everyone in the music business.
“There were always two camps - punk vs rock,… lars vs everyone, but worst of all, it was fans vs artists. Napster took technology and pushed it forward, but it wasn’t art. I wanted… I didn’t want music to be free, I wanted to have it freely.”
When given the opportunity in 2015 to partner up with Apple for produce the company’s new radio show, Lowe didn’t hesitate. He used his vision to build a new system, one where he could experiment with distribution, collaborating with artists.
“Streaming is a model that has changed so vastly over the year,” Lowe said. “It’s a model that brings the artist, the fan and the business together… New artists can play with this culture, and the business consistently reacts.”
No matter how far he has come in his career, Lowe still adheres to his one principle - to act as an antenna for art.
“It’s our job to be a conduit between the artist and the fan. If the artists are moving fast, It’s our job to keep up. So we have to move fast too, and nowhere is that more important than today."