I “Like” Music

I’m still really enjoying Apple Music these days, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music on there.  I love having choices, but the more stuff I listen to and add to my library the more some of it starts to feel like clutter.  So I started looking for a way to weed out all but the really good stuff.  What I landed on was the Like button.

Apple Music, like Apple News and iCloud Photos, has a simple heart-shaped “Like” button for songs, playlists, and albums.  In Apple Music, these are used to refine the suggestions in the For You section.  They work similarly in Apple News, refining the articles you get in your main feed.  This is great, but what I really wanted was a feature like in Photos.  All the pictures you’ve liked in Photos are congregated in a single album.  This makes it really easy to find and look at just those photos.  I wanted the same thing in music.  Fortunately, that’s totally possible, just not exactly simple.

Basically, you have to set up a smart playlist in iTunes on your computer.  In order for this to work, your iTunes installation has to have iCloud Music Library turned on, so that all your playlists sync over the cloud.  Just make a new smart playlist that has the condition “Loved” set to true (yes, oddly enough it’s called Loved in this menu).  I also like to use the “limit to” feature to sort them.  I “limit” the playlist to 10,000 songs, or something else that’s basically unlimited, and then sort by date added.  This means the newer songs float to the top automatically.

Here’s the catch: smart playlists only grab songs that have also been added to your library, so if you find a great song in Radio mode, you have to Like it and add it to your library.  I really wish liking would add the song to your library automatically, it would just make the whole thing a lot simpler.  Spotify has a smart playlist called “Liked from Radio” which, as you might guess, shows all the songs you’ve thumbs upped in Radio.  I wish that worked here.  But aside from that minor hiccup, the Liked playlist works great.  It’s a fun thing to shuffle if I don’t know what I’m in the mood to listen to.

But here’s where things get really cool.  I’ve set the Liked playlist to be available offline, so anything I like automatically gets downloaded.  This is the only music I have downloaded, since I have T-Mobile and streaming music doesn’t count against my data.  What this means is that I can set my iPhone to only show offline music, and it will only show music I’ve liked.  For example, I have a ton of music by NEEDTOBREATHE (whom you simply must check out if you’ve never heard them).  It’s all good music, but if I only want to hear the stuff I absolutely love, I just flip on the offline switch.  Then I just shuffle all songs in that artist!  ••

My Tech Changes in 2015

If I’m being honest, 2015 was a really good year.  Graduating high school is always a plus, and I’m loving college.  2015 was also a good year in the technology department for me.  Looking back, there’s been a lot of changes to the devices and apps that I use on a daily basis.  Here are the biggest three.

First up, I finally got an iPhone!  I’ve had an iPod Touch since 7th grade, but I didn’t get an iPhone until just last January.  My iPhone is the device I use most often, for the most things, and it’s absolutely an integral part of my life (maybe a little too integral, if I’m still being honest).  It’s so nice to not have to carry around two devices anymore (a dumb phone and an iPod), and obviously it’s also nice to have a data plan.  Getting an iPhone was definitely the biggest tech event of the year for me, and I’m still loving it.

Next up was photos.  iCloud Photo Library launched way back in October 2014, but, to me at least, it wasn’t useful until Photos for Mac happened last April.  iCloud Photo Library is really great; it’s so nice to just have the Photos app sync on all my devices, instead of having a Photos app full of photos from that device and another app full of Dropbox photos.  Not only that, but Photos for Mac has great support for facial detection, geotagging, and smart albums, so all in all it’s just a great way to organize all my photos.  Thanks to Apple upping their iCloud pricing tiers, I’m still only paying 99¢/month, and I now get 50 gb.  Totally worth it.

Finally, Apple Music launched last June!  I discovered Spotify in December 2014, and I used it religiously for the first half of 2015.  However, when Apple Music came out, I just had to try it.  After the three month free trial, my family decided to keep paying for it.  We ended up on Apple Music mostly because the family plan is actually usable (unlike Spotify’s), but in generally I’m happy with Apple Music.  Since honesty is, apparently, a theme in this post, Apple Music still has a long way to go to be as good as Spotify.  Frankly, Apple Music is still pretty buggy.  However, there are things about Apple Music that are better than Spotify will ever be, like built in Siri support.  Being able to use Siri to control music in the car is definitely my favorite feature of Apple Music.  And as far as the bugs go, I have confidence that Apple will continue to fix those too.  I’ll be patient.

