A Thirty-Something and His Long-Winded “Apple Music” Review

July 15, 2015

apple music

Admission–I am a late adopter when it comes to using most new technology. I’m in my early thirties so I remember my first computer, the first time I got internet access, etc. But gadgets rolled out after the early AOL days have usually been things I eye suspiciously or at least until the price becomes “reasonable”. I got a PS2 when PS3 was released, for example. When it comes to music delivery and listening methods price hasn’t always been the factor that has “slowed my roll.” My first music listening experiences were LPs and 45s on a small play-skool turntable. In middle school I got my first Walkman and snagged the tape collection of my older brothers. I remember when I finally got a CD player though and it was on— that began a lifelong love affair with owning, collecting, and devouring music. I joined all the mail order record clubs (BMG, Columbia House) that allowed you to get 12 CDs for the price of 1. I scoured pawn shops for $5 CDs. When I was working and driving I hit the record store every Tuesday when new albums came out to pick up my latest fix. Knowing all of this you should know that my review of Apple Music is in most ways a review of streaming music itself more so than a product comparison of Apple to its competitors. Though I have used Spotify on occasion and now use it a bit more, Apple for the past few weeks has been my first real immersion (discounting Pandora which has to me always seemed much more like radio) into streaming music in the modern manner. So I’ll begin with my Apple observations before reverting to what streaming means to me compared to previous listening methods. So, I know Apple Music is in its early phase and that each update will refine and improve it. But what observations I do have of the service follows.

First, catalog size–it seems at least approaching comprehensive. I’d say that at least 75-80% of what I’ve searched for I’ve found and been able to stream and download to my phone for offline listening. I’d wager that the typical listener sees that number approaching more like 90-95 percent but a lot of what I’ve searched for in the past week has been somewhat obscure as I was tempted to look for every album I was never able to find or afford as well as many genre items which were CDs I jettisoned years ago from high school (it seems like some of the no longer fashionable hip hop of the late nineties e.g. Cash Money and No Limit has disappeared possibly due to contract issues). I will begin a list of missing titles in the comment thread if anyone wants to add titles as well. But like I said, most things tend to be here other than the big name holdouts (the Beatles, George Harrison, Prince) and some more obscure fare. Ease of the app is fairly good–it surprised me how quickly I could move an album from streaming to downloaded for offline listening when connected to WiFi (using cell service– not so much). Building playlists through the app wasn’t as user friendly as I’d like–if you just want to add a lot of songs and then shuffle that mix it is relatively easy but I as of yet haven’t found a way to drop and reorder apple built playlists which is important to me when I want to make and listen to a playlist. I assume Apple figures you will do that from the desktop, but I haven’t been able to integrate the desktop option into my use of Apple Music at all thus far as my library holds many more than the allowable 50K songs Apple currently supports in its integration system. So, I’m able to use Apple music on my phone and traditional iTunes on my desktop. I can listen to music through Apple Music on my desktop, but if I add an album from there it goes nowhere and is not accessible from my phone. None of the playlists or music I own that Apple does not have on Apple Music are accessible from my phone either as the cloud is the only method Apple wants users to use when adding or deleting items to your phone; I vastly prefer the methods available for syncing selected tracks and mixes iTunes allows for traditional ipod as it at this points seems less buggy or prone to bad functionality. All in all, noe of this is a huge deal for me as I can use my standard ipods for anything I own and thus far am just using apple to listen to new music (or new to me music or, no longer owned music). I have read that when the next IOS update launches in the fall libraries with 100K songs will sync to Apple Music and allow me to use both desktop and phone in the intended integrated manner. As it stands now I’d have to delete more than half of my library just to fully use Apple Music as intended which I’d rather not do.

