Why Classical Fans NEED Composer Metadata (and what that could do for Spotify)

Dear Spotifymozart_earphones.jpg --


Meet me: I am a 32-yr old classical musician, and typical of your frustrated (yet somehow still optimistic) classical music listening audience. We need two very specific things from you (at the bottom of this post) in order to fully take part in this awesome community. Please hear me out.



First, why should you want more classical music lovers?


1) We pay for the music we love (translation: more paid memberships for Spotify)

2) We passionately share our love for classical music (i.e. more potentially social Spotify users)

3) We teach others about classical music; we are music teachers in schools and universities and conservatories everywhere. We have the power to make Spotify-listening a requirement in our classes (i.e. more new, young users for Spotify)

4) We fight hard for the music we love (this is why we keep writing even after you've determined our posts "case closed")



What you need to know about how classical musicians currently use Spotify:


1) First, we buy memberships immediately (well, immediately after the first symphony we try to play is interrupted by an ad). This is fine! Totally worth it. Incredibly cheap, even. (I donate much more to my local public radio station per year.)


2) Next, we immediately realize we have to search elsewhere for composer/songwriter info -- leaving Spotify and often finding another place to hear what we were searching for (i.e. not returning to Spotify)


3) If we DO come back to Spotify, we discover there's a Classical app called Classify. Classify is cute, but you can't be serious. There are exactly two composers listed in the Contemporary Classical category (Glass and Pärt... good choices, though, I'll give you that).



Why you and I don't know each other yet:


Spotify doesn't yet know how to quantify what I'm listening to, because I'm listening to my favorite composers over and over again, and you don't require your labels to give attribution to the composer. So you have no idea how to predict what I will like.


This has major implications for your "targeted" advertising, featured artists, and email recommendations -- these are never remotely relevant to my musical tastes. I never click them. Which means I'm only coming to Spotify to listen to specific things I already know I love (once I've determined the particular album or performer's name in order to search for it). I listen and I leave.  I'm not exploring Spotify's other artists, not getting involved in the Spotify community, and not using any additional features -- social or otherwise -- that Spotify has to offer. Plus, neither are my classical-music-loving friends, so why bother.



But Classical fans actually really NEED Spotify right now!  Why?


1) To find like-minded fans. Classical music lovers have fewer and fewer places to "geek out" with each other. Our orchestras are going under, our non-profit organizations are seeing diminishing donations, our school programs are being cut... we are aching for a place to share our love for classical music.


2) To keep up with a quickly-changing genre. Classical music is blurring more boundaries than ever. It is being infused with so many rich and exciting influences and cultures. It's changing every day and we desperately need a place to keep up with it.


3) To pay our beloved, favorite artists. With no other alternative, we're uploading our performances (even commercially-released tracks, often illegally) to YouTube, which (unlike Spotify) doesn't pay the artists and is not a sustainable business model for our industry. We're shooting ourselves in the foot providing so much free content there. But, unfortunately, that's where our classical community is listening to music right now.



The Two Things Classical Fans Need Are:


1) Consistently-labeled track titles, particularly for multi-movement compositions like symphonies and operas. We need you to demand that this title metadata be streamlined, organized, and consistent across all your labels so that we can hear multi-movement works the way the composer intended them.


Andy Doe at Naxos has the best description I've found for how classical track labeling should work. Note his asterisked editorial at the bottom of his post:

* Spotify doesn’t show you the composers. Just try to find a specific classical recording on Spotify, and you’ll quickly see how maddening this is: the content is all there. You just can’t sort through it. Spotify is, though, a relatively young company, and I think they’ll probably fix this in time. If you want a really good classical streaming experience, you might prefer to use Naxos Music Library or Classics Online.


