My first impressions of Apple Music weren’t great. I loved the first ‘For you’ recommendation it made, but the service then seemed to be completely ignoring what it should already know about my taste in music and offering me a lot of what I already owned. I also had a number of complaints about the user interface.
One week in, I was still unhappy with it continuing to offer to ‘introduce me’ to artists whose music I already owned, and was pretty unimpressed with the radio stations, but I was enjoying its hit-rate in recommending artists new to me.
With the three-month almost at an end, it’s time to make a decision about whether the service is worth paying for …
My complaints about the user interfaces of both iTunes and the iOS Music app mostly remain. Apple has done a little tinkering around the edges, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Apple has at least acknowledged that, iTunes International VP Oliver Schusser stating that the company is “adding features and cleaning up certain things” – which I’m hoping goes beyond the changes seen in iOS 9.
My disillusionment with Apple Music’s radio offerings – both old and new – also continued. Beats 1 was never going to be for me, but none of the old radio stations grabbed me either. As I said last time, the one station that should have been tailor-made for me, Singer-songwriter, was a massive disappointment. Whoever curates it seriously needs to be fired. Alternative was okay-ish for background listening, but the ‘ish’ won out over the ‘okay’ and I abandoned that too.
If Apple Music radio was a fixed offering, I’d have stopped bothering to ever click on the tab by now. But Apple does add new goodies from time to time, like these Apple Music Festival offerings.
For that reason, I do still check on on it every now and then, just to see what’s new, but mostly I view it as junk. Which brings us back to the all-important For You tab. If Apple Music was going to win me over, it needed to get this right.
Like any streaming music service, I needed to give Apple Music a chance to learn my tastes. Spotify has literally years of data on my listening preferences, and here I was going to be making the decision on whether or not to switch based on just three months’ usage of Apple Music. I decided that to be scrupulously fair, I would make a religion of training it.
Sure, there were times when I just left it playing in the background, but as someone who doesn’t own a TV, I’m a pretty active music listener a lot of the time. So a good 90% of the time, I religiously used the Love or Dislike options on every track that I felt strongly about one way or the other.
Which brings me to a brief aside on the lack of joined-up design between the Apple Music experience on OS X and iOS: in iTunes, you dislike a track or album by selecting the ‘…’ menu and choosing ‘Recommend Less Like This’; in the iOS Music app, you press on the recommendation and select ‘I don’t like this suggestion’ – despite the fact that the ‘…’ menu exists in the Music app too. Different method, different wording.
I also noted what we learned from The Loop – that Apple Music doesn’t care if we skip a track, as that could be just because we’re not in the mood at the time, but it does give credit for tracks listened to in full, assuming we like those. So I tried to ensure I listened to the very end of any track I liked, even if I was keen to listen to something else immediately afterwards.
I complained at length in my previous diary pieces that Apple Music didn’t seem to take into account my own music library, recommending albums I already owned, and even offering to ‘introduce’ me to some of my favorite artists. Phil Schiller insists that Apple Music does learn from our libraries, and presumably intends to resurface albums we own but haven’t listened to for a while. I was skeptical, because it seemed to recommend albums I not only own but have played recently. In the above clipping, for example, are three albums I own, one of which I’d played within the past week (no, it’s not Shania Twain).
So I decided I’d look on recently-played examples as bugs, and ignore the wording of ‘Introduction to’ recommendations and simply treat those as a way to play a different mix from an artist whose work I already owned. That mental shift made a surprisingly big difference, no longer finding myself irritated by those suggestions, viewing them instead as a ‘Hey, are you in the mood for some …’ prompt instead.
And you know what? Sometimes I was. In the first week, I was very focused on its ability to introduce me to new artists – on which more in a moment – so just viewed already-owned music as a distraction. But once I settled more into a mix of old and new music, sometimes its suggestions were good ones. I haven’t figured out if there’s any particular methodology behind them – like gentler music in the morning and louder music later – so maybe it’s just randomly pulling stuff from my library, but I can live with that.
But music discovery remains key for me. I don’t need a streaming music service to listen to my own music, even if it does give me prompts I wouldn’t otherwise get. And it’s here that Apple Music really has excelled. Even a week in, I found it was broadening my musical horizons significantly, and it’s continued to do so, recommending artists I’d likely never have discovered any other way. Some of those artists have become favourites.
In three months, it has introduced me to more new artists I like than Spotify has in literally years. More than I’ve discovered through recommendations from friends. More than I’ve found by Shazamming tracks in bars and coffee shops.
That’s huge. And while the UK does get a raw deal on pricing, it’s still less than than the cost of one album per month. So yes, for me Apple Music is worth it, and I’ll be continuing my subscription once Apple starts billing me in a week’s time. My Spotify subscription got cancelled a week in, and I won’t be renewing it.