It’s been a little more than a week since Apple Music went live, offering a 3 month free trial to anyone interested in trying it out. Now that I’ve had a few days to fiddle with the service, I’ve got to say that there are a lot of things here to be proud of, and a few things that still need some work. See what I liked and what I didn’t below.
Apple Music Does Curation Well
What surprised me most is that Apple figured out how to give the Apple Music some heart. Streaming music services have, for the most part, been little more than spreadsheets full of music, with basic curatorial features that often miss the mark. As much as I liked the convenience of Spotify, music discovery there just didn’t do it for me (especially once they did away things like the last.fm app). Don’t get me wrong, I was able to discover new music, but it was hard work that ended up being more miss than hit. Real, human curation mixed with whatever algorithms they put in place help ensure that you’re getting a really curated experience.
Apple Music does discovery well with this by asking you kind of music you’re into, and what bands you like, as soon as you sign up for an account. Their system rolls out little bubbles with band names in them, and you click to your heart’s content. Don’t like what you see? Refresh and get more options. I kept clicking until it forced me to go to the next step, and off the bat, my recommendations and playlists were solid. From there, I went in and clicked “like” (represented by a small heart) on bands, songs, and albums I dig.
I spend most of my time in the “For You” section, which consists of human curated playlists that match the user’s tastes. As you can see above, because I’ve shared my favorite music, I get playlists that reflect my likes, and suggestions I probably wouldn’t have discovered on my own. Playlists can be as simple as “deep cuts,” or more thoughtful, featuring bands that inspired the bands I actually listen to. You can look at who created the playlist in question (in my case, it was usually Apple Music Alternative or Indie), and find tons more playlists they created that run the spectrum of their given genre. As of now, I have more than 40 playlists to choose from, and I haven’t come across one that doesn’t contain at least a few songs I like.
What About Radio?
The feature I was least excited about when announced was the radio station. Do we really need another radio station, even if it broadcasts worldwide? How will it even work? Turns out, Beats 1 is pretty good. Programming seems to be led by former BBC1 DJ Zane Lowe, who handpicked the rest of the on-air talent. They’re based in NYC, L.A., and London, and it’s obvious that their personalities and geographic locations influence the shows, to an extent. The shows are super produced, and easy to listen to, with a wide variety of types of music being played throughout the day.
My favorite part of Beats 1 are the shows that are hosted by well-known musicians. From Joshua Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, to St. Vincent, to Elton John, and Dr. Dre, they’re playing shows for everyone. Just knowing that I’ll get something new and interesting when I tune into Beats 1 makes it worth listening to.
What Apple Music Can Do Better
As much as I like Apple Music, there are a few things I’d like to changed or added:
Last.fm integration: I’ve been scrobbling tracks to Last.fm for 10 years now, and I love the lists and listening information I can get from that site. Spotify offers native integration, and even iTunes used to be compatible with the Last.fm app. This is a must-have for me!
Connect feature: I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to do with the “Connect” section – I’m guessing it’ll be like a Facebook for cool music related stuff. Remember MySpace? Apple is taking some cues from some of the good things about that and building it into iTunes. It’s interesting. I think as more people start adding to it, there will be more reason to use it. Connect on OS X needs to better explain itself, give you more options – suggestions – more social features to tell you what to do with it. There are options available on mobile for this section that I wasn’t aware of for a few days, since I tend to use Apple Music on my Macbook Pro.
Creating Playlists: I don’t love the way you create playlists in Apple Music. It doesn’t look like there’s a way to create a playlist from one song, like you can in Spotify. You actually have to create a playlist in the “Playlists” section, and then add a song to it from there. Not really great for putting together spur of the moment playlists.
Is Apple Music Worth Paying For?
With curated playlists, easier discoverability of new (or new to you) music, and a really compelling radio offering, Apple Music is worth the monthly fee, which is $9.99/mo for a single membership, or $14.99/mo for a family membership, which includes up to 6 users. There are other features, such as offline listening, availability of music videos, and song skipping that are expected in a service like this, so we’re not spending much time talking about them.
Apple Music is the closest you’ll come to the type of experience you get at a local record store, only online. The recommendations and playlists are solid, the radio station is more than listenable, and with some small changes, the connect feature could actually do what it’s claiming. If you don’t care about that kind of thing, stick with Spotify’s free tier.