Since music streaming services are in the news again (for some reason) I figured now would be a good time to write about where I’m at with streaming music.
First, a little background. I jumped on the streaming music bandwagon with Rdio (R.I.P.) back in June 2013, long before Spotify came to Canada and way before Apple Music was born. I loved Rdio; it had a great catalogue with almost everything I cared about, and their app was gorgeous on iOS. From that point I knew I was hooked on streaming. Syncing MP3s to my iPhone through iTunes suddenly felt archaic, and I knew I’d never go back to that full-time.
When Spotify finally came to Canada in August 2014, initially in beta, I signed up out of curiosity. Many of my American nerd friends had been using Spotify for years, so I’d been hearing how good it was for a while. I liked Spotify, particularly the ability to sync local files to fill in the gaps in their library, but I wasn’t a fan of their app’s UI, which was pretty bad at the time. In June 2015, I switched again – ditching Spotify for the exciting newness of Apple Music, which I’ve been using ever since. There was a brief stint with Tidal’s free trial in there too, which lasted about a week.
Now, about my switching problem…
You see, I love apps, so much so that I sometimes have a hard time committing to one over another. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve switched between Pocket and Instapaper, Tweetbot and Twitter, or Spotify and Rdio and Apple Music. When it comes to music, I have a very emotional reaction to certain songs, but less of an emotional connection to my library as a whole. I find a song or album I like, listen to it until I find something new, and move on. So for me, switching music streaming apps isn’t a huge deal as I’m not particularly worried about losing anything.
Looking back through old email receipts, my timeline of switching music services looks something like this:
June 3, 2013: Subscribed to Rdio
August 12, 2014: Subscribed to Spotify
September 4, 2014: Cancelled Rdio
November 7, 2014: Cancelled Spotify, switched back to Rdio
December 13, 2014: Cancelled Rdio, switched back to Spotify
June 25, 2015: Cancelled Spotify, switched to Tidal
June 30, 2015: Cancelled Tidal, switched to Apple Music
November 28, 2015: Subscribed to Spofity…
…45 minutes later: Cancelled Spotify
April 10, 2016: Cancelled Apple Music, switched back to Spotify
Yeah. I’m a little crazy.
Since last June I’ve been using and (mostly) enjoying Apple Music. Apple Music’s greatest benefit is the ability to have streaming songs plus purchased music from iTunes and downloaded MP3s seamlessly together in one library, all with proper metadata and album artwork attached (which is very important to me). Yet, with its 1st birthday quickly approaching, Apple Music is still plagued with technical issues, and while the company has made improvements there are still some killer bugs to be squashed. On more than one occassion, iCloud Music Library has decided to turn itself off on my iPhone, wiping out my downloaded music in the process. Other users have had huge issues with incorrect metadata and song-matching. The last straw for me came a few weeks ago: I was on the subway heading home from work, without cellular or WiFi access, when Apple Music decided all of my downloaded songs were suddenly “not authorized” and refused to play anything. Force quitting the app didn’t fix the problem, nor did connecting to WiFi which I thought might force the app to “authorize” everything again. Nope. There I was, mid-way through my evening commute unable to listen to any music. This wasn’t the first time I had this issue either, but I decided it would be the last time. At least for now.
So I switched back to Spotify, and it’s fine. It plays music and their library has all the music I want – save for Adele’s 25. I have fallen in love with Discover Weekly, Spotify’s tailored, algorithm-driven playlist feature that updates every Monday with new music recommendations. It’s eerie how well Discover Weekly knows my taste, consitently delivering new songs that I love from artists I’ve never heard of. Still I’m not fully satisfied with Spotify; their app regularly takes 15 to 20 seconds to realize that my iPhone has a network connection, and I’m not sure why. I’m told it could be a network handoff issue, but the same happens on my iPad and MacBook – neither of which have cellular access. My home network isn’t the problem either, as Spotify takes its time connecting over LTE as well when I’m out and about. It’s annoying that I have to wait at all before I can listen to music in the app I use for listening to music. As for getting my Adele fix, Spotify does support local files so I can listen to my purchased copy of 25… without album artwork, which Spotify inexplicably doesn’t support for local files. That drives me mad.
Each service has other benefits as well. Apple Music works on my Apple Watch, so I can start playback and browse my library from my wrist. Spotify works with the Amazon Echo, which I don’t yet own but am intrigued by, and it’s nice to know that option exists should I ever cave and welcome Alexa into my home. Spotify also has a web player so I can access and stream music on my work computer, while Apple Music is stuck inside iTunes on the desktop.
I’m sure I’ll end up back on Apple Music following WWDC, where it’s likely the service will see some updates as part of iOS 10. For now I remain torn between two good music streaming services, neither of which is perfect in my eyes. My ongoing game of streaming music-al chairs continues.