Apple Music and Analysis Paralysis

MG Siegler absolutely nailed it with this bit about my biggest hesitation with Apple Music — infinite choices:

Maybe that’s unfair, but in the age of having every song at your fingertips at any time you want, our affliction is a preponderance of choice. What do you listen to when you can listen to literally anything? For me, it’s often the same things over and over again. I hate choosing.

Just ten minutes after launching the Apple Music app, I was already listening to music I owned that was stored locally on my device. Like Siegler, with so many options available I tend to gravitate towards music I already own and know I enjoy.

Over the past week I’ve been randomly asking my fiancée to name a band, any band, so I can see if it’s available and continue testing the service. But, inevitably she names a band whose albums we already own and I have to ask her to name another. As it turns out, after over a decade of album purchases, we own the majority of the music that we like.

Apple Music’s ability to surface new and interesting tracks is going to either make or break the service for me. If it doesn’t get me finding and enjoying new music then I’ll end up listening to the same ten or so albums I’ve purchased over the last year with a bit of older favorites mixed in to keep things interesting. But, at that rate there’s no reason for me to pay $9.99-14.99 a month to continue listening to music I already own.

I’ve had iOS 8.4 installed on my devices for about a week and a half, but so far it hasn’t quite sold me with the “listen to anything you want, whenever you want” angle. I’ve been doing that for years — ever since I started buying every album from the bands I love. So, if I’m going to find value in Apple Music it’s going to come from Beats 1, Connect, or the selection of curated playlists.

Beats 1 already feels like it’s going to be a big deal. In the first few days after launch, half of the tweets in my timeline were talking about what they heard on Beats 1. And although I love that I don’t have to explicitly make a decision about what to listen to — the only option on Beats 1 is to listen or not — I haven’t actually enjoyed a single track I’ve heard on it. I have a rather specific taste when it comes to music and it’s pretty far from what’s currently mainstream. But, in the future I expect Apple to expand with new stations (likely named Beats 2, Beats 3, etc.) which might play more music that I’ll actually enjoy.

And, I’ve practically given up on Connect. I visit the tab every now and then, but the artists I’ve chosen to follow, alongside the ones Apple prepopulated the tab with, just don’t do enough posting to make it worthwhile. That might change in time, but for now Connect is something I don’t expect to last. If Apple wants this to be successful they need to put a lot more resources into it. And, I would say that it needs to happen during this initial free trial period or it’ll be completely abandoned by users and artists alike.

I can tell that I’m starting to enjoy the curated playlists — my For You tab is full of recommendations for pop-punk bands, many of which I enjoy. The problem is that I still have a hard time deciding to listen to any of it. I have managed to find some forgotten gems that came out before I really fell in love with music — some Blink 182, early Jimmy Eat World, and Green Day, to name a few. But, I’m not positive that listening to this music is going to stick with me. Part of me wonders if it’s just a nostalgia trip that, in the future, could be satisfied by a tuned Pandora station.

The recommendations started out pretty rough for me, though. I had a hard time finding artists I actually liked during the seeding process (most likely due to my propensity towards littler known bands). But, I have noticed that the recommendations have improved over time. As I’ve been liking tracks, Apple Music has been suggesting less and less of the dregs and more music that I actually enjoy.

In the end, I’m still not sure if I will continue paying for Apple Music after my three-month trial. I turned off auto-renew in Settings so that I don’t get a surprise charge on my card, but I don’t know if I’ll keep it that way. As I said, the recommendations continue to improve, but I’m not sure if there’s enough in the for-pay service that it’s worth paying for.

You can still get access to quite a bit of Apple Music without having to pay. But as I mentioned above, I find myself gravitating towards the curated playlists which are decidedly not free. I’ll have to wait and see if I slowly move back to listening to the My Music tab, instead.

Even if I do continue my subscription, I’ll probably keep purchasing albums I truly enjoy. The last thing I want is to feel locked in to Apple Music. If something happens to me financially, I don’t want to be in a position where cancelling my subscription results in all of the music I love being no longer accessible.

A quick aside on the new app itself: it’s confusing. Many of the features that I access most are hidden behind a hamburger button — which is less than ideal as far as I’m concerned. And, I miss having all of the albums from a single artist stacked allowing me to play all of the songs from a single artist, grouped by album, back to back. It’s something I’ve grown accustomed to over the years and I’m really missing it. However, the Up Next feature is legitamitly incredible. I love that I can just throw whole albums at it and it will place the tracks where I want them in the queue. And, being able to queue tracks that come to mind during a song without disrupting what’s currently playing is just perfect.

The key to it all, though, is whether or not Apple Music is able to make smart choices for me that compel me to listen. As much as I enjoy the music I’ve been listening to for the past ten years, I’m sure there’s more out there that I would enjoy if someone (or some service) was able to point it out for me. Between curated playlists, individual tracks and albums, Beats 1, and Pandora-style radio stations, there’s a lot to choose from. And, I hope Apple has built the tools, algorithms, and curation teams necessary to help surface new music for me. I’d prefer not to end up listening to the same familiar albums and artists that I always have, I just need some help choosing.