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Four Ways Apple Could Improve Apple Music

I like streaming music services—I happily pay the monthly Apple Music subscription fee to be able to listen to nearly anything I want at any time, especially now that we have HomePods in two rooms in the house. That said, I’m still sad to have lost Rdio (see “Retuning Rdio: Why I Dropped Apple Music,” 7 October 2015), and I sometimes wonder if Spotify has eliminated its ludicrous 10,000-track limit (see “The 10,000 Track Limit: Why I Switched from Spotify to Apple Music,” 30 August 2017). Nevertheless, Apple Music works acceptably, and our HomePods are an improvement over the cobbled-together stereo system that had been limping along for decades. But while “acceptably” is what I’ve come to expect from Apple’s services, I hold out hope that the company will once again try for “insanely great.”

Apple has announced that it’s hosting a special event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino on 25 March 2019, likely to announce its new video service. With any luck, Apple Music will receive updates as well—here are the main changes I’d like to see.

Invite to Apple's March 25th event

DJ Mode

The vast archive of tracks in Apple Music is a boon in many ways, but it’s all too easy to end up listening to a song about which you know nothing at all. That’s especially true if you ask Siri to create radio stations inspired by an artist or song (“Play Bruce Springsteen radio”) or play your personal radio station (“Play music I like”).

You can always ask Siri “What’s playing?” to learn the name of the song and the artist, but wouldn’t it be helpful if you could enable a “DJ mode” in which Siri would automatically introduce each song with its name and artist before it plays, just like a radio DJ? Turn it off when you know what you’re listening to, and turn it back on when you’re letting Siri drive.

Stay in the Studio or Go to the Concert

Speaking of options, I’d also like to see one that would avoid playing tracks from live performances. I’m sure opinions differ (hence the suggestion for an option), but I often find the pre-song chatter of a live recording to be jarring, and I usually prefer the sound of the studio recording of a particular song.

For those who aren’t like me, Apple Music could do the reverse, and offer a way of playing only live tracks to simulate the feel of being at a concert.

Implementing such options shouldn’t be that difficult, given that iTunes shows live albums separately—which might be a somewhat recent change—showing that Apple can distinguish live tracks from studio sessions.

Reduce Repetition

Part of my irritation with live tracks is that if I ask Siri to play music from a prolific artist, I can end up listening to the same song repeatedly, once from its original album, a few times from live recordings, and multiple times from greatest hits albums.

For any given session, once is enough. I’m sure each instance of the song has a different unique ID behind the scenes, but Apple Music should be smart enough to avoid duplication of songs by name as well.

Once I asked Siri to play songs like Kanas’s “Dust in the Wind” and received the following songs, in order:

  1. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  2. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  3. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
  4. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  5. “Carry on Wayward Son” (Kansas)
  6. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  7. “Point of Know Return” (Kansas)
  8. “Play the Game Tonight” (Kansas)
  9. “Point of Know Return” (Kansas)

In nine songs, Apple Music played “Dust in the Wind” four times, “Point of Know Return” twice, and only one song by an artist other than Kansas. Bad algorithm!

Siri, Take Feedback and Apologize

In the “Dust in the Wind” fail, I was sufficiently amused by the repetition to keep asking Siri to skip to the next track. It’s not uncommon for an Apple Music station to play a song I don’t like, at which point I skip it instantly, usually with some irritation in my voice. Or, worse, occasionally Siri misunderstands what I’ve said and starts playing something horrifically cacophonous, prompting me to yell, “Hey Siri, stop!”

Any person who elicited such a reaction would apologize, and I’d like to hear Siri do the same when one command is followed by another that countermands the first in an agitated tone of voice. Why is it that Siri never apologizes for its mistakes?

Plus, when we’re talking about Apple Music, wouldn’t it be nice to know that Siri is learning from its mistakes and avoiding tracks similar to what you had just skipped, for at least that session? I’d love to hear, “Sorry, Adam, I’ll try harder to play what you like.”

Your Take?

If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, do you like it? And if you rely on another streaming service, which one? Or do you stick to ripped tracks in iTunes? Register your vote in our quick one-question survey and expand on your answer in the comments.

