Apple has at last introduced a music streaming service that, for a monthly fee comparable to similar services such as Spotify, gives you access to millions of songs by artists big and small. For £9.99 a month, or £14.99 to allow up to five other family members to use it too, you can explore hundreds of years of musical heritage and hear brand-new releases on your iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows PC and Apple Watch – and more recently from your Apple TV, with Android devices to follow suit.
We’ve focussed the majority of our tips on the iPad and iPhone versions (which are almost identical) because of the popularity of accessing music on portable devices.
The features we describe also apply to iTunes 12.2 on your computer, though there are a few things that are possible only on one type of device or the other.
The service is about more than just giving you a massive library of music to explore at your own leisure. It also includes the Beats 1 internet radio station (which doesn’t require a subscription), and genre-based radio stations (which do) and personalised stations that you create by selecting a song or artist that fits your mood.
Just as important, there’s a strong focus on discovering new things to listen to – both new releases and back catalogue material that fits your tastes.
Apple Music tries to do this intelligently, based on some simple guidance from you when setting it up, explicit feedback you give it by marking things as ‘loved’, and your listening habits.
Apple Music also connects you to your favourite artists in the same way you might follow them on social networks. This doesn’t require a subscription except to add audio from their posts to your library.
You might already follow artists on other networks, and right now many we’ve followed seem not to be posting to Apple Music, but in time you might find it a useful way to keep artists’ musings separate from your actual friends.
One thing that might strike you as odd about Apple Music is that it’s so separated out from the iTunes Store. You’ll need to type into a search bar to reach most of what’s in its library, yet you can add things to your personal collection, where you can rate tracks, add them to playlists, and download them to play offline just like tracks you’ve bought.
You’ll frequently see a heart icon in Music and iTunes, and on your iOS device’s Lock screen and in Control Centre. It’s crucial to getting the most out of Apple Music when it comes to listening recommendations.
Browse your music
The views of your music that used to be in the bottom bar are consolidated in My Music.
This item saves you scrolling to or searching for things you likely want to hear a lot right now.
Tap a heading that shows a chevron to see more items or to modify the view. This particular heading provides ways to organise your music. (Sort your albums by title or artist in Settings > Music.).
On an iPad, your music library and playlists are two items in the bottom bar. On an iPhone, they’re grouped into My Music.
Search your library or Apple Music’s online collection.
Where you tap on an item matters. Large art shows an explicit play button, yet tapping elsewhere on it shows a track list. In the rows below, art is a play button, the rest of a row shows a track list.
New in iTunes 12.2
To use Apple Music on your computer, you’ll need to update iTunes to version 12.2. Apple has already released a minor update to it, 12.2.1, which it says fixes a problem for iTunes Match subscribers that could cause tracks to be incorrectly replaced with versions protected by digital rights management.
It also fixes an issue faced by former Match subscribers, which requires you to follow a few steps. We’ve also encountered problems with track number metadata in our existing library tracks being changed, so before using Apple Music, the usual advice about making a backup – in this case, of your whole library, is recommended.
How to get started with Apple Music
When you first open the new Music app on iOS or iTunes 12.2 on a Mac, you’ll be invited to enrol in a three-month trial of Apple Music.
This requires that the Apple ID you use to sign into the iTunes Store has a bank card registered for payment, rather than just having credit on your account from iTunes gift cards, so that Apple has a means to take automatic payment for the monthly subscription past that trial period.
You don’t have to take up an Apple Music subscription to keep using iTunes on your Mac or the Music app on iOS devices to play your previous iTunes Store purchases or music bought elsewhere. It’s also possible to hide almost all of the service’s features.
If you later decide to try it out, you can make Apple Music visible in your apps once again and then go to the For You page to start your trial from there.
If you have a subscription to iTunes Match – or were planning to sign up to it to make your music collection, including tracks not bought from the iTunes Store, available to download from all your devices – Apple continues to offer that annual service.
Its functionality is also part of Apple Music, so if you decide the extra features of the newer service are worth the total annual cost being more than five times as expensive, you should check and consider turning off automatic renewal of Match before the end of your current subscription period – do that in the same place as you manage your Apple Music subscription.