So that’s my 2015 technology year in review.  As I said, it’s been a good year.  What’s your year been like?  Get any cool new gadgets?  Find that perfect cloud service that you’d always hoped existed?  Let me know what kinds of tech you love in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @NickFoster56.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!  ••

First Thoughts on Apple Music

Last week I wrote about the headache that I had signing up for the Apple Music trial, but I didn’t actually talk much about the service itself.  This is partly because I was at church camp that week, and I hadn’t had much time to play around with Apple Music.  That’s changed now.  After a little over a week with the service, I think I can safely say that I think Apple Music will be a success; it’s definitely a success in my book.

Apple Music is, at heart, a streaming service.  This means that you have access to the entire catalog of music for one flat subscription rate.  However, Apple Music does something that Spotify didn’t do.  Apple Music jumpstarts your streaming library with the songs you already have on your device, both from ripped CDs and the iTunes Store.  However, after that Apple Music wants you to explore.  This brings me to the Music app’s new layout.  There are five tabs at the bottom, For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music.

For You
When you first sign up for Apple Music, it asks you what genres of music you like the most.  After that, it asks you what artists you like (from a list based on the genres you picked).  Apple Music uses this information to start the For You section.  Over time, as you “like” songs (with a heart button), these suggestions become more refined.  I’ve found the For You tab to be pretty cool, especially when it lists an artist I’ve heard on the radio once or twice but don’t really know.  However, I don’t know how much I’ll be using this tab.

New
This tab I’m more excited for.  I mostly listen to Christian music, and I like that you can filter this tab by genre (although I wish it’d remember what genre I’ve picked).  Right off the bat I’m seeing new songs from Hillsong, MercyMe, and for KING & COUNTRY.  This is a sign of good things to come.

Radio
The spotlight of the Radio tab is Apple’s new, worldwide, 24/7 radio station called Beats 1.  This isn’t set up like Pandora, with a computer algorithm picking songs for you.  This is more like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  I haven’t really listened to it (like I said, I’m mostly interested in Christian music), but I definitely like the idea of a hosted station.  I used to listen to the radio a lot, and it’s fun getting to know DJs and hearing their stories and news.  The radio tab also has more traditional internet radio stations, based off genres, artists, and the like.  From the little bit I’ve used it, the Christian genre station is really good.

Connect
Connect is an interesting tab.  It’s almost like a social network for artists, a place for them to post songs, lyrics, videos, and other (sometimes exclusive) content.  It’s also a place for them to make announcements about upcoming albums.  This is a cool idea; the problem is that it gets crowded quickly.  On Spotify, I followed all my favorite artists mostly just to get notified of new releases, but then I just got a bunch of stuff about new playlists they’d made.  A little disappointing.

My Music
Up until this point, it seems I’ve been rationalizing why each tab isn’t for me (except for New I guess).  However, My Music where the rubber meets the road for Apple Music.  Apple Music lets me listen to just about whatever I want, whenever I want.  That’s fantastic.  The My Music tab is split into two sections.  The first shows all music by artist, album, etc.  This view is pretty self-explanatory.  The second view focuses on playlists.  Unlike most of the other discovery tools on Apple Music, I am excited about playlists.  All the playlists on Apple Music were created by real people – not computer algorithms.  This seems really cool to me.  There’s nothing worse than listening to a great Pandora station when all of a sudden the mood is killed by an out of place song.  So far my favorite playlists have been the “Intro to *Artist*” playlists.  These are a cool way to get into someone’s music.  I just wish they were available for more artists.

So as you can see, I’m pretty bullish on Apple Music.  It’s not perfect, and the app is actually kind of buggy right now, but that will get better with subsequent updates.  As of now, I’m pretty sure my family’s going to pay for it in a few months (once we get this whole trial mess sorted out), and I can definitely see myself using it.  A lot.  I just need to figure out if Apple Music is included in T-Mobile’s unlimited music streaming deal…  ••

WWDC 2015 Recap

In case you missed it, last week was Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference.  The highlight of the week was the main keynote, which took place Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to work during the keynote, but I watched most of it later in the week.  There were four main topics in the keynote: OS X, iOS, watchOS, and Apple Music.

