“Our genre is ‘great’!” exclaimed Zane Lowe as he opened Apple’s new worldwide radio station, Beats 1, a little under two weeks ago. And to me, that sums up the Apple Music experience as a whole. It too is great and will bring streaming to the masses. It has also achieved the one thing I’d hoped for – I’m listing to music again.
I never stopped, to be honest, but I did get somewhat addicted to podcasts. Which are all well and good, but having spent most of my life surrounded by music, I was forever conscious of the fact I had all but dropped melodies and lyrics in favour of the spoken word.
I’m familiar with streaming, having flitted between Spotify and Google Play Music over the last couple of years. Although not entirely comfortable with the speed at which it has forced a new world order for artists (an order which was inevitable after the dawn of the MP3 file), it’s convenience is undeniable. One thing I’ve always struggled with, however, is discovery. I am utterly useless at finding new music and new artists. This is a problem exacerbated by a colossally wide taste in music.
As a result, both Spotify and Google Play Music, for all their valiant attempts at pointing me in the right direction have ultimately failed; I’ve simply felt overwhelmed by the choice on offer and subsequently turned my attention back to podcasts.
Apple Music, by comparison, is akin to that uber-knowledgable mate who can name every Bowie album and knows exactly what track number 5 is on Songs In The Key Of Life. Only, this friend is neither annoying nor intent on pointing you in the direction of music it likes itself. This friend simply asks for a little bit of feedback and acts accordingly. It is quite brilliant.
There is no escaping the fact that Apple Music is significantly floored in a number of areas, technically, but that’s for another post, which I’ve already written. Instead, I want to focus on four things which have made it a superb initial experience for this refreshed lover of music.
I don’t mind the UI
Much has been written about Apple Music’s apparent failure when it comes to user interaction. Confusing menus, hidden menus, menus within menus, buttons which are unfathomable until you press them… the list goes on. But you know what? I’m quite fond of it. I don’t mind discovery when it comes to UI. I like tapping around and finding those hidden menus. I’m probably one of the only people on the planet who enjoyed the first few days with the Apple Watch, such was it’s colossal rethinking of the ways in which human beings should interact with technology. Apple Music isn’t quite as new age as the Cupertino company’s wearable, but it does take some getting used to. And what’s wrong with that?
Americans appear to be going through something of a culture shock at the moment. I had never considered this, but, across the pond, it is rather unusual to hear DJs like Zane Lowe enthusiastically trumpet new artists and, perhaps a little too often, interrupt the music itself with several plays of a station ID sound effect and/or reminder of which DJ is currently presiding. However, if you’ve ever listened to BBC Radio 1, Beats 1 is instantly familiar. The clever bit is the fact it is truly worldwide, with no adjustments made for different time zones. That means we’re all listening to the same music across the globe, at the same time. It feels a bit revolutionary. And I like the stuff they play, even if it is often rather heavily weighted to new R&B and hip hop.
‘For You’ is brilliant
The beating heart of Apple Music, in my book. Hear a track on Beats 1 or a playlist you love? Press that heart button. Make sure you follow artists you love. In just two weeks, the system is providing me with brilliant recommendations both in the form of albums and Apple’s superbly curated playlists. This is what I was waiting for and, more often that not, ‘For You’ if the first button I press on opening the app.
Artists really could benefit
Listen to Beats 1 for thirty minutes, and you’ll likely hear the DJs excitedly talk about an artist who is ‘new on the scene’ or who has ‘been producing this stuff in his bedroom for years’. With the furore over artist rights and the poultry sums dished up by streaming agreements (arguably a fault of the labels), Apple appear to be keeping to their word by making Apple Music a potential launchpad for the undiscovered. And I hope that’s the case. As someone who has produced his own music for nearly twenty years (although admittedly, for one’s own enjoyment), so called bedroom musicians need a leg up. There’s no money in record sales any more, but there is kudos to be had and a living to be made from getting noticed and asked to play live. Time will only tell if this prevails, though, of course.