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

In 2023, it’s hard to like classical music. Not because of the music itself — it’s just hard to find. George Gershwin’s research is as likely to evoke his own performances as it is to evoke the music he composed and performed by other artists. The problem is that, in the metadata, classical music does not only rely on typical elements such as artist, genre, song title or album title. There are soloists to consider, composers, conductors, and pieces performed by orchestra and choir. Apple Classical Musicbased on the Primephonic app that Apple acquired in 2021solves the metadata issue and makes me wonder why there aren’t more such rich apps.

I didn’t realize how much classical music was spinning on my phone until I downloaded Apple Music Classic. I loved classical music, collecting LPs and bouncing between different performances, marveling at the subtle changes made to 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 each music file’s metadata meticulously populated. MP3 files actually have a lot of room for metadataand it was useful to know which pianist took the solo in which recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

But the nuance was lost when streaming became the dominant form of music playback. Streaming needs to be good enough to reach the widest range of people possible, and it takes resources to get as meticulous as I would with my own playlist.

Draw your attention to the albums on offer. Specifically the last two.

Even now, searching for that same concerto in the vanilla Apple Music app only gives me two performance suggestions before suggesting organ and ukulele covers. That’s not what I want, and I love that in Apple Music Classical I can (and have) spent a few hours listening to dozens of performances of Piano Concerto No. 2. Some play it with one dark with a dirge, others with breathtaking speed reminiscent of something composed by Franz Liszt, and I can switch between versions with speed and ease. There’s even a short description of the concerto explaining its historical context and the difficulty of the piece.

There’s a real love for music in Apple Music Classical. A number of pieces that I would consider quite important are given the same treatment as Rachmaninoff’s work, with dozens of renderings and a neat little explanation. But there are also many ways to find the music. I can search by composer if I feel like it’s a kind of Ralph Vaughan Williams matinee or by artist if I want to have 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 range of choral music, which seemed more robust, or at least easier to find, than on other music apps. I spent years looking for a specific arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” that I had heard in college and finally found it on Music Classical (it just came from Bairstow: Great Cathedral Anthems Vol. 1, and it’s almost embarrassing – I love it). I was also able to listen only to the recording of a specific choir that I have loved for years.

On a number of works, you can get details about the piece itself, browse many performances, and sort by popularity, name, release date, or duration. It’s also possible to get related works that, in this case, I had never heard before, but sounded related.

Classical music is not always perfect. I was surprised that “Gliding Dance of the Maidens” from Polovtsian dances in Prince Igor was not included in the popular works of Alexander Borodin since it is the basis of the well-known song “Stranger in Paradise” from the 1953 musical The kismet. But that might just be a thing for me.

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

I understand why the main app doesn’t provide the same kind of nuance in search and navigation. It covers many different genres of music with many different expectations from listeners, and it has to do a pretty good job for all of them, while Music Classical does a great job for just one. But already, I have colleagues who are wondering where the Jazz version of this application is, and I don’t think they will be the only ones. Right now, music streaming apps are trying to differentiate themselves from each other to earn our dollars. Apple is forcing spatial audio on us, and Spotify is trying to make us care about podcasts, and YouTube Music is quick to give us a video and remind us of its origins in the main app. But Music Classical remembers that many of us are giant nerds, and we just want to go down rabbit holes with our favorites.

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