Apple Music still has some growing up to do, but its curated 'For You' playlists drew me in after relying on Rdio and Spotify for years.
As someone who spent nearly five years with Rdio, which emphasized the album over the playlist, spending more time on Apple Music helped me realize that there is life beyond the album.
The serendipity of playlists
For years, I was an album guy. I would listen to old standbys that I loved, and then, come Tuesday (which changed to Friday last year), I would trawl the New Releases section of Rdio for something that appealed to me. I'd listen to the whole thing front to back, switch to another, and begin the process again.
When I joined Apple Music on June 30th, 2015 for its three-month trial, I was amazed at the variety of curated playlists that seemed to have been drawn up specifically for me. In reality, these playlists were, and continue to be, created by Apple's growing team of tastemakers, replete with App Store-style introductions that provide a narrative to the ensuing couple of hours.
Because these playlists are based on the choices I made when I initially signed up for Apple Music — indie rock stalwarts like Broken Social Scene and Neutral Milk Hotel; hip-hop legends like Nas and Pete Rock; and EDM upstarts like Jamie xx — few go unheard, and most are appreciated.
Trust the curation
There's something nice about sitting back and letting someone else take care of what I'm going to listen to. Because the playlists that show up in 'For You' are generated algorithmically — humans create them, Apple's code monkeys make them appear when and where they do — if it is well programmed, everything in that tab will be something I know I want to listen to.
Back when a mix of ripped CDs and not-so-legal MP3s comprised my entire music collection, I painstakingly kept up to date a series of playlists within iTunes (and before that, Winamp), along with a core series of albums that I would return to, day after day and month after month.
The problem with this method is that I tend to listen to the same thing until it gets boring, and then don't want to hear that song or album for a long while thereafter. Handing over my listening habits to Apple Music has not only lessened the proverbial anxiety caused by not knowing what to listen to next, but it has introduced me to myriad new songs and artists.
Moreover, Apple's playlists are just that: songs grouped around a particular theme. I listen to Google Play Music (née Songza) whenever I go running because I find its endless blanket of theme-based songs to be generally reliable. When I'm not working out, though, I can always find something on Apple Music's 'For You' tab to listen to.
Here's what I've figured out as I've aged: music is not precious. There is no one "perfect" song or playlist for a particular moment. Even at my wedding there were first dance contenders, and it's purposeless thinking of what might have been had I chosen X instead of Y. (Y turned out to be pretty amazing, though.) Apple realizes this, too, so it offers a bevy of choice. Some of that music is for listening actively, but often, during the day while I'm working, it is on in the background, reassuring me that everything is as it should be.
Apple isn't the only company to offer a feature like this, but 'For You' is, for better or worse, the first tab seen when opening the Music app on an iOS device. Each playlist is presented with large album cover art and a small description of the wonders within. While I don't know the person responsible for describing the Intro to Caribou playlist, I imagine he or she enjoyed evaluating which Dan Snaith songs best exemplify how he "[fills] the empty space in his music with a grand racket." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Bringing it back to the album
By virtue of having no control over what comes next, one of the most enjoyable aspects of listening to curated playlists is discovering new artists.
In spending time with Apple's 'For You' algorithm, I've thoroughly expanded the palette of what I would consider staples in my collection. Bands like The Walkmen and Dirty Projectors, which I've heard tangentially but never invested time in to their discographies, are now regular spins in my album rotation. Better, the act of flipping between curated playlists and albums in a controlled manner has prevented me from overdosing on a particular record.