Recently I signed up for Apple Music which is a month-to-month streaming music service. Basically you pay Apple R59 a month and they give you access to their entire library of music. Millions and millions of songs by just about every artist you ever heard of (and others you wish you had never heard of).
I think it’s a bargain, but there are a few things about it that I have found difficult to deal with. The first one is that it’s like being a lucky kid on Christmas morning. You have this big pile of presents but you don’t know what to play with first. Everything is shiny and new and is begging for your attention at the same time, but just like kids only have one pair of hands, we only have one pair of ears, so what do I listen to today? I mean, I have a pretty wide interest in music so deciding what to listen to in any one session on Apple Music when suddenly I have a few million more albums in my collection to listen to can often result in choice paralysis that ends with me sitting in silence staring at a screen.
Apple have a solution for this with their “For You” tab in the new iTunes which basically analyses your existing iTunes library, what you listen to most and then they display recommendations for you. It works, sort of, but I am perplexed as to how they think I might be interested in Beyonce and certain other artists who I can assure you will never wilfully be aired on any audio system I own. On the plus side every Friday Apple Music publish a new playlist of about 25 songs that they think you might like, based on your listening proclivities, so my Friday mornings are generally reserved for listening to “My New Music Mix”. I have discovered many interesting new artists using the recommendations which is great, because there is no way you’ll ever hear bands like Saint Motel, Foals, The Strumbellas, Boxed In or Cage The Elephant on ECR. ?
As I go through the new songs I can add the ones I like to my library and also download them to my iTunes library so that I am not wasting bandwidth or in need of an active internet connection every time I decide to play them. I also add them to my own playlists, which in the absence of any listenable radio stations in KZN usually comprise a few hundred songs each, broken into 3 or 4 generic tempos. I put these on shuffle and I can spend several hours knowing that the music coming out of my system is stuff I like, not what mainstream radio DJ’s these days are being forced to play by their corporate bosses.
The only other problem I have with Apple Music is trying to figure out what they are doing to my own music collection in iTunes when I want to take my new found tunes on the road with me on my iPhone. During the 3 month trial I made the (almost) cataclysmic error of merging my own extensive library with Apple Music’s library. This is a requirement if you want to store songs on your iPhone/iPod for offline use. What happened after I did that resulted in Apple completely screwing up my artfully (and OCD) managed iTunes library by applying incorrect album art and other meta data to all my stuff. Not only was there that disaster to deal with, I somehow managed to wipe out all the music on my wife’s iPhone too (which is registered to my Apple account). Luckily I was able to restore the old library from Time Machine backups, but it was that disastrous merge event that has me very reluctant to repeat this on my main iTunes library again now that I am actually paying for the Apple Music service.
So, what I have done is set up another iTunes library on my MacBook Pro that didn’t have any music on it at all. As I discover new music I add it to that machine’s iTunes library and download them from the cloud to the machine for off-line use. I have that Mac directly connected to the audio system in my office, but with the Home Sharing feature on iTunes I can also access my main iTunes library which lives on my iMac through the same computer. Curiously I can’t seem to play music added from Apple Music on the MacBook Pro via Home Sharing on the iMac. The iMac sees the library, but it only sees the music I have actually manually added to that library, not the stuff I have downloaded from Apple Music. Fortunately I am able to use the Apple Airplay feature to send the music on the MacBook iTunes library to remote speakers via my Apple Airport Express, which I can plug into any other audio system in my house and enjoy the music where that system is. In theory if I connect and sync an Apple device (like an iPhone or iPod) to the MacBook I should be able to add stuff from the Apple Music library to that device for offline use without having to stream it via the internet. Super confusing, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to make much sense to have this situation but I suppose somebody at Apple sat in a meeting and convinced the executive that this is the way it has to be.
For now I am happy to discover the new stuff written by artists who are shunned by radio and the mainstream media today at R59 a month. That’s much less than half the cost of a new release on CD, so if I was still able to find new music tailored to my tastes in places like Musica I’d be saving a fortune. I’m also quite anti music piracy so this seems a good fit for me. If I am honest I don’t know how this affects the artists themselves in terms of what they get paid. I’m hoping that it’s still worthwhile for them. At least the likes of Saint Motel, Foals, The Strumbellas, Boxed In and Cage The Elephant are getting some money from the South African market.