Essays on Technology and Culture

I’m Not Signing Up for Apple Music, and Neither Should You

My Apple Music trial ends today, and—to the surprise of nobody who reads my work regularly—I will not be signing up as a paid customer. Why? Well, aside from the one feature of Apple Music I wanted most, iCloud Music Library, eating my library for lunch, and demanding seconds, streaming music is antithetical to the way I relate to music.

Maybe I’m just preternaturally old. I’m approaching 32 years old, after all, and for most of my life, music has been a physical thing. I owned an LP, Pac-Man Fever (don’t judge me) when I was barely old enough to know what a record was. I would listen to CDs on my parents sound system as a kid, typically movie soundtracks. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II were favorites, but I also had thing as a child for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Go figure. As a teenager, I would buy CDs, when I could, but I also embraced the world of Napster and piracy. I’m not proud of it, but so much of the music I know and love, I discovered because I downloaded it illegally.

I buy most of the music I listen to now. I prefer to buy direct from the artist, when available, typically on physical media. So far this year, I’ve bought albums from Holly Herndon, Eskimeaux, DEVO, Dweezil Zappa, Listening Center, and CHVRCHES on a variety of formats: vinyl LP, CD, and even a cassette tape. I don’t even own a cassette player! I wanted a physical artifact of the music, and cassette was the only way to get it. But even the music I buy digitally has a certain physicality to it. There is an external hard drive on my desk that holds my 200GB-plus iTunes library. I sync a portion to my iPhone. Back when I started downloading music, I would burn albums and custom mixes to audio CD, and even burned MP3 CDs to play in a pre-iPod MP3 CD Player. The music may exist as zeros and ones, but they have a physical container.

The thing about files from the iTunes Music Store, about LPs, ripped CDs, and downloaded music—legal and otherwise—is that they are mine. I can do what I choose with them, maybe not legally, but there’s no easily enforceable restrictions on what I do with the copies of the music I own, regardless of format. [1] They won’t go away (assuming I back the files up, which I do. Religiously.) Streaming is ephemeral, and that worries me. If an artist or a label decides it doesn’t like the deal Apple is playing, what’s to stop them from pulling their music? Remember Taylor Swift and Spotify? Prince pulled his music from everything but TIDAL. They won’t be the last ones. Anyone who grumbles about needing membership to a bunch of different video streaming services to watch the shows they want, yet is happy to sign up for a streaming music service, is just asking for the same pain down the line.

I would pay to keep all the music I own in a place where I could be sure I can listen from anywhere I have connectivity. This seems fair, but unless Apple raises the limit on iTunes Match (or, for that matter iCloud Music Library), and ensures that I when I listen to the live concert recording of DEVO from 1977 that I bought on CD, legally, [2] and ripped to my iTunes Library, I won’t get studio tracks instead, I’ll suffer with having to sync the files to my iPhone. The cost of ownership is a small amount of inconvenience and a huge degree of freedom. It’s worth the price. If you value music, don’t won’t stream it—buy it.

  1. Remember, iTunes dropped DRM for music purchases back in 2009.  ↩
  2. Said live recording is not available as a digital release, only on vinyl and CD.  ↩