What happened? By all accounts, Apple Music is a totally serviceable streaming music service. But it’s 2015 for Pete’s sake. Give me more than the same old service everybody’s been offering for years.
Apple Music does everything it’s supposed to: It plays music on demand for $11.99 per month. The app is fun to use, as Gizmodo’s Kelsey pointed out yesterday. You’re never at a loss for some inviting tile to push on. Tap, sound. It even does some things very well!
But I was promised special, dammit. I wanted more from the company that revolutionised music with the iPod and iTunes. The former was the first really viable digital music player that people legitimately wanted to buy; the latter was a store for digital music that buoyed the tanking music industry for well over a decade.
Apple Music is nothing special.
At First, It Sounds Pretty Good
The new service inherits much of what we loved about Beats Music last year: The neatly curated playlists like, “Behind the Boards: Butch Vig”, which is just awesome songs produced by the legendary engineer. It’s also got artist specific playlists, which guide you through popular tracks, deep cuts, as well as playlists of artist’s influence. All of this stuff is created by human effort, which is evident in the quality of the selections, and even in the sparkling, crisp editorial copy.
Heck, in trying out the new service yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by Beats 1, Apple Music’s 24-hour radio station that broadcasts live. Really? Live radio? But we have the internet. Why would we want this? I listened to a solid hour of Julie Adenuga’s show today without getting bored for a second. Besides its core daily DJs, Apple has shelled out big bucks to secure some legit artists like St. Vincent to DJ shows. You better believe I’ll be listening to Jaden Smith’s show to see if he says anything cray.
Beats 1 is a hit it seems, but it’s worth noting that its going to be available to you whether or not you pay for an Apple Music subscription. And this brings me to the all-important point of the moment. Given that I am already a happy subscriber of another service (Spotify), I don’t know that it’s going to be worth switching. I’ve got all my playlists and history already baked into my Spotify. What will I do without them?
Apple’s engineered the obvious solution to this problem by offering new members three months for free. If you’re smart, you’ll take that three months, cancel your existing subscriptions and cancel them until the free trial runs out. But who knows, maybe that will be enough time to dupe some consumers into the switch. Three months is enough time to find stuff you like even if you’re leaving the playlists behind.
I’ve no doubt many millions of people will subscribe to Apple Music, and these customers will be as generally satisfied as most streaming music customers are with other products. That’s not what I’m saying.
But Then the Disappointment
Apple finally got around to streaming music, and the product looks like something Apple felt like it had to make, as opposed to it wanted to make. This is a bummer. It’s 2015 dammit, and Apple trotted out a run-of-the-mill streaming app. Some of Apple Music provokes genuine joy in me, but if we’re going to be totally honest with ourselves, it’s pretty boring. We’re all discussing Apple Music this week, but next week we’ll probably be done talking about it. There’s nothing all that compelling about it. It’s a big shoulder shrug.
Most news outlets are asking whether Apple’s music service is good enough to win the “battle for streaming music.” On features alone, the answer to that question is no. Apple’s not going to extinguish the competition. It’s content to just pull in a percentage of its enormous user base as paying subscribers. From this, Apple will make a crapload of money, and it would have been crazy not to pocket those billions of dollars. But Apple could have created something cool while making all that cash. Something for the users. Just because tens of millions of people will subscribe right off the bat regardless what you make, doesn’t mean you should half-arse it.
Why am I holding Apple to this standard? I don’t expect revolutionary things from Spotify. But with the iPod and iTunes, Apple illustrated that it could legitimately change how business was done in the prehistoric music industry.
Before Apple sauntered on to the scene, digital music meant piracy, a digital music player meant a shitacular Rio, and digital music software meant Winamp. (OK, Winamp was pretty great.) Then all of a sudden, there was a viable ecosystem for music on computers. The businesses that were bleeding cash started making money off selling files, and consumer got a user experience that was so good that they didn’t mind paying for it. It’s hard to overstate the impact Apple had on digital music.
Digital music did so well for Apple for so long, that the company had to be dragged into the streaming future by necessity. Spotify launched back in 2008, and it’s been available in the US since 2011.
And so here we are in 2015. Now that the business of selling digital music is tapering off, old-man Apple saunters into the party in a dated outfit as if the music hadn’t been playing for years. Apple had the opportunity to do something pioneering in the streaming music game. It’s an infinitely more powerful company today than it was back when it launched the iPod and iTunes. It has the muscle to do something different and better. And it didn’t.
I think that opportunity was ultimately there somewhere in Apple Music Connect, a platform that’s supposed to help artists share music and experiences directly with fans. A bigger more full-featured version of an independent music store like Bandcamp with scheduling and communicating tools. (Or whatever!)
But as it stands, Connect is a flimsy platform. Today, it connected me with a super-cool-personal-message from Snoop Dogg: He has a new record! (Which in fairness, I did not know he had released a record back in May.)
Apple’s makes vague overtures for musicians to get involved. More broadly, there are hints at something better. In an update to GarageBand, Apple introduced the possibility of publishing directly to Connect from its music software. But this feels like an empty gesture. In the end Connect ends up being a extension of the rote major label marketing we’ve been seeing for years.
Who knows, maybe the Connect platform will blossom in to a beautiful oasis of creativity in the stunted digital music scene. Maybe it will take up the community-based mission that SoundCloud embraced before it was forced to rein in its ambitions to pursue real licensing deals for the content it was streaming, to the chagrin of passionate users.
I’m not optimistic. With ex-major-label bigwig Jimmy Iovine negotiating deals and calling shots behind the scenes of Apple Music, I seriously doubt it will be anything short of respectful to the old arseholes at the top of the music industry.
I don’t think Apple Music sucks. It doesn’t. I just wanted more.