Apple Updates Music Data, Which Should Benefit Classical Composers and Performers

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A seemingly minor update to iTunes should please Classical music fans and could mean bigger royalty checks for newer composers. Late last week, Apple released iTunes version 12.3.2 for OS X, bringing it in line with the recent iOS 9.2 update. Aside from some unspecified bug and stability fixes, the update "allows you to see works, composers, and performers while browsing Classical music in the Apple Music catalog" on your desktop.

Classical music enthusiasts often have a hard time finding certain works because distributors and music streaming services focus metadata -- descriptions of recordings and compositions -- on broad fields like artist, album and song titles. That’s problematic for a genre of music where symphonic recordings don’t necessarily single out soloists, movements or even the composer. 

As previously reported, artists and rights holders can't be properly paid if digital services and performing rights organizations don't have full, accurate metadata. Similarly, digital services can't properly pay royalties without accurate metadata. This shortcoming even led to the creation of a Classical-centric digital distributor called Dart.

Search results for leading services Apple Music and Spotify do not include columns for composers -- which is not a problem for biggies like Beethoven but represent a real issue for contemporary or indie composers whose royalty checks depend on accurate data. Spotify’s remedy is to list the composer as the first artist for classical tracks where the labels provide that info. "If the composer is missing then we are getting in touch with the right teams to fix this for users," a Spotify community manager said last month in a years-old discussion thread on the issue. Apple Music’s results vary, and seem to be more based on behind-the-scenes data.

Whether Apple and its competitors will expand metadata for popular music categories remains to be seen. You currently can’t search a songwriter like Linda Perry and find the hits she's written for Christina Aguilera or Pink  -- you can, however, stumble upon a club mix of her 4 Non Blondes hit “What’s Up.” A request for comment from Apple on future metadata integration was not immediately returned.