"I would highly doubt Apple would start a traditional record label to sell music through their stores," adds Rob Cihra of Evercore. "That seems way too pedestrian and risky. They don't want to own a small piece of the industry; they want to dominate the distribution in that industry."
Read More Apple-Beats deal criticism is 'unfair': Cramer
That said, distribution seems to be a growing concern for Apple. Digital music sales decreased for the first time in 2013. According to Nielsen SoundScan, digital single track sales fell 5.7 percent, to 1.26 billion units, from 1.34 billion units. (Digital album sales were largely flat.)
That's hardly a free fall, but analysts said it was enough to turn heads at Apple as subscription services cannibalized iTunes sales. (IFPI, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, notes revenue at those subscription services were up 50 percent last year, to $1.1 billion.)
Read More Apple to acquire Beats Electronics for $3 billion
Analysts say Beats' streaming service was part of what made the deal appealing, as well as Iovine's vision in this field. Considered a hip-hop pioneer, Iovine co-founded Interscope Records in 1989, which became home to rap artists such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and other genres such as rock group U2.
"Iovine was one of the first industry executives to anticipate the download business' decline and advocate for subscription and streaming services as music's future," notes Amit Daryanani of RBC Capital Markets.
But few industry observers believe Wednesday's deal was just about streaming music, or the company's headphones, for that matter.