What else? Listening. When plugging my phone into my car to listen to offline music I have noticed on occasion sudden volume jumps which is jarring particularly if the music is set as loud as is comfortable already. I’ve also noticed sudden stops–the song, album or mix will suddenly just stop playing and I’ll have to unlock my phone and push play so it will pick up where it left off. I also have noticed songs disappearing from playlists or songs downloaded for offline listening going back to the cloud and removing downloads without my asking for that. I have also ran across several albums, usually newer releases, in which only select songs are available for listening leaving the bulk of the album “greyed” out. I would imagine this is an artist who wants to use the service to tease their album while causing the listener to then purchase it so as to have access to it in its entirety which is completely understandable. I am somewhat surprised this isn’t more common–I wonder if as the service continues more artists will be selective with their catalogs particularly with their new releases? I could imagine artists withholding their new release from streaming for 6 months to a year in the way that many new movies are held back from Netflix and such. Of course, this would only happen if people clamored to purchase the newest album and were unable to wait to hear it which the current models of listening seem to have completely decimated in the general populace’s music consumption habits.

So really–just a few bugs and kinks that will out in time. Price? The same as Spotify for an individual user. I find it surprising that so many people find $10 is too expensive for access to most of the music ever released but if people think all music should be free I suppose any price is “too expensive”. I myself will likely continue as a paying Apple customer after the 3 month trial period ends.Why Apple and not Spotify? I think both services are comparable. Spotify at the moment actually has some advantages as their web based and desktop version is more user friendly, their playlists are easier to create and use and their social aspect more appealing. I think it comes down, sadly, to inevitability. Apple just updated its music icon on my phone and desktop and left me to get with the program if I want to continue to be an avid listener in the modern world. I’ve built my catalog on iTunes for a decade or more and every time I try to shift to a competitors software for digital music I come back. So I will continue with Apple Music, likely for most of what I used to download (sorry Bandcamp, eMusic and Amazon Digital). However, I will not give up on all physical media as long as I have the chance to buy my favorite albums on vinyl, to purchase those titles I collect or love for whatever reason on CD and play in my car and rip to my computer in high resolution. So what follows is my observations on streaming as opposed to previous methods of listening and consuming as a relatively late adopter.

As stated above, I was actually late to fool with mp3s at all. I actually bought a new Discman in college–likely near the end of the Discman production line as it was around 2006. Most folks were grabbing i-pods up but I was still marching to class–purposefully—spinning my latest songs on CD. Of course in the lean college years often these became burnt CDs, but they remained CDs and I still bought my faves in physical format when possible. My wife bought me my first iPod as a Christmas gift in 2008 and I enjoyed it. It was a nano which I still have and use to this day. I eventually added an iPod classic to the mix. I spent years ripping everything I bought to my curated iTunes library carefully tagging, sorting, and creating playlists. When my classic crapped out my wife bought me another, the largest storage model you could get–which turned out to be in the last month Apple made the classic as they discontinued the click wheel standard model in favor of the touch model and the iphone (with much less storage space) as they readied for streaming as it now appears as Apple Music.

Now, I love that traditional model iPod because it’s straightforward music. There are no clicks, pops, whistles and alarms to interrupt a song in the middle just because you got an email or a text. Your music doesn’t stop playing just because you receive a phone call. The battery lasts a surprisingly long time. It holds several thousand songs at a time and is perfect for road trips. It counts my plays and lets me group my perfectly curated mixes to it. And the music on it is still “my” music in that I purchased (or at least added to my library) all of it over the course of many years. For a great deal of it I can point to the physical “backup” copy on CD as in recent years when downloads crept up in price I often found CDs cheaper—and incidentally when I began buying those cheaper CDs again after years of not buying them I fell back in love with the packaging, collectability and nostalgia of owning that disc beyond just a download. Of course, concurrently with jumping on the iPod bandwagon years ago I also concurrently became a vinyl enthusiast and built up a sizable collection of records and the equipment to play them on. While I’m fine with mp3s (or mp4s, FLACs, etc.) when listening to headphones or on a lengthy roadtrip, vinyl remains the preferable go to for home listening whenever possible.

