In July, I found myself reading some everyday music industry news on Billboard, or Rolling Stone, or The Guardian… it doesn’t matter that I can’t remember which website it was because everyone was calling Primephonic the “Spotify of classical music.” And I have to be honest, that kind of marketing nomenclature (“the Airbnb of toilet paper,” “the Uber of radicchio”) never gets me particularly excited to try something. But I was compelled to try this thing because I’ve been eagerly following the ways that classical music stakeholders have tried to broaden the appeal and reach of this music in the “digital age,” and this streaming service seems to have some momentum behind it.
So I tried it.
I’ll pause here to say that in no way is this a solicited advertorial. I like listening to orchestral, symphonic, or “composed” music, but as a non-classically trained musician myself, it’s difficult to feel like I belong on that train even after buying the ticket, so I wasn’t expecting to love Primephonic. Yet, within hours of trying it out and getting familiar with this platform, I realized that it didn’t matter what my musical background was. As a listener and, ultimately, a fan of music, there are a ton of things about Primephonic that I can get behind and ballyhoo about.
In-depth Bio Pages
Yup, that’s composer Olivier Messiaen looking straight bad ass on his Primephonic bio page. You want one good reason to get the kids into classical? He’s staring you in the face, and he is not going to let you get away with playing that B♭ like that!
At the bottom, there’s this beautiful timeline showing where within the greater eras of orchestral music Messiaen’s life and work falls. If you’re a newcomer to this type of music, it helps immensely to be able to readily put what you’re hearing on that timeline.
Just beneath the timeline, you have some highlighted albums and then this enormous, in-depth biography featuring pull-out quotes from the composer himself along with photos (if available). It’s immaculate.
But look closer at that image, beyond the smart, exciting design and layout. Bearing in mind that this is what a composer’s biography looks like on this platform, go check Messiaen’s bio on Spotify. (I’ll wait.)
Playability and Ease of Use
Look, classical music can be complicated. The player needs to be simple, pretty, inviting. This is all of that and more. Plus, it feels a little bit like playing a game, and even that vinyl icon in the lower left corner spins to keep your cat-like attention span piqued at all times.
The service offers — for some reason, maybe loading speed – to bump the quality of the recording file from lossless FLAC to a compressed mp3. Primephonic also allows users to purchase works and individual tracks as downloads, making it a hybrid streaming/digital distribution platform. And if you want to wander the site, links open in a new tab from the player so audio never stops.
If there’s one thing classical music has above most forms of popular and contemporary music, it’s that listeners are able to hear the same piece performed by a variety of ensembles and orchestras, accented by different soloists, and, especially, led by different conductors. The same piece can take on an incredible range of colors and textures with variances in pace and energy and so much subtlety.
You’re gonna want to listen to as many versions of a piece as possible, and that’s what makes Spotify difficult both for people who really love classical and those who are just trying to find their in. Because Spotify is designed and organized around recording artists and not composers, there just isn’t an infrastructure in place to allow a listener to adequately explore different interpretations of the same piece at length.
Not sure what you feel like listening to? Search by composer, work, artist, mood, label, and period. You can look up the full (available) discography of a particular conductor! Here’s the top of a lengthy page for conductor Marin Alsop’s releases. Hey! She’s also one of the instructors of Soundfly’s free course on the music, choreography, and historical significance of West Side Story!
I can understand if this still isn’t exciting for you. If I didn’t already care about orchestral music, I might be like, Yeah, fine, whatever, I just want my Taylor Swift.
Well, here’s a reason you should care. I hate to break it to you, but as much as we all love Spotify, it’s not all that great. It’s got holes. Soundcloud is on the fritz, Tidal is basically just the Top 40’s plaything, Apple Music makes no sense at all, and niche services like Primephonic are actually thinking about and designing through these crucial flaws. Whether or not you listen to classical music, Primephonic has a lot to say about how streaming platforms might have to innovate in years to come.
Now back to you, Olivier, with sports.