How iTunes Handles Albums, EPs, and Singles

The album is an artificial construct, yet it is the main unit of organization for music. As its name suggests, it was originally a collection of separate records, in a sort of book that was similar to a photo album. (Doug Adams and I discussed the creation of the album in the very first episode of our podcast The Next Track.) For at least 70 years, the Album has dominated music sales and listening.

Album

At the same time, the single has long been the gateway medium for discovering new artists, or for getting the latest songs by your favorite artist. This size of this record – 7 inches – was a sign of the more limited content it contained. But it also played faster, in part to fill up the record; a 7" record at 33 rpm would look half empty if it contained just one song per side. The single wasn’t only a 7" record: in Jamaica, 10" singles were common starting in the 1960s, and 12" singles started being released in the US in the early 1970s. (There were also double singles in gatefold sleeves; I recall a live set by The Cure that contained four songs on two 7" discs.)

Cure

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Why Apple Might Want to Buy Shazam

TechCrunch is reporting:

As Spotify continues to inch towards a public listing, Apple is making a move of its own to step up its game in music services. Sources tell us that the company is close to acquiring Shazam, the popular app that lets people identify any song, TV show, film or advert in seconds, by listening to an audio clip or (in the case of, say, an ad) a visual fragment, and then takes you to content relevant to that search.

The article also says:

It’s not clear what will carry on post acquisition, and which of these might be something that Apple would integrate into its own business (and how), but it’s notable that much of what Shazam does is very synergistic with what Apple is working on already: AR, and more features to attract more users to the Apple Music platform.

My guess is that Shazam has powerful data that Apple currently may not be able to access. While Shazam powers Siri’s music recognition, there may be ways that Apple could leverage this service to get more data that will help them spot trends, and better understand the way people listen to music. Or it could simply be that Apple wants to stop paying Shazam for their service, and since they have boatloads of cash, this allows them to buy it out and control it entirely. And stop sending people to Spotify or other services.

How to Find and Watch Music Videos on Apple Music

Apple Music offers thousands of music videos, but they’re not easy to find. There’s no tab for videos in the Apple Music section of iTunes. Videos show up in a lot of different places. Here’s where you can find them.

You can start by visiting the Browse tab of Apple Music. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see Hot Tracks, New Releases, then Videos. Browse what’s on the screen, then click See All to see the most popular new music videos. (I discuss iTunes here, but you’ll find videos in similar locations in the iOS Music app.)

If you scroll down on this page, you’ll see more videos, but you can’t sort these.

If you search for an artist that has videos available, you’ll find a section on the artist’s page with their videos. Scroll down to Top Videos, then click See All.

You can add any videos you want to your library, if you are using iCloud Music Library. Right-click or Control-click on a video and choose Add to Library. Videos you add will display in the iTunes sidebar (see this article for more on organizing the sidebar.

It’s a shame that videos aren’t grouped, for times when you want to watch music rather than simply listen to it. A single Videos page, with links to the top videos, genres, etc., would be useful.

Apple Music Needs Better Searching

It’s easy to search for Taylor Swift on Apple Music, but try searching for classical music; it’s a disaster. The reason is that Apple Music – and the iTunes Store – only offer single-criteria searches. There’s on search box, and you can type all sorts of terms into it – album names, artists, composers, etc. – but with no specifying which tag you want to search.

iTunes used to have a Power Search feature, which let you search for specific types of media (music, movies, etc.), and with search terms in fields to match specific tags. So you could search for a term in the Album tag in the iTunes Store, or you could find a movie by searching for the director’s name in the Director/Producer tag.

This search feature was demoted when Apple Music was launched, and with iTunes 12.7, was removed entirely.

Unfortunately, this makes searching for classical music very difficult. After reading Alex Ross’s article about John Eliot Gardiner and Monteverdi, I went to Apple Music to listen to one of his recordings. The problem is that his ensembles are called The English Baroque Soloists and The Monteverdi Choir. So the number of results that come up when searching for “Gardiner Monteverdi” is stultifying. (Yes, Sir John has recorded a lot of albums.)

Sure, there are two Monteverdi albums in that list, but there is a lot more Bach. To make things worse, this search only returns 21 albums, whereas clicking on the name of the artist on one of these album pages – English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, & The Monteverdi Choir – returns nearly 100 albums. But none of these searches return all the recordings that he made with this ensemble.

I know, Apple doesn’t care about classical music. But I’ll still complain that the way the company handles this genre shows contempt for the 5% of people who listen to this music. As I’ve written before, there is little information attached to classical recordings, their classical playlists are often stupid, and classical music is for more than just elevators.

There is a wealth of classical music on Apple Music, and if Apple were to devote some time to providing better search tools and more information, they would dominate the market for classical music streaming. I guess 5% of the market isn’t worth fighting for.

Why Can’t Apple Even Try to Get Classical Music Right?

