I listen to a lot of music. I typically buy and compile 3 hour playlists every other week, while also supplementing my listening habits with routine vinyl purchases, going to live shows, and jamming Resident Advisor and XLR8R podcasts, SoundCloud mixes, and Boiler Room live streams.
But at the end of the day, iTunes is still the center piece of my musical life.
I still recall switching to iTunes from WinAmp for the first time — it blew my mind. The beautiful interface, the sorting ability, playlist making settings, and how it showcased album art…it was light years ahead of what Winamp was doing.
Over time, iTunes ceased evolving and Spotify started to steal the spotlight. I gave Spotify a try, but I didn’t like it. I couldn’t find the artists I enjoyed. It didn’t make sense for my listening habits, and I wasn’t ready to abandon my massive digital music library yet. Spotify didn’t work for me.
I wanted Apple Music to be the messiah. It isn’t.
What made Match so special was that you could use iTunes like a Dropbox locker for your digital music files — but still maintain your playlists. It was a service for those that wanted both their digital files and needed an easy way — even though Apple says it’s not a backup service — to back them up. My only complaint with iTunes Match is that the song limit is too low (currently it’s only 25k), but we’ve heard that it will increase to 100k soon. iTunes Match was amazing…and yet. It was becoming increasingly hard to justify spending so much on digital music files when I could get 70% of what I wanted on Spotify for $9.99 per month? It was a struggle.
So when Apple Music was announced, I had high hopes. I was excited about Apple Music and how it would work in conjunction with iTunes Match. I wanted Apple Music to be the messiah. It isn’t. That’s not to say that I don’t like it. It’s a huge improvement over what was previously available, and Apple has offered up a handful of features to win over power users, including:
- A free 90-day trial and no-paywall premieres
- Niche genre radio stations
- A diverse lineup of Beats1 artists with track lists
- (Limited) playlist sharing
- Playlist curation from tastemakers
- A social element to follow your favorite artists
Features. Cool. I want more. But, no surprise, I want it to work right and be better. I want Apple to make Apple Music the elusive software that I’ve been dreaming about for years. Right now Apple Music is for people with no clue what to stream. It’s a mainstream service, with mainstream goals for mainstream listeners. It should be more. And it can be more.
Apple Music could win over more power users with some changes. And now would be a great time, because everyone’s trial periods are about to expire. Here are 9 features that I believe Apple Music could add to win over power users.
1. Alerts for new releases from artists you follow
I love seeing what’s upcoming in music release calendars. Every week I get email alerts from Juno, Beatport, Boomkat, Bleep, and several other digital music stores that tell me what’s being released. I click through, and I buy. Apple Music doesn’t have anything like this. The “New” section does not appear to be catered towards me, the “For You” section is just a bunch of tracks I already have, and “Connect” has more than just links to tracks (it has photos, updates, etc. like a Facebook page).
Where’s the personalization? How do you know when your favorite artist has a new release coming out?
Wouldn’t it be great if the artists you subscribed to on Connect could send you an alert when a new single was released? This is a feature Beatport has nailed. After subscribing to DJs you like, you get a weekly email catered to your preferences. Something similar within Apple Music would be awesome, and it would be a killer feature for all users. This would be the best way for fans on Apple Music to stay on top of the newest tracks from the artists they know and love.
2. A way to follow record labels
There are a handful of record labels that I absolutely love, including Aus and Local Talk. Although larger record labels tend to offer a diverse catalog of artists, smaller labels tend to carve out a niche within the industry. Power users follow the niche scenes. I’ll check out everything that’s released on Claude Von Stroke’s label Dirtybird because I know what types of tracks to expect from the label. Likewise, Skrillex fans go nuts over everything from his label, Owsla.
If you can follow artists on Apple Music, you should be able to follow record labels too. If you tied this feature into my first feature request about notifications, you could get updates when your favorite labels had new stuff being released (much like what Beatport offers).
3. Fix the integration with iTunes Match and iCloud
As many have pointed out, the iCloud piece of Apple Music is a complete nightmare. The biggest “WTF” moment for me after I installed Apple Music was the complete destruction of my playlists. I’m not talking about a few songs out of place; It was like a bomb went off and scattered my songs everywhere. Apple Music dismantled my library more than any iTunes update I’ve ever experienced. I won’t enable the music piece of iCloud on my phone now because I’m scared of a repeat A-bomb dropping on my library. Apple has lost my trust.
But this horrifying experience is only part of the problem with iCloud. If you don’t enable iCloud on your phone, you can’t take Apple Music tracks on the go. That means I’m only getting part of the benefits of Apple Music on mobile. Apple wants you to enable iCloud, but the problem is that the physical tracks get removed from your library when iCloud is enabled. You can only stream the tracks. Sometimes I’m on a plane or in an area with spotty service, and I want the files on my phone so I can still listen to them without connecting to the Internet. Apple needs to fix the iCloud integration and let me take all tracks in Apple Music on the go. And for the love of god, please make the duplicate playlists stop.
4. Ability for users to create and publicly share playlists
One thing awesome about Spotify is that average users can become playlist superstars. Any and all playlists can be shared and ranked. Beatport has something similar. Any amateur DJ can host playlists on the platform and share with their followers.
Apple Music needs to take notes from Spotify.
