Apple Music is getting much better

I use Apple Music every single day, so I see all of the good and bad parts of the service. I also get to see the significant improvements Apple has made over time, and while there is still work to be done, the service is getting much better.

I mentioned in February 2016 that Apple’s built-in radio stations were effectively changing the way I listen to music. To a large extent that continues to be the case. Most of the time I will play one of the service’s pre-built stations instead of listening to music in my library.

Hard Rock has been among my favorite stations to listen to because it gives me a nice mix of songs I already know with some new songs. The key to the success of this station for me was the mix—I didn’t want all new songs, but rather I way to deliver the discovery of new music with the familiarity of songs I had heard before. It does this perfectly.

Surprisingly, it was the stations that I knew the music the most that I really didn’t like—Classic Rock and Hair Metal and perfect examples of this. These are the genres I grew up with, so I should basically know every song that was played on those stations. I didn’t.

For a while, those “classic” stations were the best of B-sides you never wanted to hear. For a while, I would skip as many songs as I would listen to, but that has changed.

It seems Apple flipped a switch and realized that classic stations should be playing the best of those genres with only a little bit of discovery. That’s the way those stations should be. The hits of those years have already been set—that’s what people want to hear.

If I’m having friends over and put on Classic Rock or Classic Metal, I want songs that everyone knows, one after the other, hit after hit.

That’s exactly what I get now.

I’ve added more “classic” songs to my library in the last two months than I have in the past three years. That’s a sign for me of how good the stations are getting.

Apple Music is making other changes too. The company recently added “My Chill Mix” to go with “My New Music” and “My Favorites” mixes. These mixes can be the core of your Apple Music experience if you want them to be.

“My Chill Mix” is something I listen to on Sunday mornings with a cup a coffee. It’s based on the genres I listen to the most, so Rock for me. Everyone’s mix will be different and based on the music they love the most. I’ve loved this playlist each and every week.

Apple said when they first launched Apple Music that it’s not just about the song you’re listening to, but the song that comes next. That’s very true. If you’re always wondering if you’ll hate the next song, you never truly enjoy your listening experience. I think they’ve finally got to that point for me.

Is everything perfect? No, but, let’s be honest, it never is.

Apple Music still doesn’t recognize a lot of the music I purchased in my library, which is annoying. I think, given the opportunity, Apple would never have promised that it would match our music library with songs on the service. There are just too many variables to get right like remastered versions of albums, Deluxe versions and other content that doesn’t allow for accurate matching. While Apple is trying, it’s become one of the main sore points for many users.

In addition, I’ve had this strange problem lately that when I play many AC/DC songs from Apple Music, it will only play the live version. I search for “You Shook Me All Night Long” from “Back in Black” and it will play a live version instead. It happens with may songs from AC/DC, across many studio albums. It’s weird.

Even with those couple of issues, you can’t ignore how much better Apple Music is and how significant the changes have been over the past six months. There’s more I’d love to see them do to engage music lovers in the app, but making the service better is a process that they’re clearly working on.

  • ungeheier

    If i didn’t get Tidal for $5 a month, i’d subscribe to Apple Music. I liked it when I had it for free, and it is better than Tidal in a lot of ways.

    I’m really digging the Sunday show that Lars from Metallica is doing the past two Sundays.

  • Dave

    Still too expensive. At $9.99 per month it’s more expensive than Hulu ($7.99) and the same price as Netflix. However, and this is a big one, it only lets you listen on a single device at a time. Both Netflix and Hulu let you use more than one device at a time. To do the same with Apple Music you need to shell out $14.99 for a family plan. At that price, it’s far more expensive than both Netflix and Hulu.

    Yes, I’m comparing video services to a music service, but they’re all digital streaming services & I personally place higher value on video than on music. And apparently Apple does too, at least in iTunes – new music albums cost $9.99 vs. $19.99 for a new movie. My wife & I did try Apple Music (via a shared iTunes account) but kept running into the single device limit. Sure, Apple’s pricing is competitive with Spotify & Google Play Music, but I think all such services are over priced.

    It’s just too expensive for what it is. If it were $5-7 for a single device and $8-10 for multiple devices then it might be worth it.

    • rick gregory

      I see the logic of everything you say and understand it. Yet it always intrigues me that people will fuss about ~$5/month in order to be able to stream on several devices at once even though those devices each cost several hundred to several thousand dollars apiece and the internet connection being used almost certainly costs $50-100 per month.

