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Posts tagged with "music"

A GoodLinks Read and Listen Later Shortcut and Custom Action

When I reviewed GoodLinks, I knew its unique combination of Shortcuts integration and custom in-app actions that rely on URL schemes had the potential to sit at the center of powerful, automated workflows. My hunch was correct.

When I tried GoodLinks for the first time, I began thinking of ways to integrate it into the research I do for MacStories and Club MacStories. Michael LaPorta’s thoughts, however, immediately turned to music.

LaPorta has built a ton of music-related shortcuts that you can find on his website. After reading my review of GoodLinks, he set out to create a shortcut to allow him to save music reviews and related reviews to read and listen to later. Here’s how LaPorta explains it:

So here’s the concept: GoodLinks can grab music reviews and store them to read or access later. When grabbing the music reviews you can customize the information associated with the review. You can use this customized info to also grab the album and add it to your Music library. Once you have the review (along with its customized info) saved in GoodLinks and the album saved in Music, you can use GoodLinks as a read-and-listen-to-it-later app that can be accessed via Shortcuts in a variety of contexts.

LaPorta didn’t stop there, though. He also added a way to handle upcoming releases and begin listening to an album from inside its review in GoodLinks using the app’s custom action builder.

I highly recommend giving LaPorta’s shortcut and GoodLinks action a try. These are precisely the sort of automations that the new breed of read-it-later apps like GoodLinks make possible.

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Apple Highlights the Music of WWDC, Including Federico Viticci’s MusicBot

Today as part of the Discover section of Apple’s Developer app, the company shared three playlists and interviews with developers about the role music plays in their lives. Among the interviews is one with Federico, who was asked about MusicBot, the Apple Music shortcut that he created, and shared on MacStories, last December.

Sam Rosenthal, the developer behind the excellent Apple Arcade game Where Cards Fall, was interviewed too. He explains how his love of music informs his company’s approach to game development:

“A lot of the bands that I really loved… They didn’t stick with one sound,” he said. Rosenthal has carried that philosophy into his work: “Every time we make something, it should be different from the last. It should surprise people.”

In addition to interviews with developers, Apple shared three playlists: WWDC20 Power Up, WWDC20 Coding Energy, and WWDC20 Coding Focus.

With WWDC forced to be held remotely due to the pandemic and other troubles in the world, I really appreciate the sentiment shared by Federico at the conclusion of Apple’s story:

“Music transcends our differences and has the power to unite us,” Viticci said. “To make us feel connected no matter what’s going on in the world.”

Be sure to check out the playlists above, I’ve only had a chance to scroll through them so far, but they look like excellent collections to enjoy as you catch up on the latest WWDC developments.

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Apple Music Honors Black Out Tuesday with Awareness Efforts, Alternate Programming

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.


MusicSmart Puts the Spotlight on Music Credits

MusicSmart's extension inside Apple Music.

MusicSmart’s extension inside Apple Music.

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 lately1, 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.

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Apple Releases Substantial Update to Logic Pro X and Logic Remote

Apple has released a substantial update to Logic Pro X for macOS and the Logic Remote companion app for iOS and iPadOS that is focused on loops, sampling, and beat creation. According to Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Apps Product Marketing:

Logic Pro X 10.5 represents the biggest update to Logic since the launch of Logic Pro X, with powerful new tools that will inspire every artist — from those just getting started with Logic, to those already using it to produce Grammy Award-winning albums.

Finneas O’Connell, Billie Eilish’s producer, says:

Logic Pro X has always been my one and only DAW. The workflow is unmatched, and the built-in sound libraries have been essential to my music from the beginning. Now with the addition of Quick Sampler and Drum Machine Designer, I’m getting back hours I used to spend in the studio building sounds and kits. This lets me spend more time writing new verses and editing 70-take vocals.

Source: Apple

Source: Apple

The update emphasizes non-linear production workflows that rely on loops, samples, and drum machine design, a departure from Logic Pro X’s historically timeline-focused approach.

With the new Live Loops tools, Apple says:

Loops, samples, and recordings can be organized into a new musical grid, where musicians can spontaneously perform and capture different arrangement ideas into the timeline. From there, tracks can be further refined using all of the professional production features in Logic.

Sampler is a backward-compatible, redesigned expansion of existing Logic tools to “edit sophisticated multisampled instruments, using elegant drag-and-drop workflows that automate complex production tasks.”

For beat creation, Logic offers Step Sequencer, Drum Synth, and Drum Machine Designer. Step Sequencer is an editor that Apple describes as inspired by drum machine workflows, Drum Synth is a collection of software-generated beats, and Drum Machine Designer is Logic’s drum kit tool that now integrates with both Quick Sampler and Drum Synth, providing more control over editing kits and integrating with the new Step Sequencer.

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Finally, Apple is updating Logic Remote, the free iOS and iPadOS companion apps to Logic Pro X. The update will allow musicians to browse and add loops, trigger Live Loops, and apply Remix FX to a session.

Logic is available on the Mac App Store for $199.99. Additional information about the update is available on Apple’s dedicated Logic webpage.


Editing FLAC Metadata with Meta for Mac

Meta for Mac.

Meta for Mac.

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.

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Introducing MusicBot: The All-in-One Apple Music Assistant, Powered by Shortcuts

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.

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Triode: Internet Radio from The Iconfactory with AirPlay 2, Apple Music Integration, and CarPlay

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.

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How I Keep Track of New Music Releases

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.

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