All about the music

Apple-Music-1Apple Music, in case you haven’t heard, was launched to the public on June 30, along with a three-month free trial. This is the closest thing to a no-brainer out there in the music world.

Which is to say, there’s simply no reason not to try Apple Music. Even if, ultimately, you opt out of the monthly fee of ten bucks three months from now.

Why should you try it? Because, at the risk of being painfully obvious, Apple Music is all about music. Increasingly, as you use Apple Music, it becomes all about discovering music you love—either new music that you’ve not heard before or old music you’ve not listened to for a long time.

I’ve been using Apple Music, mainly through the MacBook Pro in my home office, for the last two weeks or so.

I’ve used it a few times on my iPhone, as well. For you Android users, Apple Music will be available in the fall, according to Apple.

Apple Music problems?

Some users have complained that the Apple software versions required to use Apple Music—Mac OS X 10.10.4, iOS 8.4, and iTunes 12.2—have corrupted their iTunes libraries. Apple has released an update to iTunes 12.2, which supposedly fixes the problems.AM-problems

For myself, I’ve encountered zero issues, so far, other than the occasional slowdown in accessing music from iTunes.

And I have iTunes Match, which is an additional complication. For an annual fee, the iTunes Match service matches all of the songs in my iTunes library, and stores them in the cloud.

You can then listen to your extensive iTunes library on any Apple device that is connected to Wi-Fi or to a mobile provider’s network. It will even upload songs in your iTunes library that are not in Apple’s extensive collection of music.

Critics abound

Aside from reported software glitches that users are experiencing, as with any new Apple product, Apple Music has also garnered a great deal of criticism since its launch.

critic2Yoni Heisler at BGR called Apple Music “an embarrassing and confusing mess.”

Sarah Mitroff at C|Net wrote that Apple Music is “complicated and inconsistent…cluttered with too much information and difficult to navigate.”

Walt Mossberg at re/code, although generally pretty positive, wrote that Apple Music is “uncharacteristically complicated…[offering] very little guidance on how to navigate its many features.”

At the Verge , Micah Singleton wrote that “Apple Music is messy, slow to load, complicated to setup, and missing some social features. Apple has created a music service that can be both overwhelming and sparse at the same time.”

So Apple Music must kinda suck, huh? For me, no, not at all. Apple Music is actually kinda terrific.

Benefits

Even with close to 10,000 songs in my own library, my collection occasionally feels stale. It’s nice to stream a playlist of entirely new music that I’m likely to enjoy…and possibly find something I really love.

Unlike any other streaming service, Apple Music features human curation—a team of 300 music editors whose mission is to help listeners discover new music that they will like.AM-bubbles

When I first signed up, Apple Music presented me with multiple types of music that I might like. I was instructed to click twice on genres that I love, such as blues, and once on genres that I like (or might like). Apple Music then provided a “For Me” tab in the iTunes interface.

Initially, I was presented with a lot of music and artists that I was already familiar with, and some that were in similar veins. This was like a first draft of Apple Music curation.

As I’ve used Apple Music, and explored new music, I can select the Heart symbol on a song or an entire album to indicate that I like it. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to say I don’t like it, but maybe that will be added sometime later.) The next time I accessed Apple Music, my “For Me” selection had grown with additional suggestions.

In a rather short timeframe, I’ve discovered new artists and songs that I had not heard of, or heard, before. I’ve continued to listen, and mark songs and albums that I’ve enjoyed. I think that Apple expects users to interact heavily with Apple Music in this manner, with the idea that, over time, they’ll have them pretty well nailed.

Who knows, maybe it takes just about three months for that to happen, and by that time, we’ll be hooked. I’m sure Apple hopes that’s true.

Two additional features of Apple Music are Beats 1 live radio and the Connect service. I’ve not spent a lot of time exploring these features, but they seem to be nice additions.

Other streaming services

I know that Spotify and Pandora are popular services, and both offer a “free” option. This seems to mean that you can listen to a lot of new music without paying anything.

spotifyHowever, you actually do pay by having to listen to commercials every 15 minutes or so. I used Pandora for about 12 months, and, after the first three months, was so put off by the commercials that I subscribed to the premium service for $3.99 a month.

I really enjoyed Pandora when I went on long road trips and could simply listen on my car stereo with a Bluetooth connection to my iPhone. But, other times, when listening at home, exercising, or taking a walk, I often just defaulted to listening to iTunes, since with iTunes Match I could listen to my 10,000-song library on whatever device I happened to be using at the time—my MacBook, iPad, iPhone, or Apple TV.Pandora

Apple Music also has more music than any other service, something like 30 million tracks. I think this will continue to grow, as more and more musicians gravitate to Apple Music.

By all accounts, Apple is charging more than the other streaming services (and offering no free service with commercials) so it can pay higher royalties to the artists. I think this is only right, as music really does have value, and artists should be fairly compensated.

The verdict

So, I ended up canceling my $3.99/month, commercial-free Pandora subscription, as you might have gathered.

Now, you’re probably wondering, would I consider paying $9.99 a month for Apple Music? That’s a harder question. I really have enjoyed Apple Music so far. And I haven’t really explored all of its features, including the Beats 1 radio station, or the Connect feature that let’s you connect with and follow favorite musicians.

yup-nopeRight now, though, I’m leaning toward yes for several reasons.

First, because Apple Music dovetails nicely with the Apple hardware and ecosystem that I’m already using.

Second, the human curation factor is likely, over time, to really pay dividends in enhancing my listening pleasure and awareness of new music and musicians.

In fact, it already has.

Both Pandora and Spotify are said to use algorithmic curation only, which I don’t think is sophisticated enough—at least not yet.

Third, I can probably drop my iTunes Match subscription, which is $26 a year, and still listen to a boatload of music anywhere or anytime.

In fact, similar to iTunes Match, Apple Music lets you download music to your local device for offline listening. The only difference is that those downloaded tunes have DRM attached to them. If you drop the Apple Music subscription, they will no longer play.

As far as whether to continue my Apple Music subscription, the good news is I don’t have to decide for another two and half months. For now, Apple Music is a true no-brainer.

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