Questlove by Elion Paz via Dust&Grooves
Adventures in Music Streaming
“I used to work in the record store. I had everything before anyone.”
- LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge”
By adam picard-park
I’ve been a bit busy the past couple of weeks. After some time of self-debate and curiosity, I finally decided to try out Apple Music, and with that came the immense task of moving my 20,000-song library over from Spotify. Sure, there are services that can do it for you, but one, I don’t trust like that, and two, I was interested in taking that journey. I almost felt like it was a way to earn that new membership. I also want to say that this decision was not a political one, I’m keeping Spotify as both services pay out basically the same amount and I don’t listen to Joe Rogan (although I find it funny that Neil Young has a big problem with him but can turn around and say, “Go listen to my music on Amazon, that’s the good company”). I’m not gonna get into the politics or ethics of streaming—I made the switch because of music accessibility. I would have switched to Tidal, but they have a 10,000-song limit on libraries and the app kept glitching out when I tried to use it, so it was out. As I went along this transfer journey, I discovered a lot of other things that I want to break down here as most articles I looked at to find the difference between the two services didn’t give the information that I actually wanted.
Before my college roommate (who also writes for COPY) gifted me Spotify one Christmas, I Youtube-to-mp3’d all of my music. All through high school, I would spend nights downloading songs and meticulously filling in the information for each track. I had accumulated this massive library and didn’t have to worry about download limits or who was streaming and who wasn’t. The only difficulty was the actual storage it filled up. That taught me about much of the music history I know today, but when I got streaming, it was like unlocking a door into this whole new musical experience. Finding new genres, artists, albums, and tracks was so much easier and faster. I started making these massive playlists about anything and everything. There are countless artists I would never have appreciated without Spotify. It’s not perfect by any means, but it was getting the job done. Then Neil Young left. Perhaps it’s because I had listened to After the Gold Rush right before his announcement, but it felt like there was going to be an emptiness in my library and playlists. Sure, in the larger perspective, Young’s music in my library is like a raindrop in a lake, but something felt off when using the service from then on. Now Joni Mitchell and CSNY have left, strengthening that feeling.
I began to look at that Apple Music preview page—the enticing off-white color, the clickable radio hubs, Frank Ocean on the featured artist canvas. It was pulling me in. I found myself reading articles describing the difference between the two services, but nothing told me exactly what I wanted to know. What was the Apple interface like? Was it the same as the iTunes that I had used for all those years back in high school? Where does downloaded music go? I’m a music weirdo, especially when it comes to the sorting of music, but I need to know. One night, my curiosity was piqued and I got the service. I’ve spent the past few days manually moving my library and learning all of the new tricks and tweaks of both services. Here’s what I learned—some things are big issues to consider and some are just small things that might only matter to me and like five other people. Either way, I hope this helps people get the information they need to take full advantage of these services.
Music Not on Streaming
This was the biggest reason I got Apple Music. It is possible to have Joni and Neil on Spotify, but you have to go into the local files option, put all the tracks you want on a separate playlist, download that, then turn on the sharing feature on your phone. It takes forever and it degrades the quality of the crappy mp3’s even more. It won’t even come up in a Spotify search of your own library. Apple Music works so much better with this. Not only can you edit all the information on the mp3, but it will appear alongside all the other music in your library. For an example, take Chance the Rapper’s song “Juice.” It’s missing from streaming because of a sample dispute. You can add the rest of the album Acid Rap to your library, then add a “Juice” mp3 and input the album name and where it appears in the track listing, and it will immediately appear in sequence with the rest of the album. It’s nice to be able to hear and see Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Joanna Newsom, De La Soul, The Grey Album, and the Katamari Damacy soundtrack within the rest of my library.
Apple Music has that soft off-white coloring that comes with most Apple products. I find it comforting because of how long I’ve used iTunes, and it makes the album covers really pop. Spotify has that iconic black and green. It can be sleek, but I find it a little off sometimes when mixed with some of the art on the app.
One of my favorite features on Apple Music is the play tracker because I like to know how much I’ve listened to a song. Plus, you can make a smart playlist of all your unplayed songs so you’ll always have a playlist where you can listen to something new. Spotify doesn’t let you see how many times you’ve listened to a song, and sure, you could use last.fm, but I found that invasive and laggy.
I guess ‘cause Apple likes to be a “family company,” it censors the word “fuck” in song titles, along with some other swear words. It doesn’t censor the actual song, I just think it’s kind of dumb to put f**k on your tracks. Spotify doesn’t do that, so…nice.
As far as I’ve seen Apple Music taps out at about 100,000 songs. If you get there, good for you. Spotify used to have a 10,000-song limit but they got rid of that. I don’t think there is one now, which is good.
The Apple Music search bar is trash. You have to search like the whole song title to find anything, you have to wait for it to load, and it takes you away from your library. The Spotify search bar is great because stuff will just pop up as soon as you start typing.
Sorting through your music on playlists or in your library on Apple Music can be annoying because you have to navigate to the top menu bar and go into View > Options. In Spotify, you can just click on what you wanted sorted by.
Perhaps my favorite Apple Music feature is that once music is added to your library, you can right click and choose “Get Info,” which allows you to completely edit everything about the track. You can add new cover art, change the artist, or change the year. It’s something small, but I really enjoy using it as this was the feature I used to edit all my mp3’s back in the day.
I find the album art on Apple Music to be a bit lower quality. Spotify isn’t the best, but I notice more fuzzy images on its competitor.
Spotify is still and will most likely always be the best at the social aspects of streaming. I can see what my friends are listening to right now. There’s the whole Wrapped hype at the end of the year. Apple Music has nothing like that, but sometimes it’s nice to know that no one can see you listening to “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray at 2 AM. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to call out my friend for listening to “Water Under the Bridge” by Adele five times in a row.
Spotify has recently upped its game here with more quality options, but I like the idea of Apple’s lossless audio. Sometimes I use equipment where I can hear a difference, but I don’t most of the time, so it doesn’t matter too much. Other publications like to treat this like it’s the most important thing, but honestly, 98% of people are not gonna know the difference.
If you’re a big podcast person, you’ve got to stick with Spotify. They just have way more in that arena. Also, if you’re big into Discover Weekly or Daily Mixes, you’ll probably want to stick with Spotify. I haven’t used that feature much, but I have many friends who swear by them. The Apple Music radios are okay, but it’s much easier to discover new things on Spotify.
So there it is, a breakdown of the differences that stuck out to me as I made my way transferring everything from Benny the Butcher to Loretta Lynn to Johann Christian Bach to Talking Heads to Caetano Veloso. I’m not writing this article to sway anyone to choose one over the other. I just wanted to give people some understanding of what the two services have to offer. Streaming music may be problematic, but it’s still such a miracle to me to be able to explore the sonic world that’s open to me with such ease. I just ask that, whatever service you settle on, really take advantage and explore all there is from small genres, big new releases, artists you’ve always wanted to check out, best album lists from some random forums, and any other infinite musical possibilities.