So, streaming presents a new frontier of music that is separate from much of what I know and love of music. Nostalgia, compulsion and whatever else makes me resistant to completely giving up “ownership” of music. I like to have that record to throw on the turntable or at least the file backed up on my computer to add to any iPod I have whenever I choose regardless of internet connection and availability of that title “in the cloud”. I also like to have that CD to put in my car player as long as I can have a car with that as an option. If I’m stop and go driving it’s a hassle to plug in and sync up a song every time I get in and out of the car or to be driving down the road and have my music interrupted because I get a sales call I don’t want to answer in the first place. Maybe it’s in my head, but that CD plays clearer with a bit more range than that Apple file as well.

I’ve read everything about audiophile sound quality and the LP debate and I do realize there is a lot of subjectivity in terms of that medium preference as it relates to sound quality. Some of the “warmth” people associate with vinyl is actually due to warps and imperfections in the sound as it is reproduced, often missing the bass reproduction in ways. I get that. But I also realize my Beatles in mono albums sound 100x better on my turntable than any mp3 ripped CD or downloaded Beatles tracks sound. I hear range, background instruments, different levels of volume per instrument and it sounds like the music is in my room being performed in front of me instead of flattened, loudened and computer-sheen digitized .

So yeah. I realize I sound like a grumpy old man who doesn’t get it. Actually I think it’s fascinating that most of us now have access to the bulk of recorded music in history. I know I am lucky to be able to simply pick up my phone or log in to my computer and listen to almost any entire album I want to if I hear about it and want to check it out. This exposes me and everyone else to a variety and quality of music previous generations wouldn’t have been able to comprehend. My attachment to “owning” music is a lot about me and memories I have. But some of it is valid–I like to support the artist which I can do by going to a show or buying a t-shirt but I also like to buy that album when it comes out. I like to have that album at my disposal so that it isn’t suddenly erased or removed due to copyright issues however rare or unlikely that may be (though it does happen and I have a few albums in my collection that have been removed from all streaming services). I like to pour over those lyrics and look at that cover art while I listen to that album in its entirety when the album warrants such attention and when I have the time and means to do so. Also, whenever I’ve bought an album in my life I’ve given it more time and the benefit of the doubt simply because I was financially invested in it–back in the day when you paid almost 15 bucks for a CD as a working teenager you listened to that thing all the way through a few times even if the first spin didn’t grab you because you hated to think you may have wasted your money! Of course, wanting it not to suck did not always make it so but it did allow for me to discover music that is difficult or challenging, that is appreciated with multiple listens and consideration and that is not always open on its first encounter. It also allowed me to find those albums with hidden gems. In the streaming era, the moment I get bored with an album even a song or two in I can quickly skip to a million other possibilities so giving music the benefit of a doubt takes double-effort. If you’re not a jazz or technical-death metal fan coming of age now you most likely approach every song with a “you have 5 seconds to impress me” attitude.

Just my thoughts. I know I’ll save money in the future by streaming and that I’ll continue to be able to hear hundreds of albums and thousands of songs I never would have been able to if not for this technology. I also know I’ll hold on to my media collection as long as possible and selectively add to it as long as that remains a possibility.

As promised the first comment below is mine and begins the list of “missing” albums I’ve spotted on Apple Music thus far. Feel free to add your own.

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One Response to “A Thirty-Something and His Long-Winded “Apple Music” Review”

  1. dmhamby2 said

    The Beatles
    Prince
    George Harrison
    Danzig (albums between IV and Deth Red Saboth)
    Samhain (early albums e.g. November Coming Fire)
    Xzibit first album
    Many early “Cash Money Records” albums (e.g Lil Wayne prior to Carter II, Hot Boyz, early B.G.)
    Many “No Limit” records from mid to late nineties (e.g. first album by Fiend)
    King Crimson
    Ghostface Killah (newest album all but a few tracks greyed out)
    Veil of Maya: Matriarch (all but a few tracks greyed out)
    Van Morrison (later and more recent albums)
    Bruce Springsteen (official live bootlegs)
    Tool
    Lucinda Williams (most recent album)
    The Body and Thou- joint release
    Acid Bath – (any)

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