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Problems with Pre-Releases On Apple Music

twenty one pilots’ Trench pre-release on Apple Music

twenty one pilots’ Trench pre-release has an editor’s note letting you know that when the album is released, it will be automatically added to your library.

The trend in new releases is to trickle out a song each week or so leading up to the release date of your new album. As an artist, I understand this. As a music fan, it can be mildly annoying. As a heavy Apple Music user, it’s usually a pain in the ass. Not all pre-releases are created equal, or so it seems.

[Update 2018-09-01] It appears the Apple Music issue described in this post has just been resolved! All remaining songs from pre-release albums in my library that dropped yesterday are now available on my devices. This is exactly how I expect it to work!

Let me address this first: I do understand the benefit of pre-releasing tracks on your new album. Heck, I did it myself with the new Bottom Dwellers album. It’s a great way to generate buzz and keep your band on everyone’s radar for longer than the week following the full release date. It is very useful.

As a music fan, I also enjoy the sneak previews. I’d argue that no one enjoys getting hyped up about new releases more than I do; explanation, it bothers me when artists abuse the system. It’s annoying when an album alert shows up in your queue every week leading up to the full release date. Once or twice prior is fine, but don’t drag it out. I am most excited about full releases, and it’s disappointing to see that your album still hasn’t been fully released week after week.

The biggest problem with pre-releases, though, is Apple’s inconsistent handling of them. Adding a pre-release album to your library will pull in the listing of the entire album. Any tracks that have been pre-released will be available to play from your library, and any tracks that have not been released will be grayed out. When subsequent pre-release tracks are later released, they will also become available to play.

You might think, then, that when the entire album is released, all of the remaining tracks would become available to play in your library. This is only sometimes the case, though. This week, it was not the case with the new Aaron Lee Tasjen album I added to my library when the pre-release became available. Nor was it the case with the Roger Miller tribute compilation I added to my library when its pre-release became available. It was also not the case with the new Bottom Dwellers album.

At first I assumed this was a bug, but after doing some digging, I noticed that some pre-release albums have an editor’s note saying that if you pre-add the album, the entire album will be available in your library once it’s released. Other pre-releases do not say this. None of the aforementioned albums had this editor’s note. The pre-release albums I did find with this note all appear to be from more mainstream artists. It’s not clear if this is a shortcoming of the back-end systems Apple uses to make pre-releases available, or if this is a perk they make available to their more popular music partners.

Neither explanation is acceptable. There is no button, link, or menu option to add the missing tracks of a pre-release album lacking the editor’s note when it is released. You can’t even play the track from your library. The only way to add the missing songs is to delete the album from your library, then re-add it. This means you have to search for the album in Apple Music again. Not only that, but you have to somehow know that the album has actually been released first.

From a user perspective, this is neither intuitive, nor elegant. In fact, it is extremely easy to miss the full release of a non-editor’s note album you have pre-added to your library.

If this is a perk for select partners, why punish your entire subscriber-base for the benefit of some of your partners? If this is a bug or limitation of the back-end systems, why has it persisted for so long? Apple is the pioneer of commercial digital music sales and this issue is actively preventing subscribers from playing or even knowing about the content they are both paying for and are interested in.

I guess I can officially throw this one on the pile of radars I’ve been meaning to file.