Why Can’t Apple Even Try to Get Classical Music Right?

As I browse the For You section of Apple Music, I see a new recording by lutenist Jakob Lindberg, a performer whose work I admire. It’s called A Lute by Sixtus Rauwolf.

Hmm… I’ve never heard of that composer. Who is he? What is this about? There’s plenty of room for descriptions of albums on Apple Music and on the iTunes Store, but this one has nothing. Not a word.

Sixtus

So I go to Google. I find the page on the website of the record label, Bis Records (if you scroll to the very bottom, you’ll see the label name), but the name of the album is slightly different. (A demerit to Bis Records for getting that wrong…)

No matter, there’s a description of the album:

The lute by Sixtus Rauwolf heard on this recording was probably built in the last decade of the sixteenth century. Some hundred years later, in 1715, it was converted to suit the musical tastes and demands of the baroque period. For this disc, Jakob Lindberg has chosen works that could have formed part of the repertory of the presumably German owner of the instrument at around the time of its final conversion.

And there is a track list, with the names of composers, many of whom I have never heard of (Reusner, Dufault, Kellner).

Apple could ask for and display this information. They do display composers, for some albums. And in this case, if I get info for any of the tracks, the composers’ names are visible. Yet they don’t get carried over to the Apple Music display, even though for many classical albums composers’ names are clearly identified.

I know, classical music is just a small percentage of the market. But Apple could try harder. I shouldn’t have to Google an album to find out even the basic information about it, such as the composers it contains. If I’m browsing Apple Music, I’m more inclined to want to listen to an obscure album if I know something about it.

But it’s not hip-hop; there’s no “Feat.” artists, which are carefully detailed for every song which contains such a credit.

This information is available. As for the composers, there’s no excuse; it’s in the tags. Apple messed up; they should be displaying those names. As for the rest, Apple could ask record labels to provide blurbs, texts that they already supply to online vendors of downloads and CDs; texts they include on their websites and in their catalogs. Not just for classical music, but for all music.

Apple isn’t trying.

(By the way; if you like old lute music, do check out this album. Excellent playing by Lindberg, as usual, and great sound.)

28 thoughts on “Why Can’t Apple Even Try to Get Classical Music Right?

  1. I’m so glad you’ve written at length about Apple Music and iTunes’ neglect of classical music several times. Maybe it’ll encourage Apple to address these concerns, particularly regarding how the services often fail to distinguish between composers and performers. My latest annoyance as a relatively new Apple Music subscriber: the way tracks are displayed when you select an album in Apple Music. You can wind up with the first few words of each track showing, and those words might be identical because the real distinguishing info mightn’t appear until ten words in, like which movement of a symphony, or say the RV number in a Vivaldi violin concerto on an album with several Vivaldi violin concerti. Yes you can tap the track and then the whole thing pops up, but if you’re in an album (or worse, a box set) with many tracks, that means you have to tap on each individual track just to find out what’s there. Since I’m new to the service, if there’s some workaround I don’t know about, please let us know! And thanks again for calling Apple out on this.

    • No, this is really horrible. It’s worse on a mobile device, but some works in iTunes are tagged in such a way so you can’t see enough of the Name tag.

  2. I’m so glad you’ve written at length about Apple Music and iTunes’ neglect of classical music several times. Maybe it’ll encourage Apple to address these concerns, particularly regarding how the services often fail to distinguish between composers and performers. My latest annoyance as a relatively new Apple Music subscriber: the way tracks are displayed when you select an album in Apple Music. You can wind up with the first few words of each track showing, and those words might be identical because the real distinguishing info mightn’t appear until ten words in, like which movement of a symphony, or say the RV number in a Vivaldi violin concerto on an album with several Vivaldi violin concerti. Yes you can tap the track and then the whole thing pops up, but if you’re in an album (or worse, a box set) with many tracks, that means you have to tap on each individual track just to find out what’s there. Since I’m new to the service, if there’s some workaround I don’t know about, please let us know! And thanks again for calling Apple out on this.

    • No, this is really horrible. It’s worse on a mobile device, but some works in iTunes are tagged in such a way so you can’t see enough of the Name tag.

  3. I’m not convinced that Apple does the metadata at all. I just can’t see Apple being in the hard-work-no-profit data entry business as opposed to creating an interface for the publisher to do that. Apple can, and presumably do, require that some fields not be empty, but I’m inclined to blame the publishers. Emusic had the same problem way back. Many albums had no useful track metadata at all, and the album titles didn’t necessarily match the CD titles (possibly because the same album often has different titles in different markets, like books do). Bad metadata correlated well with the publisher (Naxos was a prime offender–track titles were only ever the movement name), and emusic explicitly said in the forums that they couldn’t fix things by the terms of the license, since the publishers wanted to control that. Though why some publishers wanted to do such a bad job is beyond me…

    The other problem of course is that the tag system was designed by someone with lots of enthusiasm but no knowledge of music, databases, or library cataloging, so it’s been a mess from the very start.

    • The interface exists, and publishers use it. As I said in the article, the composer names are in the tags, so the record label has correctly supplied them. For some reason, some releases show composers and others don’t; there’s no logic that I can see, other than the fact that the biggest labels often display better info.

