I’m a few weeks into Apple’s free three-month trial of Apple Music and, so far, I have to say I’m liking it. The title of this blog post is potentially a bit misleading, in that I’ve never been a massive Spotify user. I’ve never paid for it, but had access to the premium version courtesy of my Vodafone mobile plan.
(It was that, or access to Sky Sports, so let’s face it – not much of a choice).
I found Spotify useful for trying out new music and listening to other people’s playlists. At home, it mostly got used for background music when I was working or just relaxing with my Kindle. Something jazzy… something classical. Nothing I was really paying attention to.
My real music was in iTunes, despite all of its massive drawbacks. I’ve said many times over the years that iTunes needs pulling down and building back up. It’s a bloated, over-complicated and glutting piece of crap and regularly comes between me and accessing my own media. At just the wrong time, too.
But over the years, I’ve moved from obsessively buying CDs to obsessively buying music from iTunes. When I’d stumble across something interesting on Spotify, I’d give it a few weeks and then ultimately buy it on iTunes. My mindset was about owning the music, not renting it. And the days of searching the web for illegal MP3 are thankfully long behind us (or is that just me?) now that iTunes has such a large selection of music available so cheaply.
So when Apple Music was announced, I have to say I wasn’t that impressed. Another music streaming service, where you don’t actually own the music. Nevertheless, I signed up for the free trial. Because if there’s one thing that this blog demonstrates to everyone, it’s that if Apple set up a stall selling chocolate-covered pigs’ heads on a stick, I’d be in the queue to see that all the fuss was about.
A few weeks later, and I’m a big fan. Sure, it’s not perfect and there are definitely some usability and stability issues with it. The interface can be confusing at time and I don’t believe you should need a user’s guide to access music on a computer or mobile phone. It’s not always as reliable as it should be and I’ve had a few moments of “I have no idea why you’re refusing to play this track”.
Honestly? I think Apple should have launched this free trial as a beta and been more open about its shortcomings.
So what’s so good about it?
Well, I think my mindset has caught up with all those 16 year olds who don’t see the big deal about paying for a service to access music they’ll never own. It’s not that big a deal to me any more. As long as I can access the music when and where I want, it’s fine. That’s quite a change and something Spotify never succeeded in doing with me.
The impact of the Apple brand? I’m quite open to that possibility. Pigs’ heads and all that…
I think it’s got something going for it in the recommendation engine. The “For You” section suggests artists and playlists it think I might like. The ratio of hits to misses here is about 4:1, which is not bad in my book. For every excellent Tony Bennett track (yay!) I get suggested, there will be the odd random artist or track that I want to avoid completely. Garth Brookes, I’m looking at you.
It has opened my eyes (and ears) to new music and I’m grateful for that. I’ve stumbled across a few playlists and tracks that I really like, or which were in the “what’s that song?” part of my mind when featured on TV or in the movies. In the last week, I have been switched on to the force of nature that is Taylor Swift, and all because of Apple Music.
I didn’t even know who Taylor Swift was last month. Honestly. I had heard the name, but somehow had categorised her as a country music nymph. Which meant I had to avoid her at all costs. But up she popped in the “For you” list in Apple Music and I was hooked. I added her “1989” album to my music within minutes and several of the tracks to some running and workout playlists I have. I now officially heart Taylor Swift, joining the countless “Swifties” all over her world.
No, not really. But I think it’s a great example of how a smart music recommendation service can open us up to new kinds of music. How we got here, I don’t know. It might be the presence of so much Kylie, Madonna and Eurovision in my iTune Match library. Maybe Taylor Swift is a natural next step. For me, it worked.
It’s not all pop, though. Apple Music has suggested some fantastic jazz playlists and suggested vocalists and musicians whom I’ve never heard of, but whose sound is a perfect fit for all the other jazz tracks in my library.
The service has also allowed me to just add random albums to my music for later listening, albums from artists I already know but haven’t heard yet. And unlike the obsessive completist I am, prune these albums, saving just the tracks I really want to hear. The rest are still there in Apple Music, if I ever want to access them later.
It’s a bit like having access to the entire iTunes database, for one fixed monthly fee. Except nobody’s paying for it yet.
And what could be better?
As mentioned above, the interface could do with an update. On the iOS app and within iTunes, I’ve been confused about how to access some of the functionality. They don’t really marry up when really they should compliment each other. The iOS app should be as easy to use as possible, as you’ll likely be on the move when accessing it.
On iOS, the “For You” button is the first thing on the menu. In iTunes, it’s in third position.
It’s down to personal taste, but I’m really not enjoying Beats One, Apple’s new online radio station. I don’t listen to a lot of radio at the best of times as I personally really dislike when DJs talk over the music I’m trying to listen to. And Beats One offers this in volume. Maybe they’ll add Beats Two, Beats Jazz and so on, in time. But I’ll be avoiding it for the foreseeable future. Not a bad service, just one I don’t enjoy.
In the same category, I don’t see the point of Connect, how Apple sees you staying “in touch” with your favourite artists. It’s just not my thing. At all. But maybe it’ll evolve into something worth accessing, with news content about music, rather than just photos and other fluff.
Will I pay for it?
This is the crucial question, really. I think Apple has been very smart in offering three months for free. This is really long enough to see if you like it, while simultaneously long enough to find you need it and can’t give it up.
I’m enjoying – and using – it enough to say I think I’ll be paying for it after the end of my trial. So far, it’s introduced me to enough new music and given me access to albums I’ve thought about listening to, that it’s a solid addition to my entertainment library.
Based on my experience so far, I’ll be getting a family plan – this is much cheaper than @FrankDJS and I paying for separate accounts. £14.99 per month together, rather than £9.99 per month each.
I’m not sure I can recommend Apple Music for everyone just yet. I suspect Apple will address the various bugs and performance issues in the coming months, with a bit of a relaunch once iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan are publicly available this autumn.
And whether the price point is for everyone is quite a subjective thing. Music is a sufficiently significant part of my life that the cost of this service makes sense to me. I’m beyond the need to own all of this music, I just need to access it. If you’re an absolute completist and want to own special edition CDs for sentimental value, then Apple Music is maybe not for you.
For me, it’s replacing Spotify. Actually, it already has. I’ve deleted Spotify from my iOS devices.
And for your information, I’m not the only grown man who likes a bit of Taylor Swift. So there.