Is Jazz Dead (on Apple Music at Least)?

I like jazz, but I’ve never been someone to really get into the genre, to know all the musicians, to keep up with the new releases. There are a dozen or so artists I like, and now that I use a streaming service – Apple Music – I often check out the new releases to see what’s happening.

I think it’s fair to say that jazz as a genre is fairly stagnant, with little real innovation, and a lot of repetition. Nevertheless, even within the norms of the genre, there is a fair amount of good music released.

I went to Apple Music this morning to find some new jazz to listen to. Previously, the top carrousel of the jazz section was filled with new albums. Today, there’s nothing but playlists. Below the carrousel, more playlists. To find new releases, you need to scroll down, and what is there is quite limited.

Is jazz dead

At just over 1% market share in album consumption, jazz is little more than a footnote in the music industry. But with about the same market share as classical music, it still has its listeners, and lots of performers. I’m sure that in big cities there’s a vibrant club scene for jazz musicians. However, not much in jazz has changed, and for the non-aficionados it can seem like a stagnant genre.

It’s telling that the top album on Apple Music is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, a landmark of jazz, but also the jazz album that people who don’t like jazz listen to. It’s followed by Kenny G (smooth jazz has its own special circle of hell), and the top 20 includes records from 50 or more years ago by Stan Getz, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong. (And more smooth jazz; sigh.) In fact, if you look at all the classics in the top 200 on Apple Music, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the standard jazz canon is. (Monk, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Nina Simon, lots of Miles Davis, Mingus, etc.)

Maybe Apple has given up on promoting jazz albums as they used to, realizing that most jazz listening on their service is done by casual, non fans, who are more than happy with playlists of anonymous (to them) musicians playing a genre that is rooted in a nostalgic past.

Apple Music Top Charts Now Available

Apple Music has added a Top Charts section to its Browse tab. In it, you’ll find charts by country, and one for the entire world. These charts show the 100 most popular songs.

Top chart

The charts are global; Apple hasn’t broken out charts by genre, so what you’ll see in the charts is pop and hip-hop. As such, nearly all the 100 tracks in the US top chart are “explicit” versions of songs. Though if you go to iTunes > Preferences > Parental Controls, and check Restrict music with explicit content, these charts will show the “clean” versions of the songs. And if there is none, then the songs that are only available in “explicit” versions will be dimmed and unavailable for listening, but will still display in the charts.

In addition to the country charts, there are sections with the top songs, playlists, and albums for the entire world (at least those countries where Apple Music is present). You can check these, or your country chart, to see what you should be listening to.

Because that’s really the point of these charts; they show you the music do you need to hear to avoid FOMO, and reinforce the primacy of the music at the top of the charts by excluding the rest.

New on Apple Music: Friends Mix

Friends mix

Apple has started rolling out a new feature in Apple Music For You called Friends Mix. As its name suggests, it is a playlist of music that your friends have listened to. Of course, to use this, you have to have friends on Apple Music; this process isn’t simple, and I bet most Apple Music users don’t know that it exists. I assume that if you have no friends, that is you’re not following anyone, then you won’t see this playlist.

The Friends Mix refreshes every Monday.

Update: now, a few hours after I wrote this article, the Friends Mix no longer shows up for me in For You. No idea why.

Some Deception with the iTunes Store and Apple Music

I’d written many times about how the iTunes Store and Apple Music were separated by a brick wall, making it hard to go from one to the other when looking at a specific artist or album. It seems that Apple has changed this recently, and now, when you find an album in the iTunes Store, you can hop to Apple Music to listen to it by clicking Listen Now.

It’s interesting that Apple is willing to cannibalize sales in exchange for streams – and I wonder if the record labels are cool with this – but at least now, when you click or tap a link to the iTunes Store, and you really just want to stream an album, you don’t have to manually search for that album.

But not all music sold in the iTunes Store is available on Apple Music; there are labels and artists that will not stream their music. Here’s one example:

Finley

None of Hyperion Records’ music is on Apple Music, but iTunes suggests that you can listen to it by clicking the Listen Now button. Since the music is not available for streaming, you get a dialogue telling you that the music is not available in your country, not that it’s not available to stream anywhere.

If you are not logged into Apple Music, the behavior is slightly different. If you were to start a free trial after viewing this album, you would get to Apple Music, then find out that the album in question is not available to stream, in spite of the Listen Now button suggesting that this is possible.

So, Apple isn’t being honest; I’m shocked, shocked! What’s more worrisome, however, is the fact that they’re sending people to stream music instead of buying it, most likely against what record companies want, and they’re saying that music is available for streaming when that is not the case. To be fair, the percentage of tracks that are on the iTunes Store and not on Apple Music is quite low, but still; Apple knows who they are, and shouldn’t display this dialog.

Play Apple Music on the Web

Apple has rolled out a nifty function web player for Apple Music. If you go to the Apple Music Tools website, you can search for and play music by song, album, or playlist. This site is designed as a marketing tool; it allows record labels or artists to create an embeddable web player for their music. By default, it plays 30-second previews, but if a user signs in, they can play full tracks.

Here’s an example:

Click Preview to hear short previews – limited to 30 seconds, not the 90-second previews you can hear on the iTunes Store – or click Sign In to be able to listen to the entire album.

While this is not a fully functional web player, it suggests that Apple may roll out a web interface for Apple Music in the future, extending the service’s reach to all platforms.

iOS Music App Now Shows Music Videos Section in Apple Music

IMG 7698 The iOS Music app now shows a Music Videos section when you browse Apple Music.

This shows featured videos at the top of the page, followed by New Music Videos, Music Video Playlists, then some sections by genre and one for the “Essential ’80s.” There are only three genres for now – hip-hop, pop, and rock – though that probably covers the majority of music videos available in the west. (Bollywood videos are certainly a big thing in India.)

This is another step toward Apple Music becoming more than just a music service, but expanding to what will eventually become a full range of video content. You can check one out here.

This section does not yet appear in iTunes on the desktop, but should show up soon.

Update: the Music Videos section now shows in iTunes as well.