  4. I’m not convinced that Apple does the metadata at all. I just can’t see Apple being in the hard-work-no-profit data entry business as opposed to creating an interface for the publisher to do that. Apple can, and presumably do, require that some fields not be empty, but I’m inclined to blame the publishers. Emusic had the same problem way back. Many albums had no useful track metadata at all, and the album titles didn’t necessarily match the CD titles (possibly because the same album often has different titles in different markets, like books do). Bad metadata correlated well with the publisher (Naxos was a prime offender–track titles were only ever the movement name), and emusic explicitly said in the forums that they couldn’t fix things by the terms of the license, since the publishers wanted to control that. Though why some publishers wanted to do such a bad job is beyond me…

    The other problem of course is that the tag system was designed by someone with lots of enthusiasm but no knowledge of music, databases, or library cataloging, so it’s been a mess from the very start.

    • The interface exists, and publishers use it. As I said in the article, the composer names are in the tags, so the record label has correctly supplied them. For some reason, some releases show composers and others don’t; there’s no logic that I can see, other than the fact that the biggest labels often display better info.

    • Not really. If you look at the actual credits for recent hip-hop and pop albums, you can have a dozen or more people with writing credit, hence getting publishing royalties. But that’s not important for iTunes; that’s all taken care of on the back end.

    • Not really. If you look at the actual credits for recent hip-hop and pop albums, you can have a dozen or more people with writing credit, hence getting publishing royalties. But that’s not important for iTunes; that’s all taken care of on the back end.

  5. It’s really sad the way Apple mangles classical music. My beef is that they don’t group the movements of a work. Each individual movement is treated as a separate song.

    • They can, and for many releases, they do. The tags exist. In this one, you can see that the second line is Lute Suite, and below it are the various movements. However, since they didn’t pick up the composer’s name – which is in the tags – it doesn’t display as it should. Also, the work and movement tags aren’t widely supported; I’m not sure how many labels populate them correctly. In this case, they are correctly populated, but there are no movement numbers, which might mess things up.

  6. It’s really sad the way Apple mangles classical music. My beef is that they don’t group the movements of a work. Each individual movement is treated as a separate song.

    • They can, and for many releases, they do. The tags exist. In this one, you can see that the second line is Lute Suite, and below it are the various movements. However, since they didn’t pick up the composer’s name – which is in the tags – it doesn’t display as it should. Also, the work and movement tags aren’t widely supported; I’m not sure how many labels populate them correctly. In this case, they are correctly populated, but there are no movement numbers, which might mess things up.

    • Yes, but Qobuz isn’t ideal. And they’ve been in dire financial straits for some time. It’s not clear how long they’re going to last.

      • They have been bought almost two years ago, no more financial warnings since, and they are improving (apps, offer …). But yes, Apple Music remains the best compromise (cost, catalog, metadata). If only we could see all the fields before adding to our libraries …

        Pardon my english, I am French (it’s probably why I heard of Qobuz!).

        • Je le connais bien. J’ai longtemps vécu en France, et je m’y étais abonné pendant une année.

    • Yes, but Qobuz isn’t ideal. And they’ve been in dire financial straits for some time. It’s not clear how long they’re going to last.

      • They have been bought almost two years ago, no more financial warnings since, and they are improving (apps, offer …). But yes, Apple Music remains the best compromise (cost, catalog, metadata). If only we could see all the fields before adding to our libraries …

        Pardon my english, I am French (it’s probably why I heard of Qobuz!).

        • Je le connais bien. J’ai longtemps vécu en France, et je m’y étais abonné pendant une année.

  7. I have to agree with Cyril Druesne that Qobuz is doing a good job for the classical music listener. To take your example Kirk, I checked out Jakob Lindberg’s album ( excellent) and was provided with the cd booklet which I really appreciate having. I get the impression that they care about music and their app is excellent. In contrast Apple Music was a mishmash when I tried it and it’s catalogue lacked depth. For this listener, Qobuz is far more ideal than Apple Music.

  8. I have to agree with Cyril Druesne that Qobuz is doing a good job for the classical music listener. To take your example Kirk, I checked out Jakob Lindberg’s album ( excellent) and was provided with the cd booklet which I really appreciate having. I get the impression that they care about music and their app is excellent. In contrast Apple Music was a mishmash when I tried it and it’s catalogue lacked depth. For this listener, Qobuz is far more ideal than Apple Music.

  9. Another vote for Qobuz. But the best is Hyperion if you’re lucky enough they are providing the album you want. Hyperion provide excellent liner notes with their albums – important for classical music esp. material with texts and translations.

    I’ve never understood why iTunes does not provide for slick handling of liner notes. I put PDFs in and manually adjust the tags so they relate to the albums. Sometimes they display in Preview while I am listening, sometimes they display on my phone alongside the music, but mostly I have to dig them out manually if I want to read them.

  10. Another vote for Qobuz. But the best is Hyperion if you’re lucky enough they are providing the album you want. Hyperion provide excellent liner notes with their albums – important for classical music esp. material with texts and translations.

    I’ve never understood why iTunes does not provide for slick handling of liner notes. I put PDFs in and manually adjust the tags so they relate to the albums. Sometimes they display in Preview while I am listening, sometimes they display on my phone alongside the music, but mostly I have to dig them out manually if I want to read them.

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