I use my Apple devices (iPad mini, iPod Shuffle) with my Windows PC with Windows 7. In this article I describe my findings taking Apple Music into use. The strengths of Apple Music I have tried Spotify. I have been using it for years to check out new music, and have tasted a few months of Premium. I liked the absence of advertisements, but the service itself never appealed to me on other levels. At least not enough to be worth a monthly subscription to me. But the idea of a streaming service still appealed to me. It will be the primary way we listen to music in the future, and I think it’s the best middle ground between having to buy every single song you like and piracy. Personally, when I buy music, I like to be able to touch it, but I also like having lots of music, and I simply don’t have the budget to buy all the music I like. But Spotify never triggered me to using it as my go-to music service. Apple Music did so immediately. What does it do differently?
- iTunes integration First, I used WinAmp. Then when WinAmp stopped updating its services, I realised that it was slightly out of date anyway, and I switched to iTunes. The choice was never hard to make, really. I already used iTunes on my MacBook for my dj library, because it integrates with my dj software (and there are no real alternatives anyway), and I use my iPod shuffle almost on a daily basis. But the most important thing is that I like to keep my music very organised, and iTunes can do a lot of organising for you. I had to use it, if I wasn’t to spend hours a week creating folders and renaming files.The thing is, I want one place where all my music is, which makes me feel like I own my music. Spotify has never given me the feeling of control over my music files. In Spotify, I had to put my music into Spotify. With Apple Music, I can take music from “out there”, and put it in my library. In terms of actual control over your music, there is little difference (Spotify uses DRM as much as Apple Music), but in terms of a feeling of ownership, there is a large one.
- A more serious approach to music But that was not the only reason. Upon opening Apple Music, I was approached with questions about which music I like, and my answers were being taken seriously. The playlists and recommendations I was offered matched my taste, and looked curated properly and well though-through. I have to say, Spotify’s weekly recommendations are pretty good, but that’s a generated playlist, not a curated and certainly not necessarily a coherent one. Besides, my Spotify home screen is still offering me “happy summer music” and “coffee house music”, even though I have no interest at all in playlists like these.
Being prepared So I decided to start using Apple Music. But when I finished my registration, I read about some of the troubles people have had in their first few days with it, and they sounded pretty horrible. But I wasn’t going to pay and not use iCloud Music Library, which lets you save Apple’s music to your devices, lets you play it offline, and lets you stream your entire library from your mobile devices. I didn’t want to end up like those poor people losing their Beatles mono recordings or having the artwork of their carefully put-together Bob Dylan collection messed up, so I decided to prepare well before letting the service touch my music collection. I took the following steps:
- Backed up If you love your digital music or film or photo collection, and are not yet having a regular back-up set up, run to the store today, buy yourself an extra hard drive and set up a regular back up. I probably don’t have to tell you why it’s important, but if you need the ultimate reason, look at the damage iCloud Music Library can do to your music collection in five minutes (which can be restored, but at least it saves you the intense sensation of stress at that moment). I backed up my music library an extra time, to be sure. If iCloud Library would ruin it, no problem.
- Cleaned up my library iCloud Library provides some incentive to keep music you don’t need from your library by its 25.000 song limit (more on that later), but I was also just encouraged by how neat Apple Music looked to just clean up the thing. I had been cleaning up my collection slowly since I moved to iTunes, but there still were lots of badly tagged mixes, radio shows and soundtrack files. Even some midi files, iTunes can’t even play those.
- Got nervous After hearing what happened with others’ music libraries, even after having read almost everything about it and having taken lots of precautions, I was still nervous about pressing the button. It’s certainly not supposed to be part of the process, but I guess Apple was already aware of that and intended none of it. Too late now, anyway. Then it started synchronizing.
What went (sorta) wrong
- Waiting, freezing
The first thing I noticed was how long everything took. I read you have to finish the entire uploading process in one go, so I did, and had to leave my PC on overnight. iTunes froze a few times before that, and I’m sure it has done so again several times.
- Messy artwork
Normally, I use mp3tag for assigning artwork to albums. This program saves the artwork to the id3tags of the songs, which makes them larger in filesize, but sticks the image onto the file so it doesn’t get lost when you move it around. I don’t know if it’s because of this, but the artwork in my library seemed to stay pretty much the way it was. Reading some more, I discovered that errors relating to artwork (and some others) occurred only with people who had their library synchronized with iTunes Match and/or mobile devices. It seems the biggest fan boys are getting the hardest punches. I don’t use synchronization options or iTunes Match myself, so I decided to try turning iCloud Music Library on on my iPad Mini. I didn’t have any music on there, so what could go wrong? Well, nothing. But strangely the albums that were still tagged correctly on my PC were suddenly messed up op my iPad. Artwork was replaced by other artwork, of albums I didn’t even own, and when I checked backed later I had three albums in my library I didn’t even know. Still, this applied to a small part of my collection. I can now access almost 25.000 of my own songs on my iPad, whereas before I could only fill a few free GB’s.
- Ineligible songs
Some of my songs were listed as ‘ineligible’, and couldn’t be uploaded to iCloud. But this happened to only a small portion of my library, and almost exclusively to trailer music, unreleased soundtracks and the like. I don’t blame Apple for that. In fact, what I’m missing is an option to exempt specific albums or songs from uploading. I started with what went wrong, but in general, I’m actually quite content with the service overall.
What went well
- My library didn’t take any hits
Seriously. It stayed pretty much the same. The ‘sort by rating’ option no longer works, but that’s about it. On my iPad, it’s a lot more messed up, but I’m guessing that improves as I add more tags and images to the library on my PC.
- Apple’s music collection
I’ve looked up pretty much every song that had on Spotify, and Apple has it all. Plus, adding music to your library is super easy, and it really feels like the music becomes part of your library, instead of me listing my own music between Spotify’s. In a few hours, I had increased my music collection with new as well as long forgotten (but no less good) music.
What could be better Great as it is, and even taking into account the errors already mentioned into account, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
- The 25.000 song limit
There is a song limit. That being said, Spotify’s song limit is still 10.000. So I’m just going to mention it and leave it at that. For anyone with a larger collection that they want to stream per se, there is a workaround using multiple iTunes libraries. So that pretty much dissolves it completely.
- Limited playlist sharing options
What you can do in iTunes is save a playlist, get a link, and share it. But when searching for playlists, you won’t find other users’ playlists, and others won’t find yours. Apple’s curated playlists are okay, but they’re not going to cover everyone’s needs – that’s the nature of playlists. Their value and importance are heavily emphasized, but you can’t actually share the fun. This is something that Apple would do well to fix, or for online communities to create a platform for (like sharemyplaylists.com)
- All or nothing
For now, you have to upload your entire library to iCloud. But that takes a lot of time uploading when you sign up, and you might not even want to stream some of your songs. I’ve got lots of albums that I don’t want to throw away, but don’t listen to often. I’d rather just remove them from my library on my iPad (which gives a more cluttered view already because of its smaller screen), but keep them on my PC. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I hope Apple will offer an option to exempt specific albums or tracks from uploading in the future. In conclusion I’m pretty content so far. There are a few hiccups: the first synchronization can do weird things to your library, there are limited playlist sharing options, and there are just some options (or the lack of them) that just don’t make any sense, like the requirement that you upload all of your music or none at all. But the new features Apple Music offers are enough for me to make up for it. When you’re an music fanatic and Apple user (or just a fanatic Apple user), I’m pretty sure you will be using Apple Music. If not now, then at some point in the next few years. Most of its flaws will be fixed in a few months, I’m sure, and it will become clear that Apple Music does everything its competitors do as well as they do it, if not better.