As streaming services adjust to the perils of capitalism – grow at all costs, acquire subscribers at all costs, return profits for shareholders at all costs – the media that keeps these entities profitable becomes less valued. Spotify’s mission seems to be a dominance in audio in the most general sense possible, which has only highlighted the work of its rival, Apple, which has seemingly put premium focus on creating a user-listener experience that rewards devoted fans of music. Sure, Apple Podcasts exist, and at the end of the day, Tim Cook’s sole responsibility is to keep Apple as the world-beating behemoth that it is, but the emergence of two recent incentives from the digital music pioneer has situated Apple Music as the go-to service for people who want to listen to their favorite music and discover new artists. With the arrival of Apple Music Classical and Dolby Atmos, Apple Music is drawing a line in the sand that its main initiative is to attract as many music devotees as possible. It is a powerful statement in the face of its chief rival continually getting dogged in the press for its low payouts (it’s not like Apple streams will make the average musician rich, though). Apple seems to have found an opportunity to exploit the mistakes of its competitor and built a number of apps and features that make it a truly desirable home for music fanatics.
I first began growing intrigued by Apple’s pivot towards music devotees when they introduced Dolby Atmos — also known as Spatial Audio — to wide audiences. After all, there might not be a marketing and audio initiative more antithetical to modern music consumption than the only draw being “this music sounds better.” It seemed remarkably backward-thinking from a company that was always ahead of the curve. Sure, the technology is phenomenal and fascinating, but music has become clipped, shortened, and commodified as more and more discover music via apps like TikTok and popular playlists across the major streaming platforms. While the measure of Spatial has been dictated by statistics an Apple representative has given me, it’s clear they’re making a push for it to be the go-to way for audiences to consume music on the app. According to a representative, “Since launch, the number of monthly Spatial Audio listeners has more than tripled, with more than 80% of worldwide subscribers enjoying the experience, while monthly plays in Spatial Audio have grown by over 1,000 percent. Currently, 79% of the Global Daily Top 100 are available in Spatial.”
As you can see, these statistics can mean a number of things — Apple doesn’t clarify how many of those subscribers actively seek out the experience; and almost 80% of songs being available in Spatial has more to do with their progress on the development end than the success of the program. After all, the songs are also available not in Spatial. Apple’s commitment to higher fidelity audio is an initiative with little financial gain for the company. It comes free with certain iOS updates. Between the advancement of Apple’s Spatial technology and its newest initiative, Apple Music Classical, it has become clear that Apple’s desire to dominate the music audio landscape is a boon to audiophiles everywhere.
Apple Music Classical is another free app for subscribers to Apple Music, which is remarkable considering the work it took to get the app up and running. Because of the number of recordings, versions, orchestras, and variations that accompany each piece of classical music, the SEO required for the app itself is much different than modern music. To learn more about the development of the software, I spoke with Veronica Neo, who founded Primephonic, whose mission was to “bring classical music into the digital age.” Now, with Apple’s team supporting her vision, the dream has finally become a reality. Neo, who is now head of data and operations management at Apple, explained the initiative and desire to get Apple Music Classical up and running. “We started our data process at the source, and then we did endless iterations to ensure that the catalog information we were receiving matched our classical repertoire database as much and as accurately as possible. As we discovered new works in recordings, we added these to our ever-growing classical repertoire database.”
This was a time-consuming, expensive initiative, and it’s hard to imagine Apple Music would dive into such an operation if there was little financial gain for this wing of Apple. While Atmos feels like more of a pet project, it appears as if Apple Music may have found a market inefficiency. Perhaps they’re looking to accrue a number of new subscribers who never before utilized digital streaming services. Regardless, Neo sees the app as useful for classical novices and experts alike. Much like Apple Music, the service offers tons of information and recommendations from editors.
Being a classical music novice myself, I found the app easy to navigate and informative. I am not opposed to learning more about the genre, and Apple Music Classical made the subject matter engaging. For someone curious, it’s a more than suitable introduction to the genre. “For beginners, there is a broad variety of playlists, for instance essentials per period or per genre. Browsing by instruments is a unique feature that is available on Apple Music Classical that allows listeners who know the sound of an instrument they love to get started and create their own classical music taste profile as they explore,” she explains. We also have works descriptions for many classical works that provide a much more enriching listening experience as they learn about the story of the composition.” These works descriptions are what I found so enticing, which illuminated the context and tradition around these monumental compositions.
Aficionados, too, will find the app appealing according to Neo, and I bet this is where Apple sees dollar signs. The amount of classical lovers who listen to digital music has to be minuscule, based on how long it took Apple to accumulate the proper SEO keywords to populate their catalog. It was simply a bad listening experience before the app came along. “More advanced listeners can easily go beyond the usual suspects through Composer Undiscovered Playlists and Hidden Gems. Lifelong fans can search by composer, work name, opus number, album name, artist name, or even in their local language, and find exactly their favorite recording instantly,” Neo says. “We also have Related Composers and Related Works that bring recommendations beyond what they already know.”
This is the future of Apple Music, which may not be the first name associated with streaming but has positioned itself as the music listener’s service. Its new initiatives and technological innovations are antithetical to the click and move on factory-like behavior that playlisting and algorithmic listening fosters. It’s a bold bet, and I’m not certain Apple will have patience if these programs lose money or fail to attract wide swaths of the market, but as a music devotee and someone constantly looking for a less insane way to consume music, both Spatial Audio and Apple Music Classical make it clear that I’m not the only one searching for alternatives.