Apple’s new music mastermind has been named: Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor at Woodstock in 1994.
Trent Reznor at Woodstock in 1994.
Image: AP Photo/John Gaps III
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Apple’s much-anticipated overhaul of its music strategy amid the decline of digital track downloads is gathering pace.

Recall that the company bought Beats Electronics, a high-end headphones maker and streaming music service, for $3 billion last May, and in the coming months is expected to relaunch the streaming product, probably under its better known iTunes brand.

This revamp will require a redesign of its music apps, and to lead that process, the company has not turned to a software engineer, or even Jimmy Iovine, the über-connected music industry impresario that came into the company’s fold as part of the Beats acquisition.

Instead it has chosen a 1990s-era industrial metal star, Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails, to do it. From the New York Times (paywall):

In a sign of how important Beats is in reshaping Apple’s digital music, the company has made a musician a point man for overhauling the iPhone’s music app to include the streaming music service, as opposed to an engineer. Trent Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman who was the chief creative officer for Beats, is playing a major role in redesigning the music app.

Reznor linked up with Apple following the Beats acquisition last year. Some of his work is available here and at the end of this post.

For people of a certain vintage, he and Nine Inch Nails will always be synonymous with this highly controversial number, and accompanying video (warning, explicit). One of Reznor’s other songs, Hurt, was also famously, hauntingly, covered by Johnny Cash not long before the legendary country star passed away.

In fairness, Reznor has come a long way since the 1990s. As well as being the chief creative officer at Beats, he has built his name in movie scores. Alongside the English composer Atticus Ross, he won an Academy Award in 2010 for the score of Social Network, the David Fincher-directed film about Facebook and its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. The pair also scored Fincher’s Gone Girl and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

It’s not the first time a device maker has given a celebrity a role in the development of its products—BlackBerry made Alicia Keys its “creative director,” and Lenovo had a weird relationship with Ashton Kutcher last year. But this is Apple, which is notoriously obsessed with the quality of its products and the user experience. And the Times’ report suggests Reznor’s role is much more hands-on, and no marketing stunt. (Apple declined to comment to Quartz or clarify his role.)

Apple’s streaming service is going to cost $10 a month, the Times says, and won’t include a free option, which is consistent with what Quartz has heard in recent weeks.  This will please major record labels, who want to clamp down on free music, and means Apple won’t be undercutting existing services such as Spotify in paid-for streaming.

Apple already has on file millions of credit cards for the customers who pay for music and movie downloads from iTunes. If it can convert even a small fraction of those into streaming subscribers, it could change the industry landscape irrevocably. Now it’s up to Reznor to make that happen.