Apple Music is good

As I write this to you, it’s about 5am and I realise I’m not in the mood to listen to any music. More often, though, if I’m here working away on my own and most especially when I have to really concentrate on the job, I will be playing music – and now I think that means I will be playing Apple Music.

Certainly for the next three months while it’s free, anyway.

Apple Music is like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many other services: you can listen to just about any music you like, just about whenever you like. Streaming music should be a familiar concept to me because that’s surely what radio has always been yet somehow I find it hard to get used to the idea. I’m so used to buying music, whether that is on vinyl, CD or download, there is the choosing and the buying and the playing.

Now there’s really just the playing as you don’t buy an album per se and I think you don’t choose in quite the same way. You explore, you sample, you don’t think about whether to invest some cash in this artist or that album.

I’ve liked the idea enough that I got a free Spotify account to try it all out and for over a year I’ve been playing it a lot in the car. Only, Spotify defaults to trying to recommend music to you and I always disliked or even loathed its choices. They made me feel very old and I don’t need any help feeling very old.

Spotify stops recommending stuff if you create a big enough playlist of favourite choices. I created such a playlist: 50 or so tracks that I like a lot. Only, I’ve ended up playing just those 50 over and over. I’m not unhappy: sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not.

It’s not as if I play the same 50 in the same order: unless you pay for a Spotify account, you can only play things on shuffle. It did just feel that some days Spotify got my mood exactly right and other days it didn’t.

You also get ads on Spotify every three songs or so. I got very used to those and, I don’t know, maybe I got close to paying for an account. That would remove the ads, that would allow me to play the song I wanted when I wanted, it would let me play an album in sequence.

I’ll never know how close I came, not now. For if I do end up paying for a streaming music service, it will not be Spotify. Not any more. It will be Apple Music.

I’m just trying to define why. Writing for about it, I concluded that I and we like it a lot:

We’d say love, but come on, the paint’s still wet, let’s take this affair a little slow for a time: we’ve got three months of dating before we have to make a commitment.

Hands On: Apple Music (iOS, OS X, Windows) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece for more specifics about how it works and what’s good but after a night’s reflection, I think it comes down to two things that will help me while I work.

I think.

There’s the way I could just leave it running playing fairly random tracks but generally ones I like or am going to like: you give it some nudges about what you’re into as you set it up and it seems to do rather well with that information. That’s good.

But there is no question: the ability to just say aloud “Hey, Siri, play ‘Life is a Celebration’ by the Kids from Fame” and have it do that, that is startlingly great. Siri doesn’t work on Macs, which is going to be an issue as that’s where I spend most of my day, but using it via my iPhone and iPad for one day, I’ve become addicted to this feature.

They used to do this on Star Trek: “Computer, play some Bix Beiderbecke”. And it’s here.

My iMac returns home later today from having a repair done: when it’s here and I’ve updated iTunes, I’m going to see if I can use Siri to control it via my Apple Watch. My entire working day may change if it works.

NOTE: To play Apple Music, you need iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC, or an iPhone or iPad. Android stuff coming later.

I’d need the buttons to stay down

This looks like a slice of our past and you want it, you want to try this.

Remember what it felt like to press play and record at the same time? Back before streaming and downloading and blogs and YouTube, music meant CDs and Smash Hits and the NME and taping off the radio — and this delightfully retro Raspberry Pi creation recreates that physical connection with music for the 21st century.

Raspberry Pi is the low-cost computing system that allows you to build all kinds of bespoke gadgets from basic components, teaching novices how to code and limited only by your imagination. British developer and maker Matt Brailsford has used the DIY system to combine the technology of today — Raspberry Pi, Spotify, and NFC tags — with the retro tech of yesterday to build a media server that streams different playlists when different cassette tapes are inserted.

Rewind: This Raspberry Pi cassette player plays Spotify tunes from actual tapes – Rich Trenholm, CNET (21 October 2014)

I don’t miss cassettes except that I guess that’s a lie, I see this and I do. Lots of memories, though a key one is of how the buttons would stay down when you press them:

Read the full piece.

Shazam updated with Rdio playback

20140715-183707-67027567.jpgSeriously, you get something on your mind and then it is everywhere. I’ve been thinking a lot about streaming music lately and today Shazam updated to include some of that.

Shazam is the app by which you can hold your iPhone up toward a speaker playing music and it will tell you what that music is. You can probably find this app in the music section but I think it’s properly filed and catalogued under Alchemy.

What’s new today is that once you’ve heard some music and Shazam has told you what it is, it can now play you the whole thing via the Rdio streaming service. That is the specifically new thing in this latest update and it does require you to have an Rdio account.

But to try it out for you and also because I’d been meaning to try Rdio for myself anyway, I got such an account and then I checked Shazam.

It’s true. I went through all the previous songs I’d had Shazam identify in the bars and clubs of my exotic lifestyle and there was an Rdio button. But there was also a Spotify one. That’ll be because I have a free Spotify account.

So on the one hand, I caught the news about Rdio yet had missed the one about Spotify whenever that was added. And on the other hand, I went off trying Rdio all day. It has one advantage over Spotify: it lets you use all the premium features for 14 days so I was able to get it to play me entire albums in sequence. That’s as compared to Spotify’s free version only allowing shuffled songs and to iTunes Radio’s way of not necessarily playing you the album at all.

Concluding the streaming music debate – a bit

Previously… I write to music, always have done, I get into ferociously irritating habits of listening to exactly the same piece over and over again. I get a lot of headphones as Christmas presents. I resisted streaming music because I had what I feel is a big collection. But then I tried streaming.

