Monday, March 3, 2014

Classical Music for Smartphones: Delivery

Last week I began an exploration of smartphone apps related to classical music. I discussed how the 4' 33" - John Cage app brings users a novel approach to composing by treating ambient sounds as music as John Cage did in his landmark piece, and how the InstantEncore solution allows orchestras to reach a tech-savvy audience with promotions, media, and instant ticketing.  This week I will explore a set of apps that do not just connect users to the realm of social music experimentation or to a specific performing arts organization but to the music itself. I speak specifically of apps that deliver music to the users’ devices.

Numerous apps have sprung up allowing users to create customized stations that stream music from an online provider. These apps are not strictly for smartphones, but provide access to services available on the web. Many people are familiar with Pandora (, the first music of these music services. Pandora stations start with a seed song or artist, and bring in related songs using an algorithm called the Music Genome Project. Allegedly the “most sophisticated taxonomy of musical information ever collected” (, the algorithm catalogues upwards of 450 musical characteristics to identity songs it thinks users will like in their stations. It has nearly 70 million users, and boasts 900,000 tracks in its library.

Pandora may be the oldest music service, but it is certainly not the only one. Spotify ( is another popular provider which boasts fewer users but an impressive 20,000,000 song library. Unlike Pandora, users can create playlists with songs of their choosing. Users cans opt to use the radio feature that creates stations using a related song finding algorithm similar to Pandora. Apple’s iTunes Radio ( and Google’s Play Music All Access ( allow users to create streaming stations or download music from their online stores. In Google’s case, users can create custom playlists; however, there is no free version of All Access, unlike the other providers I mentioned.

Streaming music apps allow users to listen to any genre of music, but they can be especially beneficial for listening to classical music. This works in two ways. By having a large library of music from which to draw selections, a user can find many less well known pieces in the repertoire (although contemporary music may be hard to unearth). Creating customized stations where the service selects the tracks may introduce users to new works with which they are unfamiliar. I have found the Pandora’s algorithm does the best job of selecting pieces that fit with my stations, while introducing variety and opening my ears to new possibilities. But, Spotify’s library is much larger, making it easier to find obscure or new pieces, and its playlist function is extremely useful. It’s probably just best to try different apps and find what works best for oneself.

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Check out all the articles in the Classical Music for Smartphones Series:

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