Mending Apple Music Recommendations

I'm a huge fan of Apple Music and the feature I like the most is the music recommendations. Every day I listen to 2 or 3 playlists suggested in the "For You" session and they're always spot on. It was much to my surprise that I found out this appreciation was not universal in a post by David Sparks. I started investigating what matters for good Apple Music recommendations and, maybe, I can help you improve your playlists.

Your music doesn't matter

Your listening habits have very little to do with your recommendations; they do refine your suggestions over time, but that's a slow process. Think of the "For You" section as a rough gem and your continuous use will sharpen it over time to fit your taste, however, you can't cut a perfect stone if you don't have a good one.

From my tests you can skip your library, likes, purchase history and habits if you don't stand on a solid base, and you can build that one in a single place: the Choose Artists For You preferences.

Choosing Artists For You

If you can't recall this screen, it was probably the first thing you did in Apple Music. Remember that disastrous interface with circles where you'd enlarge genres and artists you enjoy? That's where we're going.

To access it, go to your Profile in the on iOS or iTunes on the Mac and click the Choose Artists For You button.

How to get to Choose Artists For You on iTunes
How to get to Choose Artists For You on iOS

Since I'm trying to prove David Sparks could get better recommendations, I'm following his quote, My favorite music largely includes obscure living jazz artists and less obscure dead jazz artists and going full jazz:

Jazz only as genre and full likeness

Then in the Choose your artists, I'm convoking a great roster with some of history best Jazz players1.

Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Louis Armstron, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone

And after you do this, you get a new set of recommendations, 2 or 3 playlists plus 6 albums and this is what I got:

Tortoirse Influences, Blue Note Records Art Blakey and Ella Sings Duke Ellington plus 5 jazz albums

Two 100% Jazz playlists and the Tortoise: Influences playlist has Mingus, Dolphy, Coltrane and Davis in it, so we can count it as a win considering it could be swayed by my library. In the suggested albums, the only non-Jazz album is Jane's Addiction. Another shot at it — If you just go to Choose Artists For You and skip the steps you get new recommendations — and got mostly Jazz albums with the exception of a Nirvana: Live playlist, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation and Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow2.

As a sideman Freddie Hubbard and Intro to Miles Davis plus 4 jazz albums

This is not, by all means, a foolproof solution nor a solution at all, but a way to get immediate feedback on Apple Music recommendations. If I'm right and the Choose Artists For You section plays a large role in the For You suggestions, I can only believe Apple did so to have a product completely independent from iTunes and the data it could provide.

This point is self-explanatory when you consider Apple released Apple Music for Android3, yet maybe they placed more consideration for fresh users without a considerable music library, otherwise, the whole Choose Artists For You is redundant when the service can access all your music and check how many times you played each track, in that case defining a profile with your favorite artists and genres should sound reasonable.

Back for the Encore

Pulling the trick of skipping the Choose Artists For You steps to get new recommendations will often return unwanted results if you don't change your settings slightly, such as changing the likeness of a genre or artist, or if you do it repeatedly in a short interval. There's only so much Apple Music can do and, I suppose, when you reduce the options to 1 or 2 genres4 it doesn't have a compendium wide enough to offer good recommendations. Unless it is pop, it can drown you in pop music.

  1. Astonishingly, I couldn't get Miles Davis to show. 

  2. I've been listening to a lot of Nirvana lately and Sonic Youth is one of my most heard bands, so that's probably noise in the suggestions. 

  3. Although, as far as I'm concerned, Apple Music for Android can access your iTunes purchases. 

  4. A dash or R&B does WONDERS for the jazz recommendations.