Streams Galore

I went to Apple Music and all I got was this silly software upgrade.

Apple Music launched today. I’ve intended to log some thoughts on the topic for a few weeks, but I’ve been wrapped up in local and domestic concerns. Besides, my $0.02 on a topic that EVERYONE is writing about aren’t consequential. Some initial random notions in no particularly order:

• That WWDC unveiling was equal parts lame, embarrassing, and uninformative. Ben Stein a la The Wonder Years reading from a teleprompter would’ve been more compelling.
• Yes, it’s good that Taylor Swift’s complaining budged Apple to agree (the same day) to pay artists during the three-month trial period. However, the actual infrastructure of the concession is a mystery. (Details beyond Taylor Swift being front and center of Apple Music’s “New” suggestions, of course.) Speaking as an “indie” artist myself, I received an official email from The Orchard (un)informing me that the company is “quite pleased” because they “have finalized a deal with terms in the best interest of all our label clients and are excited about the prospects of this new service.” Neat, but some details would’ve been nice. I then received a separate reminder today to finalize my Connect profile. I’ll get right on that…
• I wasn’t explicitly aware of the launch until today. I abstractly knew it was June 30, but then my Twitter timeline went nuts this morning. (Read: No automatic notifications from Apple.)
• Actually experiencing Apple Music was like when I taught myself to change a light switch by watching online tutorials. iTunes apparently needed to be updated to 12.2 but for hours I was told that I was current with 12.1.xx. Same on my phone. I found an article to tell me to update my iOS. (Yes, I wanted to listen on my desktop’s speakers instead of via my phone. It’s music, after all.)
• Upon the WWDC announcement, the thing I was most excited for was Beats 1 Radio. I’m a fan of radio – always have been – and I’ve long mourned the the gradual extinction of live, curating, human DJs. I’ve listened here and there today because the music hasn’t always kept me, and with one station I’ll tune out instead of to another channel. The St. Vincent mixtape show was okay but bordered on Delilah territory.
• The internet is supposed to be so free, and yet Beats 1 plays censored tracks. That’s great that Apple wants to be hip and celebrate “Dre Day” as I just heard the DJ say (it’s currently late on the first night, ET), but airing some molested version of “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” isn’t the most roaring tribute, is it? Blech.
• I browsed some curated playlists for about two minutes before moving on. I’ve occasionally used Spotify in the past, but I’m admittedly not big on streaming music nor am I interested in it as an end user.
• Connect. I’ve got nothing…

I’m not anti-Apple Music. Neither am I pro-Apple Music. It’s a curiosity at this point, and we’ll see what happens. I want to see how Beats Radio 1 works out, evolves (or devolves), and if the whole service catches on. But I am deeply suspicious of Apple’s move to possibly kill what remains of paying for music online. I don’t have the time to get on my “pay for what you like” soapbox at the moment, and after a while it’s just beating a dead horse anyway. But for most people, why buy an album on iTunes if you can take that same $9.99 each month and have countless albums on demand? Hopefully folks get paid for streams, but even if it’s only slightly better than Spotify it’s a pittance. (As someone who receives royalty payments, I know.)

[As an aside, I personally know a fair number of musicians who themselves don’t much care to pay for music. My initial reaction to this is that it’s because of one of two reasons: 1) they must not sell any music of their own for it to register in their minds, or 2) they’re happy to give all of their music away for free. “2)” is perfectly fine and respectable, but “1)” is just a blind spot. I know folks in each camp.]

If Apple Music takes off, then folks will be paying for music in some fashion, but it will be an abstract payment to all artists at once, with the 1% getting most of the royalties and the 99% getting a smaller and smaller share. Only those with astronomical numbers will reap the rewards. Financials aside, what then is the user’s relationship to his or her preferred music? I understand iTunes Match — it’s your library made mobile and accessible. But Apple Music is both everyone’s and no one’s library — an ephemeral collection of playlists. Oh well. I’m a quasi-luddite; I just put a new stack of CDs on my iPod Classic this past weekend. Good thing my Model T has a USB port.

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