A positive influence on music services: Apple Music reviewed

Remember when building a music collection involved buying individual albums? These days, it’s a far more open and friendly system, and Apple’s “Music” service might just bring positive change.

Features and performance

Music has changed a lot over the years, and new styles have certainly emerged amidst technological changes, allowing something like auto-tune and its robotic voice to change music forever.

But that’s not the only thing changing about music, and between all the great ways to listen to music — from awesome headphones to mind-blowing speakers, and the less impressive stuff in between — you also have to deal with how you get that music.

Some people still buy it in CD form, and others buy it again on vinyl (this guy included). Digital is also a big reason many of us are buying more music, and while we’ve heard arguments that Justin Bieber has sold more songs than The Beatles, that comes down to how much easier it is to acquire songs these days than back when a Beatles album hit the music store and people shared the experience over a suitcase record player.

Music services are the new thing, however, and with more people getting their daily and hourly fix of music through streaming media — be it through WiFi or 4G — it’s high time Apple got in on that whole area, too. After all, it did practically reinvent music distribution back when it introduced the iPod and iTunes.

Apple is a bit late in this area, too, what with Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Guvera, Google Play, Deezer, and Tidal all getting in before Apple did, though Apple’s offering is a little bit different.

Now if you had asked us to put up our review during the first few weeks, it would have read completely differently, because in the first few weeks, Apple Music almost felt like a rush job. Now, three months in, we’re seeing the bugs go away, giving Apple’s Music service a chance to really shine.

But is it the best?

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To answer that question, let’s start with what it is and what it will do on an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod Touch, and even a Mac or Windows computer connected to the service.

In a nutshell, Apple Music is a service that will let you listen to any of the millions of songs accessible in your region in what many describe as an “all you can eat” or “all you can hear” music service. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t own that Radiohead CD or the latest Ellie Goulding track, because as long as it exists on the Apple Music catalogue that your country has access to and you have a current subscription, you can listen as long as you want, whenever you want.

That’s the crux of a streaming media service based on individual plays, which Apple Music counts as, alongside the likes of Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal, and Deezer. This is different to the concept underpinning one of Australia’s bigger media services Pandora, which relies on a “radio-like” mentality, that is to say you shape a radio station based on your thumbs up or thumbs down to tracks, though you can never hear a specific track by choice and are limited to five skips an hour.

Apple Music — like the other individual play services — doesn’t have a skip per hour setting built into its design, so if you didn’t like a song or two on that new Demi Lovato album, you can skip until the album is finished, or just move onto something else altogether.

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Offering a library is only one part of the equation, because while you could just search for tracks you like, finding new music is something awesome that many of us love doing, so Apple will also offer a Pandora-like radio service to define radio stations based on your likes and dislikes, but it also delivers curated playlists handled by people working at Apple who love music and know what to look for.

Updated on a regular basis, this is probably our favourite feature of the Apple Music service, and one that delivers the most positive influence on the industry.

After all, it’s all well and good to rely on a music genome-based logic like Pandora, with music programmers tagging songs to allow an algorithm to link them for likes and dislikes, but this doesn’t always offer the human touch, and as much as we love Pandora (and have been keeping a subscription since it started and before it arrived in Australia), it doesn’t always get it right.

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Apple’s curatorial playlists are different and handled by real people. They’re lists of tracks that have a mood, a flow, and generally dig up something that might take you down memory lane.

These load into place based on how you decide on the music you like, which you can start with in your profile or when you first setup your Apple Music account, but all you really have to do is start looking up artists you love and either follow them or “heart” songs and albums.

We haven’t mentioned this yet, but this “heart” is actually ironically at the heart of Apple’s algorithm for the Music service, relying on what you dig to power what gets shown.

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For instance, if you love songs from Dr. Dre’s new album “Compton”, you’ll find more hip hop selections suggested to you, and if you’re a fan of Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, prepare to see more jazz in your suggestions.

The more songs you heart through the entire Apple Music system, the better the system gets at recognising what songs to deliver on your radio services, and it goes much deeper than that.

Let’s get back to those curated playlists, because my list of playlists will be very different from yours, unless we have identical tastes in music.

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As a point, there is very little country in this reviewer’s playlist selection provided by Apple, but if you dig on the twang of a steel guitar and sing Dolly or Keith at the top of your lungs, that will be different, and the playlist makers at Apple who enjoy the same will be delivering their wares to you.

This reviewer loves jazz, and so the first few playlists he had delivered to him tended to be about that, though once he added some love for Radiohead, for Dre, for Nigel Kennedy, for Al Green, and for Muse, the playlists started to diversify, and with a daily refresh, you’ll probably find a list you haven’t seen before.

But let’s say you’re not really into playlists at the moment, and you’re not game to explore or find a new CD, or even find an old one you love. What else can you do?

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