Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Music

Probably the most chaotic part of today’s keynote was also one of the coolest. If you haven’t watched the keynote, you should,1 then come back and try to honestly tell me that it didn’t feel a bit weird, jilted, and very un-Apple-y.

But it also felt joyous. It felt like a bunch of people who were genuinely excited about something. Apple’s clearly not the first to do a streaming music service, nor are they the first to put in some social stuff with Music — the bad “Ping 2.0” jokes were really flying on Twitter today.

I think that part of the chaos today came from how difficult it is to encapsulate such a comprehensive and far-reaching service. Reading the press release, it sounds like they wanted to say that the whole iTunes catalogue would be able to be streamed:

Apple Music is a revolutionary streaming service and app that puts the entire Apple Music catalog at your fingertips across your favorite devices. Starting with the music you already know — whether from the iTunes Store® or ripped CDs — your music now lives in one place alongside the Apple Music catalog with over 30 million songs. You can stream any song, album or playlist you choose — or better yet, let Apple Music do the work for you.

It comes close, but stops short of actually saying that it’s the whole catalogue, which makes me think it’s damn close to being so.

Then there’s the curatorial aspect of it, which was a trademark of Beats Music when it was launched, and probably the thing I’m most excited about. Shuffle is too random: if you have any kind of diversity in your music library, it’s a shit show. Genius is too algorithmic: it picks songs that you probably already play together, and it’s limited to songs you own. I’ve long wanted a way to pick a song in my library and get actual, human-tweaked recommendations for songs that I do and do not own. That’s what I’m hoping Apple Music can do for me.

Compounding the hurdle that Apple Music must climb is the sheer volume of music that gets released these days. As Trent Reznor alludes to in the intro video, there’s just as much music coming out of bedrooms and basements these days as is being made in recording studios. Some of it is crap, some of it is okay, and a little bit of it is truly special. I want to be able to dig that stuff up alongside the stuff I’ve already heard, and that which I’ve heard of.

If the curated suggestions are taking the manual transmission out of the car and replacing it with an automatic, Beats 1 is replacing your car’s controls with something more autonomous. It’s a 24/7 internet radio station with one host each in LA, New York, and London. That’s a pretty bold move, turning Apple singlehandedly into a broadcaster.

It’s just one channel,2 so your music tastes have to be very attuned to whatever they’re playing. It’s probably going to be something cool — the DJs they picked are all great — but if you don’t like what they’re playing, tough jam.

The last thing they’re bringing back are artist social features. I’m not sure these will be any more popular this time around, but we shall see.

Apple Music launches on June 30, but there hasn’t been any indication as to where it will be available, other than Beats 1 being in “over 100 countries”. Also not announced are any banner reasons to switch from a competing platform, really. Tidal has exclusives, and Spotify and Rdio have the user base. Apple Music has human curators and a radio station, which are both cool, but their beauty will be in their execution; they’re hard sells on their own. I’m excited to try Music nevertheless; it may make me switch from Spotify if the curatorial features are as game-changing as I think they’ll be.

  1. Stay tuned for the killer new Weeknd track at the end. Probably the best thing he’s done since the Balloons trilogy. Between this, and D’Angelo’s and Kendrick Lamar’s latest releases, I’m enjoying this funk/R&B renaissance. ↩︎

  2. For now? Apple Music Radio is described as “stations created by some of the world’s finest radio DJs. The new stations range in genres from indie rock to classical and folk to funk, with each one expertly curated.” What if there are a range of Beats stations in the future, too, with actual human hosts catering to a wide variety of tastes? ↩︎