Back in the days of iPods and iTunes, Apple really did rule the roost when it came to digital music. iTunes charts were not only a thing, they were important. Now, not so much. With the rise of streaming platforms and devices that can stream on the go (RIP iPod), iTunes got hit hard. Apple were obviously aware that they needed to get into the streaming market, and they did, finally, with Apple Music. And they did it just at the right time because Spotify has lost it's way. In fact, it got shit. Well, it became mediocre, then it got shit, but I'll explain more.
I want to caveat this whole article by stating I do have an iPhone, an Apple Watch, an iPad and a Homepod. I would still contest I'm not an Apple fanboy. Let my reasons for Apple Music over Spotify below speak for themselves. And don't prejudge me for being an Apple fanboy...even though I appear to be one.
What, the, fuck.
I place most of Spotify's mediocrity down to it's decision to make massive strides into podcasting. Now, I love podcasting. I listen to a lot of podcasts. For those that read my weekly newsletter, I often post about what podcast I'm interested in that week. Subscribe below ☺️
But Spotify, in my humble opinion, did it all wrong.
Spotify as a platform was started as a music streaming service. Simple, perfect, clean, effective. The Spotify application of old was based on a simple premise, listen to music with ads or pay a subscription and listen without ads. This was super simple, easy to follow and of great benefit to the average user. Was it CD quality? No, but it didn't have to be at this stage. It was early days, it was essentially a trial for legal streaming, and it worked remarkably well.
Improvements were made, Spotify started to look at your listening habits and recommend other songs you would like. Great idea! Algorithms can do mad things like this. Spotify also offered a yearly replay, showing what the users year looked like in music, highlighting their favourite artist, most listened to song, and how their listening compared to other users across the globe. It was fun to boast about how you were the in the top 1% of listeners globally to Taylor Swift.
And then the podcasting push came. And I do mean push. Spotify started to provide podcasts in 2015 and started to acquire podcasting platforms and individuals in 2018. Podcasts which were freely available and could be listened to on many different platforms could now only be listened to using Spotify. And Spotify integrated podcasting so heavily into it's app it's hard to avoid. But the point of Spotify at the beginning was never about podcasting. Podcasting is a separate medium that doesn't have to relate to music. And Spotify lost it's core interest around this time. The amount of money that Spotify has spent on acquiring podcasting companies and signing deals with individuals including Joe Rogan and Prince Harry is a concern for someone who wants a service just to listen to music. Not a platform that is going to try and nudge me towards exclusive Spotify podcasts.
Back to basics. Keeping it simple. Iterating, improving. Clean. Fresh.
CDs are for the vast majority of the population dead. Very few people have CDs anymore. Those that do usually have them sitting in a room under a layer of dust as they haven't been touched in many a year. People will simply play the song on their music app of choice, rather than go looking for a CD they forgot they had, load it in and skip to the correct track; the song could be half played by the time this is done.
Streaming when Spotify debuted was never CD quality. And that was grand. But it's not 2006 anymore. It's 2023. And, it's not only 2023, it's 6 years after Spotify originally teased HiFi in 2017. It was then also officially announced in 2021...2 years ago. And it's still not available.
Apple Music, as well as other music streamers, have made massive strides in this game since. HiFi is now offered by default on Apple's music plans. And unlike Spotify, there wasn't so much a tease or an announcement, it just landed. And it worked. And it's simple. And it's great. This is what music lovers want.
What is Spotify doing? Oh, that's right, podcasts. They are spending money and more money on podcast deals. But what if you don't like podcasts. Or you just want a simple app that plays music. A dedicated space for music. That allows musicians to have their own space to thrive, and not have to compete even more with other mediums. Apple Music does all this. Apple even went one step further for classical music listeners and made a dedicated Classical music app so that they could listen to classical music without having to sift through pop, rock, rap, R&B. That is how you manage a music listening audience.
Promising features that don't materialise is bad practice. Trying to turn Spotify into a one-size fits all app for music, podcasts (and also audiobooks) is way off the mark. And last I heard, it's taking a leaf out of Tiktok for it's app design. I despair for Spotify.
Spotify is heavily diverging from it's original intent, which was music. Maybe I'm more of a purist than I care to think, but now it is pushing out AI to suggest to listeners that their listening experience will now get better because AI is recommending the music. I'm sceptical at best. Ever since the advent of ChatGPT, every single company seems to have found AI in their store room and released it. AI is a broad church. What one company means by AI (suggesting a 🐈emoji when the a user types the word 'cat') is very different to what another company might be suggesting AI is (a medical application dicovering new antibiotics). If Spotify is suggesting that this new AI is better than their current 30 new weekly songs, I would personally love to see the data. But I doubt they will be releasing that. In the meantime, Apple Music have a feature called 'Aaron's Station' and it plays some songs that I've heard before, and some I haven't. Is it using AI? Who the fuck cares? I want beautiful sounding high quality music with a simple app interface and minimal distraction.
Spotify's identify is diverging from the likes of Apple's in this regard. It will be interesting to see where it leads in the next 5 or 10 years. I would bet on Apple continuing to make in-roads like they did with iTunes in the earlier days, at the expense of Spotify. Maybe Spotify will ditch music altogether and become a podcast app. It sure seems to be on that road already.
The Music Must Go On
Since the dawn of homo-sapiens, music has been. It has grown, evolved, chronicled our stories and reflected our cultures. We, in 2023, are truly blessed to have such access to such a variety of music so readily available.
Listen, and enjoy.
Preferably in as high a quality as possible.
You deserve it.