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 to point to my Apple Music profile; feel free to scope out my playlists!

Buy Literally Anything From Bandcamp Today

The coronavirus has been causing havoc for industries across the globe, including the music industry. Especially for small, indie artists, the revenue they make from doing live shows is vital for their ability to continue doing what they love. In the case of a global pandemic, though, all of those shows have been canceled, leaving artists struggling to make it by.

Having been social distancing/self quarantining for about two weeks now, I’ve been doing my best to live by the very wise, meaningful words of Craft Brew Geek when he told a group of us:

This is the time when we need to take care of the people who take care of us.

He said this within the context of doing what we can for local restaurants and breweries that are trying to weather this storm. There are plenty of places where we’re regulars and have been the recipients of preferrential treatment from those establishments for months or even years: getting your drink filled before other people, getting deals on your order, etc. As these businesses try to tackle the biggest threat to their very existence that they’ve ever seen, we’ve been doing our part to get carry-out food and drinks whenever possible and while leaving the most generous tips we can because every little bit helps. I’d highly encourage anyone reading this to do the same if it’s within your means.

But restaurants and breweries aren’t the only ones who take care of you. My memory tends to be pretty good, so I trust it when I recall Hayley Williams posting a message on Twitter years ago that amounted to:

Be there for music because music will always be there for you.

I tried searching for the post, but it was so long ago that I’ll never find it. The sentiment is certainly true though. Everyone has had that song that has made an event, be it a party, a roadtrip, or just a special moment with friends, unforgettable. Everyone has felt sorrow and heartache and didn’t know how they would’ve been able to get through if it wasn’t for that one song that knew exactly how you felt.

Music has had such a profound impact on my life, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without it. It pains me to see so many small artists having to cancel their shows, knowing they’re upset at having to let down their fans and worried about how they’re going to continue making ends meet and create the art we all love so much.

That’s why today is such a great day to support indie music. Today Bandcamp is waiving their revenue share on all purchases through the site. This means that 100% of the revenue is going to support artists who need it now more than ever. Dozens of artists I listen to regularly, and some of whom were mentioned in our music stats episode have Bandcamp profiles. Even if you don’t need a digital album because you always use Spotify or Apple Music, consider buying an album anyway just to help out and show some love for the people who have made such a difference in your life.

Pre-orders count as well, so you can show some support for artists with upcoming albums. Also note that most albums have a minimum price but offer you the ability to throw a little extra on top if you want. Please help out if you have the means.

If you don’t have the means, you can still help out! The payouts are garbage, but stream as much music from indie artists as you possibly can. Check out the Twitter profiles for artists you love; many have started doing online shows. For example, on her YouTube channel, Tessa Violet has been streaming what she’s coined “The Something To Look Forward To Tour”. There are still 3 shows left. Tune in for those and look for other artists who are doing the same!

Do whatever you can to support artists and musicians now because every little bit helps. It’s time that we take care of the people who take care of us.