Back on Apple Music
A brief history of my experience with digital music: throughout high school I purchased music on iTunes to the tune of one album/month, amassing a inconsiderable collection by today’s standards. In the early 2010s, I was added to my family’s Apple Music plan and went just about haywire with the library, adding indiscriminately (but still only listening to like 12 albums on repeat). Later, when I moved to the UK, I dropped off the family plan and joined Spotify, mostly for a change of pace.
Spotify is doing the best that it can with the stakeholders that it has. I get its campaign for podcast dominance: there’s a ceiling with music streaming and Spotify already pays artists the very least it viably can. Ditto for Spotify’s latest foray into audiobooks. I get it, okay? But I don’t like it. Podcasts feel like the last frontier for non-tracked audio, so I'm a distinct non-fan of locking them into a closed ecosystem (that goes for Apple's podcast subscriptions as well). Audiobooks, on the other hand, just aren’t my cup of tea, since I can read a lot faster than I can listen.
Besides that, something about the Spotify experience just feels a little bit too automated, too dialled in to maximise plays. Discover Weekly has a bad habit of suggesting alternate versions of songs already in your library. Vibesy playlists expose exactly which demographic cohort you've been sorted into, and span a spectrum of barely-differentiated feels. Is there someone out there thinking that they could really go for a bit of “my life is a movie” or “Indie Roadtrip” or “idk.”? If I’m recommended “Skinny Love” or Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher one more time for a “Heartfelt and healing” mood I’m gonna lose it.
In contrast my time back on Apple Music has been lovely. Playlists are curated by people. Artists usually have short biographies. The approach to listening to music is a little more holistic. Apple is able to invest in the content that makes up all the moments between songs; this is probably a function of the mountain of cash they’re sitting on. They’ve done a good job of overcoming technical stumbles with sheer volume of content.
Sure, the whole platform is a little slower than Spotify. For all it’s money, I don’t think that the team behind Apple Music has the same development ethos as Spotify has. The desktop client is functional, but it doesn’t shine. Bugs crawl out from between the cracks in the sidebar sections once or twice a day. You’ve also gotta install a suite of other applications to scrobble to Last.fm.
For the record I use Scrobbles on desktop, QuietScrob on iOS, and Cider—a full-featured Apple Music client built in Electron—on my Linux work computer. I used SongShift to move my library over from Spotify.
None of the above are deal-breakers. If something hangs, or loads more slowly than I expect it to, there's still a wonderful catalogue of media on the other side of that click when it does work. Whereas Spotify feels as though it's been built by a team of enthusiastic compsci graduates bristling with desire to benchmark algorithm performance, Apple Music feels like it's built by music fans (and Rich Harris fans—the web app is a Svelte app!). And the experience has been pretty pain-free so far! Siri, remind me to come back to this post in 6 months with a longer-term review.