Today Apple Music has joined a unified effort in the music industry to raise awareness about the injustice of racism and show support for Black communities around the world. Black Out Tuesday is being observed in different ways by different organizations, but Apple Music’s approach involves a full-page takeover of the For You and Browse sections in the app, which currently feature a message of solidarity and a single option: Listen Together. Selecting this will begin playing a special radio stream celebrating Black artists.
Apple Music users will still be able to access their full Library today, as well as use the search option to discover new music. But for the remainder of the day, the standard recommendations from Apple’s staff, algorithmic playlists, and any other radio content including normal Beats 1 programming will all be unavailable.
For as long as I can remember being interested in music as more than a mere source of background audio, but as an art form, I’ve been interested in the people who make music – the artists and their craft. Back when I used to buy CDs at my favorite record store in Viterbo, my hometown, I would peruse each album’s liner notes to not only read official lyrics and check out the artwork and/or exclusive photographs contained inside the booklet, but also to read the credits so I could know more about who arranged or mixed a particular track. Beyond the feeling of owning a tangible piece of music, there was something about reading through an album’s credits that served as a simple, yet effective reminder: that people – engineers, instrumentalists, vocalists, producers – created the art I enjoyed.
In today’s world of endless, a la carte streaming catalogs, we’ve reduced all of this to a cold technological term: metadata. Our music listening behaviors have shifted and evolved with time; when we browse Apple Music or Spotify, we’re inclined to simply search for a song or an album and hit play before we return to another app or game on our phones. A streaming service isn’t necessarily a place where we want to spend time learning more about music: it’s just a convenient, neatly designed delivery mechanism. The intentionality of sitting down to enjoy an artist’s creation has been lost to the allure of content and effortless consumption. Don’t get me wrong: I love the comfort of music streaming services, and I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber; but this is also why, for well over a year now, I’ve been rebuilding a personal music collection I can enjoy with a completely offline high-res music player.
Whether by design or as a byproduct of our new habits, metadata and credits don’t play a big role in modern music streaming services. We’re frustrated when a service gets the title of a song wrong or reports the incorrect track sequence in an album, but we don’t consider the fact that there’s a world of context and additional information hidden behind the songs and albums we listen to every day. That context is entirely invisible to us because it’s not mass-market enough for a music streaming service. There have been small updates on this front lately, but by and large, credits and additional track information are still very much ignored by the streaming industry. And if you ask me, that’s a shame.
This is why I instantly fell in love with MusicSmart, the latest utility by Marcos Antonio Tanaka, developer of MusicHarbor (another favorite music app of mine). MusicSmart, which is a $1.99 paid upfront utility, revolves around a single feature: showing you credits and additional details for albums and songs available in your local music library or Apple Music’s online catalog.
Mitchel Broussard at MacRumors reports on a new Apple Music feature that’s been spotted rolling out to a limited set of users:
Apple today is rolling out a new feature to Apple Music users, prominently displaying new albums, EPs, and videos from their favorite artists at the top of the Library tab in iOS.
The new feature first appears as a splash page in Apple Music on iOS, telling users that they can “see new music from artists you like.” This will let you get updates about new releases from artists you listen to, with notifications appearing above your library of albums and playlists.
Apple Music has long offered push notifications for new releases from artists you enjoy, but for me and everyone else I know, those are wildly inconsistent. Because of that, I’ve grown to depend on the excellent app MusicHarbor instead, which is much more trustworthy.
I like the idea of seeing new releases right inside the Library tab, but will wait and see whether they prove reliable or not. Based on my prior experience with Apple Music notifications, I wouldn’t be surprised to see banners for new albums show up even after I’ve saved those albums to my library. I’d happily be proven wrong, though, so here’s hoping this new method of music updates means Apple has also paid attention to the engine running the feature.
