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[ENG.] Apple Music Classical: could really do better…
Last March 28th, the Apple Music Classical application has been released on the Apple Store. Not a damp squib, of course, but not a firework, either...
We don't stop progress :
Some articles (only) of COUACS.INFO (A “Couac” is the French expression for a Bum Note) will now be available in English. Their title is preceded by [ENG.] The translation being done by “inhouse”, your indulgence is suggested!
Having worked hard on this subject due to my past experience at Qobuz, the first observations with the final product in hand were quick, and give a good idea of what Apple Music Classical really brings - beyond the promotional proclamations complacently taken up by "journalists" on the simple faith of a press release.
First observation, in my opinion disqualifying: Apple Music Classical (AMC later in this article) does not offer any digital booklet. This decision deprives the user of essential data about what he is listening to.
Beyond that, this pure idiocy drags down the whole business, because if Apple had demanded booklets from its suppliers, most of them would have provided them, with their finger on the seam of their pants (French expression litterarely translated...). This is frankly disastrous as serious labels produce with their artists and musicologists texts that are often remarkable and more qualified than most of the comments found on the streaming platforms.
So, fifteen years after the advent of paid streaming, not only did Apple not understand what its classical customers needed, but in the many discussions that probably took place at least with the Majors, nobody demanded it enough. It's a crying shame.
The so called exclusivities touted by Apple will not make the difference with competitors. They are mainly from the big American orchestras that now have their own labels. They are in fact short previews conceded to Apple for a few weeks and which will then be on all platforms. It must please the orchestras to play this game with various platforms and to be desired. The London Symphony, in the same way, also gives pseudo-exclusives to Vialma, the favorite French platform of (very) old style music lovers and their friends.
The presentation of the tracks and the main metadata are pleasant.
The titles of the works are often in local language, which means that there is a reference table of the works in the main languages. This is appreciable, especially for people with little knowledge. You can search for "Kleine Nacht Musik" or "Petite Musique se Nuit" or "Littke night music" : you will find the piece of music.
To make a long story short, it seems that the work on the presentation of the metadata, on the encyclopedic type texts (biographies, descriptions of the works...) in short on the static attic of information has been well done. A year and a half for this result, without an online service to animate, it is not a feat, but it is more or less in line with the stated ambitions - which was, moreover, one of the axes of the promotion for AMC.
The texts are sober, without unnecessary value judgments or misplaced enthusiasm. On the encyclopedic aspect, "similar composers" are proposed: this is relevant and welcome.
The main performers (and not THE main performer...) are put forward, on the beach, and it is good. In the same way the artists having several hats (composer + interpreter + pianist for example) are well presented.
Apple proposes an exploration by label, which allows to browse the label. At first I was happy, but then I realized that Deutsche Gramophone has a link, but other labels are less lucky: neither Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina nor Audite Musikproduktion for example, nor many others can be explored, go figure. Chandos is.
Each album has a clickable artist list leading to biographies and discography list. Not bad.
AMC offers no text commentary on the albums. They don't bother. But I prefer it, frankly, to mediocre or commercial or label promo-driven texts.
The biographies seem proprietary: again, they had time to write them for a year and a half.
Pretty good data architecture but not bluffing either.
This morning, March 31st at 9:23 am, we still don't have the new releases of the day : you have to get out of bed, guys !]
The search for new releases filtered "by release date" to mediocre results, and moreover to a list of albums that don't seem to have much to do there.
Most important and a shame : AMC, too, is unable to simply tell me what is the complete list of new classical releases each Friday, the weekly day of new releases and reissues, independently of the choices of its curators, which I don't care about, as a slightly curious music lover.
When an artist has several "jobs", Apple structures and documents them with a discography. For example, so-and-so is a composer and conductor and a pianist, each profession will have a selection of albums. Not too bad.
The press awards are non-existent. It is not so much that these rattles are so indisputable, but if they are compiled on a worldwide level the amateur can deduce trends or curiosities. This is also useful to enrich the algorithms in a rather relevant or, let's say, justified way. There will certainly be magazine playlists, but it is not the same function.
On the Playlists side the offer is usual; not so much specialized. However, there is a clever section in which an artist offers a playlist with commentary between the musical tracks, in recorded voice.
When an album is an EP, it is clearly indicated EP in the title. Appreciable, because there are more and more of these EPs. The term, coming from the pop music, indicates extracts of albums proposed before the release date of the complete product.
The level of encoding of what you will listen to is not clearly indicated. I don't know what "Lossless high quality" is, for example: LossLess means lossless compared to the original file, which can be CD quality or DSD and everything in between. It's pretty fuzzy.
Most music lovers will not care with Surround Dolby encoding. As far as "Mastered for Apple" is concerned I must say that this black box keeps me suspicious.
One fear that one can have with a specialized application is that the musical borders are questionable. Here, for example, the opera "Marius et Fanny" by composer Vladimir Cosma, in which Angela Ghiorgiu and Roberto Alagna sing, is excluded from the app, but not some others by the same, author of the music for Rabbi Jacob.
I believe that a generalist service that deals well with classical music is much more preferable for the consumer than a "small bath" like AMC. And my initial observations of AMC's proposed production will
Nothing I see in AMC could not have been integrated to the main Apple Music app.
The result would have been more convincing and more proselytizing for classical music. Even though Apple Classical is decent in sum, the result is mixed and doesn't stand out enough from the main app to justify a separate app. I'm pretty sure that in two years this separate adventure will be over.
The "classical closed in on itself" aspect is a bit unpleasant in truth and even paradoxical for Apple at a time when the merging of repertoires, the crossover, rightly or wrongly, is promoted. It encourages a confined vision of classical music.
The limitation to classical music has some not-so-great side effects. The division is extremely difficult; for my part, I would have decided to include all film music as well as the "musical" répertoire of AMC.
In many cases I have the feeling that there was some kind of frictions between the music team and the technical product managers at AMC and that, as is too often the case, the technical side had the last word.
Not much passion or real conviction in this product that remains in the middle of the road.
In the end, we perceive in this Apple application the same kind of approach applied to classical music by so many commentators and institutions encouraged in this by their financial guardians: it would be absolutely necessary to accompany the unfortunate ones who deign to listen to classical music. They cannot be left alone. Because classical music is supposed to be a privilege that must be democratized. It is necessary to "break the codes" as so many artists, concert promoters and commentators claim to want to do. They want to re-educate their followers, at the risk of at the risk of pissing us off, we for whom classical music is an intimate passion.
The amateurs will still have to wait or chose an other service. The work done by the people of Apple Music Classical is focused on what they want to be a simplified manual of classical music rather than on the "real thing": a well-made classical music service that would help people progress in their discoveries, well beyond the hackneyed sentyiers and moods.
Note that this approach is, for example, also the one of the French France Musique public radio since the arrival at its head of Marc Voinchet, a non-professional of classical music: all along the air, we don't deal with the subject, classical music, we deal with how it should be approached and they give you excerpts, by destructuring the works.
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