I have to admit something: I’m an Apple Music fan. There, it’s good to get that off my chest.
I know Apple Music isn’t the hippest streaming service on the block – you can thank the U2 album debacle for that — and since it’s basically an amalgamation of iTunes and Beats Music, it’s definitely got problems. I originally let my three-month free trial expire in favor of Spotify Premium. But after buying back into Apple Music (I had to do research), I’m now leaning toward it.
It’s hard not to when, somewhat begrudgingly, I’ve become so deeply embedded in the Cupertino cult. From my smartphone to my tablet and laptop, I default to Apple products because a) I find the company’s products easier to use than the alternative, and b) they’re strikingly beautiful.
Many would argue that Apple Music is neither of these things, and I would agree … to an extent. But there’s a lot that’s pretty great about Apple Music, too.
Beats 1 Radio is no joke
Have you listened to the best shows on this free station? A lot of them are wonderful, especially head honcho Zane Lowe’s show. It’s like the best of the BBC radio shows I used to catch on Tune-In radio, only without the irrelevant traffic and weather updates coming out of London. Lowe’s show often plays hit after hit that I truly enjoy. And perhaps most important, a lot of the music is from bands I’ve never heard of. Also, the name alone (Beats 1) implies there are more stations on the way — Beats 2, Beats 3, etc.
Perhaps Spotify is catching on. Just last week the company introduced a rival service called ‘In Residence,’ which hosts celebrity guests like Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones. Unlike Beats 1’s live, worldwide broadcasts, however, Spotify’s service is on-demand like a podcast, which kind of misses the point. Like terrestrial radio, Beats 1 is happening in real time, allowing listeners to just dip in and see what’s playing — and that’s part of the fun.
While some have complained about problems caused by Apple Music’s “cluttered” and confusing interface, I had no problem melding my old and new digital music libraries. In fact, like all things Apple, it was a breeze for me to integrate Apple Music across my devices and libraries, turning my aging iTunes account into a service that makes virtually everything I own available anywhere I’ve got Internet access.
Spotify has a similar function that lets you put your stored music into the cloud, but for me, sending all my iTunes tracks to be matched in the cloud was extremely convenient. No more downloading new tracks on my phone — I carry it all with me, wherever the Internet goes.
Human curation is for reals
Some might say Apple Music is the company’s bid to adapt its aging music service to better compete with Spotify and other streaming services, but I would argue there’s plenty pointing to the fact that this is Apple’s grand vision for the future of music; especially when it comes to music curation.
When first initiating Apple Music, the service allows you to dictate your musical tastes on a three-tier scale, which it then uses to set up a full tab of music just for you, aptly titled “For You.” In my case, that meant richly packed vaults boasting deep cuts and B-sides from some of my favorite artists, like Blur and Radiohead, as well as specialty curations that feel as if Apple followed me around for a decade or so. For instance, as a recovering audio engineer, Apple’s “Behind the Boards” playlists — which load up some of the best-produced tracks from studio wizards like Brian Eno, and John Leckie — are an absolute joy.
In other words, Apple has the will — and the bankroll — to dig far beyond algorithmic curation and instead create unique music playlists that feel more like a friend’s mix tape than a math equation. In contrast, a lot of Spotify’s playlists miss the mark for me. For example: to celebrate Back to the Future Day, Spotify created a Welcome, Marty McFly playlist designed to mix hits from 1985 (the year Back to the Future was made) with hits from 2015 (the year Doc and Marty travel to in BTTF II). However, the playlist was crammed with top 40 hits from the likes of Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, and Nick freaking Jonas – artists that neither nostalgic old farts like me (i.e. Back to the Future nerds), or Mr. McFly, I’d wager, could enjoy.
And that’s just one example. I also find Spotify Radio stations, such as the Rock station, for instance, to be as decidedly mediocre as regular radio: “Hey everybody, it’s Hey Joe by Jimmy Hendrix!” Yeah, heard that one before. A LOT.
But … Discover Weekly
My issues with Spotify’s curation is all the more vexing for one reason: Discover Weekly is my jam. The playlist, designed to serve up 30 tracks of new and old music picked just for you every week is an amazing feature. And I’m far from the only one who relies on its sweet sonic goodness to suffer through a Monday morning. If there’s any doubt of that, take a look at the Twitter-pocalypse that happened when Weekly didn’t renew for millions of users a few weeks ago. Empirically, Spotify announced in early October that over 1 billion songs had been streamed through Discover Weekly in the first 10 weeks alone.
In fact, when it really comes down to it, Discover Weekly is really the main thing keeping me tied to both services right now. They both host 30 million songs, covering just about everything I want to listen to. They both have similar feature sets, and both interfaces have their pros and cons. But, apart from Discover Weekly, Apple Music’s curation is just a better fit for me. And when it comes right down to it, if you set aside the interface itself, curation makes for a pretty good measuring stick.
Apple Music is a good thing — even if you hate it
For all those Apple Music naysayers out there, here’s a sobering fact: Apple Music is already a success. Sure, a majority of its 15 million users are still on the 3-month free trial, accounting for 8.5 million listeners as of publication. But that still leaves 6.5 million who stuck around to pay. Of those, it’s expected that around 3 or 4 million will stay with the service long term. And although that pales in comparison to Spotify (with 20 million paying users), it’s a mammoth number for a service less than 6 months old. In comparison, Beats music at this stage had about 250,000 users.
But even if you absolutely hate Apple Music (Spotify 4 life!), its success is a good thing for music fans, streaming services, and musicians alike. One reason is because Apple Music has no free tier. Spotify’s free tier, meanwhile, is still a real drag on the entire music economy. The service’s 55 million free users accounted for just $90 million last year, while its 20 million paying members generated almost 10 times that number at $897 million. The more money that comes in, the more artists can make money, and the more good music can survive.
Plus, with Apple’s near infinite resources ($200 billion in cash), the service could eventually become a bigger player in the music scene in general, perhaps even helping to disrupt the label-heavy revenue paradigm that is another big reason musicians struggle to make a living in the current climate.
Any way you slice it, having two powerhouses atop the music streaming mountain — along with a healthy selection of other competitors like Google Play, Amazon, and Rhapsody — is a good thing.
As such, when it comes to the choice between Apple Music and Spotify, it’s not really about better or worse, good or evil, David or Goliath. Instead, it’s about personal preference, the freedom of choice, and healthy competition shaking things up. And, of course, it’s also about Discover Weekly. Maybe I’ll just keep both.