A year and a half back, I finally joined the modern world and signed up for a music streaming service. I did this for music discovery purposes: I wanted an easy way to try out artists and songs that I’d heard of but wasn’t familiar with, and I also wanted algorithm recommendations to point me at music that I hadn’t heard of or wouldn’t have thought to try myself.

The specific service that I signed up for was Apple Music; no particular deep thought there, I just picked it more-or-less randomly over Spotify. The main consequence of that choice was that it integrated with my existing music library, which seemed like a good thing?


There was one consequence of that integration that I was aware of and had mixed feelings about: that a song on my phone wouldn’t have the same bytes as the same song on my computer. Philosophically, that felt completely wrong to me: if I sign up for iCloud Photo Library, would Apple feel free to replace photos in my library with other photos that it felt were similar enough that I wouldn’t care? Of course not (at least for the master images), that’s ridiculous; so why treat music differently? Having said that, I’d heard that the matching was pretty good, and in practice I didn’t notice any differences, though that may be a side effect of me not seriously listening to classical music during the last few years.

There were two other consequences of signing up for Apple Music that I wasn’t expecting, though. One is that iTunes edited the original files on my computer; this feels to me not just wrong but actively irresponsible, with iTunes silently becoming unsuitable for archival purposes once you turn on Apple Music. (I believe it was only updating metadata, but that only barely excuses its behavior; and I could be wrong, maybe it was making larger modifications.) And the other is that, when transferring files, it did the matching at a per-song basis instead of a per-album basis, with the result that I could no longer reliably listen to entire albums on my phone, because some tracks would randomly be assigned to some other album. (This would even happen with albums that I bought off of iTunes: it split the 7 tracks off of Mamamoo’s Memory EP into 3 separate albums, and even assigned those albums to two different artists, both called MAMAMOO.)


My first reaction was to say “fine, iTunes isn’t suitable for archival purposes, but maybe I shouldn’t have trusted it for that anyways” and to start setting up a different archive system. The thing is, though, that a) that’s a pain, and b) that’s ridiculous. I mean, if I hired somebody to manage my library of books, and they decided to randomly replace physical copies of the books with other editions of the same books, to make marks in the books with information about how I was using them, and to randomly rip out chapters of those books and file them separately, would I keep on working with that person? No, of course not. (Though the first two parts of that behavior would actually be entirely reasonable if it were a public/institutional library; maybe that’s the mindset that the Apple Music folks have.)

So, as of a couple of weeks ago, I’m no longer subscribed to Apple Music and I am subscribed to Spotify. Which, in retrospect, is probably what I should have done to begin with: leveraging monopoly power is bad, and companies that are focused on one thing are good. It’s a little annoying having to train another service as to what sort of music I want to have recommended to me (and Spotify seems, if anything, even more willing to assume that I’m obsessed with K-Pop than Apple Music was, which is incorrect but nonetheless useful because I don’t have good other sources of K-Pop recommendations), but hopefully I’ll start getting broader recommendations after another few weeks.


One thing that this process has made me glad of, incidentally, is that I maintained a separate library, continuing to buy albums that I particularly liked even while subscribed to Apple Music. I just don’t trust streaming services to take over library management: I don’t trust current ones to be in business at all a decade from now, I don’t trust them to provide an export service for my saved library (it doesn’t look like Spotify has that functionality), and I don’t trust them to be able to always be able to provide their music catalogs at their current level. And their current catalogs aren’t complete, either, so Spotify in particular will never be a sole source of truth for my music library unless they provide a way to sideload music.

Of course, from a personal financial point of view, it doesn’t make much sense to continue to buy new albums that I like: I should probably just save them in a streaming service and maintain a text file with a list of band / album names as backup, or something. Or, alternatively, I could give up on the idea of a permanent saved library in the first place: embrace impermanence. And that might be what I would do if I were younger or poorer; but I’m not.

I am vaguely wondering if I should look at options other than iTunes for maintaining that library, though: after it started editing my music files, my trust in iTunes has dropped precipitously, and I am wondering if, in a couple of years, Apple will remove stored library computer/phone syncing support entirely, forcing you to use Apple Music for that purpose. So if any of you know of Mac software that can manage your music library better than iTunes can, I’d be curious to hear about it! No sense worrying about that too much right now, though.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.