iTunes 4 Headphones Station

Just spent half an hour surfing through the music store built into iTunes 4, and gotta say, it’s an intoxicating experience — like hanging out at the headphone station at the record store listening to sample tracks, except that the UI responds faster and there are way more albums. Around 200,000 tracks from the Big 5 labels to start with. Initial observations:

A) This changes everything. Someone had to “go big” and make a play for the paid music download proposition, and do it right. That someone may as well be Apple, and sure enough, they’ve done it right. The associative power between artists, genres, tracks, and databases of “what other people bought” is incredibly powerful. Throw in the ability to sample the first 30 seconds of any track and you get a very addictive, shopper-friendly experience (.99/track). In 10 minutes, I decided to purchase the music of Jack Johnson and Diana Krall — two artists I had thought of idly in the past without tasting.

B) Decided to, but couldn’t — a bug in confirmation of billing details for existing .Mac customers made damn sure of that.

C) 200,000 tracks is not really that many, and naturally, my favorite artists are not represented by the Big 5. “Beefheart” turns up nothing. Even artists as significant as Air are nowhere to be found. Similarly, only Radiohead’s lamest album (“OK Computer”) is present. Somehow, it’s more exciting to browse and be excited by the possibilities than it is to search for what you really like. But as a commenter at MacSlash put it:

Are you all retarded? The reason they used the top 5 lables is because they are THE TOP 5 LABELS. This is an opportunity to make money, not appease emo-pop indie geeks.

Exactly. And it’s probably a no-brainer that Apple will at some point offer a submission mechanism for “indie” artists. Meanwhile, it’s about time someone created a simple mechanism for people to get off on quick-n-easy music downloads without simultaneously reaming the very artists they allegedly respect and support. Turn that beat around… got to hear per-CUSSION!

I’ll test the new AAC codec support later.

Music: David Bowie :: I’m Afraid Of Americans

16 Replies to “iTunes 4 Headphones Station”

  1. The indies have been well-represented with eMusic for some time now: An online music service with a pretty damn good and interesting business model.

    And “OK Computer” was absolutely not Radiohead’s lamest album. That award goes to either “Kid A” or “Amnesiac”.

  2. Oh dear, I really don’t want to start a Radiohead flame war here. Lets just say that Pablo Honey would undoubtedly receive the “lamest” award, and the band themselves would agree with the choice.

    Moving right along, the biggest issue I personally have with the iTunes music store is the same issue that everyone outside the United States of America has – we can’t actually buy music.

    It’s somewhat annoying that Windows users have already been promised they’ll have access to the service by the end of the year, but Apple’s ‘foreign’ customers haven’t even been offered a timeframe at all.

  3. I had the same problem as Xenex and many, many other people — it simply doesn’t work for me. You get a happy little message stating that they hope to someday cater to your wacky unamerican rumpus, but in the meantime you can play with the interface all you like and bounce up and down and listen to the previews even, but they won’t sell you a single track.

    I decided to poke around a little anyway, but every single artist that I tried to search for (all the artists I conceivably would have wanted to buy a track from or were curious about and so interested in the previews for) came up nil.

    At that point, I just sort of shrugged and filed it away under, “Yet another completely useless (to me) feature.”

  4. I have to agree with Sean Graham, incidentally. I have loved eMusic for some time. It’s a great service. They do two things that the Apple service doesn’t which I think makes a world of difference between a goofy gimmick (Apple) and a really great service (eMusic): First, if you search for someone they don’t have, they recommend you choices from what they do have that they think are similar, and their recommendations tend to be uncannily good. Second, you pay a flat fee per month, no matter how much or how little you download, so it’s not a problem at all to just surf the recommendations links and download album after album by artists who you may never have heard of before, but are probably a decent match for the listening mood you’re in now.

    Of course, the flat-fee thing would never fly if you were dealing with the major labels, so I’m not suggesting that Apple should have gone that route.

