Dupe detection run amok and other blunders: A cautionary tale of Apple Music’s bugs

I had been aware of the hype surrounding Apple Music over the past few months. Most of it had been things like how much the artists were going to get paid, and all that. And now it’s here, and according to Jim Dalrymple of The Loop in his article entitled Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it… well, I think the title pretty much says it all.

To make a long story short, Jim quickly found out that Apple Music has duplicate detection. Technically this can be a good thing, but the way Apple implemented it? It turns out it’s a First Class Foul-Up. Jim added albums, noticed not all the songs were added, then noticed the songs had an “Add” button beside them after clicking “Show Complete Album.” This, alone, is a UX/UI fail. But it gets worse:

From what I can tell in my tests, Apple Music is deciding itself, based on your library, that it will not add duplicate songs. For instance, I purchased a lot of Black Sabbath albums over the years, but not all of the compilations. I went into Apple Music and added a compilation album, but it didn’t all get added to my library. When I looked at all of the songs that didn’t get added, they were ones that I already had in my library.

In another example, I added Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” and his “Greatest Hits” albums. The “Greatest Hits” was short three songs—the same three songs that are on “Blonde On Blonde,” so Apple Music chose not to add them to the “Greatest Hits” album. It’s not unreasonable to want to listen to an album in the context the artist wrote it, and then other times, just listen to their greatest hits. It’s my choice to make.

That last sentence is key here. It’s a recurring theme in the Apple-verse: Make it nearly impossible (extremely difficult and potentially hazardous to the warranty) to run apps not in the App Store, to the point most people won’t dare try. Don’t approve apps with porn in them. Don’t approve apps that replace part of the phone’s functionality and/or allow one to sidestep carrier restrictions (Skype and other VOIP apps, replacements for the phone dialer, other web browsers besides Apple’s own Safari). And the list goes on.

Apple has never been about allowing users choice. Now that Apple Music is here, I would not surprised to see many of the other music apps not approved for new versions. If they don’t already, Apple will likely come up with their own watered-down Spotify/Pandora clone, and kick those apps to the curb.

I’m going to shift gears a bit. Right now, my music collection lives on an external hard drive (or two). The vast majority of it is in FLAC format. (FLAC, for those who don’t know what it is, is sort of like gzip or PKZIP, except tuned to compress audio better than anything else. Apple has, or at least had, something similar called ALAC.) I have a lot of duplicate songs. I have intentionally left them intact for exactly this reason; not all of them are the exact same version and I want to be able to listen to both the original album and compilation albums where the same songs appear. So yes, I have things like five nearly-identical copies of The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News, two copies each of two different mixes of Never Ending Story by Creamy, two copies of I Will Remember You by Amy Grant, two copies of both Love is a Battlefield and We Belong by Pat Benatar, etc. I could go on and on, but the point is that duplicates will happen in any music collection of an appreciable size.

And I would be pissed off if my music software decided to go behind my back and randomly remove the “duplicate” songs from my collection. For one, some are not really duplicates; at one time I had Bon Jovi’s album This Left Feels Right in my collection, which had acoustic versions of many of their previous hits. I moved this album back out of my on-disk collection because I got tired of it. Imagine having the original versions of those tracks deleted by a “helpful” music library software, and one can easily see how big of a disaster this could be.

And yes, these tracks were deleted from Jim’s collection, as he found himself some 4,700 songs short when he decided to dump Apple Music for something that didn’t suck. Worse, Jim says “[M]any of the songs were added from CDs years ago that I no longer have access to.”

Moral of the story: Backup early and backup often. Don’t trust the only copy of your music library to any new software. And be especially leery of Apple products.

The musicians’ revolt

I know this is way old, but I’m running out of things I feel like writing about and I need to start clearing off some of these drafts.

In early October, Techdirt reported on musicians lining up to take back their copyright from the record companies, in the wake of Jack Kirby’s heirs invoking the same termination provisions in the Copyright Act against the comic book companies, and a similar attempt by the heirs of Jerry Siegel, Superman’s creator which ended in a very bizarre fashion. If you think it’s absurd the idea Superman can fly is restricted by part of the copyright, you’re not the only one.

