Why Apple Music is not shit… even though it is shit.

When Apple Music launched I thought “hmmm cool! But I wonder how this will compare?”. My initial sign up was good. I selected some unfamiliar music genres and the curated playlists were excellent — I was quickly discovering great new music. I particularly loved some songs. And the great thing was I didn’t have to buy them! My introduction to francophone music was a joy. Oh yep — there it is, the “save to ‘My Music’” button. In fact I’ll add the whole playlist — I’ll listen to it offline when I go for a run. Sweeet. Except wait. It’s not on my iPhone? Hmmm. Something must not be set right? Oh, ok, done, hook up iCloud music and sorted, that was a bit weird, but whatever. There it is. Cluttering my iTunes library. Wait what?

My iTunes library… My sweet, well honed, carefully shaped, trusty iTunes library. The one I put on shuffle, reliably reminding myself that my taste in music is, well, entirely great. Where has it gone? I saved one wicked ass Francophone music playlist, and now scrolling through my library is like a lounge after a four year old birthday party which had tens of little people invitees. Messy. Very messy. The lounge is still there. But oh gosh. This won’t do, this won’t do at all.

The more I use, the more I cry at the UI. What the shit do ‘new’ vs ‘for you’ vs ‘radio’ vs ‘connect’ do? So. Many. Views. And… not the familiar ones? Where did ‘Artists’, ‘Albums’, ‘Songs’ selectors go? Oh… the really tiny text drop down. Riiiight. Cause they’re unimportant? Gotta be honest. I have no clue what I’m doing. None. I’m pretty sure I’m not meant to. Pretty sure. Ooooh. I like that song. Yes that one, give me more like that! I guess I click the love heart right? Surely. But wait there’s a “Give me more songs like this” option. It’s a star. So… erm what does the heart do? SO MUCH CLUTTER. THIS IS MADDENING. I just… want… to go back. Please let me go back.

In a frenzy, I search how to get rid of Apple Music FOREVER. I want it gone, destroyed, killed. I end the trial subscription, but that’s not good enough. I want all that crappy music filling my precious library gone. Now. Why won’t it leave. How do I get it to leaaaaaaaaaave. Die. Please die. Aha! But, actually… this is where, for the first time, my relationship to Apple Music begins to improve.

My ideal situation music wise, is that at any moment I can choose to ‘rely on my trusty music’ or ‘search for new music’. To be adventurous, or not to be. As such, I want a streaming service, and a library. The library has a strict barrier through which only the best songs may enter. The streaming service must be the best it can possibly be at helping me find new music that I like. Since it will inevitably fail, my library is there to save me in a dry spell.

The improvement came when I understood that ‘Apple Music’ is three layers, not two. iTunes Music, iCloud Library, and Apple Music (streaming service). And, you do have the choice to toggle the iCloud Library part. The part that turns your sweet sweet relaxing lounge into the post-kids-party mess:

The iCloud Music Toggle — clutter or declutter your Library. Hurrah! On an iPhone it’s under Settings -> Music.

What I’m not saying is the new UI that came with Apple Music is good. It’s terrible. However, I do like those apple music curated playlists. And the radio streams aren’t so bad either. Sure, Google Music & Spotify have that. But neither of them have something apple has… the most contentious thing apple has always had: a single ecosystem. When I disable iCloud Music Library, iTunes is my one stop shop for two things: My trusty library, and great streaming/music discovery. All in one place.

The new UI will continue to bug me. But I am calm. It’s my newfound love of Bluegrass, the soft sweet tunes playing on ‘Shady Grove Radio’. The sounds of country wisdom and finger picked metal strings soothe the soul, and it’s playing from the exact same application as all the other music I love. New music next to—but entirely separated from — my carefully curated music.

So while Apple Music is shit — in terms of its user experience, and the confusing layers of streaming, a local library, and a cloud library — once you realize you can simplify that layering with a single switch, suddenly you’re back in control. You can flex out the iCloud library when feeling adventurous, or put it out of sight and out of mind when you’re not. It’s the switch to make everything simple again. So beyond all that ‘shitness’ is hiding an experience that’s, actually, not shit. In fact, it’s really great.

This article was written while listening to a station seeded from ‘Shady Grove’ by ‘The Essential Doc Watson’. Wait, why can’t I seed from multiple songs? Oh Apple Music... you’re so shit. Meh, whatever — my ears are chirping thanks to you… somehow!

Edit: Long term Apple Music didn’t stand the test of time. Google Music has for me.