It doesn’t happen often, but Apple Music is rolling out a new algorithmic playlist today to join the existing Favorites Mix, Chill Mix, New Music Mix, and Friends Mix. Per Igor Bonifacic at Engadget:
Apple is trying something new to keep people’s spirits up during the coronavirus pandemic. In Apple Music, it’s introducing a new algorithmic playlist called the Get Up! Mix that the company says is full of “happy-making, smile-finding, sing-alonging music.” With the help of human editors, it will update the playlist each week with new songs. Think: Discovery Weekly, but with a focus on playing tunes that will encourage good vibes – though there’s the promise of discovering new music as well.
The idea behind the Get Up! Mix is exactly what I would want in a new weekly playlist. Though I’m not in love with the name, I’ve always wanted a positive, upbeat playlist containing both tracks I’m familiar with and a few I’m not. A quick glance over my first Get Up! Mix shows that this is exactly what Apple’s going for. I’ve only rarely listened to the other weekly playlists Apple Music offers, but I think things are going to be different with this latest addition.
The new playlist is still rolling out, so you may not see it in your For You tab just yet. According to the app, the Get Up! Mix will be updated every Sunday, which is when the Chill Mix was formerly updated; the Chill Mix’s weekly schedule now moves to Saturdays.
Apple Music has debuted a small, but valuable new feature that makes it easier to find the exact album version you’re looking for. As discovered by our Federico Viticci, when alternate album versions are available, they’re now listed in a dedicated Other Versions section underneath an album’s track list.
As Federico notes, this feature is a long-time carryover from Beats Music. In a previous story about Beats’ streaming service (which later became Apple Music) he details the service’s intuitive handling of album variations:
However, Artist pages also show some welcome options for music lovers. Albums that have been reissued with different editions (like remasters) are hidden by default
That same behavior is now followed by Apple Music. For example, if you view the Death Cab for Cutie artist page in Apple Music, you’ll see Transatlanticism as one of the group’s albums, but only one version of it so as to prevent unnecessary cluttering of the album list. Open that album, however, and you’ll see the Other Versions section containing the Demos and 10th Anniversary versions.
I’ve never liked how Apple Music’s artist pages were congested by alternate album versions, so it’s nice to see this change implemented. Even if Beats Music solved the problem years ago, it’s better late than never to see that solution brought to Apple’s streaming service.
Last year when Apple Music Replay was introduced, Apple specified that the feature wouldn’t just serve as a year-end collection of your most-played music, but it would also become a weekly-updated playlist that you can enjoy throughout the year. Up until this weekend, however, the 2020 version of that playlist hadn’t yet been made available. Our Federico Viticci first discovered its debut on Sunday:
Once you add it to your library, the Replay 2020 playlist will show your most listened to songs all throughout the year, updating weekly to account for your latest listening data.
Since Replay is a year-long playlist, I’m interested to see if Apple will do anything special with the feature when the year is nearly over. Spotify’s similar year-end feature, Wrapped, generates special content tailored for social platforms like Instagram stories, and it’d be great to see Apple follow suit with Replay when the time comes.
For the past several months, I’ve been working on a shortcut designed to be the ultimate assistant for Apple Music. Called MusicBot, the shortcut encompasses dozens of different features and aims to be an all-in-one assistant that helps you listen to music more quickly, generate intelligent mixes based on your tastes, rediscover music from your library, control playback on AirPlay 2 speakers, and much more. I poured hundreds of hours of work into MusicBot, which has gained a permanent spot on my Home screen. Best of all, MusicBot is available to everyone for free.
I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber, and I love the direction Apple has taken with the service: fewer exclusive deals, more human curation, artist spotlights, and playlists updated daily. However, I believe the Music app for iPhone and iPad leaves much to be desired in terms of navigation and fast access to your favorite music. While Music gets the job done as a gateway to a streaming catalog, I find its interactions somewhat slow when it comes to playing my favorite playlists on shuffle or getting to albums I frequently listen to. Some of Music’s most interesting mixes are only available by asking Siri; additionally, getting to certain sections of the app or tweaking specific settings often takes far too many taps for my taste.
