It’s been 15 months since Apple purchased the three-year-old classical music streaming service Primephonic. Meanwhile, there’s one month left for Apple Music to meet its plan of launching a stand-alone Apple Classical app that replaces the discontinued Primephonic app. In classic VH1 fashion, we wondered what happened to the Primephonic folks and where are they now. This is what we’ve learned.
Apple Music × Primephonic
Apple Music already has a giant classical catalog, so why did Apple buy Primephonic and promise a separate app? This piece by my colleague Ben Lovejoy written two years before Apple bought Primephonic explains the challenge Apple wants to solve for classical music.
When Apple announced the Primephonic purchase, it highlighted the service’s “outstanding listening experience with search and browse functionality optimized for classical, premium-quality audio, handpicked expert recommendations, and extensive contextual details on repertoire and recordings.”
That all sounds very Apple Music-y already, so why not bring the Primephonic experience to the app Apple Music subscribers already use?
The simple answer is that classical music metadata is vastly different from that of modern pop music. In addition to the comprehensive catalog, Primephonic was built around the idea of making classical music searchable and discoverable in the age of streaming music.
Primephonic also had a different method for paying artists for plays. Streaming music services pay artists based on track plays, and that model doesn’t make sense for classical music.
Primephonic CEO Thomas Steffens, who now works on Apple Music business development, wrote plainly about the issue in 2018:
Streaming services typically pay out 60% of (net) revenues as royalties to the record labels, who in turn pay out a percentage of these royalties to their artists, based on the number of times a track has been streamed.
Since most pop songs last 3 or 4 minutes, this mechanism works pretty well, but the average classical track lasts much, much longer. Beethoven’s 9th symphony lasts for over an hour, with each movement clocking in between 10 and 25 minutes (depending on the recording). The result is that an hour of pop music pays out significantly more than an hour of classical music.
The folks behind Primephonic recognized the issue and implemented a play-for-second payout structure instead of pay-for-play.
We don’t know if Apple is honoring or will honor this payout structure. That’s probably something Steffens is focused on in his new role. We do know what has been publicly shared about the stand-alone classical music app, however.
“Apple Music plans to launch a dedicated classical music app next year combining Primephonic’s classical user interface that fans have grown to love with more added features,” Apple said last year. Primephonic subscribers also received enough free Apple Music access to get through last February.
The folks at Primephonic were a bit more forthcoming, or at least optimistic, about when an Apple Classical app would be ready. “We are working on an amazing new classical music experience from Apple for early next year,” Primephonic said as part of the acquisition announcement.
Did the team at Primephonic expect Apple Classical to be ready by the time its subscribers ran out of free Apple Music access? Did Apple also expect the new app to be ready in “early” 2022? Is it appropriate to use a Taylor Swift song title for this section of the article?
We don’t know, but it can’t be a coincidence that Apple Music on Android leaked the “Open in Apple Classical” string in February. Remember, that’s when free Apple Music access for Primephonic subscribers was coming to an end. More recently, Apple Classical references have continued to surface in iOS code.
What about the future? Externally, we haven’t ruled out an Apple Classical drop around iOS 16.2 with a hypothetical December release. On the other hand, Rome wasn’t built in a day and Apple Classical wasn’t built in a year. The planned 2022 app launch was just the plan, and plans do change. The deadline is arbitrary. What matters is what former paying Primephonic customers think of the Apple Classical experience.
Primephonic @ Apple
Code references aside, the best sign of Apple’s commitment to the classical music experience is just how many Primephonic employees staff the Apple Music team.
As we mentioned above, former Primephonic CEO Thomas Steffens is now tasked with business development for Apple Music. 9to5Mac has also collected data on where the rest of the Primephonic family landed after the acquisition. Below are just some of the other Primephonic staff members who now call Apple home:
- Henrique Boregio, chief technology officer → Apple
- Veronica Neo, chief operations officer → Data and operations management at Apple Music
- Maarten Hoekstra, chief commercial officer → Product and business development at Apple
- John Dalton, head of America → Partnerships, Apple Music
- Erwin Verdonk, devops engineer → site reliability engineer/software engineer at Apple
- Georgel Aron, Android engineer → senior software engineer at Apple
- Matias Eiletz, data scientist → data science at Apple
- Margarita Castañeda, artist relations and social media manager → artist relations at Apple
- Marie-Louise Geier, visual designer → designer at Apple
- Marina Boiko, senior music editor → Apple Music editor
- Guy Jones, head of curation → classical music editor at Apple
- Jean-Bernard Derquer, head of business development and legal → business development at Apple Music
- Mariana Pimenta, music catalog editor → content operations at Apple Music
- Carlos Andrés Áñez Gómez, music specialist → content operations at Apple Music
- Natalia Fernández, music catalog specialist → content operations at Apple Music
- Juan David Botero, junior music data scientist → data science specialist at Apple
- Lucile Fontaine, junior music data analyst → music data analyst at Apple
- Carolina Meneses João, catalog manager → classical music senior content operations at Apple
- Minna Ylikauma, head of catalog and classical database → content operations manager, Apple Music
- Paul-Luuk (Pluk) Profijt, data engineer → data engineer at Apple
- Melisa Memic, quality assurance software engineer → QA software engineer at Apple
- Arnaud Charpentier, back end engineer → back end engineer at Apple
- Cristyan Sepulveda, back end developer → software engineer at Apple
- Pablo Alvarez-Zaldívar, full stack developer → software engineer at Apple
- Julian Bonomini, software engineer → server software engineer at Apple
Other former Primephonic employees have ended up at the classical music label Pentatone, music distributor FUGA, Universal Music Group, or other companies. The Pentatone family also included Francesca Mariani who ran the customer transition program at Apple until February. (There’s that month again…)
Most importantly, the Primephonic family included Piña, the head of cuddles. No word on Piña’s status at Apple (if anyone knows, write me), but we just know Piña is a good dog.
Have a friend of a friend who worked at Primephonic? Know more about the progress of Apple Classical from Apple Music? Keep in touch, and we’ll share more as we learn more.