On November 5, 2002 I walked into Newbury Comics between college classes in anticipation of the Symphony X album “The Odyssey” and purchased the physical CD. On June 26, 2007 I downloaded the Symphony X album “Paradise Lost” via iTunes on my desktop, plugged in my 128GB iPod, and transferred the album. On June 21, 2011 I either sat on the toilet or procrastinated in bed and downloaded the Symphony X album “Iconocast” directly to my iPhone. On July 24, 2015, Symphony X released “Underworld”, but I didn’t buy it.
In early July 2015 I signed up for my free 3-month trial of Apple Music. It essentially allowed me to stream any album I wanted, whether I had previously purchased it or not. Between July and today I’ve listened to every album I would have otherwise purchased via the iTunes store via Apple Music. It’s still unwritten whether or not my digital music collection will have an end date, or a suspicious hole.
All of my other media collections are now oddly dated, and dusty. My DVD collection isn’t a sampling of my favorite movies, it’s a collection of regrettable impulse buys at Best Buy in the early 2000s and low-risk gifts from family and friends during this period. It contains John Travolta’s 1996 movie “Michael”, but not the original Airplane. I’m not prepared to defend myself at all.
But 10 years ago I was obsessed with my iTunes music collection. Every play count and timestamp was a bit of history that I was archiving for my children’s children’s children to analyze and help them define who I was. But as time went on that data became more and more polluted and meaningless. I’d leave my iPod on at work overnight on repeat and all of a sudden the Pokemon theme became my most played song but hundreds of plays. When the iPhone became my prominent music player counts became even more questionable. There were many times when I’d buy something on my phone and the counts simply never translated to my iTunes music collection properly.
My use of Apple Music may not be as intended, but I’ve been thinking of it as the next step for consuming music after owning an actual music file. My own children will likely not care in the least what I listened to in 2007, let alone my great-grandchildren. My method of listening has been to just stream the music on the phone and not temporarily downloading the files, or creating a custom playlist. This leaves no trace of what I listened to, for better or for worse. Actually, for worse.
One of the good things about owning the physical or digital version of an album is that it’s hard to lose forever. It may be stuck in a corner of the house, or buried deep in a directory of thousands of files, but it’s there to retrieve for the “aha, I liked that” moment, and I’m afraid that will be lost with Apple Music streaming. I don’t see why they can’t keep a user-friendly record of what I’ve streamed. I’d love a reminder that said “hey, you listened to this 10 times in April, wanna listen again?”
Checking out the week’s new releases has always been an important part of each week. I used to slip out of work for lunch on Tuesday’s and head down to Tower Records or Newbury Comics and look at every item in the New Release bin. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to buy 2-3 CDs, probably on an impulse buy. Over the past 10 years that trip has been replaced by scanning the New Release page on iTunes. This year it’s been replaced with the “New” tab from Apple Music, and for some unrelated reason, Tuesday has been replaced with Friday.
But now I can listen to everything, while committing to nothing. I’ve learned that while I’m a self-diagnosed metal-head, I dislike the majority of new albums on the metal page itself. I love Folk and Americana music, but anything categorized as “Alternative” in the singer-songwriter section is likely alternative to something I’d enjoy listening to. You’d think that Apple could do better with sub-categories of music rather than grouping everything in these dozen broad categories. But when I do stumble upon something I like, there’s now a very good chance I’ll forget about it in a few weeks when it leaves the New Release view and the chance of me stumbling on it again is very slim.
An exciting piece of this, at first, was the “For You” section of Apple Music. Sometimes I have no idea what I want to listen to, but it you show me a picture of the Kiss album “Dressed to Kill” I’d probably click on it with a “why not” shrug. I liked that it introduced me to albums that I hadn’t thought much of recently. I may have had them on my 180GB iPod, but they were nothing but a random line of text that was otherwise buried.
It’s not just albums, it’s Apple-generated playlists, and it’s those that have become stale. When I honeymooned in Hawaii in 2005 we rented a car with Satellite radio. One of the most exciting things was driving around listening to the station Hair Nation. They played White Lion’s “Wait” on the first day and I thought life couldn’t get any better. They never play that song on any normal radio station. But then they played it the next day, and they day after that. White Lion has a few solid albums, why not play some different songs? I certainly understand why radio stations play the same song over and over again. They are beating predetermined hit singles into our head. But within Apple Music there’s less of an excuse as everything should be customizable to each user.
The “For You” section has playlists like “Intro to Dio”, “Dio Deep Cuts”, “Dio: The 80s”, “Dio Influences”, and “Influenced by Dio”. These are great, but they repeat. I really enjoyed the “Dio Deep Cuts” playlist when it first appeared, but I was disappointed when I saw the exact same playlist scroll a few days later. Apple has millions of songs at their disposal, and hundreds of them feature Ronnie James Dio. What I want is a playlist that says “Some Random Dio Songs” and those exact songs would never appear in this playlist ever again.
There are a few other minor things that could be improved. I wish I could see album reviews in this view without switching to iTunes. I use the app “MusiCue” to repeat small sections of songs and possibly slow them down in order to learn trickier parts on the piano. This doesn’t work with songs that are being streamed, even when I download the song locally.
As I finish this post the update iOS 9.2 has become available, and changes to Apple Music is at the top of the description. I haven’t downloaded it yet, but I don’t believe it addresses any of the issues I’ve discussed. It talks about improvements to user-generated Playlists, but those have never really interested me. I’ll download the update after I post this. I wrote a lot of words already, and I’m not about to change them.
How does this affect my yearly “best-of” posts based on play count? That’s the next post.