How to set up Apple Music on a computer
1. Choose your plan
iTunes will prompt you about a three month Apple Music trial. If you don’t accept right away, click For You at the top of the Music view later on. Otherwise, click the button that starts the sign-up process, then choose an individual or a family membership (the latter requires Family Sharing to be set up).
2. Account management
You’ll be asked to accept Apple’s latest terms and conditions and confirm the purchase of a membership plan, because signing up for the trial automatically enables recurring payment at the end of it.
If your Apple ID is part of a family and you aren’t its organiser, you’ll be asked to accept that an Ask to Buy request will be sent to them.
3. Say what you like
Click once on the circles of genres you like, twice on those you love, or put the pointer over those you dislike and click the cross that appears. Your choices influence the artists suggested when you click Next.
Repeat the process, clicking More Artists if necessary. You only need to identify three you like, after which you can click Done.
Apple Music Playlists
You might think there’s little else Apple can do with playlists, but Apple Music’s social side means there are new features worth knowing about.
When you create a playlist (either on iOS or in iTunes on a Mac), there are a couple of new personalisations you can make besides its name. If you’re goin to share the playlist, you might want to fill out a description for others to read.
Tap the camera on the artwork placeholder to add your own artwork – either by taking a new photo, or by picking artwork you’ve already stored in the Photos app.
Share a playlist
You can share a link to a playlist on social networks or privately by tapping the More Options button next to a playlist in the master list of them, or the Share icon if you’ve already tapped through to see one’s contents.
When you choose Share Playlist, the preview will include your assigned artwork, but Facebook currently just displays ‘Connecting to the iTunes Store’, so it’s wise to replace the status update the Music app provides to explain to people what the link will take them to.
Just like the My Music view, there’s a shortcut to recently added playlists – your own and those curated by Apple Music’s staff (in the For You page).
To save an Apple Music playlist from the For You page so it’s easily accessible here in future, tap the More Options button above the playlist’s description and choose Add to My Music.
You can create folders to organise your playlists using iTunes on a Mac or a PC; the Edit button above the list of them on iOS lets you delete things, but with iCloud Music Library turned on, everything from your Mac is synced to your iOS devices. You can’t make truly Smart Playlists on iOS, though.
Filter your playlists
By default, both your playlists and those created by Apple Music’s staff to which you’ve subscribed are shown.
Though you can’t file them in folders on iOS, tapping All Playlists above the list prunes what’s shown to just the type you want to search through.
Apple Music includes the capabilities of iTunes Match, making tracks in the iTunes library on your Mac available to stream to all your devices no matter where those tracks came from.
It does this by first matching tracks to those available in Apple’s library, and secondly uploading any it can’t match to your iCloud Music Library. All of those tracks are then available to play on all of your devices, but there’s still a 25,000-track limit on the latter type, just like in iTunes Match.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, recently tweeted that Apple is working to increase this number to 100,000 tracks by the end of 2015. If you already subscribe to Match, there’s currently no rebate on the dupe functionality in your Apple Music sub.
Discover new music on Apple Music
The New and For You pages are key to discovering new music. The former shows new releases, much like the front page of the iTunes Store, and is worth checking out from time to time if you find that you rarely visit the store after subscribing to Apple Music.
However, bear in mind that not everything that’s sold in the iTunes Store is available in the Apple Music library.
The New page has numerous categories for you to explore, some of which are persistently featured, while others are timed to major events in the music industry calendar.
It works well as a summary, but with so much scrolling and tapping and no guarantee that you’ll find anything you like, discovering music this way can feel like a lot of work, so you might not want to give up on any music journals or websites that you’ve identified as giving great insight into what your ears will like – however, tap the Curator Playlists banner to find collections from well-known music publications.
A personalised touch
The For You page should more quickly guide you to suitable sounds, old and new, because its contents evolve in response to information you feed back to Apple. It draws on what you’ve said you love (by tapping the heart icon next to a track, album or one of Apple’s playlists) and by what you listen to.
The page suggests specific albums and curated playlists, such as introductions to artists, but it doesn’t cross-reference the former with what you own; at times, we’ve found that we already own as many as half of the albums listed on the page.
You can provide negative feedback to influence future recommendations by holding your finger on an item and choosing I Don’t Like This Suggestion.
This works for albums and playlists on iPhone, but strangely only for albums on iPad – and the capability is missing entirely on the Mac at present.
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