For the past year, I’ve been using a high-res Sony music player to listen to my personal music collection. I detailed the entire story in the December 2019 episode of our Club-exclusive MacStories Unplugged podcast, but in short: I still use Apple Music to stream music every day and discover new artists; however, for those times when I want to more intentionally listen to music without doing anything else, I like to sit down, put on my good Sony headphones, and try to enjoy all the sonic details of my favorite songs that wouldn’t normally be revealed by AirPods or my iPad Pro’s speakers. But this post isn’t about how I’ve been dipping my toes into the wild world of audiophiles and high-resolution music; rather, I want to highlight an excellent Mac app I’ve been using to organize and edit the metadata of the FLAC music library I’ve been assembling over the past year.
Posts tagged with "music"
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.
Triode is a new Internet radio app from The Iconfactory for iOS and iPadOS, the Mac, and Apple TV that fills a niche all but abandoned by Apple. Internet radio stations used to claim a more prominent place in iTunes, but in Apple’s new Music app, they have been mostly abandoned in favor of Apple’s own radio stations. A handful of third-party broadcast stations are available in Music, the HomePod can play many more stations, and you can open any station’s stream on a Mac if you know the URL, but that’s it. Triode fills the gap with support for iOS, iPadOS, the Mac, and tvOS, plus CarPlay via the app’s iOS app.
As someone who hasn’t listened to the radio in years, I was a little skeptical of the utility of an Internet radio app at first, but Triode immediately won me over. The app is beautifully-designed, as you’d expect from The Iconfactory, and easy to use. Coupled with Apple’s latest technologies and a set of 31 hand-picked stations, the combination makes for a compelling way to discover new music.
I was reading Jason Tate’s (as always, excellent) Liner Notes column at Chorus over the weekend, and his comments on Apple Music’s approach to highlighting new releases resonated with me:
Every Friday I open up the Music app, go to the For You section, scroll all the way down to the bottom and look at the “New Releases” section. This section looks at your library and shows you new albums from the artists you have in your collection. It’s a quick way to see if I’ve missed anything big that I need to post about or want to listen to, as I prepare for this newsletter. There are a few things about this section that drive me nuts: it’s very hidden and hard to get to, it’s laid out weirdly and often misses artists I have in my collection, and it doesn’t have any way to show me singles from artists I like that were released or songs that are on upcoming albums from artists I like that were released over the past week. This entire section could be designed so much better and be so informative. They have all of the information needed to put together an incredibly useful page of new music that I’ve already signaled I’d like to know about, but don’t. The weekly New Music Playlists are nice, and often do include some things I want to know about, but they also are usually full of stuff I’ve already heard and have played multiple times. This missing feature is the single most frustrating part of Apple Music for me.
As much as I like using Apple Music (especially now that it offers time-synced lyrics), I’ve always been disappointed by its treatment of new music releases. I agree with every single issue mentioned by Tate: the ‘New Releases’ section is tucked at the very end of the For You page and laid out as a horizontal carousel that requires a lot of swiping; you can view the ‘New Releases’ page as a grid, which has sections for different weeks, but, in my experience, it only aggregates highlights for new releases from some of my favorite artists. The ‘New Music Mix’ playlist is not terrible, but it often comes loaded with stale data – songs I’ve already listened to multiple times and which shouldn’t qualify as “new” weeks after their original release date. Furthermore, I’ve found notifications for new releases for artists in my library unreliable at best: I occasionally get notifications for new albums, but never for new singles or EPs.
For people who want to stay on top of every new music release from their favorite artists, the tools available in Apple Music alone aren’t enough. And I understand why Apple doesn’t want to invest in this aspect of the service: not everyone runs a music-focused publication or needs to know about every single release for hundreds of artists every week. Since the unfortunate demise of Record Bird – the app that encapsulated my ideal new music release discovery tool – I’ve been building a new system to stay on top of music releases, and I’d like to explain how.
On Friday, Apple Music’s Beats 1 debuted a new Zane Lowe show called New Music Daily featuring the best new music across several genres along with interviews and commentary designed to complement Apple Music’s playlist of the same name.
As described by Apple, New Music Daily is all about what is hot now:
Music moves fast. To keep up with hungry fans and tireless creators, Apple Music launched New Music Daily, our playlist for the latest and greatest must-hear songs from pop, hip-hop, Latin, and beyond. This show, broadcasting live on Apple Music every Friday, is the playlist brought to life: Hosted by Zane Lowe, it features interviews with today’s most important artists, sharp commentary, and, of course, all the new songs you need to hear right now.
The show streams live on Apple Music every Friday at Noon New York time and can be replayed later.
It’s time. ⏰ @zanelowe debuts his #NewMusicDaily show on @AppleMusic! Lock in for interviews with @selenagomez, @taylorswift13, and @coldplay’s Chris Martin. https://t.co/paanEZ7Pu2 pic.twitter.com/E8HfwbOOT7
— Beats 1 (@Beats1) October 25, 2019
Lowe’s new show is a companion to Apple Music’s New Music Daily playlist, which is updated daily and is a rebranded version of its Best of the Week playlist. Listeners can visit a dedicated page in Apple’s Music app that collects the show and playlist as well as video interviews with recording artists in one place.
