Essays on Technology and Culture

Joining the Apple Music Dogpile

There’s been a lot of complaints about Apple Music from the technorati: a confusing UI, flaky search, unreliability, and general confusion abound. Plus the actual bugs. Though, none has been quite as damning and harsh as Jim Dalrymple’s recent, rage-filled, piece on The Loop

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Apple Music gave me one more kick in the head. Over the weekend, I turned off Apple Music and it took large chunks of my purchased music with it. Sadly, many of the songs were added from CDs years ago that I no longer have access to. Looking at my old iTunes Match library, before Apple Music, I’m missing about 4,700 songs. At this point, I just don’t care anymore, I just want Apple Music off my devices.


Normally, I try not to join a dogpile when it’s going around the tech blogs. I figure I have bigger issues to focus on. This is an exception.

I’ve been using Apple Music since day one, and I’ve largely adapted to its UI quirks. As a streaming service—and only as a streaming service—it’s quite good. The human curated playlists are great, Beats 1… well, it has a show with St. Vincent making mixtapes for fans, so that’s cool. I’ve used it with some regularity to change up my listening habits. But the streaming service alone isn’t worth $9.99 a month to me. What is worth it is having my entire music library, both the stuff I bought on iTunes, the stuff I bought on CD and vinyl, and stuff that, er, fell off the back of a truck, everywhere. Apple Music promised me that with iCloud Music Library. And iCloud Music Library is a turd.

I actually can’t use iCloud Music Library with my iTunes library. I have 31,815 songs in iTunes right now, the end result of spending more than half my life acquiring music. The limit, at least for now, is 25,000 songs. So, in a fit of exuberance, I took a knife to my iTunes library, excising almost 7,000 songs so I could try iCloud Music Library. The result was a car crash, with mis-matched songs, screwed up metadata and album artwork, and several days of frustration as I restored 200GB of music from backups. All I can say is that Serenity Caldwell is my hero for posting how to reset one’s iCloud Music Library.

There seems to be a common theme among the iCloud Music Library horror stories: people with large collections of music, with meticulous tagging that doesn’t conform to the iTunes Store, and a lot of live recordings, remastered versions, remixes, or duplicate song titles in their library. I am very meticulous about my metadata in iTunes, and meticulous in a way that Apple themselves are not. I hate having crap like “(Deluxe Edition)” on my albums, unless I’ve kept the non-Deluxe edition around for some reason. If I have a live album, I don’t need “(Live)” appended to every song title. I know it’s live—it usually says so in the album title!

Whatever Apple is using to identify the songs that exist in their library to match, it’s naïve as hell, and will match whatever is the first likely thing. If your song is on a greatest hits album, it’ll match the greatest hits track. Got a live recording that’s missing “(Live)” in the song title? Here’s a studio version for you. Hell, my friend Andrew Marvin from Crush On Radio reported that iCloud Music Library replaced some of his studio Primus songs with live versions! How does that happen?

It’s possible that Jim, Andrew, and myself are just edge cases. We’re crazy music fans with gigantic libraries, custom metadata, live recordings, and other stuff in our library that throws the matching algorithm for a loop. The problem is, the crazy music fans are the ones who are most likely to throw a shit-fit when something goes wrong. And here we are. Something’s gotta happen, even if it’s just a way to tell Apple “HEY! YOU MATCHED THE WRONG SONG. UPLOAD THIS, INSTEAD.”

At the start of the new year, I resolved to reduce the points of failure in my technological life, and iTunes came up:

[T]he reality of iTunes Match in execution, at least from what I’ve heard from people who try to use, leaves me quite content with having to plug in my iPhone, and manually manage the music I carry with me. There’s less chance of failure with locally stored music, instead of relying on the cloud. I don’t have to worry about having Wi-Fi, or a cell signal, or if the servers are behaving. The minor inconvenience of plugging into my computer is more than made up in reliable access to music.

So, I’ve divorced myself from iCloud Music Library, and unless this crap gets resolved by the time iOS 9 drops, I’m not likely to pony up $9.99 a month for the privilege of human-curated playlists and a streaming radio station I don’t care about. What sucks so much is that iCloud Music Library should be the feature that sets Apple Music apart from all the other streaming options. Until they fix it, Apple Music might be doomed to be an also-ran in the streaming space. Considering how skeptical I’ve been of paying for music you can’t keep, I think I’m going to be just fine when my trial ends. And that’s only a problem for Apple.