It’s been a mixed success for classical music. But it’s getting better.
A number of good articles have been written to explain this phenomenon in detail (see here and here) but in a nutshell the initial problems seem to have stemmed from the fact that the data template that’s been used to tag a piece of music was initially designed for popular music: Song name: Performer: Album name. That’s pretty much it for some databases. So you might not be able to find out which movement, the composer, the performers, soloists, or conductor. No classical music radio station DJ with a dulcet voice to inform you. But my experience has been that the services are including this type of information. That may be a recent development.
Ads can be a problem in these streaming services. I was listening on a free version of a streaming service to Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum, a lovely, solemn piece, and each movement was demarcated with a frenetic drug store ad. Ok, the paid version of the service would get rid of that, but it was jarring. Hint: look for recordings that offer entire pieces as one track.
But a number of streaming services, noticing the high level of engagement of classical listeners, have been working to get it right. An article on Pandora’s efforts can be found here. Both Pandora and Rhapsody focus on offering radio stations with a specific focus. Apple Music is a new player in this arena.
Spotify is hard to beat for price and amount of music. And users who are in the know are beginning to compile playlists of great use to the classical consumer. Also, you can listen for free, which is not the case for some of the services. But if you’re not willing to pony up the monthly fee, better get used to ads.
The Naxos Music Library allows you to type in composer, piece name, etc., and it returns a bunch of results performed by various orchestras/artists. Its offering of music is extensive but it’s not cheap. If you’re lucky, your local library subscribes, and if that’s the case, you can get free access. So check your library’s webpage. Also, check adjoining counties’ systems; sometimes you can cross-register your card and gain access (I was a lucky recipient of that bit of magic).
Another service one might consider in the US is Classical Archives. And let me not forget Amazon’s Prime Music, part of its Amazon Prime program. Some of the same music available in Amazon’s Digital Music Store is available for streaming in this program.
Sinfini Music has compiled information on some other streaming options, and you can read it here, but bear in mind that some of the services profiled there are not currently available in the US. Yet. Stay tuned, the landscape is evolving rapidly.
If this sort of service is of interest to you, the companies typically offer a free trial period to explore their offerings. So take a look and see what suits you best. But here’s where streaming can be interesting. Like no other time in history, if you’ve got 127 hours, you can hear all of Mozart on Spotify. Or Beethoven, or Schubert, or Vaughn-Williams. Even if you want to hear something obscure, it probably exists somewhere. That was impossible just ten years ago.
Welcome to the new world of old music.