Apple Music Doesn’t Get Classical Music Right

In all the articles I’ve written about Apple Music so far, I haven’t specifically looked at how this service handles classical music, something which is of great interest to me. So it’s time to look at whether you can use Apple Music to find and listen to classical music easily.

For starters, many parts of Apple Music are not designed for classical music. The whole playlist aspect of the service is clearly not ideal for this type of music, which doesn’t contain “songs,” but rather works, often of multiple movements. So the For You section of Apple Music, which offers playlists and albums to check out, won’t be of much help.

There are some useful playlists, however. For example, this morning, when I check For You, I see a playlist introducing the Emerson String Quartet.

Emerson playlist

I’m happy to find this kind of playlist that introduces me to an artist or performer. I can use it as a launchpad to their recordings. I like the Emerson String Quartet, and have many of their recordings, and I can perhaps find some that I’m not familiar with.

But a playlist like this is nothing more than a launchpad. I wouldn’t “listen” to it as a playlist, because this isn’t how you really listen to classical music.

Apple Music fails as far as presenting metadata about classical music. Looking at a number of albums in the New section, I find that many of them don’t display the names of the composers whose works they feature. Here is just one example, among many, which shows the problem.This is a recording of works by a number of different composers. There is no indication of whose music it is.


However, if I search the album in the iTunes Store, I can see the composers neatly listed in a Composer column.


You might expect that selecting a track in Apple Music and pressing Command-I to bring up the Info window would show such information; alas, it does not.


Since Apple clearly does have the composer information, as you can see in the iTunes Store screenshot, they should provide a way to present this on Apple Music.

Searching for a specific work and composer on the above album does find it, and I haven’t performed exhaustive searches of classical works to find what shows up in Apple Music; that wouldn’t prove anything, because not all the music on the iTunes Store is available for streaming.

I didn’t really expect Apple Music to be any better than this for classical music. The classical music listener is not Apple’s target demographic; the Beats 1 Radio listener is. You’ll find a lot of classical music on Apple Music, and, if you’re searching for a specific work by a given composer, there’s a good chance you’ll find one or more versions. But don’t expect Apple Music to give you the information you need to use this service efficiently to listen to classical music.

10 thoughts on “Apple Music Doesn’t Get Classical Music Right

  1. As a classical music lover on a budget, I’m enjoying Apple Music because it allows me to listen to CDs that I couldn’t really justify buying because I probably won’t listen to them more than once or twice (especially if I already have several other recordings of the same music). But you’re right: Apple Music is hopeless when it comes to recommendations of classical music. I read classical music reviews elsewhere, choose the albums I want to listen to and search for them manually.
    I just wish I’d never turned iCloud Music Library on!!

  2. Ack. The frequent lack of composer tags (and often no piece names, only movement names) is why I bailed from emusic lo those many years ago. I have a couple of dozen albums with stuff I like but have absolutely no clue what the heck it is other than a good guess at the period by the style. I haven’t tried asking Siri yet, but I expect that Siri’s no better at classical than the average music service is.

    I do want Apple Music, but I’ll wait a month or so for things to settle down. I have a ton of classical cassettes and records, and it would be great to be able to listen to them again without setting up analog hardware, let alone ripping them. But I guess I’ll have to listen the old fashioned way, album by album.

    Do you know if the old hand-built iRadio stations stay around and keep their training once you sign up for Apple Music? So far my iTunes Match early music station seems ok. It took a fair bit of effort to stop it from reverting to all chant all the time after a few more varied tracks. I’d hate to have to do that all over again once I sign up for A.M..

    • All the radio stations to which I made lots of changes have disappeared, so I can’t answer your question.

  3. Many thanks for flagging the numerous problems with iTunes 12.2. Are there any good alternatives for the Mac? I’ve been playing around with VOX, Unlike iTunes, it’s not bloated, but it lacks the capacity to organize by composer. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it isn’t aware that the “composer” field exists (searching for “Mahler” turned up only those tracks in my iTunes library where “Mahler” had crept into one of the other fields). I’ve emailed the developers about this and their response confirmed a more general lack of awareness of how the field is used: they responded that all I needed to do was use the “arrange my artist” (sic) function.

  4. The mention of Vox (which I didn’t know about) made me search for other alternatives. I only found one contender, Swinsian, $20, 30 day demo.

    On very brief acquaintance it’s nice. It doesn’t rip CDs, but it supports flac and a lot of other formats that iTunes doesn’t. You can add to the library with drag and drop, have the library be a watched folder, or have it read the iTunes library (including simple smart playlists), and it can auto refresh with the iTunes library on launch. It can download/manage podcasts and sync with ipods.

    It supports the Composer field! You can explicitly specify Composer in the search bar, and Composer can be one of the three columns in the column browser. But it can’t shuffle by group, which spoils my scheme to make multitrack works shuffle properly.

    There’s a Track Inspector panel that you edit the tags in, and it can edit multiple tracks, plus find/replace (with regex even). There’s a preference for whether it will write the tags to the files, I’ve turned that off for now for safety.

    It’s scriptable with a fair number of hooks. I haven’t compared to the iTunes suites yet, but I’d be surprised if it can run Doug Adam’s scripts without a fair bit of modification.

    One annoyance is that there’s no sideways scroll bar, so if you add a lot of columns to list view, you can’t see them all easily. I also don’t see any equivalent to checkmarks on tracks, to skip playing/syncing them, or anything like party shuffle.

    It seems pretty zippy. I dragged in about 36000 random tracks, and it searches and sorts quickly. It’s actively maintained, it’s not an app store app, and it doesn’t phone home. As a bonus for me, it still runs on snow leopard.

    Time will tell if there are any show stopping problems, but it’s good enough to spend some time to test in more depth.

  5. Thank you, Kirk!!! Your voice is much needed here!!!

    The lack of composer info on the new Apple Music has been driving me nuts. I too love classical music (among many other genres) and on a classical compilation album, or even on an album with complete works by more than one composer, you have no way of knowing what piece you’re actually listening to if all you’re seeing is track name and artist.

    Clearly, the people who run Apple Music have too narrow a musical view and understanding. At the very least, they should give us ALL the info that’s already available in the iTunes store, including the composer info – as you clearly are pointing out. The other easy thing would be to switch the list view from artist to composer as soon as a classical music album is being pulled up – that’s already the case in Apple’s own iTunes store for classical music. On the other hand, how do you treat a playlist that has classical tracks and non classical tracks? This is when it gets complicated. – But it’s Apple! They’ve been able to solve much more challenging problems before!

    The other big problem with classical music and Apple Music is the new music app on iOS. Again, no composer info, just track name, artist and album title. There is no way of even looking up more metadata, even if it was available. Why can’t they show the composer instead of the album title whenever a classical track plays? Who needs to know the album title when listening to a classical track? Artist and composer would be much more useful.

    SPOTIFY does list composers for classical music, at least when that information has been included with the tracks by the publishers (as they said in a statement on one of their forums). They even do this in their iOS app! –

    That’s something Apple should pay very close attention to…

  6. I am pleased to read that other people are also perplexed by the lack of information regarding classical music available on the internet, in particular the composer and the name of the work. I had assumed that it was part of some contractual obligation on the part of the broadcaster, but it appears not to be the case. I am sad that it appears rather to be a general lack of interest on the part of the broadcasting companies. I use iTunes Classical and Stingray Music as my door into music with which I am unfamiliar, but I usually have to Google the fragments of information and try to sort out from all the listings to what I had been listening half an hour before. Where-oh-where is that information-world promised for so many years?

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