Why can’t more music apps be like Apple Music Classical?

It’s hard to love classical music in 2023. Not because of the music itself—it’s just hard to find. A search for George Gershwin is just as likely to bring up his own performances as it is for music composed by him to be performed by other artists. The problem is that in metadata, classical music doesn’t just rely on the typical things like artist, genre, song title, or album title. There are soloists, and composers, and conductors, and pieces performed by orchestra and choir. Apple Music Classical, based on the Primephonic app that Apple acquired in 2021, addresses the metadata issue and makes me wonder why more apps aren’t as feature-rich.

I didn’t realize how little classical music was playing on my phone until I downloaded Apple Music Classic. I loved classical music, collected LPs and bounced between different performances, marveling at the subtle changes in the music created by each conductor and musician. Before streaming became the dominant form of music playback, I had entire playlists of composers I liked, with meticulously populated metadata for each music file. MP3 files actually have a lot of places for metadata, and it was useful to know which pianist was soloing in which recording of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

But the nuance was lost as streaming became the dominant form of music playback. Streaming has to be good enough to reach as wide a range of people as possible, and it takes resources to get as meticulous as I would with my own curated list of works.

Even now, searching for the same concert in the vanilla Apple Music app only gives me two suggested acts before suggesting organ and ukulele covers. That’s not what I want, and I love that on Apple Music Classical I can (and have) spent several hours listening to dozens of performances of the Piano Concerto No. 2. Some play it with the bleakness of a funeral dirge, others at breathtaking speed , which reminds me of something composed by Ferenc Liszt, and I can switch between each version with speed and ease. There is even a small description of the concerto that explains its historical context and the difficulty of the piece.

There’s a real love for music in Apple Music Classical. Quite a few pieces that I would consider quite significant get the same treatment as Rachmaninov’s work, with dozens of performances and a neat little explanation. But there are also many ways to find the music. I can search for a composer if I’m feeling like Ralph Vaughan Williams in the morning, or a performer if I’m craving more Sviatoslav Richter in my life. I can also search by instrument, orchestra, ensemble, conductor or soloist or even choir.

I was particularly impressed with the selection of choral music, which felt more robust, or at least easier to find, than in other music apps. I spent years looking for a specific arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” that I heard in college and finally found it on Music Classical (it’s from Bairstow: Great Cathedral Anthems Vol. 1, and it’s almost emotionally uncomfortable – I love it). I’ve also only been able to listen to the recording of a particular choir that I’ve been fond of for years.

Classical music is not always perfect. I was surprised that the “Sliding Dance of the Maidens” from the Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor it is not included in the popular works of Alexander Borodin, as it is the basis of the well-known song “Stranger in Paradise” from the 1953 musical. The kismet. But that might just apply to me.

That’s all I have to say, I’m in love with Apple Music Classical and I just keep wondering why the regular app isn’t more like it. While classical music certainly needs a huge amount of metadata, I like to think that most other music does too. People like to listen to the works of a single producer, and when they search for Stephen Sondheim, they should be able to just see all the musicals he composed, as neatly as I can see all the works of Antonin Dvořák in Music Classical.

I understand why the main app doesn’t offer the same kind of nuances in search and browsing. It covers many different genres of music with very different listener expectations and should do a good enough job for all of them, while Music Classical only does an excellent job for one really. But I already have colleagues wondering where the jazz version of this app is, and I don’t think they’ll be the only ones. Right now, music streaming apps are trying to differentiate themselves from each other in order to earn our dollars. Apple forces spatial audio on us, Spotify tries to make us care about podcasts, and YouTube Music quickly gives us video and reminds us of its origins in the main app. But Music Classical remembers that many of us are big geeks and just want to go down rabbit holes with our faves.

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