I created MusicBot for two reasons: I wanted to speed up common interactions with the Music app by using custom actions in the Shortcuts app; and I also wanted to build a series of “utilities” for Apple Music that could be bundled in a single, all-in-one shortcut instead of dozens of smaller, standalone ones.
The result is, by far, the most complex shortcut I’ve ever ever created (MusicBot spans 750+ actions in the Shortcuts app), but that’s not the point. MusicBot matters to me because, as I’ve shared before, music plays an essential role in my life, and MusicBot lets me enjoy my music more. This is why I spent so much time working on MusicBot, and why I wanted to share it publicly with everyone for free: I genuinely believe MusicBot offers useful enhancements for the Apple Music experience on iOS and iPadOS, providing tools that can help you rediscover lost gems in your library or find your next music obsession.
Let’s dive in.
Apple has made a habit of honoring some of the top apps, music, books, podcasts, and more on an annual basis at year’s end, and this year is no different. However, one change to the format for 2019 is that Apple has split out music as its own separate awards category dubbed the Apple Music Awards. There are five distinct awards given, with some winners chosen by Apple’s editorial team while others are determined by streaming data:
The winners for Global Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year were hand-selected by Apple Music’s global editorial team of experts and tastemakers and given to artists who have true passion for their craft, who boldly defy conventions in the category and who embody a sense of humanity, where listeners are drawn as much to who they are as to their music. The awards for Album of the Year and Song of the Year are based on streaming data and reflective of what Apple Music customers have been listening to (on repeat) this year.
The 2019 Apple Music Awards winners are:
In addition to a dedicated Apple Music Awards page inside the Apple Music service itself, Apple will be celebrating the awards with a globally live-streamed performance from the big winner, Billie Eilish, whose breakout album was streamed on Apple Music over a billion times in 2019, the most of any album on the service. Eilish will be performing at the Steve Jobs Theater on December 4 at 6:30 p.m. PST.
The physical awards Apple designed for winners feature, of course, a few special touches. Apple explains:
Each award features Apple’s custom silicon wafer suspended between a polished sheet of glass and a machined and anodized aluminum body. The wafers start as a perfect 12-inch disc of silicon with nanometer level flatness. Copper layers are deposited and patterned by ultraviolet lithography to create connections between billions of transistors. The result of this multi-month process, before it is sliced into hundreds of individual chips, is stunning and distinctive. In a symbolic gesture, the same chips which power the devices that put the world’s music at your fingertips sit at the very heart of the Apple Music Awards.
2019’s Apple Music Awards could effectively be called the Billie Eilish Awards, so it will be interesting to see if a similar trend continues from year to year, with artists earning several of the limited number of award possibilities. It seems reasonable to expect Apple will try to avoid that moving forward, but since certain awards are determined entirely by popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a regular occurrence. You never know which artists may have a major standout year.
TechCrunch reports that Apple Music has added a new automatically-generated playlist called Replay that collects your top 100 songs for each year you’ve subscribed to the music streaming service. The concept is similar to Spotify’s year-end Wrapped playlist but differs in that it is updated every Sunday throughout the year.
According to Sarah Perez’s story on TechCrunch:
With Apple Music Replay, subscribers will get a playlist of their top songs from 2019, plus playlists for every year you’ve subscribed to Apple Music, retroactively. These can be added to your Apple Music Library, so you can stream them at any time, even when offline. Like any playlist, your Apple Music Replay can also be shared with others, allowing you to compare top songs with friends, for example, or post to social media.
If you don’t see your 2019 Replay playlist in Music, I was able to force it onto my devices by visiting replay.music.apple.com, adding my 2019 playlist, and then playing it. A couple of minute later it showed up in the Recently Played section of For You on iOS, though it seems to be taking longer to show up on my Mac.
I’ve always hoped Apple Music would do something like this, as has Federico who took matters into his own hands and created his Apple Music Wrapped Shortcut that you can find in the Music section of the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. I also appreciate that the playlist will be available throughout the year as a snapshot of my current favorite songs.