      I don’t mean this as a criticism of you, btw. It’s just that I see this all the time when talking about pricing of digital things. People will rail about ebooks costing $8 but admit that they’d be OK with $4 or something. They’ll pay for and literally piss away a $4 mocha in the morning, but $5/month for something is seen differently. There’s a cool psych study here somewhere.

      • Dave

        Oh I have no problems paying for services that I value. I’m already paying for Netflix ($10), Hulu w/o commercials ($12), HBO Now ($15), PlayStation Vue ($35), etc. Want to know what all of those services have in common? Every single one of them allows you to use more than one device at a time.

        I just don’t think that Apple Music (or most other music services) justifies its price at either $10 or $15/month. It may also be that I’d rather own my music than “license” it for perpetuity. IOW, I can buy a few songs or albums here & there that I can own forever vs. paying $10 – $15/month for the end of time.

        The value just isn’t there for me. I’m sure it’s a good value for a lot of other people. It just isn’t for me. For now I buy just the music I want, own it forever and enjoy the Amazon Prime Music that’s included with Amazon Prime – yes it’s only one device at a time, but I don’t have to pay extra for it.

        If the Apple Music value equation changes in the future then maybe I’ll reevaluate. But for now, the value just isn’t there for me.

        • rick gregory

          Right, I get it’s not for you and I can see why. As I said, not trying to criticize you. I just think it’s interesting that so often we all let a few dollars decide things (the difference between $10 and $15 in this case).

          I just have to believe that there’s an interesting product psychology thing here – almost all of us do this on some dimension yet to some degree it’s not ‘rational’.

          And then there’s own vs subscribe. I do both (I use subs to discover and try out things that are new to me, I buy things I know I’ll want to play over and over).

    • For what it’s worth you can have Apple Music on multiple devices you just need to be logged into the same account. I have it on my phone, iPad, and Mac.

      If you need more than that I think paying for a family plan is pretty fair.

      • Dave

        That’s not what I’m talking about. Logging in on multiple devices is not a problem. Playing music simultaneously on more than a single device is what I’m talking about. You can only do that with a family plan. And at $15/month, that’s not worth it to me.

    • Kip Beatty

      I’m not following you. I listen to Apple Music on my MacBook, my iPhone, my Apple TV, and my iPad. Essentially, whatever device I happen to be on, it works. Where does the 1 device limitation you refer to come into play?

      We pay $14.99 for the family plan, which allows 5 of us to use the service on all of our devices as well. It’s a tremendous value. Now, perhaps you don’t value music as much as you do video, but most people listen to far, far more music than they watch video. You can have Apple Music playing all day at the office, on the commute, while you’re walking the dog, doing chores, etc. Video watching is limited only to those times you can directly focus on it.

      It’s also worth noting the economics of the two industries are such you’re comparing Apples to Oranges. A better value comparison is what you pay for Apple Music, which gives you most everything you’d want to hear, versus what you have to pay combined for all the video services you have to subscribe to to get the content you want.

      Add together Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu, plus likely a cable or satellite subscription. Compare that to $9.99 per month or $14.99 for an entire family.

      • Dave

        “Where does the 1 device limitation you refer to come into play?”

        Without a family plan you can only use Apple Music on a single device at a time. You can be logged in & use it on multiple devices, but only one at a time. All of the other streaming services I cited above allow at least 2 simultaneous streams, some allow many more than that.

        $10/month for a single stream at a time is not a good value for me. $15/month for a family plan, which includes simultaneous usage for 6 devices, is overpriced for me.

        “Now, perhaps you don’t value music as much as you do video…”

        On the contrary, I do value music a lot. I place a much higher value on music ownership than on music access (i.e. access to a huge music library). The music I purchase will be mine to enjoy for as long as I like without having to pay a monthly fee. And I don’t have to worry about losing my music if I stop paying a monthly fee.

        I appreciate that it’s a good value for you and your family. If you’ve got 5 people to share a family plan, then yes, that’s a pretty good value. When there’s only two of us, the value doesn’t look quite as good. When my family grows it is likely to become a better value for us. But today, for us, I find it very overpriced.

