I'm going to talk about iTunes Radio for a bit because I haven't found a lot of articles that seem like the people writing them are actually using it.
I have been.
As it turns out, I've got an excessive amount of time on my hands since the iOS 7 update and I was looking forward to the task of calibrating a couple stations with the new service right away.
First off, I haven't heard or seen a single ad yet. I expected to bump right into them, and was even modestly curious about what kind of ads they would be because it's Apple. So far, after about 6 hours of use and growing as I write this, I haven't heard one. You would think this is the point where I reveal that I am an iTunes Match user and thus I am not subject to the ads. But... I'm not. So I don't really get it. I'm not complaining. I need those ads like I need another hole in my head (I don't), but I'm just modestly surprised I haven't heard one yet. And I'm wondering if it's just me. I suspect I'm not alone. That or some poor user out there is doubling down on ads for me.
As a side note, the only reason I'm not an iTunes Match subscriber is because of the 25,000 song limit. I am hoping it just goes away, and after getting a grasp of the royalty structure, I thought that it would. SUPPOSEDLY, if you're an iTunes Match member and you have a song in your catalog that comes up on iTunes Radio, then Apple doesn't have to pay the royalty for it because it's a song you already own, they're just playing it for you. So, it seems to me that they are losing money (or paying more money, depending on how you look at it) since they have this arbitrary 25,000 song limit that keeps me from paying for the service and saving them money. I know there are workarounds for the song limit, but I'm not interested in a workaround, I just want the limit increased.
Again, that was a side note... a virtual jab at Apple since not enough people can possibly be arguing that point for me. Back to iTunes Radio...
I'll be honest, iTunes Radio has got room for improvement. I don't use pandora and haven't for years. I just don't care for it, but I'm holding out hope that iTunes Radio will be something I come back to often. So far, it needs work.
First off, I built my first Yo La Tengo radio station excited to just dive in and see what it would come up with. It flopped. It started off with a more popular track (if they have any) and then proceeded to play me a ton of Built to Spill and Pavement. It had played a few songs that I thought were okay, and one I liked/recognized. Whatever that song was, I selected "play more like this" and I kid you not, it played me three Rogue Wave songs in a row (not a fan). I was confused, I quickly reached my six-skips-per-hour limit, and was just stuck listening to Rogue Wave, Built to Spill, and Pavement... I did so as long as I could and when I couldn't take it anymore, I deleted the station and started over. My assumption, I suppose, was that there was a problem with my use of the service and not the service itself.
So, I started over. This time I decided I was going to build a super-station of sorts, by just picking a bunch of artists off my shelf that I love and building them all into one station and seeing what iTunes Radio could come up with. I will say that it was better than my original Yo La Tengo station, but after just a few times selecting "play more like this" I can tell that the algorithm (or whatever) that the app uses relies WAY too heavily on those inputs... and doesn't take me as seriously as they should when I select "never play this song."
Don't get me wrong, I like Ducktails... that's why I selected "Play more like this" when I first heard them come up. The "problem" is that I've given it a dozen other inputs since then but I've heard almost the entire album "Arcade Dynamics," which is rather obscure compared to the other bands listed like Yo La Tengo, Arctic Monkey's, and Animal Collective. I actually heard one Animal Collective song come up... but I'm telling you I put probably 30 different bands in the station criteria and I can't figure out why Matt Pond PA and Rogue Wave seem to be playing over and over. It's like iTunes is trying to insist that I love them. I'm ready to delete the station. The Ducktails thing is perplexing, I like that I can make this station play it so frequently... but if I wanted to listen to it that thoroughly I would just go play that album from my library. I guess I was expecting to hear a Real Estate track before more Ducktails... but, I'm not really complaining about it playing music I like too much.
I don't have to delete the station, as it turns out, because I can go into the station criteria and delete previous inputs. I've dug through there and found what I think is the culprit song triggering all the bogus content (note: don't select "play more like this" unless you really mean it). I'm at my song skip limit still but I'm excited to see what comes up next. Maybe some Deerhunter? Hell, I'd even take another round of Ducktails tracks... So what's the next track going to be? ohhhh... Small Black - Limits of Desire. I do like this track, and I sense this is a good segue to the next thing I like about the service.
The two things that seem distinctly valuable to me are, first, the ability to set a station to play you "hits" from the artists the station is based around, or set the station to "discovery" which would, in theory, play you songs like that Small Black track after everything else I've mentioned up to this point. There is also a variety setting between the two which, I imagine, tries to balance between Hits and Discovery. The other invaluable setting, is the on/off button next to "allow explicit tracks." A surely functional toggle, indeed.
Okay, my station seems to be in full stride now. I think the immediate takeaway is that it takes the direct inputs about individual tracks VERY seriously... whereas it maybe takes the station criteria as suggestion. I do like that I can maintain both a "play more like this" and a "never play this" section... and that I can add artists, songs, and genre's to those lists. Now, I just hope they work.
I'm easily up to 8 hours of listening at this point. Still haven't heard an ad. Finally heard a Deerhunter track, now Phoenix. I get it that I probably have more specific taste than a typical user, but I'd like to think that I can train this service to play things I will like, consistently. Really feel like I won when it just played Washed Out - It All Feels Right from their new album Paracosm.
I guess I started out pretty disappointed and after giving it a little work, I seemed to be pretty set with my first station. So I guess I'll leave it at that. Now, time to try my luck with a rap/hip-hop station.