Apple Music

The Break Up of iTunes, a musician’s perspective

Piggybacking off of yesterday’s post, there was a rumor earlier in the month that the next wave of iOS apps to come to the Mac are Apple’s very own media apps. - Next major macOS version will include standalone Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, Books app gets major redesign | Guilherme Rambo:

Fellow developer Steve Troughton-Smith recently expressed confidence about some evidence found indicating that Apple is working on new Music, Podcasts, and perhaps Books apps for macOS, to join the new TV app.

I’ve been able to independently confirm that this is true. On top of that, I’ve been able to confirm with sources familiar with the development of the next major version of macOS – likely 10.15 – that the system will include standalone Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, but it will also include a major redesign of the Books app. We also got an exclusive look at the icons for the new Podcasts and TV apps on macOS.

I have been arguing that iTunes should be broken up into separate apps on the Mac for years. As a musician and teacher who is an absolute iTunes power user, and who depends on music library management tools, I thought it was worth digging into the implications of this a little bit.

If you are a podcast listener, and have room in your diet for some shows that discuss Apple technology, there was an astoundingly good conversation about this topic on last week’s episodes of Upgrade and ATP. Both shows discuss not only the implications for the future of iTunes, but for the very nature of the Mac itself.

I am so excited for the TV app and the Podcast app to get their own attention. They have been much needed for a long time. I imagine Podcasts will be solid out of the gate. I will kind of miss the current TV app icon on iOS and the Apple TV but I understand that Apple needs to brand it with their logo since it is going to be coming to third party TVs and Amazon Fire products this fall with the launch of their new TV service. I don’t know how a Books app based on the iOS version would work with my imported PDF book library, but it is already wildly inconsistent between iOS and macOS so I cannot imagine it could get any worse.

iTunes is a place that I have traditionally relied heavily upon to organize my music library, recordings of my ensemble, and video performances of my concerts. I detail my entire music and video workflows in my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers.

iTunes is the only app that allows me to store my personal library alongside a streaming music library, and sync it across multiple devices. This is what has set it apart from Spotify for me over the past few years. iTunes also has some great video organization tools. For years now, I have organized all video of my school ensemble’s live performance (amongst numerous other musical performances and home video) into the video section of iTunes, and then pointed a Plex server towards the folder of files so that I can stream them from my Apple TV and iOS devices on the go.

If the new Music and TV apps are just like their iOS counterparts, there are a whole lot of features I depend on that could potentially get ditched. Here are a few of them...

-Importing my own music. The iOS version of music can’t even import a song. That’s right! If I buy an album on Bandcamp, or take an audio file of a professional band performing a tune my ensemble is working on, I can drag them right into iTunes on my Mac, and they will sync to my mobile devices over Apple Music Library. I would imagine Apple has to have at least figured this one out for iOS if they are going to ship this app on the Mac in the fall.

-Metadata control. It would be a sad day if I could not press the info button on a song, add my own comments, rating, and adjustments to the title, album name, etc.

-Smart Playlists. Jazz and classical recordings are notoriously difficult to manage in iTunes because of how complex their metadata is. In addition to editing artist and album information in these recordings, I have spent some time adding extra info to the comments section of my songs and then creating smart playlists to filter them. If Miles Davis is tagged in every recording he sat in on, you can make playlists like ‘Songs Miles Soloed On Between 1961-75.’

-Adding video. QuickTime (much like Preview) is an app that exists only on the Mac, because it is natively built into iOS whenever you tap a media file (or PDF in the case of Preview). Apple never had a dedicated app for managing video (although there is the awkward iMovie Library feature which has an arbitrary file limit). That said, iTunes is a pretty great utility for this purpose. I would hate to loose its video management features, even though they were never on iOS to begin with. The TV app is looking more and more like it is built to fulfill Apple’s TV strategy, which is to aggregate as much TV and Movie content from as many providers as possible, into a unified entertainment service. Don’t get my wrong, I am excited, I just don’t see myself using it to organize recordings of my band concerts.

