First Look: Apple Music

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.

Apple Music

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.

applemusicsearch

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.”

appleplaylists

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.

Connect

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

“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.

foryou

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.

foryou2

New

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.

New

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.

Music Videos

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

“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.”

appleplaylists

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.

The bad

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.

Overall thoughts

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.


  1. I joke Canada, I joke. 



  • Joking aside, I was camping in Cumberland County on the weekend and when I couldn’t download a song I wanted to hear through iTunes Match it made me think that Apple Music would be a tough sell to the dozens of people that apparantly live there 🙂

  • freediverx

    “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.”

    On Beats Music, users have complete visibility of all tracks in a playlist. Has this been preserved, or are we stuck with only seeing “what’s next”? If it’s the latter, that’s a deal breaker.

  • Jim – you’ve really delivered some great reviews lately – first the watch now this. Thanks for it. Great stuff.

  • jimothyGator

    I guess I’ve become a dinosaur when it comes to music—I still buy my tracks from iTunes—but perhaps I can adapt.

    Now my pre-teen son, he’s anxious to get a Spotify subscription. I said, let’s wait and see what Apple Music offers, since at $15 for a family plan, it’s a pretty good price.

    Would you describe Apple Music as a Spotify competitor, or is it more similar to Pandora (or some other service)? It seems like the latter, or can you build your own playlist?

    I’m sure he’ll be answering that for himself soon enough.

    • rick gregory

      it’s like Spotify and Pandora! Seriously, you can build your own playlists etc but there’s also ways to tune to, say, 70s rock radio and have it pick songs.

      Given that it’s free for 3 months I’d update the 8.4 (and update iTunes on your Mac or PC) and check it out. Nothing to lose but some time and effort.

    • If you can convince your pre-teen son to try Apple Music for the 3 month trial, then go for it. I think Spotify allows you to share your lists with friends, though, and that would be a big draw for him to really want to hang out in Spotify with his friends. Even if Apple Music allows that and he could convince his friends to switch, his Android using friends have to wait a few months to join the fun.

      I don’t have children and I commend those who are able to circumnavigate the treacherous shoals of adolescent peer pressures. 🙂

      • jimothyGator

        This apple didn’t fall far from the tree, so he’s pretty pro-Apple at this point (maybe he’ll rebel once he hits his teens, and experiment with Android and Windows; gasp!), so he’s willing to try it out. He was actually counting down the days until today.

        But we’ll see how the peer pressure thing plays out.

        In the meantime, I’m digging some live Stevie Ray Vaughan tracks I hadn’t heard before.

  • It’s interesting what you say about iTunes Radio vs Apple Music’s lists. I never really had a problem with iTunes Radio, but I didn’t select the premade genre lists. I opted to create stations based on artists, and my Marillion Radio played prog and my Pretenders Radio played the 80s music I wanted. I moved the slider in the station setting to Variety or Discovery and got rid of a lot of duplication.

    Having said that, I do look forward to it being even better on Apple Music now, especially seeing your thumbs up for the way it works in this review.

    iPhone 6 is finishing the update as I write this. I’m even looking forward to trying out Beats One. Sounds like it might have a bigger variety to it than a lot of radio stations. If they started out playing Eno, then maybe they’ll pass on the One Direction stuff.

  • undeadsinatra

    “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.” That happened in iTunes Radio as well. At least in the iTunes Radio days, when it didn’t work it meant you were listening to a hand programmed station that had no alogrythm to adjust (like the Pepsi Pop station or one of the celebrity DJ stations). Not sute if that is the same caser here, but seems like it.

  • Is it possible to tell the difference (in “My Mysic”) between albums you own vs albums added from the streaming service?

  • Love the Canada reference… and can’t wait to start playing with it (Apple Music not Canada) more and more, travel a lot so will be nice to see how it compares to spotify!

    The one thing that bugs me is when I go to an artist page it shows similar artists, just like spotify. In spotify I can click and go to a specific similar artist (can got 2 – 30 deep), great way to find new material, in Apple Music there is no way to click on the similar artist, it shows you but you can explore, so you have to remember and go and search for them…

  • Wow Apple really dropped the ball today…caught in an endless loop upgrading my OS then downloading latest version of iTunes, then attempting to sign up to Apple Music and getting the error message “requires iTunes 12.2.” There is no iTunes 12.2 at this time. How could they make this glaring mistake?!

