These services treat you like a criminal,” Steve Jobs said of streaming-music companies, in an Apple keynote address in 2003. “And they are subscription-based, and we think subscriptions are the wrong path. One of the reasons we think this is because people bought their music for as long as we can remember. . . . When you own your music, it never goes away.” Jobs was introducing the iTunes Store, which updated the old model of the recorded-music library. Purchasing a digital track or album, Jobs said, was now “the hottest way to acquire music.” For some years, it was. Then streaming services began to claim an ever greater share of the market, even as they struggled to turn a profit. Last week, surrendering to the apparently inevitable, Apple introduced Apple Music, its own subscription music bundle. For $9.99 a month, you win unlimited access to a library of more than thirty million tracks, from Michel van der Aa to ZZ Top.
I have doubts about the aesthetics and ethics of streaming, as I wrote in a column last summer. But as a longtime Apple user—almost everything I have written since 1987 has been composed on a Mac—I had little choice but to give Apple Music a spin. And the verbal fanfare on Apple’s Web site makes enticing promises: “We are profoundly passionate about music. It’s a force that’s driven and inspired us from day one. So we’ve set out to make it better.” How can one resist? The world’s wealthiest, coolest corporation is not only bringing you music but making it better. Music, it seems, is a trusty app that has some usability issues, and is due for an upgrade.