OS X
First up was the latest version of the Mac operating system.  Named El Capitan (for a landmark in Yosemite national park), Apple said that this update would focus on “Experience” and “Performance.”  Basically, what this means is that it’s a relatively minor update, one that will focus more on bug fixes and small features than large ones.  I think this is good; it’s a welcome rest from the breakneck update pace we’ve seen – and suffered from – over the past few years.

iOS
Next up (as to be expected) was iOS 9 – to be available this fall.  There’s a couple key parts to this update.  First are some features focusing on “intelligence.”  These includes improvements to Siri, but also a brand new Spotlight search function.  This replaces the current search in iOS, but also tries to proactively serve you apps and information it thinks you might need right then: everything from the apps you use each morning to news stories relevant to your location.  The next huge feature focuses on the iPad.  The iPad is finally getting a split screen view – the ability to run two apps at once.  This is huge, but unfortunately it’s not available on all iPad models.  iPads from the previous two years can run one app full screen and have another app at iPhone width “slide over” from the side.  The iPad Air 2 can also run two apps simultaneously that each take up half the screen.  Hopefully this will greatly improve productivity on the iPad.  There were two more quick things that are important.  First, iOS 9 will only take 1.3gb to download, instead of last year’s ridiculous 4.6gb.  The final thing wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote, but I think it’s super important: iOS 9 will be available to all devices that have iOS 8.  Normally, Apple drops one old model each year; I’m hoping this change means that iOS 9 won’t slow down older devices as much.

watchOS
Apple also unveiled the latest version of the Apple Watch software: watchOS 2.  This version will allow developers to create native apps that run on the Watch.  Previously, developers could only create apps that technically “ran” on the iPhone and projected their interfaces to the Watch.  This was a cumbersome, temporary arrangement, one which meant that all third-party apps were pretty slow.  Apple is finally giving developers what they were promised last year.

Apple Music
The last part of the keynote was dedicated to Apple’s new music streaming service: Apple Music.  This service will replace both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.  For $9.99/month, you get unlimited streaming of everything Apple Music has, including many playlists handmade by music experts, not algorithms.  This was one of Beats Music’s key selling points, and Apple is making sure that it doesn’t go away.  The second part of Apple Music is an enormous, worldwide radio station called Beats 1.  This is set up like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  It will be broadcast from three studios worldwide (in LA, New York, and London).  I’m actually kind of excited to try Beats 1; it sounds intriguing.  The final part of Apple Music is called Connect.  This is almost like a social network for music artists.  Connect allows artists to post photos, videos, lyrics, and even demos directly to Apple Music.  Fans can follow artists to get access to this bonus content.  Apple seems convinced that this is the next big way for people to follow their favorite artists, but I’m not sure that people will adopt it in place of Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

So as you can see, Apple had a lot to talk about last week.  They released updates to their big three operating systems, and also unveiled their new attempt in the music streaming industry.  Unfortunately, there were no updates to the Apple TV, but I’d still say we still got plenty of cool new stuff.  I guess we’ll just have to hope again for a new Apple TV next year.  ••

Road Tripping with Spotify Premium

I did it.  I caved.  If you remember my post about Spotify from last December, I had resolved that I didn’t need Spotify Premium, and that I could live with the free plan and save the money.  However, a few weeks ago, Spotify ran a promotion.  If you had never had Premium before (either paid for it or had a trial), you could get three month’s worth for $0.99 (the same deal they were running in December).  I couldn’t resist.  I’m still not sure whether I’ll keep Spotify Premium when my three months run out, but for right now, I’m really loving it.

One of the main reasons I got it was for playing piano.  I play guitar, and I used to play piano back in grade school, and I’ve been trying to get back into that lately.  In order to learn how to play certain songs, I often listen to the recording.  However, I couldn’t play individual songs on my iPhone (only shuffle), so I would have to run upstairs and get my iPad.  This really wasn’t a big deal, but solving it for $0.99 sounded appealing.  It’s also nice that I have more control over what songs I listen to in the car.  Honestly, I didn’t so much mind having to shuffle things (I usually do that anyway); what I hated were the “suggested tracks” that Spotify would throw in.  Usually, they were songs by the same artist I was listening to, so it wasn’t too obtrusive, but it still got annoying.

