This article was originally published for Radio UTD on July 2nd, 2015.
After many headlines, Apple Music has finally launched. Promising features similar to other streaming services on the market; a expansive library of music, a la Spotify, Pandora-style personalized radio stations, and Beats Music-style curation, Apple Music seems to bundle a wealth of services into one ecosystem that already has millions of users. While it seems like a recipe for success, it might not end up that way.
Apple Music seems to do everything well. While its library includes exclusives such as Taylor Swift and Thom York, it’s still missing artists such as Prince and Chance, The Rapper. It’s a generally satisfactory catalog, but that is something we’ve come to expect with Apple. As the world’s largest marketplace for digital music, it would be humiliating to see giant holes in its library that other streaming services on the market already have filled.
That being said, one of its biggest features, Beats 1, a live, online radio station, works well. It boasts an impressive list of DJs. Zane Lowe, formerly BBC Radio 1, has joined on as the station’s premiere host. Apple has brought others artists, such as St. Vincent, to host shows on the station as well. This feature seems to work well sometimes, but other times, it features the same problems listeners face with terrestrial radio. Tuning into Zane Lowe’s show, I was reminded why he is such a prominent figure in radio, playing a run of tracks including Hudson Mohawke, Courtney Barnet, Shamir, and Bully, while other shows on the station were basically the same Top 40 shows I could listen to by simply turning on an old-fashioned radio. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with Top 40, it’s just not something that really sets Beats 1 apart from its broadcast counterparts.
Apple has invested lots of money to create the “layer of music curation” that Trent Reznor spoke of back in 2012. This can be found not only on Beats 1, but in the curated playlists found throughout the app. Some from Apple’s “Music Editors” and others from prominent music blogs including Pitchfork, The Fader, and Resident Advisor, to name a few. Some of these work surprisingly well. One I’ve been coming back to a lot is The Fader’s “Loud Things To Knock Things Over To” which features “riot rap” from artists like Father, Future Brown, and Skepta. Another is Resident Advisor’s “Summer Playlist” featuring, Kaytranada, Jamie XX, and Todd Terje. Vice contributes a hilarious playlist titled, “VICE’s Guide To Shutting Down A Party,” that I wish was available earlier for those parties where people refuse to go home.
It’s areas like these where Apple Music really seems to be the most effective. Bringing a human element to music discovery. That being said, other features seem to fall short. Apple Music Connect promised a way for users to connect with their favorite artists. It seemed to be Apple’s attempt to compete with the likes of Bandcamp or Soundcloud but falls completely on its face. Rather than being a social experience, it’s a strange tumblr-esque feed where artist like Snoop Dog self-promote their newest releases.
What’s interesting is what Apple plans to do with these elements in the future. The idea of having multiple online radio stations is interesting. Internet radio have been around for almost as long as the internet has (we’ve been doing it for well over a decade). A future where there are a plethora of online stations accessible to such a large audience seems completely in-line with what Apple is trying to do — bring terrestrial radio into the 21st century — and it solves a problem that internet radio stations have been trying to since their birth.
This is what is both exciting and disappointing with Apple Music. For a company that has a long track record of bringing revolutionary products to the market, Apple Music isn’t that. While it does most things well, it doesn’t have any killer feature that really separates itself from any other music service out there. Who knows, maybe in a few months Connect takes up the community developing mission that Soundcloud once did, or adds more stations other then Beats 1, or more social features, allowing you to share tracks, albums, and playlists with your friends. But for now Apple Music is just ok.
This brings about the ultimate question, is Apple Music worth the subscription? For that, there is no clear answer. For someone like myself, who has only ever subscribed to iTunes Match (which Apple Music replaces) it’s certainly an enticing option. It provides a wealth of features while keeping my expansive personal library available within one app. For those who already subscribe to a service like Spotify, it may not be worth effort to migrate to a whole new service. The only answer that seems to be of value is to enjoy the three month trial, and come up with your own answer then. But for now, unless I can remember to cancel my subscription when the trial is over, Apple Music has gained a subscriber.