A lot of people have been writing, tweeting and facebooking about unexpected music that comes up when they listen to iTunes Radio. Why, a friend posted on Facebook, does he hear a piece by Shostakovich on a Terry Riley radio station? Why, a colleague wrote, does iTunes Radio play some “new age piano noodler” on a Bach station?
There are several types of iTunes Radio stations. There are featured stations, at the top of the iTunes Radio window, which are programmed by Apple, or by celebrities, which, as of this writing, include Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Diplo, Jared Leto and others. It’s very possible that these people are actually involved in the selected of music on these stations; or they may just be lending their names, the way a celebrity puts their name on a perfume.
The second type of station is the genre-based stations you can create by clicking the + icon next to My Stations. When you click this button, a popup shows a list of genres; click a genre to see a list of sub-genres.
These stations are based on specific genres and sub-genres in the iTunes Store. (Remember, all the music on iTunes Radio is music that is sold in the iTunes Store.) Choosing these will give you a mix of music from specific genres.If you enter an artist, genre or song in the text field, you’ll see a few stations you can choose from. You might find a specific station related to an artist or genre, or you’ll see up to five artists and songs. You can choose any of these to listen to one of those stations.
Above, I’ve chosen the Steve Reich Essentials station. With this type of station, you should hear mostly music by a specific composer (I’ve only seen these so far for classical composers). In my tests, this is the case.
There’s another type of station for rock and pop music: If You Like stations. These are based around a specific artist, but also include related artists. For example, the If You Like the Grateful Dead station plays music by the Dead, but also by the Allman Brothers, Hot Tuna, The Band and others. It seems to be just like a standard artist-based station, which I describe below.
Finally, there are the stations where you choose an artist from the Artists list, or you choose a song. These stations do not just play one artist or style of music. You’ve certainly noticed that already. As far as I can tell, these stations leverage iTunes’ Genius feature, playing music “related” to the song or artist you’ve selected. So you’ll get Bach and new age piano noodling; you’ll get Terry Riley and Shostakovich. Or you’ll get the Grateful Dead, together with Cream, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Led Zeppelin and others.
Remember, iTunes Radio is not designed to let you listen to the music you want. Its goal is to drive you to the iTunes Store, in part by playing music you may not know, that you may want to buy. It’s not like Spotify, where you choose a specific album or playlist to listen to. With the exception of the composer-based Essentials stations, I haven’t found any yet that play music only by a specific artist.