Why I’ve made the snap judgment that Apple Music is crap

First, let’s begin with several paragraphs of me explaining, in general, why I make snap judgments

As I’ve gotten older, my life seems to be more and more about resisting complexity. I want things to be simple. Part of that comes out of the aesthetics and principles of my job. The web has a tendency towards over-complication, and it’s my job to fight that.

Also, more generally, as you get older there are more and more decisions to be made in a day. Every hour, every minute, every second, you have to make a decision about something. It’s overwhelming and drains your soul. I have to prioritize the things that matter to me, and, more and more, cast the rest aside.

When something new comes along, I have to make a snap judgment. Not necessarily a permanent judgment. That would be foolish and self-defeating. But I do need to make that initial choice: whether or not to let this new thing occupy more of my time right now. Essentially, whether or not to give it a chance.

Sometimes I revisit things I never gave a chance the first time around. On rare occasions I discover that I missed out on something good, and I welcome it in. Most of the time, though, I just confirm that I was right to dismiss it in the first place.

Enter, Apple Music

This week’s biggest choice has been whether or not to embrace Apple Music. On the surface, it sounds like a no-brainer. Apple and Music are two of the biggest parts of my life. I have gulped down my glass of Apple Kool-Aid and asked for a refill, please and thank you. I was a music major in college. I make music, I listen to music. Over a span of 30+ years I have collected and pored over and obsessively thought about music.

Come to think of it, that’s probably the problem.

Apple Music seems like it’s for people who don’t already own a lot of music. I suppose all of the streaming music services are. After all, if you owned it, why would you stream it, other than convenience? But even then, you’d probably just stream it from your iTunes or Amazon library (both of which I have done, often).

From my perspective, owning a music library of over 23,000 songs (enough to play for 75 days, 9 hours and 39 minutes straight, 24 hours a day, without repeating a track), the subscription streaming services have never had much appeal, so I’ve never even tried Spotify, Rdio, etc. But, being an Apple fan, I somehow thought their service might be different. Might be for me. But I guess not.

What would a post like this be without a bullet list?

So what is it about Apple Music that has turned me off? It’s many things, actually:

  • The initial experience of picking, by tapping on hovering bubbles, your favorite genres (from a very narrow and mainstream set), and then favorite artists (from suggestions it pulled in from the selected genres), is basically the same as it was in the old Beats Music service, which I had also already tried and abandoned within 24 hours when it first appeared. This process did quickly home in on many artists that I like, but I reloaded at least a dozen times trying to get it to refine the selections further. Even then, the best it came up with were only what I’d really call “second-tier favorites.” (Also, the UX with the bubbles sucks and needs to be fixed.)
  • Once everything was set up, the “For You” screen did offer me a lot of music I like. But, guess what. Almost all of it was music I already own. And of the 2 or 3 selections it offered that I don’t already own, I was either mildly disinterested or they were musicians I actively loathe.
  • Beats 1. What the hell is this? I mean, OK. The chance that I would actually like what they play on a single, worldwide “radio” station that Jimmy Iovine has anything to do with was already less than zero. But I have actually given it a chance 3 or 4 times, and every time I turn it on, it’s the same “underground” alternative hip hop vibe. This is music I do not dislike. I mean, I wasn’t repulsed by it. It wasn’t Celine Dion or Kenny G. But it’s just not what I’m into, and maybe I just didn’t listen long enough but there was no variety in styles. (Granted, other than the one time I listened to it in the car, I haven’t bothered to leave it on for more than one song. But the first song that’s playing when I turn it on is always in this style.)
  • The return of DRM. I can’t say it any better than this, so I won’t even try.

All of that led me to one simple conclusion, and my snap judgment. I do not want to give Apple Music any more time or attention, at least right now. I just want the same convenient access to my own extensive music library that I’ve come to appreciate with iTunes Match. So I’ve turned off auto-renew on my Apple Music subscription. I’m going to make sure I don’t cancel iTunes Match. And, just to be safe, I’m going to re-download and back up my entire library from iTunes Match just in case… you know… someday.

I love Apple’s hardware and, usually, their OS software. But cripes, they just cannot get online services right, can they?

But see, here’s the thing. Remember how I said I sometimes revisit things I hadn’t given a chance the first time around? I feel like here I am revisiting something. I’ll admit I don’t have extremely vivid or extensive memories of it, since I had only initially looked at it so briefly, but to me Apple Music feels very, very much like Beats Music was. To the point where I find it hard to believe they spent much time at all changing anything about it other than simply fusing it into the iTunes ecosystem. Oh, and adding that pointless radio station.

I may still give it another try at some point before the free trial period ends. Maybe I’ll change my mind. But I doubt it.

Follow the money

One last thought, as I try to make sense of what this is really all about. Apple is a big company, and so are the record labels they had to negotiate with to get permission to offer all of this “content.” My very brief experience listening to music through Apple Music consisted mostly (and, rather strangely, if you think about it) of listening to music that I already had in my library. But because I was listening to these songs through an Apple Music subscription instead of playing them directly from my library, Apple was making micropayments to the record labels for the streams.

So, yes, indirectly, I was paying again for music I already purchased. Just a few fractions of a cent really, but still. That’s the business model here. Especially with the concern I mentioned above (this, if you weren’t paying attention) over Apple Music replacing iTunes Match’s “matched” files with DRM-restricted ones (only if you’ve canceled iTunes Match, apparently), I am left feeling pretty cynical over this whole enterprise, and disappointed that Apple would take things in this direction.

But, then again, they bought Beats, so I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Update: HEY, WAIT! Don’t go. This is important.

I’ve discovered a small change in the new version of iTunes for the Mac (version 12.2) that has a huge impact on all of this. This is the version that introduces Apple Music and changes the icon from red to white.

