Why We're Not Worried About Apple Music

It’s a week or so since Apple announced their new streaming music service called, err, Music. As expected it’s an all-you-can-eat music service priced at $9.99 per user in the USA. No UK price has yet been announced but if previous history is any guide Apple will just to pounds for dollars, £9.99 over here.

As a CD ripping service we’ll be blown out of the water, right?
Have we been Uber-ed by Apple?

I don’t think so, and here’s why.

First, history is on our side. Over the last twelve years all sorts of technology has assailed us, each one (I have been told) is defined to consign CD ripping to the dustbin of history. Remember Limewire, the MP3 sharing system? Pirate Bay? AllofMP3? Each service supposedly offered ways of accessing your music in digital format.

Then in Europe we were treated to Spotify. Today that’s the music streaming service most people think of, and many people use it. Even among my clients less than 50% actually pay for it, so are interrupted by adverts, which puts them off. Rumours persist that Spotify will pull its free layer - it still pays royalties even if the listener isn’t a paying subscriber, and if you’ve been a user for 12, 24 or 36 months and haven’t opted to pay up, you’re not likely to - ever.

Apple may have learnt from all those who went before, their offer will be better, but not “killer”.

Second, it’s a cloud based streaming service. Is that a problem I hear you ask. Well not for Dropbox, Evernote, Microsoft, Amazon or other players but be honest - when it comes to the cloud Apple is dreadful. I’ve been an Apple user for over 25 years. I signed up for their internet service (after months of technical failures they “sold” it to AOL). I’ve been with .mac, with iCloud and iDrive. All have significant issues both at the “top” level and at the device level. iPhone to iPad to Mac synch services across Apple’s platform is horrible compared to Dropbox for example.

Suddenly, Apple is actually going to deliver a high capacity, high data content music streamer when it can’t synch my contacts?

A second feature under second, I don’t think users will love music streaming. Your music will comprise some pretty big files, sent from Cupertino across to your ISP then down a physical line (or your mobile phone line) to your PC or your phone handset. Yes, you get to pay for that with your data allowance. Prepare for eye watering bills. Wait for the complaints about breaks in service, streaming that cuts in and out, and ISPs bleating that they never signed up to be radio stations.

Third, artists and labels hate it. Already the music moguls and the small labels are laying into Apple. The payment to them is minuscule, Apple are offering a three month free trial during which no payment will be made for streamed music. Independent music industry figures are lining up to tell artists not to sign up for reasons that cover commercial and contract issues.

This leads to one of the biggest reasons why streaming falls down. The minute someone says “Have you heard that album?” and you find that artist / label isn’t on Apple Music so relevance of the system fails. Believe me, there’s a lot of music, both old and new, that won’t be on the Apple platform. If you need to sign up with Spotify and Apple and A N Other then the cost rockets and the bother of finding a track you want increases exponentially. Nobody wants that.

Fourth, as I’m very fond of saying, metadata matters. That’s essentially the key to cataloguing music and doing so in a way that enables users to find what they’re looking for. Let me assure you CDDB (the database service that Apple use for iTunes) is riddled with inconsistencies. This is much more of an issue on the classical side but it leads into the issue that people lose faith in a music service if they can’t find what they want to listen to. With CDDB as untidy as it is that is a problem.
Still with me? Good, here’s number five - social. Apple’s launch presentation majored on the social element of their system, a feature which will allow performers to be in touch with their fans. My little heart sinks. How many issues will this create. I’ll toss in some of my favourites - Karajan, DuPre, not to mention Beethoven and Mozart. All passed away.

Does Apple really think top name artists, even those still with a pulse, are going to take time out from their hedonistic lifestyles to post genuine content to their fans via Music? Do you even think their record making machines will let them? No, they will be “helped” by the social media gurus hired by the labels, treating fans to the typical synthetic slush they churn out now for Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that nice gesture by U2 a few months ago? They made their new album freely available via iTunes, and created a tsunami of complaints as everyone found the new tracks forced into their iPods, iPhones and computers. Stand by for more of the same.

Given my tirade of negativity is it all bad news for Apple Music? No, of course not. The strongest feature of any streaming service is the opportunity it gives you to discover, enjoy (and then probably forget) new music and new artists. Speaking as someone who predates The Beatles and The Stones, history shows there are few gems amid the dross. Commercial experience shows that forcing fans (and I speak from bitter experience) to buy a whole album when it contains only one or two decent tracks is counter productive. Artists who produce great albums are outnumbered by those who are either one hit wonders or whose albums hold one or two specks of gold. A streaming service can highlight the newcomers, let you enjoy their best music, then move on when you’re bored.

Over the world millions of people will use and enjoy Apple Music. But rest assured we’ll continue to be ripping CDs for a good few years to come.
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