In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

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In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

Post by lennygoran » Sun Jun 23, 2019 8:42 pm

I have no idea what Ben is talking about. Regards, Len

In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

By Ben Sisario

June 23, 2019

When Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, a classical music aficionado in Brooklyn, asked her Amazon Echo for some music recently, she had a specific request: the third movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.

“It kind of energizes me, motivates me to get things done,” she said.

But the Echo, a voice-activated speaker, could not find what she wanted. First it gave her the concerto’s opening movement; then, on another try, came the second movement. But not the third.

Exasperated, Ms. Kalyanaraman Marcello gave up.

“Just play something else!” she recalled saying.

Her frustration may be familiar to fans of classical music in the streaming age. The algorithms of Spotify, Apple and Amazon are carefully engineered to steer listeners to pop hits, and Schubert and Puccini can get lost in the metadata.

Classical music has always been a specialized corner of the music business, with a discerning clientele and few genuine blockbusters. But by some measures the genre has suffered in the shift to streaming. While 2.5 percent of album sales in the United States are classical music, it accounts for less than 1 percent of total streams, according to Alpha Data, a tracking service.

Two new companies, Idagio and Primephonic, see an opportunity in the disconnect. Both are challenging the big platforms by offering streaming services devoted to classical music, with playlists that push Martha Argerich over Ariana Grande, and databases tailored to the nuances of the genre.

“The mission we are on is to turn the tide for classical music the way Spotify has done for pop,” said Thomas Steffens, the chief executive of Primephonic, which is based in Amsterdam and went online last fall.

The genre has been an awkward fit for streaming partly because of the major services’ metadata — the underlying organizational schemes for identifying titles of recordings, the personnel associated with them and other details.

For most of the music on Spotify or Apple Music, a listing of artist, track and album works fine. But critics of the status quo argue that the basic architecture of the classical genre — with nonperforming composers and works made up of multiple movements — is not suited to a system built for pop.

Search Spotify’s mobile app for “Mozart Requiem,” for example, and a confusing list of dozens of albums follows; since there is no special field for a composer, most of those albums designate Mozart as the “artist.” On Apple Music, a composer field has become standard only in recent months.

“If you have Herbert von Karajan conducting a Verdi opera with Maria Callas, who is the artist?” said Till Janczukowicz, the chief executive of Idagio, which is based in Berlin and started in 2015.

“This is not a crisis of genre,” Mr. Janczukowicz added. “It is a crisis of the packaging of an industry.”

For contemporary classical artists, metadata is not just an abstract consideration.

When the composer William Brittelle recorded his latest album, “Spiritual America,” he enlisted the Metropolitan Ensemble, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the indie-rock band Wye Oak. But when it came time to put the album on streaming services, Mr. Brittelle said, he was told that the only way to include those collaborators was to list them all on every track — which, he said, “makes it look ridiculous.” He opted to use only his name.

“I’ve obsessed for seven years over track titles and track order and having everything sit right,” Mr. Brittelle said. “It just ruins everything to have all that information on every track.”

Primephonic and Idagio have tried to solve that problem by building more extensive databases, with extensive listings for composers, soloists, orchestras and conductors. Idagio’s data is tended by a team of 10 musicologists in Slovakia, Mr. Janczukowicz said.

Like any streaming service, Primephonic and Idagio feature colorful welcome pages with new releases, custom playlists and photos of celebrities (for those who consider Matthew Barley and Daniil Trifonov celebrities). They also offer various sorting tools to let connoisseurs sift through the voluminous listings of, say, Beethoven’s string quartets to find that one recording by that one ensemble. Primephonic even lets users search by opus number and key.

Primephonic costs $8 a month and Idagio $10 a month; both services charge more to stream music in high resolution. Neither company would disclose how many paying subscribers it has.

A report released last week by Midia Research, which studies online media, portrayed a classical market in transition, with a relatively small economic impact but wide potential. According to the report, which Idagio commissioned, classical recordings generated $384 million around the world last year. That’s a small piece of the $19.1 billion of sales revenue for all recorded music last year, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

But the Midia report, based on a survey 8,000 people, found signs of promise. Although the average age of a classical listener was 45, 31 percent of respondents ages 25 to 34 included classical among the genres they “like listening to.”

And not everyone in the classical world is convinced that Apple, Spotify and Amazon are bad for the business. Each of those companies has a vast customer base, with the potential to steer listeners to classical tracks. Increasingly, that has happened through mood-based playlists — “Relaxing Piano,” “Intense Studying” — that intersperse classical tracks with those from other genres.

Placement on a prominent Spotify playlist helped a recording of the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata by Paul Lewis, a British pianist, reach 49 million plays, a number that plenty of pop acts would be happy with.

Those playlists “are exposing new, young audiences to classical music without them realizing initially that they are listening to classical music — they just know that they like what they are listening to,” Mark Mulligan of Midia said in an interview.

Such serendipity may be possible only if classical music exists on services alongside pop, hop-hop, country, Latin and the rest. Last year, the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo released “ARC,” a Beyoncé-style visual album of pieces by Handel and Philip Glass, illustrated by videos directed by luminaries like Tilda Swinton and Mark Romanek.

Mr. Costanzo said he was frequently pinged on Instagram when new listeners encountered those videos, often on Apple Music.

“The segregation of classical music would be a shame,” he said.

Mr. Steffens and Mr. Janczukowicz, of Primephonic and Idagio, argued that the major services’ algorithms would always nudge listeners toward pop.

