Apple Music: Initial Impressions
Last year I experimented with the major streaming music services, with Beats narrowly winning the race over Spotify. One of the key reasons I decided to stick it out with Beats was the rumored revamp of the service and integration with the Apple ecosystem.
This week, Apple and Beats released that new service as Apple Music. The new service combines the iTunes library (well, most of it at least), your music library (via purchases and iTunes Match/Cloud Library), Radio, and Beats curation/recommendation engine into a single interface. Based on that, I’m sold.
The key points for me are:
- Having access to all the obscure artists I have loaded via iCloud Match. All of those CDs and records I bought back in the day, many of them not available on any service, are now available to me in one single streaming app along with new music.
- Access to new music (and the old that I don't own) available via the iTunes library. If the size of the library isn't equal to or greater than any other service, I imagine it will be soon. I also imagine that Apple Music's pay wall (no free accounts, beyond the 3 month trial) will get them more exclusives and more artists that were streaming hold outs. (Taylor Swift, as an example.)
- Discovery and re-discovery via the recommendation engine ('For You') and the 'New' music tab. No other service does this as well -- not even close. I have a broad music taste, from hardcore/punk to classic rock to hip-hop to blues and folk. As you can see in the screenshot to the right, you have a laid back hip-hop playlist, some post-rock, A$AP Rocky, Flaming Lips, and Bright Eyes. Scrolling down, you have the Pixies, Tame Impala, Jay-Z, J. Cole, Superchunk, Neil Young, The White Stripes, Cat Power, Sonic Youth, and Black Uluru. You can't get any more diverse and accurate than that!
- Speed -- the Beats app was pretty slow and had some nagging bugs. The new Apple Music app fixed all of that -- it's quite speedy, considering my library size and all it's trying to accomplish.
The only negative so far, beyond figuring out some confusing aspects of the user interface, is the song count limitation. There is a 25,000 song limit to the service. Before today I was over that limit, so I couldn’t add new albums to My Music. This caused much frustration because the iOS app doesn’t tell you why you can’t add an album – it just looks like it saves OK, then the album reverts state to un-saved. Ugh. Well, now I know. Also, this negative will go away come this fall, when Apple raises the limit to 100,000.
The biggest surprise to me is Beats 1 radio. I generally don’t like mainstream radio. I loved KEXP when we lived in Seattle. I like sports talk radio and podcasts. But most stations on the FM dial? No way. Too much of the same thing (and mostly bad music) – you know it’s bad when you flip stations and hear the same song on two different stations! And then there’s the commercials.
I decided to give Beats 1 a shot yesterday and was able to listen live to Zane Lowe’s first broadcast. The diversity, quality, and flow of his selections blew me away. He played songs by artists I don’t like or weren’t familiar with… and it worked. It flowed. Guess that’s why he is a professional DJ! Beyond Lowe, there’s plenty of great programming. I checked in on the other two main DJs and both had similar levels of quality, so there’s no drop off. St. Vincent’s Mixtape Delivery Service was pretty amazing too – I was able to catch half of that show and it had some delightful moments. I am definitely excited to see where that and the other artist shows take Beats 1.
As you can tell, I am pretty happy with the new version of Beats. I’ll gladly enjoy the 3-month free trial and hope Apple Music can turn music streaming into a viable revenue stream for musicians of all types.