As I browse the For You section of Apple Music, I see a new recording by lutenist Jakob Lindberg, a performer whose work I admire. It’s called A Lute by Sixtus Rauwolf.

Hmm… I’ve never heard of that composer. Who is he? What is this about? There’s plenty of room for descriptions of albums on Apple Music and on the iTunes Store, but this one has nothing. Not a word.

Sixtus

So I go to Google. I find the page on the website of the record label, Bis Records (if you scroll to the very bottom, you’ll see the label name), but the name of the album is slightly different. (A demerit to Bis Records for getting that wrong…)

No matter, there’s a description of the album:

The lute by Sixtus Rauwolf heard on this recording was probably built in the last decade of the sixteenth century. Some hundred years later, in 1715, it was converted to suit the musical tastes and demands of the baroque period. For this disc, Jakob Lindberg has chosen works that could have formed part of the repertory of the presumably German owner of the instrument at around the time of its final conversion.

And there is a track list, with the names of composers, many of whom I have never heard of (Reusner, Dufault, Kellner).

Apple could ask for and display this information. They do display composers, for some albums. And in this case, if I get info for any of the tracks, the composers’ names are visible. Yet they don’t get carried over to the Apple Music display, even though for many classical albums composers’ names are clearly identified.

I know, classical music is just a small percentage of the market. But Apple could try harder. I shouldn’t have to Google an album to find out even the basic information about it, such as the composers it contains. If I’m browsing Apple Music, I’m more inclined to want to listen to an obscure album if I know something about it.

But it’s not hip-hop; there’s no “Feat.” artists, which are carefully detailed for every song which contains such a credit.

This information is available. As for the composers, there’s no excuse; it’s in the tags. Apple messed up; they should be displaying those names. As for the rest, Apple could ask record labels to provide blurbs, texts that they already supply to online vendors of downloads and CDs; texts they include on their websites and in their catalogs. Not just for classical music, but for all music.

Apple isn’t trying.

(By the way; if you like old lute music, do check out this album. Excellent playing by Lindberg, as usual, and great sound.)

How to Use Apple Music’s Personal DJ Feature to Create Your Own Personal Radio Station

New in Apple Music, as part of iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, is a feature that Apple calls Personal DJ. This is a sort of Apple Music Radio station that is tailor-made to your musical taste.

Personal djApparently, the only way to invoke this is by asking Siri – on an iOS device or a Mac – to “Play some music,” or a similar phrase. This launches your personal radio station, whose “artwork” you’ll see as that to the left, with your photo or avatar, if you’ve added one to your profile. (Read this article to learn how to set up an Apple Music profile, and how to share your listening history.)

After you have played this once, it will show up in the Recently Played section of For You, or in the Radio section of iTunes or the iOS Music app. So you’ll be able to launch it from there.

The music played by this station seems to include the following:

  • Music you have purchased from the iTunes Store (if any).
  • Music you have added to your iCloud Music Library.
  • Music from Apple Music that you have loved.
  • Music from Apple Music that you have played.

When I’ve listened to this, it has included some music that I had added to my iCloud Music Library from Apple Music, but that I had since deleted, because I didn’t like it. So that suggests that one of the criteria is music that has been played, even just once.

Update: Over time, as Apple Music has learned my listening habits, I have found this to be one of the best ways to listen to Apple Music when I have no specific artist or album in mind. The selection is interesting, combining music I know and music that is similar to that of my tastes. My only issue with it is that I listen to music across a wide range of genres, and sometime my radio station plays only classical music, others only rock, and others only jazz. I would love to have multiple personal radio stations that play according to my listening history, but filtered by genre.

Can’t Enable iCloud Music Library on Your iOS Device? Try This

I got a new iPhone 8 Plus on Friday. I set up the device by transferring data from my backup, and everything worked fine. But there was one feature I wanted to turn on on the new iPhone that I hadn’t used before: iCloud Music Library.

I have a very large music library. And I like listening to my music from my carefully curated and tagged collection. But it’s always been a compromise to sync music to my iPhone. I have such a large library that I can only sync a subset of the music. That’s fine; I don’t listen to that much music on the go. But it’s a lot of work to keep adding and removing music.

While I don’t listen to music away from home that much, I previously had another limit. My phone plan only offered 750 MB of data. I could have paid for more, but I didn’t need it, and plans with more data were fairly expensive from my provider. But a few months ago, my phone provider had an offer: for a few pounds more per month, I could get 8 GB of data.

So I had two choices with the new iPhone. I could either pay for 256 GB storage, or I could settle for the base storage amount of 64 GB (which is finally a fair size). I opted to save the money and use iCloud Music Library.

Note that I haven’t merged my music library with iCloud Music Library; I have a test library that I’ve maintained for many years, starting when iTunes Match was released, on my laptop. So I now can access that library on my iPhone, and my iPad, and I can add and rate music on my iPhone, and listen to music from that library.