2) A designated "Composer/Songwriter" (or Writers) column, and for Spotify to put pressure on your participating labels to use it. This column needs to be:


  1. LEGIT and CONSISTENT: It should be implemented without a 'hack' (i.e. without adding composers into the track field or artist field) so that this metadata can be consistent from here on out. And so labels know what Spotify requires so they can submit it properly.
  2. TRACK BY TRACK: Must be implemented at the track level (not a composer assigned to the entire album, for obvious reasons.)
  3. SEARCHABLE: Searching by composer name should bring up their songs.  I understand horizontal space is at a premium, especially for mobile users, so I wouldn't be surprised if this "composer/songwriter" column is optional to view (which would be fine).  But it still must be searchable data, even if the user has hidden the column.
  4.  SORTABLE: Just like the other columns, which are fantastic.
  5.  CONNECTED: This is a wish-list item, but it would be the most awesome to click on a composer name and have their info pop up from All Music Guide, or wherever (but All Music Guide is excellent), just like the performing artist does.


How our world changes as soon as you do this:


Not only would these changes drastically improve Spotify's search results, and open up the Spotify experience to an entire music-loving audience (and over five centuries of music!), but these improvements would change the way Spotify is used socially.  For the first time, we music creators ourselves will be able to find and promote our OWN Spotify tracks to our fans.


If that sounds crazy, it is. But because of the way music licensing works, most published classical composers (yes, we're still alive) don't even know our music is on Spotify. To put it in pop-music-speak: all our songs are "covers," so -- since we can't find our names on Spotify as a composer -- we need to search Spotify by title. (Heaven help us if we've written an "Alleluia" or a "Sonata No. 1" or an arrangement of "Joy to the World" with gobs of search results to listen to, just to see if it's the one we wrote!)




I spend a lot of time doing two things: composing new music, and trying to build a fan base for that music. If composers like me could simply search our own name to find our music on Spotify... wouldn't we (who are increasingly entrepreneurial) and our fans be all over social media, advertising tracks, asking people to listen, and asking friends and fans to join Spotify to share new compositions?


And classical fans are just the tip of the iceberg... wouldn't jazz and folk and musical theater composers & songwriters all immediately change their marketing models when they realize they can search for the music they wrote on Spotify?


We can't hear the music we love, and we can't share the music we love, until we can FIND the music we love.


PLEASE improve track titling, and PLEASE add a Composer/Songwriter (or Writers) column.


And, above all, thank you for Spotify. It's a great concept and I am thrilled that it's available in the USA, and licensing music legally. Now please make it classical-user friendly and let us help you grow your membership even further -- for the benefit of all of us.


You build it, Spotify, and we will come!


Suzuki violin students

Updated: 2015-11-19

Hey everyone! We're here to say this idea is still definitely 'Under Consideration'. We know this is one of your top requests in the Idea Exchange. While we don't currently have a 'Composer' column, we have made changes to give our users more info about classical tracks.

Today the composer is list as the first artist for classical tracks where the label has provided this information. If the composer is missing then we are getting in touch with the right teams to fix this for users. When we have any more updates on this we'll let you all know here, thanks!


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Related Ideas

Spotify Legend
Status changed to: Good idea, vote for it

+1 ... search and discovery are major weaknesses of the core app, regardless of genre.  After all, this is a database, no?  The widgets can improve discovery but they're not enough.  


timewart: No, it's not the same as any other digital music service! iTunes supports composer metadata, and many others do as well.

Casual Listener

Completely agree!  And I wonder why Spotify is silent on this very well-written post?


I recently wrote a similar letter, which Spotify has just today tagged "Good idea, give it some kudos" -- will you each take a look, support, and share?  http://community.spotify.com/t5/Spotify-Ideas/Why-Spotify-s-classical-music-community-is-frustrated-...



PS: And CalebS, I also linked to your post in this letter on Facebook (similar letter to the one above, but with screenshots, etc).


+1 totally agree! I've searched all over the web and as far as I can tell there is currently NO music service or player of any description which does classical properly and gives classical listeners a chance to find music the way it should logically be searched for. Partial titles, composer names in performer fields (SO not the same thing), missing details (yes, we really do need to know the orchestra, and the conductor, and the soloists and the composer) - it becomes a nightmare. I pay for Spotify to avoid getting ghastly bubble-pop adverts in the middle of Shostakovich symphonies - and I'm happy to do for. It's an incredible resource for my college course (Masters degree in Composition), and there's loads of contemporary classical music on there - so long as you know exactly what you're looking for already. Browsing? No chance.


Please, Spotify! Lead the way and show the rest of the online-music world how it's done! Word will spread so fast once you do, you won't know yourselves for the massive spike in subscriptions...


