Apple Music: More Like Apple Payola

Upon the occasion of my purchase of an Apple HomePod–the purportedly audiophile quality compact speaker equipped with a computer that allows it to serve as a digital “assistant” and to play various music streams without the aid of any computer–Apple rewarded me with a three-month subscription to Apple Music so that I can enjoy this gift that Apple claims it has bestowed upon music lovers for the measly price of $9.99 monthly.

Is Apple Music a gift to music lovers? No, but it is made for music lovers. There is no doubt that this service provides the highest quality music to be streamed anywhere. Every recording is engineered perfectly to deliver the highest fidelity playback on any device. Whether I am streaming from my iPhone, iPad or computer, the music playback is vastly superior to any recording I have ever ripped off a cd, any music I have streamed from the internet or any recording I have played back from a CD. This is true on both sound bars in my house: a Boston Acoustics TeeVee 25 and a JBL Bar 3.1. Music streamed from Apple Music simply sounds best.

The musical selection on Apple Music is also simply incredible. Just about any song one can imagine is available at this absurdly high fidelity playback. I haven’t been able to stump the system yet, but someone likely will in the future. (Comment if you have noticed obscure titles that are missing from their collections.)

Nevertheless, the payola aspect of Apple Music is what prevents me from continuing with Apple Music. It is nearly impossible to find new music through the channels that Apple’s “curators” have assembled. Virtually every channel is dominated by the songs that major label promote; this is the same drivel that dominates the top 40 and the same garbage whose incessant playback has made commercial radio insufferable to anyone with a modicum of taste.

This is no surprise, of course, because Apple, like radio stations, reaps most of its profits this way. Major labels likely incentivize Apple to promote their music. Both parties win. On a per song average, Apple probably pays a smaller royalty, but the label still gets a bigger chunk of the $9.99 we pay because their songs take up a larger fraction of the songs played. As such this payola comes as much of a disappointment.

It is entirely possible, of course, that Apple is simply trying to appeal to the masses by adopting the commercial radio model because that’s the fastest way to attract the largest number of listeners.

It could also be possible that I am rushing to judgment because I haven’t spent enough time training Apple’s algorithms to learn my taste in music, but if this is indeed the case, then perhaps Apple should be paying me for training its algorithms to learn my personality. Even if not, having music channels that are curated by humans who have good taste in music rather than humans who are directed to maximize profit is a far more efficient process. 

Consequently, I shall not abandon my current plan. I subscribe to, a single subscription that includes access to its sister services and for pop, rock, jazz and classical, respectively. Combined, the five services offer hundreds of human-curated channels that take you beyond the pedestrian offerings of the large record labels and introduce you to new music. Artists can actually submit their music for consideration to the curator of each channel. What’s better is that if you prefer the ad-supported model, you can simply listen to all these stations for free and sit through the ad interruptions. Subscription removes ads and delivers better sound quality.

This old method of listening to internet radio stations that play new music and then buying the songs I like from iTunes remains preferable to me. Until Apple makes it easier to escape the hopelessly hackneyed and unbearably boring bubble of top 40 music, is the way to go. What’s more is that at $74 a year,  this subscription is much cheaper than Apple Music. Why pay more for less?

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