“The winner-take-all economics” of online media, Mr. Steffens said, “means that if streaming doesn’t work for jazz and classical music, then those genres are just collateral damage.”

Classical record executives said they welcomed the arrival of Primephonic and Idagio, but were not necessarily displeased with the performance of their music on Apple and Spotify.

PIAS, a European company that owns the label Harmonia Mundi and works with orchestras that have their own imprints, like the Berlin Philharmonic, gets most of its listeners these days through streaming. And most of them come through Spotify and Apple.

“You can’t be unhappy with them,” said Katie Ferguson, the director of streaming strategy and business development for classical at PIAS. “They are really propping up our business.” ... otify.html

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Re: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

Post by John F » Sun Jun 23, 2019 9:24 pm

People who want to hear just part of a classical music work have never been able to get just that and not the rest of the work. Take for example "Der Leiermann" in Schubert's "Winterreise." In the 78 rpm era, you had to get the complete "Winterreise," then find which disc the song is on. With LPs, you had to find which disc and which track on that disc. With CDs, which track. In all cases you couldn't just get the song, you had to get the song cycle and find the song yourself.

Indeed, nowadays on YouTube many individual songs and movements of longer works have been uploaded as separate clips, so listeners with specific wants are better off than ever before.

Sisario is whining about nothing much. As long as the streaming service has the classical work in its collection, and therefore in its database, people can hear it whenever they like without having to buy the record. No streaming service has or can possibly have every performance of every work ever recorded; you can't always get what you want. But that's not new. No library or sound archive, no record store (when there were record stores), and no personal record collection has ever been that comprehensive, or could be. A friend is a subscriber to the streaming service Spotify and was trying to persuade me that I should use it too. I gave him a list of ten works in specific recordings, many of them not even in stereo, and he found seven of them on Spotify. I was impressed. But I didn't subscribe, as YouTube answers nearly all of my needs and it's free.

Amazon Echo is a new one on me. It is a "smart speaker" that connects to Alexa, which has voice recognition so you can talk to it and ask for whatever you want to hear - music, news, stuff. Alexa can also work on smartphones. Who needs it? I sure don't, all that is what I use my computer for, but others do, as Amazon claims to have sold over 100 million by last January.

For me, it's impressive that the woman could ask a loudspeaker for the Emperor Concerto and Alexa could find it and play it through the speaker. If she had asked for a specific recording - say, the one by Edwin Fischer and Wilhelm Furtwängler - she might not have gotten it. If it mattered that much to her, however, she could easily have found it online using a computer, smartphone, tablet, or whatever, as it's available on YouTube.

But really, classical music listeners are better off now than before the Internet. They have at their disposal many streaming services, not just YouTube, which allow them to listen wherever they happen to be, not just at home on their audio systems. And instead of having to buy a record in order to hear it, they can hear it for free on YouTube, or at a fraction of its retail cost on subscription services such as Spotify. Finding it is up to them, but good heavens, we're grown-ups, we don't need to be spoon-fed but can find it ourselves.
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Re: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

Post by Beckmesser » Sun Jun 23, 2019 10:20 pm

I'm sure if Alexa had been asked to play Paul McCartney singing "Michelle" she would have had no difficulty finding it. Classical music "nomenclature" is more complicated.

I discovered this when I got my first iPod and started "ripping" my CD collection to iTunes. During the process, iTunes typically goes to an on-line resource called Gracenote to grab data about the CD and its individual tracks so you don't have to enter it yourself. At first I used this data uncritically. It was only after I had added a number of CDs to my iTunes library that I made an unhappy discovery. There was no consistent, systematic method for creating the entries. If, for example, I wanted to find a specific Scarlatti sonata by looking for its Kirkpatrick number I would have to scan the entire list because Gracenote didn't employ a consistent naming method. (I think I later read that the entries were created by volunteers, so that probably explains a lot).

Multi-movement works and operas could also be problematic because some lacked a number to indicate the playing order of the various tracks.

Once I was aware of the pitfalls, I created my own method for consistent naming and now I rarely have any difficulty finding what I want from thousands of tracks.

Imagine if the "card" catalog at your local library had been created by volunteers.

Wasn't former CMG member Chalkperson putting his entire massive collection on a server? I wonder how that turned out.

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Re: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

Post by John F » Mon Jun 24, 2019 2:47 am

Beckmesser wrote:Imagine if the "card" catalog at your local library had been created by volunteers.
Volunteers such as me? :) I don't have to imagine it, I catalogued my record collection on tens of thousands of 3x5" index cards using the system described by David Hamilton in "Now Where Did I Put That Franck Sonata" (originally published in High Fidelity). The Library of Congress cataloguing system, standard in public and academic libraries, is a blunt instrument when it comes to searching for details, such as a recording of a specific song in Schubert's "Winterreise." It's certainly not suitable for the kind of use discussed in this thread.

While on that subject, the New York Public Library where I volunteer has three different cataloging systems, each with its distinctive type of call number: Library of Congress for the research collections, Dewey for circulating books, and a third for audiovisual recordings. In cataloguing printed matter, NYPL simply downloads the LC card if one is available for the book or whatever, but creates its own for the many books (mainly foreign) which LC hasn't catalogued. The resulting mishmash is certainly better than nothing but sometimes it baffles even the librarians, when lay users come to them for help.
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Re: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata

Post by maestrob » Mon Jun 24, 2019 11:34 am

FWIW: I still prefer the sound quality and accessibility of my CD collection as a primary resource. I have no intention of subscribing to a streaming service until they offer CD-quality sound, but I welcome amazon's ability to "test-drive" CDs before I buy them.

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