Two Weeks with Beats Music

It’s been two weeks since Beats Music launched, and I was a day-one subscriber. I even bought into the “save your name” campaign they were running, and made sure to get the name I wanted.

First things first: the launch was a disaster. Beats Music worked barely and rarely during the first 48 hours. When it did work, it was pretty cool, though. I waited patiently for the opening day growing pains to be taken care of, and haven’t had any problems getting into or using it since then. I’ve spent a good deal of time with Beats Music over the past 14 days, and overall, it’s been a mostly positive experience.

The UI is, for the most part, great. There are some minor annoyances with some of the gestures being a little hard to initiate due to a small area to tap on, but more often than not it works exactly like you’d want it to. The on boarding process is simple, fast, and actually pretty enjoyable. You’re presented with bubbles that have different genres of music in them; one tap means you like that genre, two means you love it, and holding your finger on it for 3 seconds will cut it completely. After you’ve chosen the genres your interested in, you’re presented with a second bubble field of bands. You repeat the process, and that’s it. You’re looking at a screen of music that’s been chosen for you. On first launch, I was amazed at how accurate the selections were. Playlist after playlist of songs that I already knew and loved were presented to me.

I went through, liking and disliking diligently. I made sure to let Beats know how happy I was when they’d given me gold, and how disappointed I was when they gave me Mumford & Sons. This is when things started to fall apart a bit… the big draw of Beats Music is supposed to be the curated playlists that are handled by real, music-loving human beings. That’s all well and good until it starts handing you professionally curated playlists of things that you’ve explicitly stated that you hate.

I’m a rock/metal guy. I like angry, aggressive music. I do not like Belle and Sebastian. I’ve told Beats Music that I do not like Belle and Sebastian by hating all of their albums and all of their songs individually. Still, I’m being handed a playlist entitled “Intro to Belle and Sebastian”. Yes, I’ve hated the playlist. No, it won’t go away. It’s almost like those playlists aren’t refreshing. Is it possible that I was too enthusiastic and have exhausted every recommendation that the brain trust behind all of those curated playlists has for me? That feeling of “wow, this actually works” has been slowly replaced with “wow, this app doesn’t listen to me at all”. That’s a frustrating feeling, and one that flies in the face of their advertising campaign; the more I’ve rated, the worse my suggestions have gotten.

There are only two other negatives regarding Beats Music, and one of them is the lack of a “radio” option. In Spotify, for example, I can start a radio station from anything. Artist, song, album, playlist… literally anything. Beats Music doesn’t do that. I’m assuming they don’t have that feature due to the last complaint I have about the service, and they call it The Sentence.

In theory, The Sentence is amazing… a mad-libs style fill-in-the-blank affair that should be able to give you music to fit any situation or circumstance you find yourself in. In reality, it’s a horribly executed gimmick that really has no use whatsoever. It’s really only good for jokes. Trying to make a playlist based on “punching walls to hardcore” left me skipping through middling punk tracks from the late 70s. After 10 skips (and hates) in a row, I gave up. On the flip side of that, I was able to get “Loose Booty” by Sly & The Family Stone by saying “I’m at the gym & feel like taking my clothes off with the boys to disco.” The Sentence, in its current form, isn’t providing the magic they’re advertising. It’s an incredibly hit or miss option that really doesn’t add anything at all to the overall experience.

I don’t dislike Beats Music, and I haven’t given up on it. There are some issues to work out and some growing pains to get through, and I’m aware of that. I’m not deleting the app from any of my devices just yet. I still think the UI is great, and the audio quality is superb. I love having a library instead of having to rely solely on playlists like I’m forced to do in Spotify. For now though, I have gone back to Spotify. I’m still watching Beats Music intently in the hopes that each update brings it closer to being the service that I hoped it would be.

Bands: Please Don’t “Grow”

 

The music industry is a fickle one. With the constant progression of technology (as well as bandwidth available at any and every┬áplace) physical media is all but dead. It’s expensive to make, expensive to buy, and it takes up tons of real-world space, especially if you’re a collector. It’s hard enough to get someone to buy a whole album these days, when the .99 single is king.

So why change your style?

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re… I don’t know, Linkin Park. You release an album called Hybrid Theory, and it makes you a lot of money. Many radio singles are produced from this album, and in general, it’s a massive success. Next step? You release an album called Meteora, which is essentially the same album that you’ve already released. People love it; they buy it and support it. There are more singles that get radio play. Ignoring that weird-ass self-indulgent remix album that you’re allowed at this point, what’s your next move? Make part three, right? Nope. You release some God-awful thing called Minutes to Midnight, completely ditching the sound that got you where you are. Surely by this point you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh crap, self… we really need to go back to what we know. We were good at it and people enjoyed it!”. Right? Nope again. Instead, you release A Thousand Suns, which is, unbelievably, even worse than its predecessor. So now, for your next release, you tout a “return to your roots” type of affair, Living Things, which is what people wanted in the first place… and you manage to turn out a mediocre record at best.

At this point, it’s too late. The ship has sailed. While you were lost in the search for “artistic growth”, the one thing that made you you was lost… and so was your audience.

On the other side of things, you’ve got bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise (both punk bands) that’ve been putting out the same record for years now (and in the case of Bad Religion, decades). You know what to expect from these bands, and that isn’t boring. It’s comforting. One of the things that people hate the most is change. One of the things that people get the most enjoyment from is music. If you’re making music that people love, why mess that up? Another good example is The Birthday Massacre. I love them, and I’ve bought every record they’ve put out. They have a very distinct sound… if you’ve heard them before, you can listen to 10 seconds of a song and pretty much know it’s them. They have a new record releasing in October, and I’m confident that I know what it’s going to sound like. Likewise, I’m confident that they’ll be receiving my money for their efforts.

As a consumer and a lover of music, the only thing that makes me feel worse than thinking about the current state of music is when a band that I love┬áputs out a record I don’t recognize. It’s like you’ve bumped into a dear friend from a few years back, but they’ve changed into something completely different and… bad. Suddenly, you don’t want to be friends with them anymore, and honestly, you’re just a tad embarrassed that you were ever their friend to begin with.

I would ask this of all bands: don’t make us ashamed to have been your friends. We love you for who you are. To quote everyone’s yearbook, “Don’t ever change!”