I could talk about using Spotify at home for a while, but let’s get to the real point of this post.  Last week, my family went on a road trip to Ohio to visit my grandmother.  This meant four days in the car: and no promises about data coverage.  Coverage was actually pretty good, but sometimes it would drop out or get really slow in the more rural areas of Kentucky.  Because of this, I downloaded a bunch of playlists and albums for offline playing in Spotify (a Premium-only feature).  It was great to be able to listen to music without worrying about cell reception.

For this trip, I spruced up my enormous Road Trip playlist.  I made this playlist about a month ago for another trip.  Every time I go on a long car ride I modify it – adding the stuff I’ve been listening to lately.  I have the main playlist, which changes over time, but I also make a shuffled playlist for each trip.  I like listening on shuffle, but when you have a huge playlist, you can’t get through the whole thing at once.  Then when you come back and hit shuffle again, you get songs you heard last time, and you might not ever get to some songs at all.  Because of this, I shuffle the songs manually, then listen to that playlist straight through.  (This is kind of ridiculous, I know.  However, I’m a control freak, and this kind of micromanaging is fun for me).  This playlist was 6.5 hours long – 102 songs.  And I listened to the entire thing.  It was awesome.  I did it over the course of the four days in the car, over 1200 miles to Ohio and back.  It was so much fun.

So as you can see, I really enjoyed listing to this playlist on our trip.  If you’re interested in it too, I’ve made it public on Spotify.  You can see it here, or you can go to my profile and follow me, onceaneagle56.  The playlist has a bunch of different artists – Imagine Dragons, Relient K, Switchfoot, MercyMe, Blind Pilot, and then a few other random songs in there.  What do you like to listen to on long car trips?  Let me know in the comments below, and give me a Spotify link if you’re also a Spotify user.  Enjoy your music!  ••

Spotify Changed My Life

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about podcasts that even though I have hundreds of songs in my iTunes library, I’m really tired of all my music.  I could, of course, buy more music, but for some reason I never get around to that.  I’ve used Pandora before, but haven’t liked it very much.  It’s not that Pandora isn’t good, it just doesn’t suit my listening habits.  In Pandora, you pick a song, artist, or genre, and Pandora builds a “station” around that music.  The word “station” is used because it really is like a radio station, in that it plays a variety of music.  That’s great if you like lots of music, but most of the time, I just want to hear one artist, and playing, say, “Relient K Radio” doesn’t just play Relient K.  I was started to get frustrated with listening to music in general, since it seemed I couldn’t find much that I liked.  Then last month I signed up for Spotify.

Spotify does have a Radio feature, which works similarly to Pandora.  Aside from that, though, Spotify’s model is entirely different.  Spotify works a lot more like your iTunes music library – search for a song, artist, or album, and then listen.  Their catalog’s selection is fantastic (almost unbelievable, actually).  I don’t think I have once searched for something and not found it.  Now that I can listen to whatever I want, I’ve been listening to tons of music lately, mostly from bands I’ve always really liked but from whom I don’t own many albums. Not all Spotify features are free, of course.  With a paid subscription ($10/month, or $5/month if you’re a student), you can listen to any song you want, any time you want, with no ads.  You can also save specific albums or playlists to your device for offline listening.  Without premium, the features are limited.  There’re occasional ads, and you can’t play songs offline.  After that, it gets more complicated.  On a smartphone, you can’t play individual songs, you can only shuffle playlists, artists, and albums.  On a tablet or computer, however, you can play individual songs whenever you want.  (Note: This only works on the computer if you download the free client for Windows or Mac – it doesn’t work in the browser.)  At first I thought this might be a glitch, but Spotify acknowledged it in one of its ads, so instead it’s a teaser.  Spotify knows that you will get used to playing individual songs and want to pay money to do so on your phone (and let me assure you, this desire becomes very real, very quickly).  For now though, I’ve put up with carrying my iPad around the house, and I think I can deal with that.

As I said, the ability to play any music I want anytime I want has really changed my listening habits.  I’ve started listening to much more music, and I’m really enjoying myself.  If you’ve never used Spotify, I strongly recommend that you go try it out.  They even have a year-end deal for you.  Through December 31, you can get three months of premium for $0.99 – yep, that’s 97% off for three months.  (By the way, Spotify didn’t pay me to say any of this.  I really do love the service and I’m letting you know about this deal because it’s exactly that, a great deal).  If you do sign up, I recommend you start by listening to Switchfoot‘s latest album, Fading West.  Happy listening!  ••