Sticking with Spotify

Tech Life

I’m aware I’m not a regular user when it comes to music. My reasons for sticking with Spotify are utterly personal and come from how I listen to music and how I’ve configured things on my Macs and in the household. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Now, before even downloading iOS 8.4 or the latest iTunes version and all that, the first thing I did was catching up with Kirk McElhearn’s blog. I’ve been following Kirk for years, and I realised his type of iTunes usage/configuration is similar to mine. I also imagined he wouldn’t miss the chance to test Apple Music and report, so I was waiting to read his reactions in that regard. Especially because my setup doesn’t allow me the luxury of testing stuff. (I keep wishing I could afford a second Intel Mac to use as a test machine, but that, I’m afraid, is not going to happen.)

Kirk wrote a series of short posts whose links are neatly arranged in this summary post: First Impressions of Apple Music. He confirms many of my initial fears. Here are a few quotes.

From Apple Music’s For You Selections Are not For Me:

Apple knows a lot about my musical tastes. It knows what I’ve bought from the iTunes Store, and it knows what’s in my iTunes library through its Genius feature. So it should get a lot better than that.


Over time, Apple Music is supposed to learn from what you like, and what you don’t. In the recommendations in the For You section, you can tap an album and press until you see a (very long) menu. Tap Recommend Less Like This to tell Apple Music that you don’t like their selection. But that doesn’t remove it from the recommendations.

I’ve had a Premium Spotify account since late 2010, and when I access the Discover section, the recommendations I get are absolutely spot-on 98% of the time, considering that I share the account with my wife. She and I have similar musical tastes, and that remaining 2% are recommendations that work specifically for her, who listens to more opera than I do. I don’t have time to train Apple Music to reach the same level of accuracy I already enjoy with Spotify.

From the self-explanatory iCloud Music Library Screws Up Album Artwork:

After turning on Apple Music and iCloud Music Library, I noticed that a lot of my albums had artwork that was wrong.

I don’t want this to happen with my iTunes library. In fact, I really don’t want Apple Music to mess with my library at all. I’ve been building my iTunes library for 13 years. It has grown to a considerable size. It’s not huge, but complex enough. I have a lot of albums ripped from CDs and even vinyls. More than a half of my library contains music that is not on the iTunes Store. A lot of what’s not on the iTunes Store is ripped at high-quality bitrates. Over the years, I have painstakingly searched for the correct album artwork of everything I ripped, and copied & pasted good resolution images; everything is carefully tagged; every album and artist information meticulously entered and consolidated to avoid orphan tracks or strange duplicates or songs belonging to an album being assigned to a different one; and so on and so forth. Maybe I’m paranoid or OCD when it comes to these things, but I don’t need and I don’t want Apple Music or iCloud Music Library to mess up anything, no matter whatever convenience I may get in return.

It seems that lots of people see Apple Music’s integration as the winning feature, but I’m actually happy to keep things compartmentalised. When I’m at home, I use the iTunes library on my MacBook Pro to listen to the music I already own and have ripped for convenience. If I feel like listening to classical music, I have another, separate iTunes library on my G4 Cube with my favourites, all ripped in Apple Lossless format. And if I feel like listening to music I don’t own, or discovering new music and artists, I fire up Spotify and take advantage of what the service offers. Given that my wife and I have different habits and daily schedules, it’s quite rare that we both feel like listening to Spotify at the same time. When that happens, finding an agreement is very easy.

As for the music on my iPhone and iPad, I only have a few albums stored locally. Most of the time, it’s Spotify. Actually, most of the time I’m out and about either I don’t listen to music at all, or if I do, it’s usually random songs picked from a careful selection uploaded on my iPod shuffle. I do the curation work, thanks very much.

I really like how Spotify can be non-intrusive. If I want to add locally saved music to Spotify’s application, I can do so by entering Spotify’s Preferences and telling the app to Show Tracks From: iTunes, Downloads, or My Music. I keep all those settings off, and things stay happily separated. No overlaps, no confusion about what comes from Spotify and what is ripped and saved locally. If I want to discover new stuff or get recommendations, I choose to do so by entering the Discover section. There are no interferences while I listen, there is no training process to go through. I also find very handy to use Spotify playlists to ‘bookmark’ the albums I like to return to often, or things I found after a more complex search (e.g. certain film soundtracks, which I found more easily by discovering first who the composer is and then entering their name, than just looking for the film’s title). I currently have about a hundred playlists on Spotify: transferring all that information to Apple Music — which means finding all those albums on Apple Music manually, etc. — is something I really don’t have the time or the will to do.

To sum up: I manage my iTunes libraries in a very specific, meticulous way. I have sizeable, complex, neatly compiled & arranged iTunes libraries on different Macs and I want them to remain that way, without interferences. I want to maintain the streaming music part separated from the music that’s been ripped, saved and catalogued locally, so using a third-party streaming service like Spotify makes a lot of sense to me. On top of that, I’m happy with Spotify’s service and how easily it lets me keep things separated. And after five years of being a paying customer, I’ve accumulated a lot of preferences in Spotify, and its algorithm for recommending me new music is very well honed and basically perfect.

Last but not least, my Spotify account is shared with my wife. If we close our Spotify account, it’s certain we couldn’t use an Apple Music subscription in the same way, because we would have to use either my Apple ID or her Apple ID, which in turn is a mess because it’s also tied to other Apple services. Yes, we could probably set up a family account, and so on and so forth, but I really don’t see a good reason why we should go to all that trouble when ultimately we’re quite happy with how things work with Spotify. The principle Why fix what is not broken? definitely applies here. Apple Music doesn’t look compelling enough to make such a change.

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