  • 43770

    In the last sentence of the fourth paragraph you said:

    “I’ve been a subscriber the rest of those services for about a year, so I have experience with all of them.”

    when I think you either meant:

    “I’ve been a subscriber to the rest of those services for about a year, so I have experience with all of them.”

    or:

    “I’ve been subscribed to the rest of those services for about a year, so I have experience with all of them.”

  • I seem to be missing Metallica. What gives?

  • normm

    I updated iOS and found that, to use the new music features, you need to pick a plan to auto-renew to at the end of the 3-month free trial. Since I don’t currently have family sharing set up, and am confused about how it interacts with iTunes Match, I’m not going to use the new stuff at all for now. They should have let us try it without making any decisions!!

    • They do. It doesn’t charge you anything or lock you in until the trial is up.

  • Eugene Kim

    For people who don’t have a strong preference or even understanding of all the genres, the artists within those genres, and even then, mostly listens to foreign music(bought from the iTunes store), the sign-up process is pretty much useless. I’m glad it’s a great process for people really into it, but sadly not for me. With the little input I gave it, my recommendations ranged from Soul music to Katy Perry to Pop Hits 2000 to Jack Johnson, none of which I would be interested in.

  • moma

    I’ve been streaming service only for three years. One year Rdio and now the past two years on Spotify. I have to say Apple Music is 90% there. There’s some VERY important stuff missing.

    1 – Performance. There’s lag when you hit a song to play that’s not saved to the device. Spotify plays instantly even on 320kbps.

    2 – Not being able to tweak download settings is shameful. Essentially if you’re on cellular and you choose to make a song available offline, it starts downloading it. That’s huge data use and should be optional. That’s a big miss.

    Otherwise, iTunes integration, awesome curated playlists, and Beats1 which is pretty amazing. Although I have a feeling Jim will probably not be digging all the stuff they’re playing judging by this review!! 😉

    Oh and please Apple give us crossfading.

  • zenwaves

    Elephant in the room – doesn’t work in iTunes or AppleTV – only iOS? WtF?!

  • melci

    Jim, Apple Music’s 256kbps is not lower quality than Spotify’s 320kbps.

    The reason is that Spotify uses the ancient MP3 standard which is MPEG-2 layer III audio. In contrast, Apple uses AAC which is short for MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Codec. This codec is several generations more modern than MP3 and delivers far higher quality audio for a given bitrate.

  • I don’t want to stream music as my primary source of music listening. I enjoy using the free streaming services to discover new music, but if I like something I prefer to purchase it because it’s cheaper that way. I’m not going to deviate from this especially when I have a large collection of soundtracks and foreign music that’s not on iTunes — and therefore won’t be available for streaming.

    I’m not going to change my listening patterns and pay $10 a month for streaming, so why are there 4 tabs at the bottom dedicated to Apple’s new service and one tab shoved to the right for MY music?

    In Apple’s last version of the iOS music app they introduced customization of the tabbar at the bottom where you could arrange it based on how you used the app. It was great, and I had things arranged just how I wanted it and could move things around based upon what I was doing at the moment.

  • Phosphat

    It is the worst. I’ve been using Slacker and Amazon and nothing in Apple’s pay service is better than what the others do for free. Apple is great for play lists, but that has worked since the days of iPods.

    • melci

      Do Slacker and Amazon have a no-ads family option for up to 6 people for $14.99 or the equivalent of Beats1 (multi-genre live DJ radio)? (serious question – I haven’t used either Amazon or Slacker)

      • Phosphat

        Amazon will work on multiple devices, but not sure of the limit. I have it on my iPhone, iPad, iMac. my wife has it on her laptop, iPhone, and my son’s kindle and macbook pro. Both also use Spotify’s paid service. Amazon’s “free” music option is part of the Prime service which is up to $100/year aka $8.33 per month. I’ve never felt the need to buy slacker’s pay service. sometimes it would be nice to skip more songs but their free system allows you to create playlists with a fair amount of specificity based on artists, songs or a combination. I also kind of like their commercials in the free service every now and then, reminds me i’m not living in a bubble where there are no other humans. I also really like their DJs. Just a friendly voice every 3 or 4 tunes. Oddly Slacker has Taylor Swift and some other artists that supposedly pulled their catalogs from these services. Presumably Slacker pays even for free users like me.