Music versus Match

I try to be frugal when I’m handing over my hard-earned money in exchange for entertainment. It’s not that I don’t buy games, apps, software, services, movies, TV, music, etc. It’s just that I have to do it carefully and with plenty of thought given to long-term as well as short-term enjoyment – what I’m getting has to be worth my time.

So when Apple announced a 3 month trial and subsequent pricing for their new Music streaming service, I started thinking about whether it would be worth it for me and my family to use it beyond the free trial.

Here’s where I’m at currently with my iTunes music collection.

iTunes Match Math

  • We pay $27.99/year for a subscription to iTunes Match.
  • This allow us to store all music we’ve either bought from iTunes or on CD in the cloud and is accessible from any of our Mac or iOS devices, including our Apple TV.
  • Playlists, ratings, and song play counts are synced and aren’t specific to one user or device – so if my wife removes a song from a playlist, it’s removed from all devices.
  • We can play back music from multiple devices at the same time. No restrictions on how many copies of “Songs of Experience” we can stream at once from all our devices.
  • I’m the one who does most of the fiddling with playlists so it works out great for me. If my wife was more interested in managing playlists, we’d probably run into conflicting ideas of what should be in the “Best songs of 2014″playlist.
  • The only way we get more music is if we buy music from the iTunes Store or buy/get a CD and import it into iTunes and “match” it into the cloud.

One important detail, as we’ll see later with Apple Music, is what happens if you stop paying for your iTunes Match membership:

Any songs you’ve upgraded or downloaded again are completely safe. The only thing you lose is the central storage — iCloud will no longer stream or download matched or uploaded songs to your devices.

So as long as you download all your songs to iTunes on your Mac, your songs are yours for as long as you have a computer capable of playing MP3s.

Apple Music Math

Apple Music is $9.99/month but in order for both my wife and I to be able to use Apple Music on multiple devices at the same time1 we’d have to pay for the family plan which is $15/month.

Let’s break out the calculator.

  • $15/month x 12 months = $180 per year for Apple Music

Whew. Math is hard.

That $180/year gives you access to almost any music ever made in the history of the world. You get curated playlists made by smart people at Apple Music, access to social connections to artists and friends, and the freedom from ever having to worry that you don’t have a copy of Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits album for the beach2.

The key difference between Apple Music and iTunes Match is that if you stop paying for Apple Music, all that music is gone. You no longer have access to any of the music.

Owning Music is for Old People

What if instead of streaming music, you bought it? (Gasp!)

The cost of an average album on the iTunes Music Store is $9.99. So instead of paying for Apple Music what if you just gave yourself the freedom to buy an album – or individual songs adding up to as much as $15 – a month?

After a year you’d have 12 new albums of music that you owned.

Any month that you didn’t buy an album, you’d have an extra $15 in your pocket to spend or save.

I love the idea of a streaming music service where you can play anything and everything, depending on your mood. Discovering new music without worrying about buying an album that sucks is great. I’ve had lots of fun listening to albums on Apple Music that I wouldn’t have otherwise bought.

What I don’t love is the idea of putting money into something and then having nothing to show for it when I stop paying. 3 I’m fine with paying $8/month for Netflix and with the knowledge that if I stop paying for Netflix, I can’t watch anymore. But somehow music feels more important than that to me. Digital vs “real” CDs doesn’t bother me. I don’t care if it’s on my computer or on a physical disc spinning in a record player. I want the freedom to be able to stop paying and still enjoy the music I love.

Bottom Line

We’ll see what happens in 2.5 months when the Apple Music trial runs out, but I think we’ll stick to the old fashioned way of owning our music and running it through iTunes Match. I’m guessing that as part of the negotiations with the music labels Apple had to promise to retire iTunes Match at some point in the future. At which point we’ll likely hop on the Apple Music bandwagon.

  1. On the non-family plan, if you start playing Apple Music from another device, it automatically shuts off whatever device is currently streaming music.

  2. Provided that there’s a decent internet connection at the beach.

  3. You could compare it to renting a house vs buying. However, mortgages and interest rates are not part of the Apple Music experience. Yet.

Official Trailer for Steve Jobs

Direct link to video

Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.

It’s a beautifully cut trailer. And I appreciate that they aren’t trying to tell his whole life story – focusing instead on his fall from and eventual return to Apple.

U2 on Song Exploder

U2 is this week’s guest on a podcast called Song Exploder that takes a song and breaks it down with the artist(s) who wrote it, getting them to talk through what inspired them and how it was all put together.

The Edge talks about how he uses Garageband as a sketchpad along with loops put together by U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr. to mess around with ideas – and eventually putting them together with a different set of lyrics by Bono than what they had originally recorded.

From what I’ve read and seen over the years, it’s a fairly common process for how a U2 song is put together – pieces are moved from one idea to another, lyrics are rewritten, solos redone. I don’t think U2 gets enough credit for the care and attention to detail that they put into songs and the subsequent tour. As I discussed with Matt McGee on Daily(ish) #105, they don’t just put together a greatest hits song list for their tour – each song is put in it’s place with lots of thought.

Listen to U2 on Song Exploder

Apple Music FAQ

A helpful list of FAQ 1 about Apple Music – the streaming music service that Apple is launching June 30th, 2015.

As an iTunes Match subscriber, I wasn’t sure how Apple Music would work alongside/in place of iTunes Match:

Why would you choose iTunes Match rather than just subscribe to Apple Music? Math, my friends: iTunes Match is just $24.99/year, while an Apple Music subscription runs you $119.98/year. If streaming all of Apple’s music collection doesn’t appeal to you, but having on-the-go access to your full music library does, iTunes Match appears to be a good alternate option.

  1. That’s frequently asked questions for you muggles out there.

Taylor Swift vs Apple

When Apple announced Apple Music, they planned to offer a free 3-month trial to anyone who signed up. What wasn’t clear is who would be paying for the music during those 3 months.

Turns out 1 that Apple thought musicians, writers and artists would go along with Apple and forgo revenue for three months – the “we’re all in this together” mentality. Which I don’t completely disagree with. Apple’s coming up with a way to hopefully sell more music, why shouldn’t artists share a bit of the risk for potentially more income down the road?

But I also believe that a multi-billion dollar company like Apple can afford to pay artists – especially when keynote after keynote the corporation stresses how much “music is in Apple’s DNA”.

Over the weekend, Taylor Swift 2 wrote a letter to Apple, titled To Apple, Love Taylor:

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.


But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.

The letter was published Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, Apple had responded:

I still maintain Apple should have just done this from the beginning. I have no idea what 3 months of streaming all the music in the world would cost but I’m sure it’s less than a billion dollars. Of which Apple has more than 100 of those billions, reportedly.

Marketing 101

Regardless – the smartest thing Apple did here is respond before Monday morning. The first thing people could have read Monday morning might have went something like:

Taylor Swift fights for artists right to get paid against the greedy corporate Apple overlords.

While that will still be part of the story, the net result is a positive story for Apple Music. Apple does good by artists and unlike other streaming services, will pay artists for the free tier.

Apple Music is talked about for another news cycle in a more positive light. Pretty cheap marketing for Apple.

  1. “Turns out” is always to be read in Merlin Mann’s voice on this blog.

  2. Here’s a link to her music on iTunes in case you’re not familiar with her work.