Apple Music and Spotify are boring – where's the fun and weird mixtape energy?

An audio tape with the logos for Spotify and Apple Music on it
(Image credit: Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash / Spotify / Apple)

I was talking to some people recently about how they used to make mixtapes for friends, which they used to personalize by recording movie quotes or little comedy skits or just personal messages between the songs. And my immediate thought was how much easier you can do all that stuff today now that we can find and make recordings digitally… and then I realized that I was dead wrong, and it's actually harder to make something like that today.

In a world where the best music streaming services are king, we have so much less flexibility in what we do with music. You can make a playlist and share it with someone (as long as they have the same service as you!), but you can't do many interesting things with that playlist.

All the music in the world is there, and yet we've never been less free to mess around with it. I understand that, for copy protection reasons, the music is being kept tightly within the confines of the app… so what if the apps from the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc themselves had more cool stuff you could do? Our music streaming apps are boring, when they could be creative outlets.

Apple Music is nudging in this direction with the addition of Apple Music Sing, which can take the vocals out of songs while putting the lyrics on the screen, leaving you with a karaoke version to howl along with.

Apple Music screen on an iPhone, next to a man singing along, karaoke style

Apple Music sing nixes the vocals from tracks, so you can sing along with gusto. (Image credit: Apple Music)

But I'd love to see more of a chance for people to add their own spin on music. Like the mixtape example I mentioned earlier – can't we have an option in playlists to easily record audio clips between tracks?

Or let's take this further. In Apple Music, you can make video playlists, so I could  also record myself in between the videos, like an MTV VJ? And Apple could use the tech from its Clips app so that you can add funky effects to it all. Or, taking that even further, could you actually add yourself into music videos using the depth-sensing tools built into Clips?

And something I've been hoping for for ages is the idea of an AI DJ, using machine learning tech to smartly mix songs on a playlist into each other. You could have settings for how subtle or dramatic you want the mixing to be, so again it's more personal to your style, or the style of the person you want to share the playlist with. Considering that Apple Music doesn't even offer a crossfade feature on iPhone, I'm not exactly holding my breath for this, but phones/laptops/tablets etc all have the power for this, so I'd love to see music services embrace the idea of getting weird with the tracks.

Apple's Clips app screengrab, showing women dancing while virtual lights swirl around them

Apple's Clips makes it possible to fill a room with cool virtual effects on video, using augmented reality. MTV used to pay a lot of money for that! And now an iPhone can just… do it. (Image credit: Apple)

I think I have moved past my period of creating VJ-ed playlists for my friends these days, but teenage me would've absolutely loved that – I used to make mixtapes with my own radio-host intros between songs.

Kids today have more creative options than ever, and yet things are more limited in other ways. People who know the music/video industries are probably screaming at this article that the reason these aren't an option in music streaming services is because of the strict grip that record labels have on how songs are used. There could be any number of amazing creative ideas sitting unused in Spotify's labs that it can't get support for from the music companies as a result of that. (According to a report in MIT Technology Review, Spotify has been working on a new 'AI' model for personalized recommendations, which might be something that actually comes to the app eventually.)

I don't think being able to make a weird neo-mixtape that's very much made to be understood only by the people you send it to would be a huge threat to the music industry's monetization, though. It might get people even more into music and performance. 

Let people be weird and dorky and personal with their music! Without us having to resort to bringing back tapes.

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.