Actually, just to break the Previously and tell you something new: I’ve realised why I tried. I said before that it was iTunes Radio and that’s true, I got access to that early and enjoyed hearing new music. I’ve steadily less enjoyed the steadily increasing number of ads on iTunes Radio but I’ve also realised that its way of playing you types of music rather than letting you specify artists or albums and hearing only those got a bit wearing.

And I heard a song.

I forgot that I could check back in iTunes history to see what it was and instead stupidly spent a while googling every lyric I could be fairly sure I remembered. And I found it.

It was Come to My Window by Melissa Etheridge. Love it.

And I love it enough that I once again tried Spotify. At least with Spotify, I thought, you could name a specific track and play that.

This is sort of true. And it’s also definitely true now that Spotify is free on iPhone and iPad – which is almost certainly true because of the competition from services such as iTunes Radio. Everybody wins, and it earns the artists nothing. Or very little, anyway.

Last time I mentioned this, it was because I’d found this article explaining all the various streaming services and I intended to investigate them. I intended to do this because I was sick of iTunes Radio – I’ve since come back around to it, it’s a mood thing with me – and because Spotify was irritating. I realise they want you to pay a subscription price and not only do I understand that but, spoiler alert, I’m now today thinking of it. But for trying out the service, I thought free was helpful.

But Spotify wouldn’t stick to the music I asked for, it would bound off places playing me other things that might be fine, yes, but I couldn’t stop them when I wanted to. In the end, I would just quit Spotify and force it to restart again. You can’t do that very easily while driving.

Only, today I tried it again. Instead of my usual beloved BBC Radio 4, I had Spotify and a playlist with about 25 songs on it. Including the Etheridge. For 170 miles driving, maybe 2 miles walking and for 90 minutes on buses today, I listen to those 25 songs. Over and over.

There were many, many interruptions for ads and it worries me a bit that most of them were what’s called a house ad: if you can’t sell an ad spot to someone, you use it yourself to advertise something of your business. You want to have some house ads, but you need the revenue from outside companies.

But apart from those understandable interruptions, Spotify played me those songs of mine for a not-very-understandably long time.

I’m a fan. I think. I’m going to play it a bit more to see if I go off it as I have at times with iTunes Radio. And I’m going to wait a bit to see when iTunes Radio officially launches in the UK because the price for it includes some extra benefits and is also substantially cheaper than Spotify. Both Spotify and iTunes Radio start at free but then to get the benefits of the paid-for services, it’s £9.99 UK or $9.99 US per month for Spotify and £21.99 or $24.00 US per year for iTunes Radio.

But for the meantime, I think I’m a convert. That’s a very strange feeling for a man who remembers vinyl, who remembers CD coming in, who lived through DVD coming in and then dying away. But it’s true: I had a very good time today with Spotify.

For streaming music, start here

I play a lot of music while I work yet I’ve been a slow convert to streaming music. Perhaps it’s the millionth time of hearing every track I own that has converted me, maybe it’s just that I tried out iTunes Radio and liked it more than I expected.

But the problem is that here I am, converted , yet I can’t stay converted. I still like iTunes Radio though the increasing number of ads is discouraging me. (You can go ad-free if you subscribe to iTunes Match. But I’ve only got iTunes Radio access because I have a US iTunes account. All my music is in iTunes UK so even if I paid the subscription, I wouldn’t get iTunes Match on that. The fee is $25/year which is fine for just getting radio but knowing it should also give me this other Match feature makes it hard to pay up.)

Very often I want to listen to a particular artist , album or song, though and and iTunes Radio doesn’t guarantee any of that. You choose an artist and get, say, Suzanne Vega Radio which has her plus similar artists. (There are no similar artists to Suzanne Vega, iTunes is lying.) But it’s five to ten and pick ’em whether you get to hear any Vega and close to no chance you’ll hear the song. No chance at all that you’ll hear the album.

So faced with a lot of driving recently, I tried Spotify again. I try Spotify from time to time and can’t ever remember why I stop. Except now. Now I remember. You can get Spotify to play a list of your favourites – or a friend’s list – but at some point soon it will go off the reservation and on to music it’s sure you’ll like. It might be right but I was liking that music fine enough.

You can’t always switch or skip that stuff, either. So Spotify irritates me.

There are many other firms and options, though, and that’s what this linked article is about. There aren’t as many services for us in the UK as there are in this American article but the issues and points are interesting and well made.

I’m pondering this lot. Take a look yourself at MacObserver’s Head to Head Comparison of 14 Streaming Music Services

Now iTunes Radio is rubbish

I like it. I was listening to iTunes Radio for some hours this morning. Did get sick of the ads again, but I like the music and I’m not sure I’m alone in this. But allegedly, reportedly, I am because rivals Pandora and Spotify are far better – and because Apple was too arrogant to see this.

“Pandora is an awesome radio that blows iTunes Radio out of the water. Seriously, iTunes Radio sucks and it sucks because of Apple’s arrogance,” one former, mid-level [Apple] employee said. “I was floored by the decision-making skills by management over and over again.”

Apple employees confirmed that management actively ignored iTunes’ streaming competitors, with some managers refusing to open or use Spotify. One source said that as recently “as last year,” some members of management didn’t even know that Spotify was an on-demand streaming service, assuming it was just a radio service.

“The management in particular were pretty much tone-deaf in what Spotify was and that’s why they’re panicking now,” the source said. “They didn’t understand how Spotify worked, which is why they thought iTunes Radio would be a Spotify killer.”

“Arrogant” Apple Managers are the Reason Apple Needs Beats – Aylin Zafar, Buzzfeed (5 June 2014)

I don’t know. It has the ring of truth yet the piece as a whole is so down on iTunes Radio that I doubt the details. Still, it’s an interesting read and if right, may mean that Apple’s new purchase of Beats will lead to something better.

It’s an ugly headline that has Apple in it twice but otherwise you believe those quotes, don’t you?