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Comments About Four Ways Apple Could Improve Apple Music

Notable Replies

  1. As an addendum to the one-question survey I just answered, I do listen occasionally to SiriusXM (which came with my Forester) - I guess that’s not actually a streaming service, though. Mostly, though, I listen to my iTunes library, which contains mostly songs ripped from my large CD collection, along with songs downloaded from the iTunes Store, eMusic, and nugs.net (and a handful from Amazon). iTunes unfortunately has the problem that my iPhone doesn’t reliably sync playcounts and last played dates with my Mac, which is annoying since I’m frequently adding music which goes into a playlist “Never Played” (=playcount < 1), which I play from to be sure I’ve listened to every song in the library at least once.

    A tangential thought related to your wish that Siri would apologize - I often (probably strangely) say “Thanks!” when Siri does what I asked (i.e. turn on or off a Philips Hue bulb) - I’ve had the thought I’d find it pleasant if Siri would respond with a selection from a random set of appropriate replies, “You’re welcome”, “No problem”, “Glad to help!”, etc.

  2. I like all of the ideas but the first (DJ mode), which I am can’t imagine not hating.

    I have very good luck with “play me something” and on the rare occasions it’s something I’m unfamiliar with and wha t to know what it is I can check my phone. Or ask, I suppose.

    I’d prefer a better play history.

  3. In addition to the survey, I mostly listen to ripped CD’s or digital tracks I bought, AirPlay-ed throughout the house via iTunes from a Power Mac G4 Cube. I’m not subscribed to any streaming service, but instead listen to several internet radio streams. It’s mostly for background music listening, so I can accept the commercials.
    If I want to really listen to an album, I will still play the CD or vinyl album on my main stereo, sit on the couch and close my eyes.

  4. I use Spotify because I was introduced to it by my (grown up) kids and it enormously extends the ripped music I keep on iTunes. It works fairly well for me, but not perfectly, because I mainly listen to classical music. What we classical lovers want is the ability to play whole pieces with several movements (always called ‘songs’ on streaming services) from start to finish; the ability to suggest similar stuff in a sophisticated way, or to firmly reject any further material - “no more music thanks Siri”; and the ability to choose between different performances of the same work (for example there are hundreds of recordings of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, and I’d like to ask Siri to “play the first Kleiber version of Beethoven’s 5th” - no chance!). There are specialist classical services out there but they are too purist for me - I like lots of different kinds of music, just play more classical than any other genre. So for me, there will never be just one solution to how to hear what I want when I want it.

  5. All good ideas, Adam. I’m pretty happy with Apple Music and as someone old enough to remember being excited when my LP collection went into double figures, it still seems amazing that I can re-listen to the entire back catalogue of any band I like at no marginal cost. Like others I have the family subscription and, a couple of years ago, ripped then gave all my CDs to charity. (I still have the vinyl of course).
    But I find Siri, like most ‘smart’ system, not quite smart enough to be much use, specifically not better than what exists. e.g. voice commands to the Mac aren’t quicker than a keystroke; waking up the Mac when my phone comes near is not as quick as typing a log-in. In the same way, my Nest system is smart enough to know when I’m out of the house, but not smart enough to know that I’m on my usual journey home and an hour away.
    I digress, and I’m sure these things will come, or improve.
    Apple music playlists are not bad and the ones that refresh each week often throw up something interesting. But the ‘Hey Siri’ approach rarely delights.
    However, the main reason I don’t use it for music and haven’t bought a HomePod is that I listen to BBC radio about half the time and Siri can’t act on the command ‘Hey Siri, play BBC Radio 3’ or any variation thereon.

  6. This is not so much an Apple Music issue, but one with iTunes in general. As somebody who listens to a lot of classical music and Jazz (violinist here), I’d prefer a more album centric view. I can view by albums, but then I have little to no sorting/organizing control. I’d like to essentially be able to set up playlists on an album basis rather than song. Likewise, when listening and I imagine this would be the same with Apple Music. I’d like to shuffle albums within an album playlist, but then listen to a certain album from start to finish.

    I realize song-centric works well for pop and rock, but this seems to me like a simple switch iTunes/Music could allow through one root pref to accommodate people’s different music preferences.

    [Totally OT: how did the  symbol ever end up on k?]

  7. That’s why I suggest it as an option that you could turn on if you wanted. :slight_smile: I wouldn’t want it most of the time either, but there are times when I feel like I’m asking Siri “What’s playing?” way too often. I’m also generally listening on a HomePod, so pulling out the iPhone and fiddling around to find out what’s playing is way too much work.

