Apple Music Classical is launching on 28 March


Apple’s new Apple Music Classical app will launch on 28 March for iPhone, with an Android version to follow, the company has announced.

It’s a standalone app but not a standalone subscription. Instead, Apple Music Classical will require an Apple Music subscription: any of that service’s tiers apart from its Voice Plan.

Built after Apple acquired classical streaming service Primephonic in 2021, the new app will have a catalogue of more than 5m tracks, including “exclusive albums”.

Apple is also making audio quality a key selling point, with up to 192 kHz / 24 bit hi-res lossless tracks, and “thousands” of spatial-audio recordings.

The app will also address some of the problems encountered by classical music fans on established streaming services in finding music. On Apple Music Classical they’ll be able to search by composer, work, conductor or catalogue number.

Apple is promising hundreds of playlists, biographies of composers and ‘deep-dive guides’ for key classical works. It has even been commissioning new portraits of famous composers from visual artists to sit within the app.

One downside is that subscribers will need an internet connection to listen: no offline access or downloads, then. Apple Music subscribers can pre-order the new app now ahead of its launch on the 28th.

Primephonic shut down when Apple acquired it in August 2021, but at the time the company said the plan was to relaunch as Apple Music Classical “early next year” – i.e. in early 2022.

The relaunch has taken a year longer than expected, but later this month classical music listeners will get to see how Apple Music Classical shapes up.

It’s obviously good news for existing Apple Music subscribers who love classical music, but will it make a big impact in terms of new subscribers – either those switching from other services, or those who don’t currently subscribe to any?

That’s hard to say. Classical music reaches a lot more ears than you might think in the streaming era, thanks to tracks popping up on mood-focused playlists.

Consultancy firm Midia Research published a report on the classical music market in 2019 that quantified some of this, even if the fact that it was commissioned by a classical streaming service – Idagio – is a necessary caveat.

It claimed that classical was the fourth most popular genre worldwide, with classical listeners accounting for 35% of the adult population.

However, it also estimated that classical music streaming generated $141m of revenue in 2018: just 1.5% of the global streaming market. More recently, research firm Luminate estimated that classical accounted for just 1% of US music consumption in 2022.

The Midia report claimed that the two most popular formats for listening to classical music were radio (used by 40% of fans surveyed) and CDs (used by 35%). Audio streaming services were further down the list, although intriguingly YouTube was third, used by 29% of fans.

So, Apple’s challenge is partly to tempt older classical music fans who don’t already pay for a streaming subscription because they prefer their CDs and the radio. Or, indeed, because they don’t think streaming services serve classical well enough – which is where Apple Music Classical’s pitch should hit home.

However, the challenge is also to persuade those who do already pay for a rival service – including the emerging younger generation of classical listeners – to switch to Apple Music for its new standalone app.

This may be why NOT charging a standalone subscription is smart. Apple isn’t trying to get people to pay for a specific classical service on top of their existing subscription. That would be a hard sell for anyone who doesn’t just want to listen to classical music.

Classical music is fascinating right now. It’s still too often stereotyped as a niche genre for older listeners, but (apart from the fact it’s not a single genre) streaming has already expanded its audience, and there’s a youthful generation of listeners coming through.

In 2020, a report by British industry body the BPI, Deezer and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (yes, a caveat again) claimed that 31% of Deezer’s classical listeners in the UK were under 35. Meanwhile, TikTok has a burgeoning community of both classical fans and classical musicians.

If Apple Music Classical can sign up a decent number of streaming-refusenik classical fans, while also becoming the home of that new generation of listeners, it could be big news indeed for the sector.

Written by: Stuart Dredge