A Hands-On First-Look With Apple Music: Beats 1 Is Great, But Where Are My MP3s?

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Apple Music is here! Wait... how do you use this thing?

You may or may not know it, but over the past week Apple has been traveling the world, renting hotel rooms and inviting journalists, one after another, to be given a guided tour of its new music service. Billboard attended one such sit-down a week ago today, in tandem with another publication and alongside an Apple employee we aren't allowed to name. They did it in order to generate articles like this one, and they've mostly succeeded.

Notwithstanding being seated astride a world-class salesman, what we saw in that hotel room was about what you'd expect; a slick and beautifully minimal interface, and lots of features that may overwhelm first-time users, at least until they learn what to ignore. You can, if you like, ignore plenty inside the new Music app, without missing much -- it just depends on what you want. We've divided this article into sections, educated guesses as to how normal folks will be looking to use the new service.

And Billboard wanted the full experience, waiting until today -- when servers would be overloaded, when frustration and at least a thimble of excitement could be drunk -- to download, test and write about the app, along with the rest of the world.

FOR STARTERS

Well for starters, the app barely started on my iPhone 5S. (It also required me to delete all of my music to reach the 750MB software update requirement -- even though iTunes said I had over 2GB available.) It also said iTunes Match was turned on -- a feature I never paid for and never wanted -- and when I went to verify it was off, iTunes insisted it was on. When I wanted to get my music back on the phone after deleting it to make room, iTunes gave me no apparent options -- the 'Music' section of my iPhone settings -- to return them to their place. Guess I'll be streaming my music for the time being. Because I have no choice.

(This is where my music used to be.)

When the app boots, the 'For You' tab presents you with a rhizomatic collection of red bubbles with genre descriptions -- tap once and it's selected, tap twice and Music gives it more weight in the algorithm it uses to size your taste up. Once your genres are selected, another planktonic collection of red bubbles with artist names appears, each one triangulated based on your previous selections.

Following that, you're presented with a selection of playlists put together by Apple's editorial team. Mine included "The Fall: Deep Cuts," "Intro to Wire" (no introduction needed), and a list covering the influences that led to Oasis' sound.

Now it's time to start exploring.

LEAN BACK USERS

Not much into creating and pruning playlists? Rather than scouring for new music, do you just want to hit a button? Then the 'New' and 'Radio' tabs of the app are for you.

'New' is where Music's human-curated and math-generated playlists live -- though you'll have to scroll past Taylor Swift (1989 gets top billing today) and other new releases before arriving at them. You can pick from publications -- Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, etc. -- 'Activities,' and Apple Music's own curators. It's familiar to anyone who frequents Spotify's 'Browse' section, with its moods, genres, and recommendation tabs.


(The recommendation tab.)

Apple's editors' selections are organized by genre, publications' come with a bit more personality, while the 'Activities' tab offers exactly what you'd hope. Pick your vibe and proceed to vibe out.

Don't want to click more than twice? Head to 'Radio,' where Apple's Beats 1 station is front and center. Apple has thrown a lot of weight behind its radio station, and while it's too early to tell whether or not it will survive as a high-quality offering (much like those publications' playlists...), there's no doubt that these early days will be worth listening to. As I tuned in, Zane Lowe was blasting Jamie xx, and offering up his "humble opinion" on a promising new group from Manchester. (Hear something you like? The song and artist are displayed above the navigation tab at the bottom of the app.)

LEAN IN USERS

You likely have a long list of playlists either in iTunes (less likely) or Spotify (far more likely). If it's the former, you're out of luck for now (see my previous). If it's the latter... you're out of luck, for now.

At the moment, moving playlists from Spotify to Apple Music is nigh impossible. There was a web app called Beats Importer which did this automatically for you, but until -- or even if -- a new resource like this one is created for Apple Music, you'll have to move your playlists by hand, since Spotify doesn't give users an easy way to export playlists.


Apple's editors' selections are organized by genre, publications' come with a bit more personality, while the 'Activities' tab offers exactly what you'd hope. Pick your vibe and proceed to vibe out.

Don't want to click more than twice? Head to 'Radio,' where Apple's Beats 1 station is front and center. Apple has thrown a lot of weight behind its radio station, and while it's too early to tell whether or not it will survive as a high-quality offering (much like those publications' playlists...), there's no doubt that these early days will be worth listening to. As I tuned in, Zane Lowe was blasting Jamie xx, and offering up his "humble opinion" on a promising new group from Manchester. (Hear something you like? The song and artist are displayed above the navigation tab at the bottom of the app.)

Your best option may be to use Playlist Converter to log in to your account and export your playlists as text files, which you can then recreate in Apple Music. If you're a person who has been playlisting religiously within Spotify for years, this isn't much of an option, since the company unsurprisingly wants your modern music collection to stay inside their green walls.

Perhaps you should just listen to Beats 1?

DESKTOP

This has been an overlooked, but exceedingly important, aspect of Apple Music. The desktop component isn't touchable and "lickable" in the words of Steve Jobs, but it's where a lot of desk-chained workers will be doing their listening. Well, they would be... but there's no desktop option. Move along.

CONCLUSIONS

Apple Music offers everything you could want from a streaming service, and is free right now. The real test is not, of course, a semi-frenzied, Internet-paced evaluation, but how the app is every day -- how it facilitates you finding and listening to music that moves you. And that takes time.

That said, if by the end of the free trial period you're still figuring out whether you're feeling it, then you probably aren't. And that's okay -- Spotify is still in the App Store, and vinyl is still sold at record stores.

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