Sunday, January 24, 2016

Me and Apple Music, we got a thing goin' on

The first thing I would say about Apple Music is that it's a whole lot of fun. In fact, it might be the most fun you can have for twelve bucks a month, if you are a music nerd who has a decent broadband speed and an internet plan that gives you unlimited data. (At this moment in history 1000 gigabytes per month works for us.)

You feel a sudden urge to listen to some Laibach? There it is, more Laibach than you can poke a trident at. Old-skool Dunedin sounds? Where do I start? Donny McCaslin? (Because, y'know, "Blackstar".) Check. Electric Miles? How many weeks have you got to spare?

But, as Jeremy Clarkson so often said on "Top Gear", there was a problem.

A sensible person would do the research before leaping into the unknown. Me, not so much. Having dived into Apple Music with my ears pinned back, what I discovered, as many people (I now know) seem to have discovered before me, is that if, like me, you have eleventy million random songs sitting in your iTunes folder on your computer, then, when you sign up to Apple Music, the metadata (I have no idea if that's technically the right word) for all of those eleventy million random songs, even your 15-year-old's Garageband experiments, are sent into the cloud: problem number one. Apple then proceeds to upload all of the songs that don't match its own database into the cloud: problem number two. Those that do match songs in its own database it doesn't upload, but if you have given your own copies of those songs cover art, or tagged them in a particular way, all of that gets tossed out and replaced by Apple's defaults: problem number three. Then, when you turn on the Music app on your phone, all of that metadata from those eleventy million songs (remember those?) from your computer gets replicated on the device, clogging it up and making it impossible to find the music that you have manually synced to the device in order to be able to listen to it offline, which was the point of having a fancy phone in the first place: problem number four.

I reckon four is enough problems. But we can't quite leave it there. I spent an inordinate amount of last weekend (let's not mention here how not-impressed Adrienne had by then become) clearing most of those eleventy million songs from the computer, and switching off something called the "iCloud music library", in a vain attempt to start from scratch, naively thinking that by doing so I could at least get rid of the forest of useless "ghost" songs from the phone. But it was not to be. It seems that Apple remembers, even when you would prefer to forget.

But, or so they say, time heals all wounds. In the space of a week, Apple Music and I have come to an accommodation. There turns out to be a way to switch off the metadata from my phone while still being able to store on the phone, and listen offline to, stuff from Apple Music that I might (hypothetically) otherwise have been sent to the dark(ish) web to, uh, obtain by other means; e.g. new albums by Tindersticks and Tortoise. And I suppose giving the laptop a thorough clean-out has merit anyway. Also, I was fortunate (or anal) enough to have backups of everything, so all of my obsessive tagging and filing was not lost forever. So it's all, as they say, good.

But back to Apple Music itself. It isn't perfect, of course (although this is, in a way, surprising for an Apple product), and the integration issues between iTunes and Apple Music really ought to be addressed by the company. (I don't see why they can't do it by way of two separate programs/apps, but what do I know?) What is missing? The entire Tzadik catalogue, for one. That was actually the first thing I looked for, and initially I thought its absence might be a deal breaker. But I haven't found many other huge gaps like that (the Soul Jazz and ECM catalogues would be nice), and so much else is available that it probably doesn't really matter. Once you have played around with it for a while, it becomes almost embarrassingly easy to instantly listen to anything you choose from a surprisingly high percentage of all the recorded music currently available. The curated playlists and radio stations I am still finding my way around. I may not use the radio, given that there is so much else that is directly searchable and able to be listened to as and when; but some of the playlists have been smartly constructed, and have already sent me off in new directions. (Who knew that Panda Bear sounds like our old favourite The Reels?)

If I think of it, I'll let you know in three months' time whether I decide to pony up for the paid subscription. I probably will.

Hope that helps.

Wait, did somebody mention Laibach?

(Any excuse.)