Apple Music’s “Recently Played” Problem

You can listen to Apple Music to hear the songs you know, or to discover new music. The “discovery” feature is one of the main selling points of streaming services, which offer tens of millions of tracks. But this discovery is very difficult. As I recently wrote, it’s not easy to play music that you can’t remember. If music isn’t in your library, and you need to search for it or, even more difficultly, use Siri to request it, you will generally not play a great deal of music. You will remember your favorite albums, your favorite songs, the artists you have listened to for a long time; or you will listen to the biggest hits, the current favorites that you hear, perhaps, in a playlist of new music.

While you can discover lots of music on any streaming service, Apple Music makes it difficult to find out what you have discovered. Sure, you can look at your iPhone, or ask Siri, and you’ll know what is being played at a given time. But what if you are out running, listening to a long playlist in shuffle mode; when you get home, you cannot find which songs you heard. You may want to go back and pick some of those songs to add them to your library for your next workout. But if you look at the Recently Played section of For You, all you see are icons for albums or playlists. Even if you play just one song from an album or playlist, you see that icon; nothing tells you exactly what you listened to.

Recently played

This is even worse if you listen to an Apple Music radio station. You will see the station in Recently Played, but you won’t see any listening history. The only place you can see that is on the Radio tab, in the Up Next button, under History.

It’s more confusing because Apple Music lists something as “played” even if you’ve only listened to it for a few seconds. Say you have been sampling some new albums that show up in For You. You start playing one of them, you listen for a minute or so, and you don’t really care for the music, so you stop and try another album. The Recently Played section shows that you have listened to that album. It doesn’t show that you stopped listening to it, that you moved on to something else, that you did not like it. If you’re sampling a lot of music, this makes it very difficult to remember what you did like; unless you choose to “Love” every track that you like just a little bit.

Apple is erring on the side of caution here. They don’t want to not include the music that you listen to, so they include everything and more. What they should be doing is only showing an album if you have started playing the album itself, rather than a song in an album. And they should show songs that you played outside an album or playlist separately. Or, when you select an album or playlist in the Recently Played section, they should somehow indicate which songs you listened to. And they should probably not include any songs that you haven’t listened to all the way through, or nearly. When you play music in iTunes, it only counts as played if you have listened to it up until at least 10 seconds from the end; you can skip ahead during the final fadeout, and iTunes will still count the track as played.

Most people don’t care too much about this; they listen to music as wallpaper, they listen to a playlist because someone or some algorithm suggested it. But for those who are actually interested in discovering new music, it would be useful if Apple improved this Recently Played section.

26 thoughts on “Apple Music’s “Recently Played” Problem

  1. An additional problem I’m encountering is you can’t identify tracks within a station after they’ve played. For instance, if I listen to an ambient station on my HomePod, and heard a track I like, but failed to ask Siri what track it was while it was playing, there’s no way to find it later. Bummer.

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be a list of tracks I’ve loved.

    • You can, but it’s in a different place. I’ve added this to the article:

      This is even worse if you listen to an Apple Music radio station. You will see the station in Recently Played, but you won’t see any listening history. The only place you can see that is on the Radio tab, in the Up Next button, under History.

    • “Also, there doesn’t seem to be a list of tracks I’ve loved.”

      One thing that needs to be specified when discussing Apple Music is whether we’re referring to iOS or PC (Windows/macOS). Using iTunes, I can create a smart playlist showing songs I have “loved,” and this playlist will sync to my iOS devices.

  2. An additional problem I’m encountering is you can’t identify tracks within a station after they’ve played. For instance, if I listen to an ambient station on my HomePod, and heard a track I like, but failed to ask Siri what track it was while it was playing, there’s no way to find it later. Bummer.

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be a list of tracks I’ve loved.

    • You can, but it’s in a different place. I’ve added this to the article:

      This is even worse if you listen to an Apple Music radio station. You will see the station in Recently Played, but you won’t see any listening history. The only place you can see that is on the Radio tab, in the Up Next button, under History.

    • “Also, there doesn’t seem to be a list of tracks I’ve loved.”

