Apple Music: Back in the Saddle

For anyone who listens to the Same Shade of Difference podcast, you may have heard a brief discussion between Mark and I about how I had switched from Apple Music to Amazon Music. I’ve previously been a fan of Spotify, though I became increasingly irritated with the focus they started giving podcasts rather than music. I know it’s weird coming from someone who has spent the past couple of years creating podcasts, but I don’t listen to them. Additionally, I don’t really want them being advertised to me when I’m trying to look for music. When I swapped to an iPhone about a year ago, I decided to try out Apple Music since I could get a few months of it for free. After my free 3 months, I decided to stick with it. Recently, though, I swapped away from it and decided to give Amazon Music a shake. After about a month and a half, though, I quickly abandoned ship back to Apple Music.

First, let’s start with why I left Apple Music in the first place. After all, I use a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and an iPad. Shouldn’t Apple Music be my best choice? The main issue is that the Apple Music application on macOS is, to be blunt, a dumpster fire. The application has a plethora of issues when it comes to responsiveness and playback. “Did I accidentally miss clicking on that button or is the application just being super slow?” is a question I find myself asking on the regular. The biggest issue, though, is when it just randomly decides to either 1.) not load or 2.) skip every song as though playback is unavailable. It’s not at all uncommon, for example, for me to click the Browse option from the menu only to be presented with a completely blank UI. No buttons, no albums, no genres. All I can do is quit the application, re-launch it, and hope for the best. In other instances, Apple Music will rapid-fire skip through tracks as though they’re unavailable. It’ll select a track from whatever album or playlist I’m trying to listen to, pause for a second or two, immediately skip to the next track, and just repeat this endlessly. Searching online shows plenty of people experiencing the same issues. Usually some secret handshake combination of signing out and back in, de-authorizing and re-authorizing the device, and switching networks (yes, really) will sometimes take care of the problem. It’s frustrating to the extreme.

With that being said, what would make someone switch back? First, let’s talk about what’s good about Amazon Music. The application on both macOS and iOS/iPadOS is rock-solid. I didn’t experience any errors, playback problems, bugs, etc. Beyond that, though, it was just an incredibly lackluster experience; while there wasn’t anything I’d qualify as “bad”, there also wasn’t anything I’d qualify as “good”. To start off, the application regularly would pester me about doing a free trial for their Premium offering that allows you to stream music at a higher bit-rate. It would offer 3 months of that, after which time it would automatically swap me from paying the standard $10 USD a month that everyone charges for their individual plan to $15 a month. Hard pass.

While that was irritating, the bigger issue was the lack of personalized content. Apple Music and Spotify both offer a handful of customized playlists each week showcasing music that you like, music to fit different moods, etc. Amazon Music gives you one; you get a discovery playlist, and it doesn’t even necessarily focus on new releases. That was a major letdown for me.

I had initially thought that I would just step up the manual work to discover music on my own, but this is where Amazon Music really fell apart. As anyone who knows me is likely already aware, I listen mostly to indie music. Amazon Music doesn’t even delineate indie into its own genre; to see indie music, I had to browse through the “Alternative” section. This means that when I’m trying to check out new releases for discovery, I’m shifting through garbage like Coldplay while trying to reach gold like Falcon Jane. Music discovery in Amazon Music quickly became less enjoyable and more frustrating. To make matters worse, shortly before I switched away from it, the macOS application received a complete overhaul that did away with the normal ability to browse through different genres and playlists. Everything suddenly revolved around searching, and while it worked to get me to the same content as before, it was ultimately a very clunky and unintuitive experience.

The nail in the coffin, though, was that Amazon Music doesn’t bother to get the rights to a not insignificant amount of international music. For example, when Lee Suhyun’s track ALIEN released, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t available on Amazon Music. The same thing happened with Reol’s track Q?. At this point, I realized that I just really needed to switch to a different service.

So now the last big question: why did I switch back to Apple Music instead of going back to something like Spotify? There were several reasons. One of the big ones is that I’ve been interested in subscribing to Apple One. I was wanting to bump my iCloud storage space up a little bit, and if I was using Apple Music then it seemed like the easy decision that would also get me access to Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade. Additionally, I’ve been interested in the Apple HomePod for a while but never wanted to spend the $300 USD on one; when they started dropping to $200 USD over the past few months, I figured that had to be due to something new and exciting being on the horizon. Sure enough, the HomePod Mini recently released, and I decided to pull the trigger on one. While Apple Music does work with Amazon Echo devices, of which I have several, I figure the HomePod Mini will offer a much more elegant experience. The final reason is pure laziness; I didn’t want to bother with trying to update all of my playlists yet again. When I moved from Spotify to Apple Music, I spent more time than I care to admit moving all of my playlists over by hand. When I decided to try out Amazon Music, I went through the same process again. I didn’t relish the thought of moving nearly a year’s worth of playlist updates from Amazon Music to Spotify; if I stuck with Apple Music I’d only have to worry about catching up my playlists on the last month of content… a month that was a bit of a discovery drought due to the issues already mentioned.

After switching back, I’ve already discovered significantly more music than I had while I was using Amazon. I’ve also run into a couple of issues with the macOS application for Apple Music, but I’m trying to keep my hopes up that things will be better with it on the new Macs running on the M1 chip. In the meantime, I’ve updated the links on both my About page and jfabhd.com to point to my Apple Music profile; feel free to scope out my playlists!