Analysis

Primephonic launches hi-res classical-music streaming service


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The latest company to launch a streaming service for classical music is Primephonic, building on the growth of its existing downloads store.

Primephonic’s streaming service launches today in the UK and US, with a catalogue of more than 100k tracks, and licensing deals with Warner Classics and Sony Classical that will swell that total in the coming months.

Classical labels Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, Chandos, Bis, and 2L also have music on the service, which will stream CD-quality audio – 16-bit FLAC files to be specific.

For now, the service will work in the browser, including a mobile-optimised version, with a native iOS app to follow later in the year. After a 30-day free trial, Primephonic will charge £14.99 / $14.99 a month.

There is also an interesting model being used for Primephonic’s payouts. Like generalist streaming services, it allots a pool of revenues – 60% in this case – for royalties.

However, that pool will be divided according to listening time – down to the seconds level – rather than by the number of streams.

“We are making a very transparent offer to the industry, which is paying per second. We’re paying every streamed second to the labels,” Primephonic co-founder and director Simon Eder told Music Ally ahead of the launch.

“The existing model [of payouts on general services] is very challenging for the classical music industry. If you have a track that’s 20 minutes long, it gets the same payout as a two-and-a-half minutes track,” he continued.

“If you have an album with three works that are each 20 minutes long, theoretically you are getting paid out for just three tracks. Yet you have an orchestra involved, and other costs.”

Primephonic is not the only streaming service focusing on classical music. Naxos launched its ClassicsOnline in 2015, although it has since shut down, but Grammofy, Idagio and Wolffy are three current (or soon-to-launch in Wolffy’s case) examples.

Besides payout imbalances, Eder is targeting search as one of the main ways Primephonic can be better for classical music than the large general services.

“Most of the other platforms talk about classical music as one genre, but classical music has a history of hundreds of years. You have the eras – medieval, renaissance, baroque, romantic – and you have the genres: orchestral, solo pieces, solo piano works, choral… These categories do not exist on other platforms,” he said.

“Also there are more layers and components. For pop music you have an album name, an artist name and individual tracks. But with classical music you have the composer, the orchestra, the conductor, you might have the soloists, and all the recordings are cover versions. There is no ‘real’ [original] recording… but it’s hard to find an overview of all the different recordings out there for a piece.”

Primephonic

Primephonic’s approach will be to allow its users to search by composer, work, artist, ensemble, historical period, and genre. It will also provide information around this: someone clicking through to the Mozart page on the service will see what classical era he’s associated with; which works he composed; and then the recordings that have been made of those works.

“If you think of classical-music history as a tree or a skeleton, that’s what we have used as our back-end,” said Eder. “We have digitised that history and are putting all the information around the composer, the artists and the albums, and attaching them to the relevant arm of the tree. That’s an approach that is not relevant for an all-in streaming provider.”

Head of business development Veronica Neo hopes that the contextual information will also appeal to classical listeners.

“Classical requires a lot of background stories around it. It still sees a higher percentage in terms of physical sales, because people like to have the booklet in their hands to read about the orchestras, the artists, the inspiration behind the programming of the tracks,” she said. “All of these are lacking on the generic streaming services.”

Providing this context requires some work on Primephonic’s part, which is why its team will be spending several months ingesting the classical catalogues of Sony and Warner, checking the metadata and building the editorial content around that music.

“Our goal is to make sure we have the entire digital classical-music catalogue available,” said Neo. “So that classical listeners can find all those recordings in one place.”

At launch, the website is the focus for Primephonic’s streaming service, having seen that 97% of its download store’s customers were using that method to visit. Besides developing the iOS app, the company is in talks with hardware companies making home-audio devices.

“In terms of classical-music listening behaviour, most of the time it’s consumers in the home setup. The classical-music person is not really listening on the go as some kind of background music,” said Eder.

“It’s a different listening behaviour: they sit down in the home environment, look for a certain piece or work, and dedicate their attention to that piece of music.”

Primephonic’s existing download store gives it a ready-made base of customers to market the new streaming service too. Neo said that the company will also be working with labels and artists to promote it at concerts as well as online.

“We want to build the bridges between the concert hall and the digital world,” added Eder, who also hopes that Primephonic can also attract people from outside the core classical audience.

“There’s a barrier for a lot of people to go into a concert hall. They go in, and all these people know what they’re listening to: they have knowledge of the artists, the way it’s conducted,” he said.

“If you don’t know the rules, and there is nobody to explain them, you can get lost, including knowing when you’re allowed to clap and when you are not!”

But if we can give the audience a platform where they can listen, and start interacting in this dialogue with classical music that helps them expand their knowledge, we can take away that barrier.”

Stuart Dredge

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