Anyway, in 2013 musical works become eligible for the same type of copyright termination. Granted, this is still a good three years away. The RIAA of course has not taken this lying down, trying to get musical works classified as “works for hire” which is, to put it bluntly, absurd. If you go back to, say, 1979, there was no Internet, no Web, no personal computers as we know them today (the “personal computers” of 1979 were much closer to “fancy calculators” and in fact, their primary uses were bare-bones word processing, simple spreadsheets/budget applications, and rather primitive games), no Magnatune, no Myspace, no Facebook, no Ogg Vorbis or MP3. All copying was analog. Usually, local bands got their exposure from local shows, and were at the mercy of the A&R (artist & repertoire) people for exposure beyond that. In essence, there was no way around the record companies.

As the decades went on all that changed, 1989 saw the CD and the beginnings of digital recording on a home computer. By 1999 the Internet was in full bloom and record company CEOs were freaking out about the Diamond Rio, the first digital music player, to the point of launching a failed lawsuit to try and squash it. Already there was concern about CD “ripping” as the original CD format had only nominal copy restriction capability, which the CD drives on computers (“multifunction devices”) were not even bound to honor.

And here we are in 2010. Digital distribution is no longer the exception; it’s still relatively commonplace for local artists to sell CDs at shows, but some people are starting to see physical media as antiquated. But the artists have options: Magnatune, CD Baby, etc. It’s no longer a game controlled strictly by the record companies and they are feeling the pinch. They blame unauthorized copying (which they refer to using the loaded word “piracy”) when in reality they expect $20 for a CD that’s often an inferior product to a local artist’s $10 to $15 CD. Gee, I wonder why some people prefer to just go download it off of a peer-to-peer network instead of shell out $20, when the warm fuzzy feeling of being “legal” or “honest” is that expensive.

For every Napster or Bearshare, there’s a Pirate Bay or similar site. I do believe one has a responsibility to financially support those who make it possible for one to enjoy music. However, the viability of doing so by buying “legitimate” copies of CDs from RIAA-member labels is highly dubious at best. Beyond a certain level, even concerts become an activity which financially exploits artists (which I have already gone into in detail here several times).

It’s high time for those who actually make the music to get their fair share. I feel once the artists own the copyrights to their music, we’ll start seeing CD (or equivalent download) prices drop back to a much more reasonable level.

The most important audio innovation?

The Telegraph reports on Sony’s Walkman topping a poll conducted by the British tech magazine T3 for the most important audio (music) innovation of the last 50 years. The patent-encumbered MP3 codec (compression format) came in second, followed by the Apple iPod, the CD, and the original (free) Napster.

Which brings us to what is completely missing on the list:

  • Diamond (later SONICblue) Rio: the original portable digital audio player introduced in 1998. Without the Rio and myriad others to follow, there wouldn’t have been an Apple iPod.
  • The cassette tape format: Ditto. The Walkman would not have been what it was without the prior success of the cassette format (originally designed for dictation). The cassette was introduced in 1963, and easily qualified for inclusion.
  • Ogg Vorbis codec: This is at least as important as MP3; Vorbis is not patent-encumbered and with the reference encoder and decoder available under a BSD-style license, one may now include compressed audio in games without paying royalties to the MP3 patent holders.
  • Creative Sound Blaster: Prior to the widespread availability of the Sound Blaster card and clones, sound coming out of a PC was restricted to the internal speaker, called the “squeaker” and myriad derisive names by PC gamers of the era. (Arguably, the sound sampling capabilities of the Commodore Amiga could be said to be the forerunner of the Sound Blaster.)
  • Advances in the technology of headphones, most notably in the last 20 years. (Wikipedia’s article on headphones states headphones were actually invented in the 1920s; those headphones are crude by today’s standards.)