I'm an Apple person. I bought my first iPod in 2004, back in the old days when screens were black and white and click wheels were the latest wave. At the time, 20 GBs of memory changed my life, and coupled with my regret from ever buying a Sony MiniDisc player, sparked over a decade of brand loyalty. I currently own an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook and continue to dodge constant shade thrown by Android owners (and their need for useless features in favor of ease of use, uniform design and the ability to borrow a phone charger from basically anyone you know). As another disclaimer, I have never used Spotify, spent about two total hours looking through Tidal and am generally a much bigger proponent of downloading music than I am streaming it. Steve Jobs por vida.
With that said, I signed up for Apple Music yesterday with expectations of the revolutionary music experience they promised, and I'm disappointed. Here's basically a running diary of my experience and early thoughts, for better or worse.
I get the update that Apple Music was available, it is time to upgrade. I open up iTunes on my laptop, click 'Check For Updates' and wait for the heavens to open up and unlimited streaming to rain down on me like a waterfal. Wait...nope, nevermind. The update doesn't seem to be registering in my iTunes, which says I'm already on the latest version. FUCK. Time to check device number two, the ever-important iPhone. As soon as I download the newest version, it's time to dive in. Wait...nope. It takes almost 20 minutes to download and another 15 minutes for it install, but now it's time to dive in. Wait...nope. Now I realize I can't take advantage of the iCloud Music Library - which promised access to my entire library on all of my devices - until I upgrade my desktop version. At least the new logo looks sweet.
Hours later, I'm finally able to upgrade on my computer, though I had to download off of Apple's website to accomplish it. Time to bring my immense music library over to the cloud. Before I knew it, all of my music was showing up on my phone. Within seconds, I was blaring the intro to Meek Mill's latest album, and I was finally free. Free of playlist creation, transferring music over and worrying about having enough memory to hold it all. I was exploring further, moving through artists and playlists when I noticed a lot of my album artwork was missing. Not wavy at all. I noticed the cover art to Starlito and Don Trip's "Life" was only a picture of Don Trip, and that the song had "matched" to a different song. I'd been swindled, I thought, the correct version is still on my computer. Various remixes seemed to suffer the same fate, being attributed to the original versions of each record, versions I did not want nor download. Not a good move for a hip-hop head obsessive about his music collection.
A lot of my complaints at this point stem from using the "matching" functionality, which has been available for years as a standalone service, so I'll just move along to the desktop tabs, starting with "For You." This seems to be where the personalization takes place, and I'm faced with a variety of genres. You can choose to remove the ones you don't like, select the ones you do like, and double-select the ones you love. I assume everything not removed remains present, but is obviously not counted as favored. Next, I get to choose my favorite artists, and seeing Future in the first bucket of names is an automatic win for Apple. I spend a good amount of time on this, making sure my preferences are accurate, and at the end I'm left with a list of "curated" playlists, ranging from "Best of Roc-A-Felle Records" to "Jay Z: Deep Cuts." I'll take a list of deep cuts over biggest hits any day, and even though I've heard every one on the list I'll give Apple credit for at least attempting to appeal to people that know what they want to listen to.
Next, I head to "New." This is basically your iTunes store, with all of the most recent and notable releases, though instead of previews I have full access to hear and watch everything. Songs, music videos and albums are all there, as well as "handcrafted playlists" from Apple Music Editors, activity based soundtracks and "Curators" picks from names like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, etc. While many may consider this their holy grail for new music, I am no ordinary listener. I'm playing this game on "Expert" level. I'll do my own music curating, thank you very much.
Heading into "Radio," I'm quite certain I know what to expect. I see a number of music stations, broken down by genre and sub-genre, along with news stations like ESPN and NPR, and of course the much-talked-about Beats 1. I take the plunge into Beats 1, intrigued by what Apple and its handpicked DJs will deem worthy of the service's main stage. It's currently playing a rock song I haven't heard of and don't really like. Sweet. On to the next one.
"Connect" is my final stop. Finally, a way to become closer to the artists I like, outside of following them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, their website and all the other ways at my disposal. Yes, that was sarcasm, though I do appreciate its inclusion in the service. Quickly clicking around, I can see the potential, though it will be up to the artists themselves to make this a "cool" destination. So far, it's mostly just a "could be."
That concludes my first foray into Apple Music. All in all, I'm slightly disappointed by my experience, though with some small changes I can see the potential. It took some time to download and install, but that is most likely a result of my trying on launch day. My biggest gripe remains my issue with incorrectly "matched" tracks. Looking at the music in my iCloud Music Library the next day, I can see that some of my tracks are now correct. It may be that due to the high number of songs I've collected, it's just a matter of time until they are all correctly loaded. That's a big unknown on my part, but I'll update again once I'm sure. My other gripe is the inability to use 'Connect' as a curator. I was looking forward to uploading my own playlists, but it seems that while Spotify is geared towards sharing with your friends, Apple Music caters to those intending to receive their music from the artists directly. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know.
I'm not sure I'll be continuing the service after my free three month trial ends, but I'll definitely be using the service over those three months, especially if all of my music becomes available in the cloud with the versions I intend to listen to. My disappointment may be limited to the aspects most interesting to myself, but as a service for music "beginners," it looks to be a capable service for discovery and playback. If you're like me and already have iTunes on more than one device, I would recommend at least giving it a shot. Changing music forever is a long shot, but not impossible. I've been riding with you this long Apple, I'm willing to wait and see what you still have in store for me.
[By Brendan Varan. He's got all the answers to your questions about streaming services, except the ones he can't answer. Follow him on Twitter.]