I'm one of those people who have still been listening to music the old school way -- by buying CDs or digital downloads to listen from my computer and other devices.  I haven't gotten into Spotify, because I already made the assumption that online music listening services would only be interested in catering to pop/rock music listeners, and therefore not have a lot to offer in the way of good recordings and/or new, exciting music.  It's the truth about YouTube -- we totally go there to check out pieces we're interested in hearing.  Change the status quo, Spotify!  And I will be happy to bring my money your way.  

Spotify Legend

May I recommend checking out the Classify app? While it may not help you geek out with others, it might make your browsing a little easier.


In terms of metadata as a whole (rather than limiting it just to classical music), it's something that has been mentioned in various forms before. It's certainly something we would be interesting in looking at in the future, as it's pretty popular with you guys. Keep those kudos coming. 


I have to say that you bring up a lot of good points. It's even more important because of how robust their selection is. Spotify is the only place I can find a lot of this music, and it actually has broadened my awareness of many contemporary composers. The selection of contemporary works far outdoes any of the three major music universities I've attended. The fact that finding the right music becomes an act of hunting is actually fun for me, but I sure wouldn't miss it at all if they added a composer column. It would be a huge asset to me as a composer, as a student, and as a professor. (I DO use spotify in my classrooms and private lessons.)

Casual Listener

Hi Spotify!  Thanks for jumping in, David!


Honest opinion:  Classify is cute, and perhaps helpful for the casual listener who likes Classical (i.e. capital-C, Classical era) music to "relax."  But, unfortunately, for both the amateur (and I truly mean those of us who LOVE classical-music-with-a-small-c) and the classical aficionado, you can't be serious.  It doesn't much improve my browsing.  There are exactly 2 composers listed in the Contemporary Era category (Glass and Pärt... great choices, though, I'll give you that).


Plus, Classify doesn't seem to know what I like, even after months of streaming Glass and Pärt... and Elliot Carter and Ligeti and Berio and Rouse and John Adams and Joan Tower and Harbison and Argento.... here's what Classify recommends to me when I log in:




I'm as big a music nerd as your "indie" audiences in every other aspect.  I'm actually listening to these people:

NPR's and NYC's WQXR Radio's crowdsourced list of "100 Composers Under 40"


And anyone on NewMusicBox.


And - because my interest is largely in choral music - a lot of these people.


In full disclosure, I happen to be on some of these lists myself -- aw, shucks -- but hopefully that lends some credibility to my comments here.  Without my name attached to my tracks, my fans can't find me on Spotify:





Hell, even *I* can't find me on Spotify:




I spend a lot of time doing two things: composing new music, and trying to build a fan base for that music. 


And I'm not alone!  College and University music departments and music conservatories everywhere are finally starting to integrate coursework for Classical musicians on music business.  Not surprisingly, new graduates are increasingly entrepreneurial.  Gone are the days of sheet music publishers serving the interest of the classical composer and representing them sufficiently.  Composers are banding together to market and distribute our sheet music, and to build a brand around the indie classical composer.


So anyway, back to the point: TWO contemporary classical composers in your Classify app's contemporary category? And both are in their 70s!


Classical music is a living, breathing, vibrant world -- and only getting moreso, particularly when assessing participation.  42.6 million Americans sing in a choir (more than in 2009).  54% of US households includes someone who plays a musical instrument.  Of those, 82% started playing music before they were 14 years old.


What kind of music do we learn to play before we're 14 years old?  Classical music.


You build it, Spotify, and we will come.


 Suzuki violin students

Casual Listener
Another comment of support:
"I wanted to receommend Milhaud's Scaramouche to someone. I searched Spotify and found quite a lot of performances. The part of the title that distinguished the various movements was off the righthand end of my column, and even the set with the same performers was scattered all over the list, and generally in alphabetical order of movement title. So hear, hear! to what has been said above. And can we not use the word "song" or "title" for a movement of a symphony? - it's a movement (piece if you must)."
- Martin Jones (posted on my Facebook page, with the comment: "I don't really want to have to register to make my comment on community.spotify. Please feel free to quote me there. And good luck with the campaign.")