  8. What bitrate does Apple Music use? I have a high end stereo system. I am not willing to pay for any streaming service that offers less quality than a CD. Lower quality might be fine if you listen with your AirPods and an iPhone or while driving, but not while sitting in the sweet spot of a really good home theater. What I have been doing is ripping my CDs as lossless and playing them through AppleTV. Even that doesn’t seem quite as good as putting in an actual CD. I am looking at a Cocktail Audio for ripped CDs and it supports higher bitrate streaming services such as Deezer.

  9. Bit rate is useful primarily when comparing music using the same format: MP3, AAC, and so on. This article (testing with a $30,000 stereo system) suggests that Apple Music has the best quality of any of the services, which is a bit surprising given that Tidal supposedly uses FLAC, which is a lossless format that should be the same as CD.

  10. That is an interesting article. I might give Apple Music a try and see how it sounds on my system. Thanks.

  11. You missed an option on your survey. I owned almost all my music before Apple even got into the music business. (about 14 days continuous play’s worth) It gave me a laugh. (posted via TidBITs.com)

  12. Hi Adam, I enjoyed the article about ways to improve Apple Music. I’ve been a subscriber almost from the launch of the service. Just wanted to mention something you may have missed, as you don’t mention it in the article, if you tell Siri “never play this song again” instead of skip or next, it does learn from that and also acknowledges the feedback. It’s most gratifying. :slight_smile:

    “Next” doesn’t really mean you don’t want o hear that song anymore, at least not in my case.

    Warmly,

    Christopher

  13. That’s the final option (which also applies if you already bought everything): “None. I only buy music on CD or as a digital download.” :slight_smile:

    And you’re far from alone: 36% of respondents have chosen that answer.

  14. Good to know, although most of the time when I could use that option, it’s purely because Siri heard my request for an artist completely wrong and would never play anything by that artist normally.

  15. I answered Apple Music because it’s the only one that we subscribe to. (My daughter wanted to listen to some exclusive song, so she subscribed.) But unless HomePod (we have a stereo pair) goes out and gets music from Apple Music rather than my library when I ask it, I don’t know if we ever use Apple Music. Maybe my daughter does, but she buys songs/albums from the iTunes Store as well.

    What really annoys me is Siri, since I largely listen to classical music. I’ve been working through my Bach 333 collection since I got it (just ripped disc 163 out of 222). When I asked Siri the other night “Hey, Siri, play Bach 333 disk 151” (and I tried to be very distinct when pronouncing 151, since I had tried this with other discs before) she answered “OK, playing Bach 333 disc 100”. I don’t mind St. Mathew’s Passion, but Bach 333 comes with 3 different recordings of it, and this one I previously owned, and it’s not what I just asked for. I rarely use Siri for anything because this kind of thing happens all too often.

  16. Thanks for the link. Yeah, I’ve run into a lot of what they talk about there. When you say “Hey Siri, play Mozart’s Requiem”, you’ll get a recording of it, but you don’t know which one you’ll get. If I AirPlay from my phone or iPad, I have control over what gets played, so that’s what I almost always do. (What would i want to happen? Maybe “you have these recordings of Requiem in your library , which do you want?”)

    A lot of this of course occurs with pop because of multiple songs from multiple artists being named the same. My daughter wanted to name her next album “Girl on Fire” after one of the songs on it, but it’s been used many times before (and she didn’t really appreciate my suggestions “Flammable Female” or “Burning Woman”), so she’s not going to call it that.

    Even when I’m listening to pop, things can be weird. “Hey Siri, shuffle my playlist Best” works, but it’ll occasionally go silent for a song. “Hey Siri, next” usually fixes that, but of course a song is skipped. And more occasionally one of the HomePods will simply drop out to return a few minutes later, while its mate continues to play.