The inaugural episode of New Music Daily, which runs just over one hour, spotlights a wide range of music and interviews including appearances by Selena Gomez, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and an excerpt from a longer interview with Taylor Swift that will be released next week. New Music Daily’s Apple Music page also includes excerpts of upcoming video interviews with Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
In an interview with People.com, Lowe, who is Apple Music’s global creative director, expanded on his vision for how the playlist and new show will work together:
Our New Music Daily playlist was built in the image of the artist and the fan. Music is constant and it’s in the hands of the artists now. Artists don’t want to wait anymore, and we wanted a really big playlist that reflected that sentiment and could do it quickly. I’ll be in the studio with artists and I ask when they’re putting something out and they’ll say, “I don’t know, in an hour?” We’ve been clearing that space for artists for years, and with New Music Daily as a live show we’ll continue to event-ize music, bringing an audience around shared listening moments, and reflecting the way artists want to release music on their own terms.
One of the consequences of streaming music services is that the release of an album is often not the way people hear the latest music from their favorite artists anymore. Instead, musicians release a steady stream of singles and EPs, only occasionally collecting them as full-length albums. It’s the kind of continuous change that demands a different approach to how new material is surfaced.
Having listened to the first episode of New Music Daily, it strikes me as a formula that will work. The playlist currently includes 85 songs, which is a lot. What Lowe’s new show does is provide context through his interviews and commentary that serve as an entry point into the larger playlist. By sending listeners to the playlist for the latest tracks from pop culture phenomenons like Swift and Gomez, New Music Daily can help spread awareness of lesser-known, emerging artists that included too.
You can check out the first episode of New Music Daily that aired Friday here.
Recently Apple Music has been in the process of rebranding many of its longstanding editorial playlists, such as turning The A-List: Alternative into ALT CTRL and The A-List: Hip-Hop into Rap Life. These changes have reflected a shift in brand tone, but not a fundamental difference in the content of the playlists. The latest playlist change, however, is bit more substantial. What was formerly known as Best of the Week has been changed to New Music Daily, which as its name implies, makes this a daily-updated playlist rather than weekly.
New Music Daily aims to collect the most noteworthy new songs across a variety of genres around the world. Today on its launch, it’s filled with lots of Taylor Swift to coincide with her new album’s release, but it will be interesting to see what shape the playlist takes from day to day.
The most newsworthy detail about New Music Daily is simply its update schedule, which is fairly unique for Apple Music. Historically Apple’s editorial team has focused on providing weekly updates for its big playlists, or even rarer updates for less popular playlists, so the transition to daily is a big shift. I don’t expect we’ll see many other playlists follow suit, due to the sheer amount of labor required in editorially selecting songs each day, but it’s nice to see Apple’s team enter new territory.
I love my two HomePods. One sits in my living room and the other in my studio. When I finish working for the day, I can ask Siri to move my music from the studio to the living room where I continue what I’m listening to as I make dinner and relax. Most of the time, both HomePods are also within earshot for issuing Siri commands to turn lights on and off, add items to my grocery list, and kick off shortcuts.
Here’s the thing though: it’s summertime. I’m spending time outdoors and going on road trips to visit family. Meanwhile, my HomePods remain tethered to the wall by power cords. They’ll be there waiting when I return, but when I’m on the go, my HomePods are useless, which prompted me to start looking at portable speakers that could reach beyond the walls of my home.
My research led me to Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 wireless speakers, two of the only wireless solutions I’ve found that support Apple’s AirPlay 2 audio streaming technology. Libratone sent me one of each model for testing, and I’ve spent the past few months using them in different spots around my house, in my backyard, and at the beach. Both speakers deliver on the versatility I was looking for, extending the ways and places I can play music. However, neither of the Zipp speakers was quite as simple to use or reliable as the HomePod. The few issues I ran into are balanced out in no small measure by the versatility of the Zipp speakers though, which depending on your needs makes them a worthy replacement for or supplement to the HomePod.
Leading up to WWDC last month, rumors indicated that iTunes on the Mac was being split into multiple apps, including standalone Music, TV, and Podcasts apps. It was expected that Apple might use its Catalyst technology (formerly known as Marzipan) to base the new Music app on Music for iPad, or vice versa. The hope among many iPad users was that the iPad might benefit from a more robust Apple Music client featuring power user features already available on the Mac, such as Smart Playlists.
WWDC came and went, and that wish was left unfulfilled. While macOS Catalina does introduce a new Music app, it wasn’t built using Catalyst, and as a result the iPad version of Music is light on meaningful improvements this year.
Filling the void left by Apple, however, is a new third-party app called Miximum, which is an Apple Music-integrated utility dedicated to smart playlist creation on iOS.
To wrap things up with speak to Turner about the democratization of the creation, access, and distribution of music and other media, the role of hard work and luck, the songwriting process, when to listen to feedback and from whom, editing your work, the role of technology in songwriting, the state of albums today, and a whole lot more. It was a fantastic way to finish up, so be sure to check it out.
You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.
- Luna Display – Turn your iPad into a Second Display
- WaterMinder – Award-winning water intake tracker.
Next Tuesday, we’ll have the first part of a two-part interview with screenwriter and director John August, who has written screenplays for movies like Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Frankenweenie, and many others. August is also a podcaster and is behind the variant of Markdown for screenwriters known as Fountain, the Highland 2 text editor, the Courier Prime typeface, and the Arlo Finch series of books. Join us the next two weeks for a fantastic wide-ranging discussion of screenwriting, productivity, apps, typefaces and lots more.