I always resisted joining a music-subscription service. My former Macworld colleague Chris Breen was always a fierce proponent of them, first Rhapsody and then Spotify. (Now that Chris works at Apple, I assume he also likes Apple Music!)
I was never comfortable with subscription services. I was comfortable liking what I liked, and buying new stuff from familiar artists as well as new stuff from artists I discovered… elsewhere, and didn’t see the value in an unending tap of music from every artist everywhere. The second was that I was concerned that by renting my music, I would end up trapped, with years of music discovery that would disappear (or have to be purchased at a high price) if I decided to cancel my subscription.
I’ve been a paying Apple Music subscriber for a year now, more or less, and I can report that my first complaint was completely wrong and my second was exactly right.
The joys of discovery
Let me get the good news out of the way first: I was completely wrong about my lack of interest in music discovery. The fact was, when I would contemplate discovering new music, I could never quite picture how that discovery would happen. Maybe a friend would recommend something? Maybe I’d hear something on the radio–which was a laugh, since I never listen to the radio… it would be like winning the lottery without ever buying a ticket. (My problems with the radio: ads, too much talking from people I don’t want to hear from about things I don’t care about, and the inability to skip songs I dislike.)
It began to dawn on me that I had a problem discovering new music when I used Pandora over a weekend and ended up buying four or five albums from iTunes based on the music I heard. It was exhilarating and dangerous at the same time: I was discovering great new music that I liked! And then spending $50 in a couple of days to get it all.
Both sides of this equation are solved by a subscription service. Within a day or two of subscribing to Apple Music, I discovered its A-List playlists, curated lists of 50 current songs in specific genres. The Alternative A-List became a huge discovery engine for me, leading me to discover great songs and artists and albums… all of which I could sample immediately, with no extra cost, because it was all part of my subscription. My colleague Federico Viticci of MacStories had a similarly enlightening experience with Spotify’s Discover Weekly.
In the past year I have discovered songs I love, new artists who are now among my favorites, and a lot more–all for the cost of that monthly subscription to Apple Music. In terms of the diversity of my music listening, I feel like I’m doing better than I’ve done since the days I was a DJ at my high-school radio station.
A nicely appointed prison cell
Now the bad news: I’m trapped now. Sure, I don’t have to stick with Apple–though if I were to switch to Spotify I’d need to make a bunch of notes so I could reconstruct my favorite playlists and add music back to my library. But if I were to decide that the life of a music-service subscriber wasn’t for me, that I didn’t want to pay that monthly fee, the costs would already be large, even after a single year.
In the past year I’ve added 338 songs (including 22 full albums and a bunch of miscellaneous singles) to my music library, all via Apple Music and without buying anything. Even doing some triage to dump music that I wouldn’t really want to listen to again, it would cost me something like $250 to buy that stuff on iTunes or Amazon. That’s the buy-out fee for leaving a music-subscription service, after a year. And it’s only going to go up every year, with every discovery of something new and great, and with every new release from artists I already like. Within a few years, letting go of a music-subscription service will be unimaginable, even if I finally turn into a certifiable Old Person who no longer gets excited by new music.
What I’m saying is, Chris Breen was right, and so was I. The ability to have a spigot of music at the ready–pretty much anything you want to listen to, in full, in high quality, if you can conceive of it–is miraculous. It works for me, and it works for the music-mad teenager who now lives in my house.
But my trepidation that it would become addictive, a service too precious to ever abandon once I’d spent time with it… yeah, that turned out to be true, too. I was born and raised as a music consumer, buying tapes and CDs and MP3 downloads and adding them to my personal collection, but now I’ve embraced the subscription music future… and found myself trapped in it. It’s a luxurious sort of captivity, to be sure. But it’s captivity all the same.