So, with the new iPhone, I went to turn on iCloud Music Library. About five minutes later, I saw this:

Icloud music cant enable

If you Google this issue, you’ll see lots of “solutions;” most merely suggesting that you keep trying until it works. Well, I tried, and tried, a dozen times; it didn’t work. I called Apple, frustrated, and ended up having three different calls with three advisors, finally reaching a senior advisor. They didn’t know what to do. Since it was a brand new device, it was clear that restoring it wouldn’t help.

While awaiting to hear back from Apple next week, I had a flash of inspiration yesterday. I knew this wasn’t a network problem (the suggestion from Apple advisor #1), or a problem that could be fixed by force restarting the phone (advisor #2), but it had to have something to do with the music database on the device. I’ve seen similar problems in the past that could be resolved by deleting that database; something that you need special software to do.

So I thought I’d try something else. I tried download a purchased album. After the album was on my device, I went back to Settings > Music and tried turning on iCloud Music Library. The process takes several minutes, but I could see that it was happening differently when I went to the Playlists entry in the Music app. There was a progress bar. It was moving slowly, but it did move.

After about ten minutes, I had my iCloud Music Library on my iPhone.

What I think happened is that there was something wonky in the music database, and that downloading an album – even a song might have worked – cleared or fixed it. So, if you can’t enable iCloud Music Library, try downloading a purchased track – if you don’t have any, spend a buck and buy a song – and see if that helps. If it does, please post a comment below so I know if my solution is helping anyone else.

How to Share Your Listening History in Apple Music

With the release of iOS 11 and iTunes 12.7, you can now share your listening history and see what your friends are listening to. People can follow you, and you can follow them; or you can keep your profile private, approving those friends you want to allow to see what you listen to. But the whole process can be confusing. Here’s how to set up and used shared listening histories.

The first thing you need to de is set up your Apple Music profile. To do this, in iTunes, or in the iOS Music app, go to For You and click or tap your avatar. (This will just show a head and shoulders silhouette if you haven’t set up your profile.) Tap or click Edit.

You’ll see your name and username; if you haven’t yet set a username, you can do so here. (It’s an @ name, like on Twitter.)

If you want to add a photo, tap the avatar circle and choose Take Photo to take a photo with your iOS device’s or computer’s camera, or Choose Photo to pick a photo that’s in your Photos library.

If you look a bit lower on the screen, you’ll see an option Who Can Follow Your Activity. If you want it to be public, leave the default Everyone checked. If not, tap or click People You Approve. (If you stay private, you’ll get emails whenever someone wants to follow you; it’s up to you to accept them or not.)

Below that, you’ll find playlists that you’ve created with Apple Music, either on your iOS device or in iTunes. You can select the ones you want to share with others (by default none are selected). This is a good way to share your favorite music with friends, who will see the playlists and their contents, including any new music you add, but you don’t need to share playlists if you don’t want to.

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The 10,000 Track Limit: Why I Switched from Spotify to Apple Music – TidBITS

Say what you will about the deluge of subscriptions, but I like subscribing to a streaming music service so I can explore music without the stress of having to decide if I want to buy any particular track.

[…]

but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I ran headfirst into Spotify’s 10,000 track limit. You read that right — despite the fact that Spotify is a streaming service that contains over 30 million tracks, you cannot add more than 10,000 to your collection. This utterly arbitrary limit was a true deal-breaker.

I had no idea that Spotify had a 10,000-track limit. We groaned back in the day when iTunes Match was launched with a 25,000-track limit, and we sighed with relief when that was increased, both for iTunes Match and Apple Music – to 100,000 tracks. Naturally, it’s a bit different, since Apple’s services let you upload your own library. But since with Spotify you don’t use any of their server space, why have such a low limit?

Someone at Apple told me a few years ago that the average user has a library of a few thousand tracks. But, again, this is a combination of their own music and music they’ve added from Apple Music. With a service like this, which allows you to listen to millions of tracks, how can they limit your collection to 10,000?

Source: The 10,000 Track Limit: Why I Switched from Spotify to Apple Music – TidBITS

My Apple Music Chill Mix Isn’t Very Chill

Apple has started rolling out the new “Chill Mix” in the For You section of Apple Music to more users. Mine showed up a few days ago.

Chill mix

The thing is, it’s not very chill. Here’s the type of music it contains:

Chill mix list

I listen to a lot of ambient music on Apple Music, and some classical music, which would seem a lot more “chill” than the blues in the list. The Chill Mix is supposed to help me “relax and unwind”:

Chill mix tagline

But I don’t see this as relaxing music.

Interestingly, every single song in my Chill Mix is blues; there’s nothing else, nothing from the vast range of music I listen to, just one genre. I guess it’s not really “Tailored to my musical taste.” Or I broke the Apple Music algorithm again.