  5. shack, this is just like your argument about cell phones. it is one more stake in the heart of quality in the name of convenience. (as access gets more convenient, quality keeps getting worse and worse).

    haven’t checked it out yet, but what bit rates are they giving you? and .99 a song? considering there’s about a dozen songs on a modern cd, that works out to abou tthe price you’d pay at amoeba (maybe a touch less) except your not getting : the packaging (usually a moot point as it tends to suck, but not always); all the music (sorry, still a HUGE difference between 1440 and 160 or 128 or whatever they’re selling you.) in fact, it’s about 1/10th of the bits, yet they charge about what….90% of the money? and the coments about the artists getting a better share…where’s that from? what did i miss? aren’t apple still doing this through record companies? then if so won’t artists continue to get whatever measly percentage they do now? maybe i just need to read more about it.

    so, i see this as a continuation of the musical and sonic reaming of of us all, and i will continue to try to loosen my sphincter in preperation. NB – that doesn’t mean i’ll enjoy it.

    your stubborn curmudgeon,


  6. oh, almost forgot – kid a and amnesiac are the only listenable rhead albums. although “creep” is a great song.


  7. Any luck getting the OGG plugin to work with QuickTime 6.2 / iTunes 4? Hasn’t been working for me :-(

  8. How strange… Everyone I know who like Radiohead (not a big fan myself, but can enjoy them) agrees that “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” were piles of crap… It’s interesting, impressive, and curious, to see the dissent over which albums people like….

    Myself, I think “OK Computer” and “The Bends” are their best…. :)

    BTW, Scot, I posted some thoughts on this music service in my journal:

  9. grahams: Just checked out emusic and yep, it’s pretty darn good. I like their selection better than the apple music store, but in the end it’s just a web site. The smoothness of integrating a sampling store so smoothly into the ubiquitious (for Mac users) iTunes is hard to beat. The user experience is not comparable. It’s kind of intangible, but I know I’ll be much more likely to buy music online this way.

  10. baald: I haven’t been able to download anything yet (only sample) because of the stupid registration bug for existing .Mac customers, so I don’t know the bitrate of purchased files, but remember, these are AAC files, not MP3. So the quality is significantly better at 128kbps than it is for MP3. Haven’t researched this thoroughly, but says someone who did some tests at

    Conclusion L
    MP4 kicks the crap out of Mp3s at low bit rates but the edge falls off..
    MP4 96 = Around 160 Mp3
    MP4 196 = around 256 MP3
    256 Mp4 (max quality) = around a 320 Mp3

    Sure, artists will get whatever measly amount they’re getting now (at least I assume so) but the point is that this *is* the middle ground between having the industry ream us and us reaming the artists.

  11. I tried not to babble about Radiohead, really…

    The Radiohead fans that were disillusioned when the band didn’t make another OK Computer are the ones that think Kid A and Amnesiac are crap. Their loss, really ;)

    Personally, I hold those three album on equal footing, and place The Bends slightly behind them. Pablo Honey doesn’t really rate a mention.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the OK Computer crowd receive Hail To The Thief, because I personally think the leaked tracks sound like a hybrid between “old Radiohead” and “new Radiohead”.

    But I’ll stop now! Sorry for the off-topic babble in your blog, Scott…

  12. Not at all Xenex. I heard OK Computer when it came out and wondered why Radiohead were popular. Just seemed so bland and boring. Had to twist my arm to give the later records a shot. Never have heard Pablo Honey.

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  14. Hmmm… I am a big Radiohead fan, and I like all their albums. Kid A and Amnesiac were supposed to push the lines, and apparently they did. Because of this as others have comment to the point, they were going to lose some fans.

    I think OK Computer is a beautiful CD, but Kid-A still blows my mind. They are a great band.

  15. The only track on OK Computer that you, hopefully, didn’t find “lame” should have been Electioneering. If you found a great hard rock song lame then you have no reason to still be alive. The rest of the album wasn’t lame either.

    Oh yeah, and about iTunes… well I’m writing this three years after it was posted so I guess you’re wrong now. Us in Canada can buy music online, and I guess all the other countries can too. By the way, WHY DON’T THEY HAVE OK COMPUTER ON ITUNES NOW?!?

  16. I just got my 2000t and all of my songs are skipping in iTunes, and I cant figure out why. If someone could help me out and tell me how to fix this I would really appreciate it because its driving me crazy. Thanks for the replys.

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