Apple Music is better than Spotify

Written by Regis Freyd and published on May 2, 2020

Everyone uses Spotify — at least most people I know. However, Apple Music offers one feature that no one else in the music streaming industry has, which sets it completely apart and make it the go-to app for anyone willing to truly enjoy his music library.

Spotify has some features that Apple Music doesn’t have and which makes it hard to replace:

  • It’s fast. Really fast. Songs load instantly, the search is instantaneous.
  • Recommendations are always pertinent. They especially have two automated playlists (Discover Weekly and Release Friday) that blow away every suggestion that Apple Music has ever suggested.
  • Shared public playlists created by other users are an awesome way of discovering stuff that you didn’t know existed. Online resources like Playlists.net help you even more in this discovery process.

Spotify helps you find new tunes to listen to. It’s pretty amazing actually how good they are at this. I would say, however, that this comes with a drawback. Spotify is extremely good at helping you finding new stuff to hear over and over and over. I would say that Spotify is capitalism applied to music. You consume your music, as quickly as possible, and move on to the next thing as fast as you can. The desktop app has been built for this rapid consumption. It’s not in any way built to enjoy music the way you want to and it gives you only one feature to do it: playlists. Sometimes I think playlists were one of the first features the team built when they created Spotify and never touched the feature again.

But there is something else that bothers me with Spotify. Nothing in the app helps your music stand out. Everywhere in the app, songs, and albums you like appear in lists that have no soul. Music is about magic and emotion, and Spotify strips it all away.

Apple Music treats your music completely differently. This app is made for people who love their music. The UI puts much more emphasis on the covers. Browse your carefully crafted music library is a joy in this application. Apple Music provides lyrics. They let you change the metadata of your songs if you want, from the lyrics to the cover and everything ID3 tag you want. Contrary to Spotify, they offer a true random feature. They also let you upload your own tracks. But the killer feature for me is the ability to let you manage your music the way you want, with what I consider being the most underestimated feature of the music player industry, that is both extremely powerful and actually fun to use: smart playlists.

Enter smart playlists

Smart playlists give programming capabilities to non-technical people. They allow you to group, filter, and organize your songs the way you want it, and with the right combination of parameters, they let you do pretty crazy stuff to continuously rediscover the most important music: the music you once loved and perhaps forgot about it.

Smart playlists are about music you already have in your library and not about music you don’t know about already. While Spotify gives you one way to organize your music (playlists), Apple Music gives you a complete toolset to organize it completely, limited only by your own creativity.

Apple Music uses two types of metadata about your music to help you build smart playlists:

  • Those about the music object itself, like the genre, released date, composer name, name it.
  • Those about how you use your music: stars that let you rate the music, the number of times you’ve listened to a song, the playlist it belongs to.

With a combination of these, here is what you can do. Try to beat that, Spotify (or Tidal, or Deezer).

You can build playlists that group

  • the 50 songs that you’ve listened the most this month
  • songs about a specific genre (Electro Irish death metal),
  • every song released in 1950,
  • all songs that you've added in your library in September 2018,

These are already playlists that you can't do with Spotify. But here are more complex playlists that really show you the insane potential of smart playlists:

  • songs that you’ve added two months ago and listened less than 10 times overall,
  • songs that you’ve rated between 3 and 5 stars, but listened less than 20 times in the last two years,
  • rap songs added in 2019 that you’ve not skipped once and not yet rated,
  • rated songs that are > 10 minutes not listened in the last year.

These playlists apply to songs from all sources: your own music that you’ve uploaded to Apple servers, or music from Apple Music (the streaming service). However, there is one thing that you can't do with music served by Apple Music: pick songs from another playlist and cross-reference them. It’s too bad because the potential of being able to pick songs from other playlists to compose a new playlist is particularly insane.

It blows my mind how powerful smart playlists are.

How I manage my smart playlists

In my library, I use a combination of folders and emojis to quickly find the playlists I want to listen to. Here is how I organize them:

sidebar in apple music

And now the good parts: the smart playlists that I use all the time.

All songs with at least one star and not listened in the last 10 days

stars not 10 days

All non-Apple Music songs with at least one star and listened less than 10 times

stars not 10 days

All songs added in 2018 between one and five stars not listened in the last month

stars not 10 days

Songs with a specific genre added but not yet rated

stars not 10 days

Top 50 songs of the last month (or any timeframe)

This one is trickier. With Apple Music you can't query songs that you’ve listened to during a period of time. You only have the Last played option, which will not help us achieve our goal here.

The only way I've found to have a top 50 (or 10 or whatever) that is both accurate and static in time, is as follow:

  • Create a smart playlist with the end goal in mind. If you want to have a top 50 of April, create a smart playlist listing the 50 songs sorted by Most played in the last 30 days.
  • At the end of the month or the first day of the next month, copy all the songs that appear in this smart playlist, to a regular playlist. That's it, this list will exist forever and will not change.

stars not 10 days

Conclusion

I agree that Apple Music has many drawbacks compared to Spotify. Search is deadly slow. Recommendations suck. Apple Beats 1 is simply inaudible. But smart playlists is such a killing feature that I can deal with its problems and still be very happy.

avatar regis freyd

Regis Freyd is a full-stack developer and product manager living in Montreal. He’s the author of the popular open source personal CRM Monica. You should follow him on Twitter.

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