The ability to tell iTunes to download multiple songs at once is gone. It used to be, if you selected multiple songs in your library — like, all of them — and right-clicked (Ctrl-click), the contextual menu had a Download option, right at the top. Click that, and it starts downloading all of the selected songs.

Um, yeah. That’s gone.

The little icon of the cloud with an arrow is still there. You can click it. You can still download songs. ONE. AT. A. TIME. Good luck with that. So, here’s the important thing: If you haven’t upgraded to iTunes 12.2 yet, DON’T. At least, download all of your music first.

Lucky for me, I have access to multiple Macs, and one of them hadn’t been updated yet. Even as I type this I have my external hard drive hooked up to it, and I’ve begun the process of downloading all 23,000+ songs. Should only take a week or so. (Thanks, CenturyLink!)

In light of the above considerations about money and playing ball with the record labels, I can only interpret the removal of this feature in one way.

Update to the update (August 26, 2015)

Regarding my panic in the update above about the removal of the ability to download “make available offline” multiple tracks at once, I should note that in a subsequent update (not sure which; I’m currently running Apple restored this feature. You can now select multiple tracks, and “Make available offline” appears in the contextual menu. And it works.

I think little by little features are going to get rolled back in that those of us who don’t wholeheartedly embrace streaming services in general, and Apple Music in particular, are asking for. But whether or not those restored features will come with improvements to the interface (especially in the iOS Music app) remains to be seen.

Yes, I was Hoodwinked Too!

I don’t often write movie reviews here, but then again, I don’t often see the worst movie ever made, and I think the latter may just have happened yesterday.

In my defense, there is one, and only one, reason I went to see Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil yesterday, and that was to allow myself and my family a two-hour reprieve from the oppressive 100-degree heat of Minneapolis in July. It had not occurred to me prior to leaving home that there may be experiences to be had on such a summer day that were far more unpleasant, even if they were air conditioned.

Two minutes into the movie I was already bewildered by the incomprehensible (and unengaging) plot; the uninspired, inappropriate-reference-saturated, rapid-fire, pseudo-witty dialogue; the derivative grab bag of every possible character and trope from popular animated movies, good or bad, of the past decade (including, but not limited to, Shrek, Ice Age, The Incredibles, Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda); and the lazy, stunningly, sub-straight-to-DVD-Barbie-movie bad animation. The only thing this movie had going for it was a fairly decent cast of voice actors, and even then, most of them sounded as if they were recorded at their first table read, half asleep and wholly disinterested.

It got worse from there.

Or maybe it didn’t, as there were at least 2 or 3 moments — brief moments — during the movie where I was mildly entertained, mostly involving Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as Hansel and Gretel. But even they were annoying far more often than not. And they were nowhere near enough to offset the myriad other horrible things wrong with this movie. Perhaps the most disturbing is the movie’s tendency to take every questionable attribute of modern “kids'” movies to its logical extreme, especially the references to films no child should be able to understand. A few throwaway quotes from the likes of Scarface and Terminator (within 10 seconds of each other) is one thing. An entire scene built upon a parody of The Silence of the Lambs, with an Andy Dick-voiced rabbit strapped to a hand truck and locked behind shatterproof glass a la Hannibal Lecter, is inexcusable. And if inappropriate references don’t bother you, don’t worry. There are enough stereotypes here to offend just about anyone.

At this point you may be asking why I chose to see this movie, and why I’d spend money on it. The reason is simple: it was playing at a nearby second-run theater, which only has a single screen. This is what was showing at the time we chose to go, and tickets were only $2 each. That someone might have spent as much as $15 per ticket to see this movie (in 3-D no less, from which we were thankfully spared) sickens and saddens me. I scarcely even knew this movie existed prior to yesterday, and will do what I can to purge it from my memory as soon as this post goes live.

I’m sure far more people read Rotten Tomatoes every day than have visited this blog since its inception, so reiterating its content here is superfluous. Except… I wouldn’t be surprised if more people read this blog than have bothered to check out Hoodwinked Too! on Rotten Tomatoes. And since some of the reviews of this godawful piece of garbage (which, yes, I know, was the result of a lot of hard work… or, at least… work… by a large number of talented people… or, at least… people) provide far more entertainment (in far less time) than the movie itself, I figure they’re worth shining my dim little light upon.

If you’re not familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, it’s essentially a movie review aggregator. It provides each new release with a “Tomatometer” score, representing the percentage of reviewers who’ve given a film a positive rating. Films over 50% get a nice, plump, ripe red tomato. Films under 50% get a nasty green splatter. The site also gives each movie its own page, featuring excerpts from select reviews.

Hoodwinked Too! has one of the lowest Tomatometer scores I’ve ever seen — 12%— which restores just a shred of the respect for humanity I lost at the movie theater yesterday.

Here are some of my favorite comments from the reviewers:

Full of manic momentum and nattering, witless word play, the movie has all the charm of a mudslide.
–Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail

This is precisely what I was thinking, if not so eloquently, during the opening scenes.

Remember the first “Hoodwinked,” five years ago? Remember how it ended with the promise of a sequel? Remember how many times you’ve wondered when-oh-when-will-it-finally-come? Me neither.
–Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

I honestly don’t remember ever seeing any promotion whatsoever for either of these movies, and could have gone on happily ever after (to carry over the fairy tale theme) believing they didn’t exist.

Parents should take their children to “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil,” if only because kids are never too young to learn the important and liberating skill of walking out of a movie and demanding a refund.
–Kyle Smith, New York Post

Why didn’t I think of that?

Somewhere during the first 30 minutes I actually felt my soul shrivel up and die. Trust me, you’ve had more entertaining colonoscopies.
–Jeff Meyers, Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

No comment.