from the perspective of a broke anti-streaming slacker
Thanks to the annoyingly catchy and trendy tv commercials it’s pretty hard to miss the news that apple have started a music streaming service. For anyone that has an iphone and has bought an app, and therefore has an itunes account, it’s very easy to opt into and start the free three month trial of “Apple Music”. Important reminder: go into the settings and turn off automatic subscription renewal.
The first noteworthy thing is that 3 month trial. Three months is a long time. It’s very clever. Not many companies would have the capital to pay for all that initial set up without some return in the near future. More importantly, for schleppers like me three months is long enough to get hooked.
Up til now there have been a couple of global streaming services – spotify and pandora. I tried spotify for about half an hour and was not impressed. They have no free trial. If you want to listen to it for free then they insert lame-oh advertisements after every second song – thus turning your favourite album into bad radio.
So I started trialling the apple service a couple of weeks ago expecting it to be rubbish. It’s not but the jury’s still out on whether I’d actually pay for it. It’s 12bucks a month in Australia so over a year $144 which if you’d decided to take a different path through reality, would be I guess about 6 physical albums. If at the end of that year you cancel the service then you’re left with nothing except those sweet memories. And then there’s always the chance apple will raise the price.
For me one of the big sticking points is that it’s streaming. That’s okay at home using the internet and wireless router but for outside I’m a) on a budget phone plan and use phone megabytes sparingly. I try to make 100Mb last for two months. It doesn’t work but there’s certainly no room for 4Mb per song or whatever it is. B) Even cellular coverage in Australia is patchy let alone the thought of streaming via wifi while out and about. I lose phone reception on the train between Geelong and Melbourne. But at home it’s fine and I was listening to music all day and it didn’t use any noticeable amount of bandwidth here.
The main thing I was dubious about was what music they had available. One neat thing is you just use the itunes program on computer or app on a phone the same as you would with your own owned albums. So for the last two weeks I’ve been quizzing it. I think of some old or somewhat obscure artist and think Oh you got that? – look it up and mostly I’ve been impressed. Although my musical taste has been sliding to a slightly more mainstream point over the last ten years.
They got 13th floor elevators, they got Stetsasonic, they got Ganggajang and they even got this album (just packaged differently) :
Of course it’s always possible to find the odd artist here or there that’s not on the service, perhaps because the artist had previously taken control of the copyright to their music—taking it from whichever company originally published it. An example it the ‘90s Melbourne indie group, Sandro. Their album Hate Songs is not on there. But then you could trawl five or six music shops in Melbourne and not find the CD there either.
Here is a list of other failings I found.
- The Bell Sisters. I tried loading up an album of theirs. It was a compilation but I don’t know that they ever really did proper albums. Some music librarian data entry person goofed because instead of those two ‘50s girls voices I got Duke duke duke duke of Earl.
- Swervedriver. Despite being a pretty popular alternative crusty UK grungish rock outfit in their time, Swervedriver ended up with a series of record deals from hell—or something like that. A couple of good albums were essentially buried, deleted and difficult to get a hold of for years and years after release (in the ‘90s). And indeed 1995’s Ejector Seat Reservation is missing.
- Occasionally songs just don’t come through. Like Guantanameraby The Sandpipers. It’s the lead track of their 1966 album, Guantanamera. I click on it – and nothing. Yet the other tracks from the album play. *[Edit]* A week later I try it again and now it’s working.
- Even for a well known artist like Aphex Twin there’s a whole lot of stuff that’s not there – like (one of my faves) the EP Mike Flowers Pops Vs The Aphex Twin, and the Mike & Rich album. That’s one thing but also Richard D James recorded under a whole load of names (AFX, Polygon Window etc.). The iTunes interface could make it much clearer in linking collections of music made by the same artist. There is an ‘artists you may also like’ thing on the side but then for example on the Aphex Twin page it lumps AFX in with completely unrelated, maudlin try-hards Autechre.
My other major criticism is the search function is always steering you back to the popular. I look up an artist and you get in order, top singles, top albums, and then ‘albums’. The top result is nearly always a ‘best of’ compilation.
I like drilling back, finding who influenced who and I just prefer to go about it more studiously most of the time and listen to one album at a time.
Or at least that’s the theory. The convenience of looking up any music you can think of and have it playing a few seconds later is pretty mind-blowing. I’m still in the phase of engorging myself and barely getting to the end of one song before going on to the next thing.
What I’d like, uh-huh
I’d like to be able to search by record label. I type in Tommy Boy, and I want to see a list of the albums released by that label. Same with 4AD and so on.
I’d like to be able to click on that 150 X 150 px jpeg of the album cover and then get a much larger HIRES version of it to look at and if possible be able to flip to the liner notes or inside fold artwork.
For us cellular-challenged Australians I’d like to see a function where an album or selection of songs could be downloaded onto an iphone in a way so that the album could be played once but then be locked—so it’s not being stolen but can be listened to once at least, offline before getting back to somewhere with wifi.
I’d like to be able to use the Siri voice recognition function (on computer as well as phone) to cue up albums or songs using only speech so that I might feel LIKE A GOD.
A whole other thousand words could be written about how streaming audio media is going to completely reshape the experience of music but I can’t do it now. I can barely think because of Jello Biafra & DOA’s Full Metal Jackoff is rattling the windows—I haven’t heard it (or thought of it) since the sharehouse in Westgarth in ‘95.
PS. It was just in the news that Australians love to pirate media more than most countries, and it was pointed out that if movies or whatever were more easily accessible (legally) and priced reasonably then people would go for it. This is where Apple Music is succeeding – in comparison, torrenting albums is arduous. And the streaming service is relatively reasonably priced.