Thursday, June 9, 2016

Apple Music vs. Spotify

Since 2012, I have been an avid Spotify user. Funny story how that started. I was sick of the music industry. Actually, I was sick of how iTunes would let you listen to an excerpt of a song before you bought it, but never the whole song. I think you should be entitled to listen to the whole song before you buy. And I was tired of how most music services like Pandora, in general, that wouldn't let you load up an entire album from an artist. (I don't use the service now, so I don't know if it has changed, but that's how it used to be). Instead, it would let you choose an artist and "make a station." That station would play your one song, then a playlist of "similar" songs. When I find music I like, I want to explore what the artist has to offer. I want to listen to the whole album. 

So as a half-hearted joke, I proposed to a friend that we start our own music service that would allow users to listen to whole albums, make playlists of their favorite artists, and use it on their iPhones. He replied by telling me that there was already a service that allowed all of this:  Spotify. So I checked it out. I used the free service for a about 10 minutes, then signed up for premium. I loved it. I still love it.

Then a year ago, Apple announced their own "me too" product that promised the same level of service for the same price called Apple Music. At the time, I thought, GREAT! I already have about 6500 songs on my iPhone. The main reason I tried it was to be able to integrate songs from their catalog into your own playlists (which you can actually do with Spotify). And Apple offered a three month free trial. So naturally I signed up, twice actually.

My first impression was that it was difficult to use, and not very intuitive. Upon signing up, you are immediately given a choice to merge your music with Apple Music or not be able to listen to your own stuff that you paid for, or at least not mingle it with their stuff. At least I think that's how it went. If you cancel, then you can no longer listen to your own music on your devices. I had to call Apple iPhone Support to figure out how to fix this. It was of course about a half hour on hold to talk to an agent who had probably been there for two weeks. After a half hour, I was transferred to a senior agent who basically told me what is essentially the only way to fix anything with Apple:  reinstall iOS. Pain in the ass! However, I went back to Apple Music a few months later after realizing that I could no longer play the playlists from my Spotify account on my iPhone (because I cancelled Spotify to try Apple Music). So I figured I would just rebuild them in Apple Music. Well, First of all, that's a pain in the ass in itself, Second, the catalogs don't exactly line up. This is something, as an artist, I should not have missed. Spotify and Apple Music are two separate services, so their music catalogs don't mirror each other. For example, what you may find on Spotify, you may not find on Apple Music and vice versa; it's a licensing thing. The same concept governs pay TV providers. Ever wonder why you never see a movie on HBO that's also on Showtime. Licensing:  it's the biggest racket in the world.

Apple music messes up your library. It duplicates everything, all your songs. Then adds more in that don't work. In order to make a playlist tonight, I had to call Apple iPhone Support again and spend an hour of my time holding, only to talk to two different inept agents. Ultimately I found the answer to my question myself. Basically what you have to do is delete all the songs with an iCloud icon with an "x," then delete all the ones with the iCloud icon with the slashes through them, then download all the ones with the iCloud/arrow, then search your computer and relink all the ones that Apple Music deleted. Then there's another pop-up message that says something about music in iCloud, and won't let you add the song to your playlist. WTF? The hell with it!

By comparison, Spotify offers the same level of service as Apple Music. You download the free software and sign up. For some reason, I chose the "Sign In With Facebook" option. You can search and listen to your favorite artists, whole songs, even the whole albums in most cases. One of the greatest benefits is music discovery. Find a song you like, listen to it; listen to the whole album; listen to other complete albums by the artists. You can create radio stations from your favorites songs and discover new artists. Spotfy's interface is a bit like iTunes, when it was actually easy to use. The main screen has a similar music discovery algorithm that makes suggestions for artists or songs. Another thing that I noticed is that Spotify seem to offer a more comprehensive selection of music. That is, it seems to have more complete albums and the radio function is much better. Apple Music's radio offering is very limited. For example, the Electronic genre offers only three stations, none of which offer any consistently good Trance*. There are so many breakdowns of Trance music, it's like giving you a spoon and a pair of chopsticks and telling you these are the only utensils you can ever use to eat your meals. If you do a genre search on Apple Music, it will come up with some very disappointing results. They boast that they actually have live people, DJs I suppose, creating playlists. My question is why? In the four or five months I've used Apple Music, I have seen no benefit to this. And who's to say that Spotify wasn't already doing the same thing? I never really researched that aspect, mainly because I don't really care. Spotify is currently $9.99/month for premium. Apple music is the same price, but offers a family pack for $14.99 - Does Spotify? Again, I never researched that, because I don't really care. I have no family, and splitting the billing among friends would be a major pain in the ass. Overall, Spotify is easier to use, more intuitive and much faster, especially on mobile devices.

*[[OK, I just checked, and to be fair, Spotify's radio station offering is about the same as Apple Music. Neither are functions I regularly use.]]

Spotify had an offer for three months free to get people back. So I signed up. And this is my review of Apple Music. Another example of Apple putting a new spin on something that already exists, and acting like they came up with an original idea. Apple Music is a mess. The integration with iTunes is a nightmare, and I think a lot of people are scratching their heads trying to figure out the difference between iTunes, Apple Music and iCloud Music Library. I'm still finding albums with missing songs or iCloud icon bullshit. I'm going to ad a link to my page that will take you to the three month trial offer of Spotify. If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it.