Music is an important part of my life. I care about every aspect of music, from creating to mixing, playing to listening, and seeing bands live. I feel music in my soul. Music has the ability to make me sad, angry, happy and every emotion in between.
I sat down yesterday with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, and Beats Founder Jimmy Iovine to talk about Apple Music. I also started using the new service myself, so I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I found so far, good and bad.
I’ve said before that I want Apple Music to succeed because I’ve invested a lot of time and money in purchasing music from Apple since the launch of iTunes. To date, Apple has failed pretty miserably with updates to iTunes, most notably with Ping and iTunes Radio.
Those failures led me to be a subscriber of Spotify, Rdio, I Heart Radio, Beats and most recently a paid subscription to Pandora. I’ve been a subscriber to the rest of those services for about a year, so I have experience with all of them.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from Apple Music. I was not only pleasantly surprised when I started using it, I’m downright impressed.
Many of the problems I had before with iTunes Radio are completely gone. Selecting genres of music or even something like “70s Rock Hits” or “80s Metal” gives you exactly what you want—great music.
With the integration of Beats, you also get curated playlists and the ability to stream artists’ music, if you become a member of Apple Music. The selection went from not having much to choose from with iTunes Radio, to having so much great content from playlists and radio stations that I had to start saving them all so I could listen to them later.
That’s what I want from Apple Music.
I did my workout today to a new Apple playlist called “Workout Warriors,” which is part of the Hard Rock section of Apple Music. I was walking down the street playing air guitar to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Guns ‘N Roses, and Motorhead. You know you’re enjoying the music when you start playing air guitar in public.
If you’re a Beats subscriber, you know all about the curated playlists. Genre experts from Beats put together lists of approximately 15-30 songs in a number of categories. For me and my musical tastes, they could be anything from “Metal Hits of the 80s” to “Intro to Guns ‘N Roses.”
Apple kept that part of Beats and incorporated it into the new service. As much as I love playlists, there is something special, exciting even, about not knowing what’s coming. I agree with Jimmy Iovine when he says, “the only song that’s as important as the one you’re listening to, is the one that comes next.” And Apple took care of that too.
With a mix of curation, or human intervention, and a revamped algorithm, Apple has brought their radio service to a level where it is exciting. The amount of work that went into making just the radio portion of Apple Music perform properly is astounding.
Of course, Apple Music Radio will still learn from your likes and dislikes—not even human intervention and algorithms can account for every taste in music. However, much more care went into the new stations, which are all handpicked songs, with an eye on the songs that come after the one you are listening to and how everything lines up.
One thing you won’t need to do anymore is tune a station to go from “Hits to Discovery.” Since all of the built-in stations feature handpicked songs, you can like them and see updated results in the “For You” section of Apple Music.
Using myself as an example: With iTunes Radio, I would listen to one or two songs, skip a few that I didn’t like, listen to one, skip a few more, and then I’d be out of skips and move on to one of the other services. To compare, with something like Pandora, I rarely skipped anything.
With Apple Music, which I’ve been listening to non-stop, out of 16 songs, I skipped one. That holds true for both playlists and radio—both are better. That’s a lot better than my previous experience with Apple’s service.
While other services offer the option to stream music at a higher quality, Apple said its service will automatically adjust the stream based on connection type and bandwidth.
I’m not really sure what to think about Connect, Apple’s service that allows us to follow bands and musicians. To me, it seems a lot like Ping, but we’ll have to see how it works.
Some artists are already updating their pages. There are a lot of places that we go to get artist updates these days, but it would be nice to have a central place to get everything.
The success of Connect lies with the musicians, not us. If they buy into the concept, people will follow them, and it will be successful.
Thankfully, the future of Apple Music doesn’t rely on Connect. Other services have the same type of “Follow” option for musicians, but I’m not sure if they are successful either. It’s something extra for users.
“For You” is another Beats feature—and one that I really like—that made it into Apple Music. Based on the music you like, the app comes up with recommendations for playlists and albums that you will like.
From my use, this is really accurate. The best is, you don’t have to do anything special to make it work—just use the app. It’s like an added bonus.
I look at “For You” in those times when I’m not sure what I want to listen to—it’s always full of ideas.
I have the “New” section of Apple Music set to “Metal” or “Rock.” It would be nice if I could choose multiple genres, so I wouldn’t have to switch back and forth, but for now, that’s what I’ll do.
That little nitpick aside, the “New” section gives you a look at new albums, hot tracks, recent releases, top songs, music videos, summertime playlists, new artist spotlight, and a current spotlight on 80s Thrash Metal. As you can tell, there’s a lot to see and listen to in this section.
Again, if you don’t know what you’re in the mood for, this will give you plenty of ideas. From some oldies to what’s hot right now, you can find it here.
I was shocked to find out that videos were included as part of Apple Music. Perhaps they mentioned that and I missed it, but I was listening to Godsmack and saw a video in my search—I clicked play and it worked. It also gave me recommendations for other videos in that genre.
Needless to say, I took a break and watched some videos.
“My Music” is a lot like the old iTunes, but with an Apple Music flair. All of the music you have previously purchased, whether in the cloud or on your device, will be found here.
There are two sections: Library and Playlists. The Playlist section can be further broken down into “All Playlists,” “My Playlists” or “Apple Music Playlists.”
When you select a playlist, you can choose to add it to My Music, so it will be available to you without doing another search. That will put it in Apple Music Playlists section. You can also choose to make the playlist available offline, which means that it will download that music to your device. This is handy if you’ll be somewhere without Wi-Fi or cell service, like on a plane or in Canada1.
Beats 1 Radio
Beats 1 wasn’t live while I was testing Apple Music, so I’ll get back to that at a later date.
There’s not a lot to write about in the “bad” section, but a couple of nitpicks did grab my attention.
When playing a radio station, there is a little star on the left side of the screen. If you tap the star, you have three choices: Play more like this; Play less like this; and Add to iTunes Wishlist.
Easy to understand, but it only works about 50 percent of the time. I tap the star and tap one of the selections and it does nothing. And odd little bug in the system that I’m sure can be fixed.
The other thing I would like to do is to be able to like a song after it’s already played. Pandora has a feature like that and I find it handy. The last thing I want to do is worry about liking a song when I’m cruising down the highway. I can see the history of what I played, but I have to play each song again in order to like it. Seems like an overlooked feature to me.
Liking is important because it helps the whole service know what I want to hear, so I want to keep up on it the best I can.
I’m damned impressed. Apple Music is a quality service, with the right mix of human curation and algorithms to help users figure out exactly what they want to hear.
I can only imagine that the service will get better from here. The more I use it, like/dislike songs, the better it will know me.
I was interacting with Apple Music the entire time I was writing this and the radio station I started listening to improved quite a bit in those hours. I’m not skipping songs, instead I have a steady diet of Slash, Godsmack, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica. It’s hard to beat that.
While other streaming services didn’t worry much about Apple in the past, Apple Music will get their attention. In fact, it’s going to grab everyone’s attention.
I joke Canada, I joke. ↩