Roughly 6 months ago, Apple released their much anticipated streaming music service, Apple Music, which was met with mixed reviews. There were perks, like Siri integration, a single music library of all streamed and purchased content, and “human curation,” but there were also some big flaws, like losing custom metadata for songs, mismatched tracks, Connect, the mess that is iTunes on the desktop, and a somewhat confusing flow from screen to screen.
Regardless of the flaws, when Apple Music hit my devices, I went straight to my Spotify, cancelled my subscription, and decided to go all-in with Apple. I was really excited with the idea of a unified music experience, and it was obvious that Apple wasn’t going to make it a pleasant experience for those that opted out.
I was initially impressed with the “For You” section, and I felt like Apple was doing a decent job of “getting me” and my musical tastes. I also really loved the 24-7 live radio in Beats One. I loved it so much, I was listening every day for multiple hours, discovering new songs and hearing the DJs and hosts from around the world.
Then I began to notice a pattern in Beats One. With the exception of a few of the specialty shows, the main rotation of music wasn’t changing much. Sure, Zane Lowe would throw in a couple new tracks during his daily set, but the majority of what I was hearing was the same “music” I could hear on any hits radio station.
This wasn’t a huge deal. Why would it be, when I have access to millions of songs that I could summon with a couple taps on my iPhone? So I cruised back over to “For You” to see what expertly curated playlists and albums Apple could throw my way. I found some gems (1, 2, 3), and a few stinkers (1, 2), but on the whole, it seemed promising.
What Happens Next Will Shock You (probably not, actually)
Around mid-September, my wife and I took a road trip to see her family (15 hours in the car, round trip), and for that drive, we wanted to listen to something we both liked. Naturally, I fired up Apple Music to choose something from “For You.” My wife and I have similar tastes in music, so how could it go wrong.
I started scrolling for something that would suit our tastes for the roadtrip. Apple suggested “Intro to Miley Cyrus,” “Maroon 5 Deep Cuts,” and some albums that were less than appealing. I scrolled further. “Intro to Fall Out Boy” showed up, and I began to wonder if Apple actually knew anything about what I liked.
I’m not the worlds biggest Fall Out Boy fan, but I have all their studio albums in my iTunes library, and have listened to them all more than once. Why on earth would I need an “Intro to…” playlist of Fall Out Boy, and why the hell did it think I wanted to listen to Miley Cyrus or Maroon 5?
I started to see a pattern forming, based on my massive iTunes library that I carried into Apple Music when I joined the service. I had upwards of 10,000 songs in my iTunes library before Apple Music, which was a library I shared with my wife and had been building since college. Apple was suggesting things based on my library, and weighing that heavier than my preferences I set when I signed up. It was, instead, targeting me from the random pile of music in my library. A library of things I’d personally never listen to (but at a time, I was Ash Ketchum, and my iTunes library was my Pokemon collection, and I had to catch ’em all) and Apple Music and I didn’t see eye-to-eye about that.
I began marking things with “I don’t like this suggestion” (or “Recommend Less Like This” on the desktop by clicking the “…” on a playlist or album ), trying to repair the misguided suggestions. I began listening to only things I wanted suggests to match up with. Instead, Apple served me an increasing amount of country playlists (because I bought a country song once, I suppose), and intros to bands I already had in my iTunes library.
I started rolling back to old playlists I’d created myself and just doing the full-album thing for artists I heard on satellite radio. It defeated the point of these curated suggestions. Apple Music made a promise, but it wasn’t delivering. Even worse, my wife had given up long before me, and refused to use Apple Music for any discovery. She would open Spotify, look at her recommended artists and playlists, then use Apple Music to play the songs.
It’s All About Discovery…
…except when it’s not. Tim Cook claimed one of his favorite features of Apple Music was that he was discovering new artists and new songs all the time. He wasn’t stuck in the stagnant rotation of his tired playlists. When I jumped to Apple Music at launch, I had high hopes for the same experience. I wanted to discover new music, find cool artists that echoed the sounds of some of my favorite bands, and even broaden my musical tastes (or find a new appreciation for things I already had exposure to). At first, I thought that was happening for me, but patterns emerged and I was starting to think otherwise.
What I had assumed was Apple Music understanding me, and serving up playlists that would interest me,seemed to be just a rehashing of my iTunes library and things pulled from the overplayed charts. It was an thinly veiled promise, and I wasn’t discovering anything.
It’s easy to think something is amazing at first, that’s what the honeymoon period is all about. Things seem great and you ignore or overlook the flaws. Apple Music had me blinded, but I was slowly beginning to recognize the flaws with the service as a whole. I tried all the tricks to get Apple Music to understand me better, but it all seemed to work against me.
Spotify wasn’t, and isn’t like that. They have crafted some excellent playlists, and even if most of what they are doing is machine learned or algorithm driven, it’s more successful than Apple Music. Spotify’s social experience further improves discovery, letting you see what your friends are spinning, and allowing you to share albums, playlists, and songs with each other.
Apple Music is nice, but it isn’t the music service you bring home to mom…
When I used Spotify, I could listen to an artist (regardless of whether I knew them or not), and without much difficulty, I could discover other similar artists. In fact, Spotify includes a “Related Artists” section for nearly every artist page in their apps. Discovery should be easy and obvious and targeted. With Apple Music, it’s easy to find other things to listen to, and it’s pretty obvious about it – putting lots of suggestions on the “For You” section. The place Apple Music as a service fails for me is in targeting. I would guess that 75% of the playlists and albums that appear on the “For You” section of my Apple Music are misaligned suggestions.
When I signed up for Apple Music, I was hopefully optimistic. I used to love the music app on my iPhone. I knew exactly how it worked, everything was predictable, and I knew exactly what I was going to get. If I wanted to discover something new, I looked at what was hot in iTunes, looked at radio station charts, or switched on the radio (ok.. streamed it.. but you get the idea) to see what was being played. With the switch to Apple Music, Apple has tarnished the music app, and I’m finding it hard to believe they care.
I thought Apple Music was going to be the streaming music service for me. I was ready to sign up and run away wit it into the sunset. Instead, I found a service that seemed really exciting at first, but ultimately was pushing me away from listening to music because the experience wasn’t enjoyable.
I’d love for things to work out with Apple Music, and maybe I’ll go back one day. Right now, though, that seems unlikely. I never would have expected the company that revolutionized digital music to drop the ball so badly on a streaming service, but somehow, Apple managed to disappoint.
I’m not saying my experience is reflective of the entire Apple Music service, and the way I consume music certainly is not the same as everyones listening preferences, but for now I’m done with Apple Music. I can’t help but think Apple is spreading themselves too thin, and exposing some weaknesses. If Apple Music wasn’t ready, they should have held off – plain and simple. Right now, it still feels like a beta, and when it comes to my music, I want a vetted system. I’m afraid Apple thinks the platform they’ve built is a strong competitor, but the app is confusing and an inferior experience for me. For now, I’m switching back to Spotify, and rebuilding the last 6 months worth of playlist additions and changes.
Somebody let me know when Apple Music gets better, or find me over on Spotify. I’ll be here a while.