Apple Music is ‘laughably bad’ at classical music

Apple Music is ‘laughably bad’ at classical music


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2021

A Bloomberg assessment of the recent Apple takeover and shutdown of Primpehonic comes up with these conclusions:

Why would the world’s largest company be interested in a closely held startup with a relatively small user base, a few dozen employees and no startling technological innovation to boast of?

The answer: Primephonic understood the future. Apple has realized that streaming services will succeed or fail depending on whether they master the four things the tiny company, along with its classical-music peers such as Idagio, have figured out: metadata, discovery, curation and quality….

Right now Apple Music, like most music-streaming services, is laughably bad at providing metadata beyond the most basic track information….

Primephonic didn’t just get algorithmic recommendations right, it had actual experts curating playlists – famous violinists picking their favorite violin-focused recordings, for example.

Read on here.





  • Fred Funk says:

    So, Apple was doing it wrong, and had questionably famous viola players picking their favorite viola-focused recordings? A quick search on Apple Music shows 35+ recordings of Harold in Italy. With each 6 month subscription, a complimentary bottle of Tylenol is included.

  • Tamino says:

    If the music industry would allow for the most basic and obvious structuring of classical works, that is
    Main category (work)
    Subcategory (movement etc.)

    Or if they want to be really intelligent even one more subcategory that would allow to sort operas and oratorios correctly into:

    that would be revolutionary.

    A 4th grade class project how to sort classical music sensibly in playlists came to the same conclusion in about 10 minutes 40 years ago.

    Have a nice day. This advice is for free.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    Listening to Der Ring des Nibelungen on a streaming service which insists on playing the “songs” of the “album” on shuffle mode can be an extremely confusing experience! 🙁

    • Paul Dawson says:

      What an interesting idea. I don’t do streaming services, but it’s easy enough to put the entire cycle on a flash drive and select random play in the car. It could be a cruel scrutiny of how well I know the cycle.

      Indeed, if one put different interpretations on the drive, the test could be not just “Identify the track”, but also “Identify the conductor/soloists”.

  • Paul Sekhri says:

    But bravo to Apple for recognizing their shortcomings in classical music and doing something about it. Their powerful platform that reaches billions has the potential to introduce classical music to many more potential music lovers, and ultimately create more musicians, concert goers etc.

  • Patrick says:

    Ok, I’ll skip over my gripe that Primephonic sold out their subscribers. They did, but that’s done. I told them Apple Music was a mess. Do they listen to me? Of course, not.

    Yes, searching for classical music on Apple Music is as bad as you can imagine. Very few searches are successful. Often the closest you get is a middle movement to a symphony , concerto or sonata. Good luck with searching conductors of a certain work.

    Try voice searching on Apple CarPlay. Pop music? No problem. Classical music? Big problem. What’s most embarrassing is that you are forced to mispronounce non-English languages so the voice recognition has even a small chance of working.

    Search for König Stephan Overture by saying “Kohnig Steven” or just “Beethoven Steven Overture”. Solution? Imagine how the biggest idiot in America would pronounce it and go with that pronunciation.

    Good luck!

  • Stas says:

    It’s laughably bad in all regards.

  • Anonymous says:

    “… But why would the world’s largest company be interested in a closely held startup with a relatively small user base, a few dozen employees and no startling technological innovation to boast of? … ”

    China / South Korea

  • Niko says:

    There are a few labels (e.g. Hyperion, which has artists Marc-Andre Hamelin, Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt etc.) that are only available through apple music and not spotify

  • Not Pedantic says:

    I’m a music student, and a millennial. I use Apple Music to listen to classical music. Streaming is the best solution for me, as I don’t have the means to invest in physical records. Personally, Apple Music is perfect. It costs 5 bucks a month, and I can listen to most classical music records in existence, as much as I want. There’s an option to listen in losless sound quality, so that’s not an issue. I can see the value of metadata and having curated playlists by experts. But as somebody who already knows what he wants to listen to, I’m fully satisfied. Besides, there IS an algorithm, which recommends albums based on what you listen to, and I found it to be very effective.

  • msc says:

    But how big is the classical market? Does Apple truly care if they get a significant share of it?

    • Tamino says:

      In Korea, Japan, and emerging in China, quite substantial, up to a quarter of the market.
      In the US meager 2-3 %.
      In Europe in-between.

  • Treeves says:

    What was Apple’s intent in buying Primephonic? So sad that they ruined a good thing.