Are Apple Music Classical Playlists “Curated” by Humans, or by Machines?

I listen to a lot of classical music, and I’ve probably used Apple Music more for classical music than any other genre. Yet I’ve only seen a couple of classical music playlists in the For You section of iTunes, and the iOS Music app. (Including the really stupid Classical music for elevators playlist.)

Cage playlist1However, after listening to just one Bruce Springsteen album, I’ve seen probably every playlist about that artist: Intro To…, Live…, “Deep Cuts…”, and more. The same for Miles Davis: I’ve seen at least a half-dozen Miles Davis playlists. I’ve listened to one Santana album – and not all the way through – and a few songs by Cream, and I’ve been inundated by playlists of Santana’s and Eric Clapton’s music. As for album recommendations, only a handful have been classical, but many albums recommended to me are already in my library.

Last night, I was presented with an Intro to John Cage playlist. I’ve actually been listening to quite a few recordings of works by John Cage, so I guess it makes sense that I get a playlist about his music. But an intro; well, I don’t really need that, though it’s better than nothing.

The problem is that there are mistakes in the playlist. One track is not by Cage, and two tracks are unavailable, and two tracks mentioned in the playlist description aren’t even there.

The very first track in the playlist is a fairly well-known solo piano piece by Philip Glass.

Cage playlist2

Granted, the album is entitled “Glass Cage,” because it contains works by, well, Philip Glass and John Cage, and, looking in the Apple Music interface, there’s no way to see the composer name. But I assume the “humans” who “curate” these playlists are not only able to see this metadata, but also to know enough about the composers they are grouping in playlists to play their music, and not others. (There could certainly be composers who influenced the one named in the playlist, but I’d expect this to be mentioned; and, anyway, Glass didn’t influence Cage.)

This could be just a sloppy mistake, but there’s another, one that I’ve seen several times in playlists. There are two songs, which show as dimmed below, that are unavailable to stream.

Cage playlist3

You’d think that when making a playlist, the “curator” would check such things.

I wondered if the so-called “curator” merely wrote up an intro and pressed a button to have fourteen tracks selected at random, perhaps among those that are most played or most purchased; that could explain the Glass track (perhaps its metadata isn’t correct) and the unavailable tracks.

Cage playlist4But if I look at the textual description of the playlist, it gets worse. The text references one track that’s not in the playlist “Ad Lib,” and another, at the end, which isn’t in the playlist either, but maybe it’s a reference to a band and a track that I should know, and don’t, because I’m a dance music philistine.

Apple has made a big deal about how these playlists are “curated” by humans. (I keep quoting that word, because I find it to be simply the wrong word for the process.) I question the human intervention in this case. Or, if a human did set up this playlist, he or she knows little about John Cage. And that, in and of itself, means that the human element is essentially worthless.

10 thoughts on “Are Apple Music Classical Playlists “Curated” by Humans, or by Machines?

  1. IMHO, Rhapsody has the best curated playlists.
    BTW, Rhapsody version 5.0 was released today and it’s fantastic!

  2. IMHO, Rhapsody has the best curated playlists.
    BTW, Rhapsody version 5.0 was released today and it’s fantastic!

  3. I wish there was a way to flag incorrect metadata. Setting aside the labels frequently separate “Miles Davis” and “Miles Davis Quintet” and the streaming companies don’t connect those dots, sometimes artists have the same name. For example, “Patrick Williams” is a Grammy and Emmy award winning composer, but there is a blues artist with the same name. Asking Siri to play music by him will result in music by both artists, but only the tracks from Apple Music, not tracks from your library. I’ve also seen track misspellings (Nuttville vs Nutville), and also tracks that had the wrong first letter, making it impossible to search. It’s gotta be the labels, because it’s on both Spotify and Apple Music. Sorry for the rant.

  4. I wish there was a way to flag incorrect metadata. Setting aside the labels frequently separate “Miles Davis” and “Miles Davis Quintet” and the streaming companies don’t connect those dots, sometimes artists have the same name. For example, “Patrick Williams” is a Grammy and Emmy award winning composer, but there is a blues artist with the same name. Asking Siri to play music by him will result in music by both artists, but only the tracks from Apple Music, not tracks from your library. I’ve also seen track misspellings (Nuttville vs Nutville), and also tracks that had the wrong first letter, making it impossible to search. It’s gotta be the labels, because it’s on both Spotify and Apple Music. Sorry for the rant.

  5. I also listen mostly to classical music on Apple Music. I have a large collection of classical albums in my iTunes library. Just to test Apple Music I decided to “follow” The Emerson Quartet – I do already own numerous albums by them. And what do I get in “For You”? An Intro to “The Emerson Quartet”.

    But it’s not just classical music that’s broken here. I own almost every album by film composer Ennio Morricone. They’re all in my iTunes Library. And yes, Apple Music thinks I still would enjoy an “Intro to Ennio Morricone”.

    At least my Intros didn’t have grayed out or wrong tracks…

  6. I also listen mostly to classical music on Apple Music. I have a large collection of classical albums in my iTunes library. Just to test Apple Music I decided to “follow” The Emerson Quartet – I do already own numerous albums by them. And what do I get in “For You”? An Intro to “The Emerson Quartet”.

    But it’s not just classical music that’s broken here. I own almost every album by film composer Ennio Morricone. They’re all in my iTunes Library. And yes, Apple Music thinks I still would enjoy an “Intro to Ennio Morricone”.

    At least my Intros didn’t have grayed out or wrong tracks…

  7. I, too, was surprised when I opened an Apple playlist and discovered several unplayable (grey) tracks. It oddly feels like a betrayal! Apple repeatedly emphasized people over machines, but this screams machines! (Or maybe it doesn’t—wouldn’t it be trivial to program a playlist to avoid unplayable tracks?)

    I’ve seen several playlists that have unplayable tracks, and each time I see it I’m annoyed.

  8. I, too, was surprised when I opened an Apple playlist and discovered several unplayable (grey) tracks. It oddly feels like a betrayal! Apple repeatedly emphasized people over machines, but this screams machines! (Or maybe it doesn’t—wouldn’t it be trivial to program a playlist to avoid unplayable tracks?)

    I’ve seen several playlists that have unplayable tracks, and each time I see it I’m annoyed.

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