      One thing that needs to be specified when discussing Apple Music is whether we’re referring to iOS or PC (Windows/macOS). Using iTunes, I can create a smart playlist showing songs I have “loved,” and this playlist will sync to my iOS devices.

    • No, it’s still there. When in music, it shows music history, and in the Radio tab, it shows radio history.

      • Oh, you’re referring to the Recently Played sections of the tabs. I was actually referring to the part of the Now Playing poster view where when you swipe up, below the lyrics section, there used to be a history you could scroll through of all songs played in Apple Music.

    • No, it’s still there. When in music, it shows music history, and in the Radio tab, it shows radio history.

      • Oh, you’re referring to the Recently Played sections of the tabs. I was actually referring to the part of the Now Playing poster view where when you swipe up, below the lyrics section, there used to be a history you could scroll through of all songs played in Apple Music.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with this.

    It’s particularly annoying when you listen to My New Music mix for a few days, start to like a couple of the tracks (without making a note of their names), and then when you return to the list to play them one more they’ve been replaced by this week’s new playlist! And if you’ve been playing these tracks from your phone they won’t even be available on Recently Played.

    I don’t believe my iTunes on my iMac picks up the Recently Played tracks I played from my iPhone.

    • I know that the gist of this thread is to call out Apple for not doing more to help us better manage our Apple Music, but while we wait for them to improve capabilities, there are ways to work around these annoyances (e.g., iTunes smart playlists as I commented earlier).

      I really value discovering new music using My New Music Mix every week. If I love a track in that playlist, I immediately add it to a manual playlist (“New Discoveries”) which I created for safekeeping these loved tracks. Using the Workflow app in iOS, I can do the same thing with the push of one button from the iOS widget view in the lock screen.

      Yes, Apple should do more to improve Apple Music usability, but there are tools and techniques available to us now that can get us close to most of what we’re looking for, IMHO.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with this.

    It’s particularly annoying when you listen to My New Music mix for a few days, start to like a couple of the tracks (without making a note of their names), and then when you return to the list to play them one more they’ve been replaced by this week’s new playlist! And if you’ve been playing these tracks from your phone they won’t even be available on Recently Played.

    I don’t believe my iTunes on my iMac picks up the Recently Played tracks I played from my iPhone.

    • I know that the gist of this thread is to call out Apple for not doing more to help us better manage our Apple Music, but while we wait for them to improve capabilities, there are ways to work around these annoyances (e.g., iTunes smart playlists as I commented earlier).

      I really value discovering new music using My New Music Mix every week. If I love a track in that playlist, I immediately add it to a manual playlist (“New Discoveries”) which I created for safekeeping these loved tracks. Using the Workflow app in iOS, I can do the same thing with the push of one button from the iOS widget view in the lock screen.

      Yes, Apple should do more to improve Apple Music usability, but there are tools and techniques available to us now that can get us close to most of what we’re looking for, IMHO.

  5. Can I add to the Apple Music recently played frustrations. Thought it’s all the same account, each of my devices has a different “Recently Played” list. So if I listen on my laptop at work, then try to find a song on my phone when I’m out running, it’s doesn’t exist. My phone only remembers what it played. Seriously, Apple?! (Am I missing something? I can’t find any setting to change this behavior….it’s like I’m a different person on my phone and laptop.)

  6. Can I add to the Apple Music recently played frustrations. Thought it’s all the same account, each of my devices has a different “Recently Played” list. So if I listen on my laptop at work, then try to find a song on my phone when I’m out running, it’s doesn’t exist. My phone only remembers what it played. Seriously, Apple?! (Am I missing something? I can’t find any setting to change this behavior….it’s like I’m a different person on my phone and laptop.)

  7. Be on a regular laptop
    Go to the mini player mode of iTunes
    There in the history is what my current apple music radio station played when I tried to shazam right as the song ended!

  8. Be on a regular laptop
    Go to the mini player mode of iTunes
    There in the history is what my current apple music radio station played when I tried to shazam right as the song ended!

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