Presumably iTunes isn’t going anywhere any time soon. For these legacy features, and including the need to sync older iOS devices to a Mac, I imagine it will still come on the Mac, buried in the Utilities folder, for years to come. Hopefully, users will still be able to do actions like I listed above in iTunes, and enjoy the benefit of them in the new Music app.

In conclusion, I remain highly cynical about this transition because Apple does not seem interested in making good apps in recent years. Conversely, I am enthusiastic about the long term benefit. If Apple developers are writing code for just one version of their apps instead of two, it is more likely that iOS versions of software will get elevated. That is exciting, even if it means that the Mac apps cannot do all of the same stuff they could always do at first. Coupled with rumors that Apple is going to release an ARM based Mac in the near future, I would like to believe that years down the road, we will be getting closer to a shared app platform between all Apple devices, with feature parity, and less distinction between input devices and which hardware its running on.

Brief experiment with Apple Music on the Amazon Echo

Read Apple Music is Now Available on the Amazon Echo for the (week old) scoop.

I have played around with this a little and there are still some major hang ups with using Apple Music on Amazon Echos.

In my limited testing, Echo did not always play requested music from my Apple Music account, even though Apple Music was set as the defaul music service to stream through when not otherwise specified.

Problem two: Amazon Echos can not stream to a group of Sonos speakers. This is pretty much a deal breaker as I can ask my HomePod to play music and have it send the output to a group of Sonos speakers via AirPlay 2. Echos can only stream from themselves.

Even the HomePod is early days enough that there are tons of hang ups with grouping speakers. It often forgets which speakers I like to AirPlay to and I have to readjust my groups in the AirPlay settings. This is a pain, but at least I have the option to do it.

I would love to see an update to the Home app and or Shortcuts app that allows me to create an automation that triggers music from pre-specified speaker groups at a specific time or based on my location. This is something that the Echo can do. Fingers crossed.

NPR’s The 50 Best Albums of 2018 - Apple Music and Spotify Playlist

Happy holidays! A tradition six years in the making has come around again.

NPR has released their list of the 50 Best Albums of 2018, and again, I have compiled it into an Apple Music playlist.

I used to do this playlist in Spotify and did not for the first time last year. By popular request, I was prepared to do it in both Apple Music and Spotify this year but found that NPR had already published the list in Spotify! I still had to make it in Apple Music (what does that say about AM?) which I wanted to do anyway because this is tradition now. So here it is. Ready to take you soaring in to the new year, I present to you a playlist of NPR’s 50 Best Albums of the Year.

From NPR:

Art is identity, scream these best albums of 2018. Even when it's pure invention. The most striking things we heard this year mined personal experiences that could feel intimate as whispers or bold and overstuffed as superhero science fiction. Even in an era where listeners have been primed for the unexpected, genuine surprises arrived steadily across the last 12 months – a cascade of introductions, breakthroughs, revelations and rebirths to reward whatever precious attention you could give. (Not a huge surprise: Most of them, after the votes from our staff and member station partners were tallied, turned out to have been made by women.) We're happy to share NPR Music's list of the 50 best albums of 2018. You can listen to them here and hear a discussion on the year in music on All Songs Considered. We'll have lots more before the year ends.

NPR’s 50 Best Albums of the Year - Spotify Playlist

NPR’s 50 Best Albums of the Year - Apple Music Playlist

I direct you now to last year’s version of this post where I highlight some of my favorites albums from these lists over the past five years.

Favorites from this year's list include:

The Other Side of Air | Myra Melford's Snowy Egret

Víkingur Ólafsson | Johann Sebastian Bach

Kamashi Washington | Heaven And Earth

Janelle Monáe | Dirty Computer


Last minute holiday gift guide

Looking for some last minute holiday gift ideas? Here are some things I have had positive experiences with in 2017.


Echo Dot:

These are so cheap and useful that we have one in almost every room of the house. In the kitchen it sets timers and does measurements. In the living room it turns lights on and off, plays music, turns on the tv, and changes the HDMI input for us (in combination with other home automated tools). In my music studio, it sets timers for student practice. They are just all around useful.


Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Red Subscription:

These days I am using Apple Music because of its rich integration with Siri and my iTunes library. But I sure do yearn for some of the features of Spotify that I lost in the switch. Things like the weekly music discovery playlists, native integration with my Sonos speakers, and all of the social features. YouTube Red ain’t bad either. It takes away YouTube ads, allows you to play YouTube while the app isn’t in the foreground on mobile devices (which it should do for free IMO), and comes with access to Google Play Music (which is an offering similar to Spotify and Apple Music).


Spire Stone: Stress Management and Activity Tracker for iOS and Android:

You likely own or have heard of a smart watch. These devices are great for tracking workouts, steps, and heart rates. But I have found that more often than not my breathing is more immediately relatable to my health. Spire is a wearable device that tracks your respiratory rate. It comes with a companion app that shows you your breathing trends. Calm is for streaks of slow consistent breathing, Focus is for consistent but elevated breathing, Sedate for moments of inactivity, Active for movement, and Stress for moments of inconsistent breathing. The app displays when during the day you are encountering these streaks and even tells you which events in your calendar are happening during those times. A lot of interesting insight can be gained by this. For example, my stress often occurs during moments of transition, like getting into the car. Spire has helped me to be more more mindful of that. The companion app even comes with guided breathing and meditation exercises. Your active minutes meditating, and respiratory rate, can sync to the Apple Health app so you can see it alongside your steps, heart rate, etc...



If you like games, and a little bit of strategy, this is one of my all time favorites. Dominion is easily a party favorite for us, even amongst our friends who do not care for strategy-rich games. Dominion is a deck building game. Over the course of a game, you try to balance a hand of victory point cards (that win you the game but do nothing when you have them in your hand), money (which can buy you things but is otherwise useless in your hand) and action cards (which can be strategically purchased to allow advantageous chain reactions.) The game is fast paced once you learn it. And by omitting offensive cards it is almost a game you feel like you are playing against yourself, but with others at the table also doing the same.


Anker Quick Charge 3.0 63W 5-Port Wall Charger:

When I pause to think about it, this might be my most used device on the list. This thing provides charge to my watch, phone, and tablet each night. When I travel, gone are the days of packing every charging brick in my surge protector. Just one brick, and I am ready to charge all of my devices in one outlet.



Looking to up your coffee game? The Aeropress is my favorite method of brewing. It consistently makes the most flavorful, balanced, cup of coffee I am capable of making. Of course, your coffee is only as good as your beans and the rest of your process, but as for the brewing, I have not found a better way. The Aeropress is also fast and easy to clean. The only downside is that it produces a small amount. If you are looking to solve that problem, you could try the Chemex, my second favorite coffee brewing method (and also a great gift.)


Philips Hue Light Bulbs:

I love controlling my house with these. I can operate them in the Home app on my phone, command them with Alexa and Siri, and create powerful automations. My favorite one includes waking me up in the morning by raising a subtle red toned light on my night stand lightbulb. It is a natural color to wake up to, and doesn’t bother my wife.


Intelliroll Terxtured High Density Foam Roller for Muscler Trigger Point Massage, Physical Therapy and Exercise:

The past few years have marked a more health conscious version of myself. Rolling out troubling muscles every day has gone a long way to help me battle some problems I am having with inflammation. Everyone has their favorite roller. This one is becoming mine. The shape conforms to the spine for easy back rolling. The shape also allows for infinite options for getting to all of the difficult spots. The one I linked here is not for the faint of heart. It is VERY hard. But the blue version is much more accessible.


Tile Mate Key Finder:

This thing has saved me so many times. Tile goes in your wallet, bag, keys, whatever, and connects to your phone over Bluetooth. While on a WiFi network, Tile remembers its geolocation. When you misplace something of yours, you can open the app, and Tile will tell you where it was last connected to the internet on a map.

Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie | David Bowie's 25 Favorite Albums

Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie | David Bowie’s 25 Favorite Albums is a good read.

It's just fascinating to see how eclectic Bowie's interests were.

I find my musical tastes to be just as all over the place and really related to the list. I look forward to digging through it over the next few days.

Here is a link to an Apple Music playlist I made containing all of the albums I could find. In some cases, I replaced the version on Bowie's list with an alternate recording to accommodate as many of the albums as I could.