Apple Music’s version is incomplete. You can create and share playlists, but there’s no public facing part of Apple Music that allows you to see what your friends have created and shared. Does Apple really want me to share this playlist on Facebook or Twitter? Why not do something with “Connect” so users can have exchanges with one another — this internally-facing social energy will feed into making Apple Music a place where people are driven to go for reasons beyond ‘their library’.
What’s great about this functionality on Spotify is that it builds community and allows power users to become playlist superstars. Users need to be able to create more public facing user profiles that can host these playlists. Apple Music needs to take notes from Spotify and make the social features actually social. “Mixing” by enormego already has a pretty solid template for trending playlists on Apple Music. This is a great place to start.
5. Expand music publisher partnerships
Apple Music has done a great job getting artists like Jamie XX to create Beats1 playlists, but it shouldn’t stop there. What about music blogs?
It’s clear that some music sites like Pitchfork are getting deals to be Apple Music Curation partners, but there are a lot of influential blogs that aren’t on the platform. Some of these niche music blogs are big. They power massive counterculture movements and push huge quantities of digital and physical music. If you want to get power users to use Apple Music more, you need to have all the sites they read on the platform actively participating. And there needs to be incentives.
I’m not about just mega music sites like Rolling Stone or NME; I’m talking about the small guys. Sites like Resident Advisor and XLR8R should all have the opportunity to get deals for curation.
Maybe start small and see what kind of volume of plays they can push. There’s a big opportunity for smaller music sites to bring in a new type of music listener, and Apple Music could power this. If Apple isn’t already paying big sites to curate, they should. And they should extend that offering to smaller sites. All parties would benefit, including the artists, labels, and listeners.
6. Better interface
Apple Music is confusing to use. Why are “Playlists” and “My Music” two different sections? Why does the “For You” section have playlists with all old music? Why doesn’t the “New” section have personalization algorithms at play? Why are tracks missing from the curated playlists? And why is it so complicated to add new tracks to a playlist? If I want to add a new track that’s not in my library to a playlist, here’s how the process goes:
- Click on the “new” or “for you” tab
- Search for track
- Click on track or album
- Add track to “my library”
- Go to “playlist” section in Apple Music
- Sort music library by date added
- Drag track to new playlist
You can cut out a few steps by clicking the “add to playlist” feature after you add the track to your library, but it’s still a rather lengthy process just to get one track added to your playlist. You should be able to add any track to your playlist before adding it to your library. When a track is added to a playlist, it should automatically be added to your library. I’m not sure why Apple made this such an insanely complicated process. There’s so many little issues with the the interface, and those add up to it coming across as clunky. It should be simple.
7. Better recommendations engine
Spotify has the best recommendations engine. Period. When you are listening to a track in Apple Music, there’s nothing encouraging you to try a new track. Where’s the “you might also like” feature? Power users want better recommendations, and Apple isn’t making it easy for the power user. The “For You” section is buried and never relevant. It just doesn’t work right.
8. Add a premium tier with advance releases
I would pay twice the price for Apple Music if it could get the same sort of exclusives that Beatport gets. Beatport often gets exclusives several weeks before the tracks are released on other services. Apple should add a premium tier that gives you access to some tracks before they are released to everyone else. It would be like having a VIP card.
The $9.99 monthly fee isn’t really an “all-you-can-eat meal” if you can’t find everything. Since using Apple Music, I’ve spent a ton on tracks that weren’t listed in the catalog. Often I’ll discover some new tunes through the curated playlists, but then I can’t find the newest tracks from the artists (even though the tracks are already out on Beatport). I’m willing to pay more if I can get more. And I want more. Apple is missing out on a revenue stream, and power users are willing to fork over more cash to get the tracks they can’t find on Apple Music.
9. Add a physical music store
It might sound like a crazy idea, but it’s not. Vinyl sales are on the rise, and vinyl nets much higher profit margins than streaming. While the cost of streaming a song is pennies and the cost to buy a digital album is typically $10, a vinyl record is $20-$30. According to Nielsen SoundScan data, 9.2M vinyl records were sold in 2014. The quick math (9.2M records X $25 per record) suggests that the vinyl market is worth about $230M.
Who’s getting most of this money for vinyl right now? Amazon. Apple could easily partner up with Amazon or other large vinyl retailers like Juno Records, and provide an easy way for users to buy through Apple Music. Apple could take a small cut, and it would be beneficial for both parties. If the business proves to be valuable to Apple, it could always launch its own physical music store and create premium album packages. These packages increase the price tag from $20-$30 to $35 or more. Daft Punk did this for Random Access Memories, and the top package cost almost $300. Fans buy this stuff.
Apple has a good product, but not a great product with Apple Music. With changes and updates —some major, most minor — Apple Music could be a much better product. First, it needs to fix the clunky design and integration with iCloud. Next it needs to add better features for power users like alerts, a premium tier, and an improved recommendations engine. Expanding the music publisher partnerships and potentially adding a physical music store (or way to buy physical music) could also be great bonus features to help win over heavy music consumers like myself.
The clock on my trial period is about to expire, and I’m still not 100% sure I’ll keep the service. There is a lot of issues with Apple Music — but there’s also a lot to recommend it still. Are you planning on keeping it once your trial runs out?Featured Image: Bryce Durbin