        • Kip Beatty

          You know, I used to be firmly on your (and Steve Jobs) side in terms of ownership vs rental. At some point I looked at what I was spending on music to own it (buying new albums from artists I liked, popular singles, etc.) relative to how much music I was allowed/able to consume, and it flipped the script for me. This is especially true when it comes to dabbling in different genres and discovering new music. I was pretty conservative before, I mean it was a $10 to $20 investment every time so I only bought if I was pretty damn sure I’d like it. Now it’s alI can eat, whenever I want to eat it for about $25 less per month than I had been spending on music.

  • For me, Apple Music is a blessing. And I agree the service is getting better and better.

    Back in the days I bought vinyl, later on CDs, and I used to leave $50 a week in record shops. And then there was the iTunes Store. Being able to buy individual songs was a big plus that I had been waiting for for years. But I was getting older and finally spent just about $10-15 for music – a month.

    Now there is Apple Music. What a great catalogue! For just $100 a year I can listen to as many songs as I like. It tempts me to discover new genres and it encourages me to listen to songs that I wouldn’t buy.

    After all the years Apple Music pulled me out of my music bubble. Discovery is key. And that’s amazing.

  • mattack

    Did you write up bugs at about the AC/DC and other issues?

  • i like AM and am going to stay a customer. but — the My New Music mix has been sucking. it’s always pushing R&B and now country. i don’t have either and constantly use the Dislike button. yet they persist. why? i’ve submitted feedback on it.

    another thing — my user created techno radio station constantly begins with a crappy non-techno song by a crappy non techno band, which i have already Disliked. yet it constantly replays when starting the station. clearly Radio doesn’t honor your Dislikes, which is lame.

    • rick gregory

      But you SHOULD like country and R&B. 🙂

  • John Kordyback

    A couple of years back, I had so much trouble switching over and getting my music back (I lost about 1/2 my music) that I gave up on Apple music.

    I occasionally buy a song or album from iTunes since that doesn’t seem to screw up but the majority of my music listening and money goes elsewhere. Music and mail/calendar are the two Apple products that I never use.

  • Interesting that you praise it. In the past few weeks I have been incredibly frustrated with Apple Music. I think it has so much potential. Between Apple’s money and music connections it could really be built into the MTV of this generation.

    The execution however has been terrible and in my opinion updates have been too sparse and far between.

    I tried creating a playlist before we went on vacation this summer. I figured I would do it on the iPad. Seemed like the ideal device, large screen but can sit comfortably on the sofa and do it. The process of adding music from my library to this playlist was so tedious. Continuously hanging and stalling. In the end I got so frustrated that I said let me just go and do this on trusty old iTunes. It wasn’t any better there and I was dealing with the same problems.

    It also frustrates me to no end how little of my music is actually matched to stuff in the Apple Music catalog. Shazam can listen to a song and get it right every time. How hard can it be to do this? I feel like whenever I look at an Apple Music generated playlist even it is filled with songs I have in my library only a small percentage will show as matched to the ones I have. Now if I add this playlist I bringing in a bunch of doubles into my library.

    The catalog they have in cloud in my opinion needs work. When you search for an artist or album you are often shown like 5 versions. It’s a crummy experience in my opinion. I do not want to see 5 versions of the same album. Show me the definitive version. Give me an option to never be show clean albums. Then show the album, and put rereleases and remasters inside of that as alternative options.

    There is also something to be said about Planet of the Apps. How did that monstrosity of a show get made ahead of doing some actual useful stuff like splitting up iTunes or adding missing features? It boggles the mind. It is also incredible that at the exact same time Planet of the Apps was released HBO release the mini-documentary series The Defiant Ones about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. How does a documentary about the two guys you built Apple Music on end up on HBO and you do a two bit reality show? Which of the two is honestly a better fit for a service called Apple Music?

  • Kip Beatty

    This is a very surprising take from the guy who recently all but called Apple Music an utter failure due to its focus on hip hop exclusives to drive new subscriptions.

  • In a world where our playlists are increasingly important, the fact that Apple stays away from a proper web interface and simple social features, makes it hard to beat spotify on that terrain. Curated playlists is okay, but I prefer following my friends playlists and sharing my own to my fans

  • Mo

    As an Apple shareholder, I like hearing that Apple Music has improved. As a consumer, I’m still pretty certain that AM will never be of interest to me. We’re fairly careful about adding monthly-fee subscription services in this house. Rented music isn’t on the table.