Yesterday, I joined the 61 percent. The figure represents the people who, in a MusicWatch survey of 5,000, had turned off auto-renew on their free Apple Music trial, which for all ends September 30. Unless something really big comes out of this week’s media event, where new iPhones could debut and iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan receive release dates, I will listen elsewhere. For now, I will stream higher-fidelity tracks from Tidal, and expand my musical horizons at services like SoundCloud.
Strange thing: I don’t dislike Apple Music. Curated playlists are “frak me” good. Family pricing, $14.99 per month, is very reasonable. The library is voluminous; if I want to listen to it, Apple Music likely has it. Then there is the benefit of easy access to my own library of about 14,000 tracks alongside juicy fruit picked from the orchard.
My problem: I prefer Android to iOS. Streaming where and when I want is a benefit that trumps others. Additionally, I don’t like the sound of Apple-encoded music files. To my aging ears, they are overly bassy, even with the graphic equalizer turned off. Maybe that’s just my perception or quality of digital processing on iPhones and Macs. I find Tidal tracks, even those of comparable bitrate rather than lossless, sound cleaner and expose more instrumental detail and clearer vocals. Again, that’s a subjective comparison from a music addict whose ear is attuned to the pre-MP3 sound, which is muddier, if for no other reason than compression.
Apple could easily win my loyalty, by offering its music service from web browsers or by providing lossless listening. My preference, Tidal, is pricey, at $19.99 a month for 1411kbps bitrate using the Free Lossless Audio Codec. Most people won’t hear the difference, but I do, and it’s most pronounced when listening to music engineered before the 21st Century. Tidal curation is best of class, but Apple Music’s is even better.
Last week, Phoebe Jennelyn Magdirila boldly reports “No Tidal wave after all: Music execs say Jay-Z’s streaming service will be dead in a year“. Brash headlines like that can be self-fulfilling, scaring off existing and would-be streaming subscribers. Who wants to commit to something that won’t be around for long?
I have a suggestion for Jay-Z and company, using the grammatically correct statement Apple 1990’s marketing brushed off: Think differently. Lossless is a differentiator, but you don’t have the reach. You can’t build a large enough subscriber base for the price you charge or with Apple Music tapping into an already overly large iPad, iPhone, and iTunes customer base.
If you can get music labels to agree on licensing terms, turn Tidal into a broader music distribution platform. Become the back-end lossless provider for Amazon, Google, and other streaming music providers. They must compete with Apple Music, too, and lossless would be a way of offering something different. Curate playlists for these services, too. Make Tidal a music platform OEM, so to speak.
In June, I asserted that “Apple Music Will Surely Succeed” and the assertion stands. The service isn’t just about listening but engagement. Apple is creating a platform where fans can feel closer to artists through the Connect capability and curated playlists.
That said, SoundCloud is purer platform for artists, established or new, and music lovers to discover, to interact, and to share. I see irony in that one of Apple Music’s promoted artists, Halsey, broke out on SoundCloud.
I don’t really expect to see the bitten-fruit logo on an Android app. It’s not the Apple Way to support competing platforms. Windows was necessity for iTunes, because of monopoly and reciprocity. Microsoft was for years the largest Mac developer outside of Apple, and Office mattered to businesses.
But in 2015, the tech titan gains more from staying the course and letting Apple Music be where it is. If I am mistaken,, and something dramatic comes out of this week’s big media event, I have until September 30 to turn back on auto-renew.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears on BetaNews.