  17. Everything I’ve seen so far are great suggestions and should have been implemented long ago - I have not heard anything about iTunes Match yet tho - I have over 80K items in my song list that I play randomly - over 200 days - without hearing the same song twice - issues - like - having to reshuffle because it forgot where its at and stops playing - hitting play does not start music - having this same system on all my devices is great but syncing between devices is not accurate - frequently one device will have duplicates that the other devices do not - having to update three devices by hand with that many items is a pain - not wanting to add to the confusion that is iTunes match - having it sync with airplay devices such as the apple tv - I have two of them - would be extremely nice - being able to go from stopping music playing in the car and restarting it on my mac or one of the apple tvs would be ideal - I get that other users might change whats playing while I was away but its just me - having the option to allow single users to apply settings to all devices would be magical - having to pay seperate prices for apple pay and match is not great - having a combo price for those of us that have larger librarys would be great - I typically only add artists from apple music to my library and do not use apples playlists or stream per sey from the apple library much - so - having a single price for both services would be great - fixing the duplicates issue that occurs when you add something on one device and then find its been added to a device that already has it sucks - turning off iTunes match and then turning it back on results in multiple - thousands of duplicates for some reason I and they cannot explain - it has gotten better since the beginning of match - its still not flawless and needs multiple upgrades but - for use on multiple devices - streaming my library is magical and match does that for me - the biggest issue for me is this - when an artist or artists - decide - randomly - and or their management company - to - say - we dont want this album streamed anymore - even tho I purchased it - apple music subscribers can no longer stream that album and neither can I - I bought it and payed for it and should be able to stream it as opposed to those who were streaming for free - per se - on apple music - since I payed for it I should still be able to stream it but apple changes how it is displayed in your library suggesting that it was removed and that you should download it - if you do then you can no longer play it even tho you had the original file on your device - I made that misstake too many times already to do it again and that is the crux of the issue - for apple music users who have downloaded it I get it - they shouldnt be able to stream it - they didnt pay for it - to penalize those of us who have purchased it by removing that ability sucks big time - to identify those of us who have purchased and not change the icloud status from purchased to removed would be a bonus for us diehard fans that continue to buy music for that purpose - its quality - its streamability from all devices - maybe im old school but this seems like a no brainer - penalizing those of us who purchase like we are apple music subscribers only seems like either a big blind oversight or - a way to force those of us that purchase to jump thru hoops to be able to play music that is suddenly no longer available thru iTunes match just because the album artwork changed or they removed one song and repackaged the album to resell - again - making it no longer available to purchasers and requiring us to figure that out - then go looking for it - in the store its available for purchase instead of play - but - as an apple music subscriber - it may or may not be available - its hit or miss sometimes - these to me are the most perplexing issues with iTunes Match & Apple Music - oh - the other issue that kinda coincides with icloud status changes randomly from purchased to removed or whatever is that the kind item in the itunes library will also frequently change from either purchased or AAC file or kind to - once downloaded - frequently either copying over your original purchased item or causing a duplicate by placing an apple music file - these issues are big for me and unless your talking to a 3rd level advisor who still cannot explain why its happening - your going to get all kinds of weird answers and solutions that will do nothing but create more issues - like thousands of duplicates or like in my case - all 2500 blues artists changed from having their album artwork artists names and album names to various artists unknown album with a single album cover for all of them - be careful what you do if you have a large library of your own music saved on an external drive - when you remove it from the library like apple does randomly it changes the file name blah blah blah - im tired now - terminally ill veteran getting my shit out in writting to someone who might be able to figure it out and possiblty do something about it - eventually - thanks for listening - life is short - live it fully! Peace Out!

  18. I answered Apple Music in the poll, but most of the time I am actually streaming a local jazz public radio station (KCSM) via the Internet Radio section of iTunes and playing it on computer speakers in my office and a stereo HomePod pair via Airplay in my living room. To fill in times when I don’t like the programming, I often play the weekly Favorites and New Music Apple Music streams. I use the Chill Mis stream to provide music to fall asleep by via my iPhone plugged into an iHome charger/radio.

    I have built my iTunes library over the years first by ripping CD’s that I own. I now, however, am mainly content to simply add content via the Apple Music service unless the music is unavailable there.

    The radio station has a nice discovery tool in that it posts its playlist almost contemporaneously with the selections appearing on the radio. If I hear something I like, I can simply remember the approximate time I heard it and then search the list for the selection. I will then usually add the album associated with the selection to my Apple Music list (and I may also find some related ones). For example, yesterday, I heard a nice Dan Hicks oldie and a Jerry Garcia-David Grisman collaboration while I was running errands. Weh I got home, I added the albums associated with those numbers into my streaming library.

  19. I’d forgotten “Dust in the Wind”, thanks!

    I’d like to be able to share a playable track on social media rather than a preview.

    One thing I miss from Beats was the quality and presence of the curators notes. I used to read them all the time, I never do on Apple Music, they’re shorter and not so interesting. I’m never going to be a go-to guy for music, I rely instead on go-to guys and I value their knowledge and insight, I wish they’d return to the level Beats had.

    Here is (given the old fart that I am) David Crosby’s latest album, out in 2018, it’s had terrific reviews across the range which prompted me to return and check him out after many years. Not a word from the Apple Music curators however.

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