Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Search For Classical Music On Spotify

After the US launch, I've seen more than a few complaints about Spotify's metadata and search function from classical fans that are new to this service. Yes it is not perfect, and a bit tricky to figure out how to use it for classical music in a short time all by yourself. I've been using Spotify for two years and I hope this tutorial will be helpful for you to get the most out of Spotify.

First, let us be fair, Spotify is not responsible for the metadata problem. They got contents from dozens of classical labels, each of them tag their albums differently. It would be nice if they could re-tag all contents using a uniform standard, like Naxos did for all the contents on Naxos Music Library (that's why all Naxos related contents are tagged properly on Spotify too), but as a start-up I don't think at this moment it's worth the time and money for Spotify to correct it just for a few classical fans like us, I mean, market-wise.

Secondly, I think Spotify's metadata is not that bad. If you know what you are specifically looking for, most of the time you can find it right away. Just like their instant playback, there's almost no response time in search either (unlike in iTunes Store you have to wait for a page to load).

Let's get started: You can find the official introduction to search on the Spotify page. Here I'll try to elaborate a little bit for classical music fans specially. All links in examples are click-able and are linked to the search results in Spotify. First example: If you are looking for Harnoncourt's Beethoven Symphony No. 8, simply search for Harnoncourt Beethoven Symphony No8 and the next second you are already listening to it.

Search tips:

1, Less is more. Note that in the above example, you don't need to add Symphony into the search query, because Harnoncourt didn't record Beethoven's piano sonata No.8 or string quartet No.8, and some labels might tag it as Symphonie.

2, Precision is import too. If you are looking for Mozart's Piano Concerto No.20, you'd better search for Mozart Concerto No20, even though some label might tag it as concerti. If you just use Mozart No20  the results would also include symphony no.20 etc.

3, Label search: many excellent classical labels are already on Spotify, you can find them by search for label:name. Like: EMI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Naxos, Harmonia Mundi, CPO, Mode and many more. Try it for yourself, note that for two-word label names, you need to add a dash, like label:harmonia-mundi. Or use quotes, like label:"deutsche grammophon"

4, Year. Want to know who many new Liszt recordings are released in his bicentenary year? Search for: Year:2011 Liszt. You can also choose time frame, like year:2009-2011 Bruckner.

5, Artist. You can search for artist:Szell Beethoven, to get all Beethoven conducted by George Szell, but I suggest you to just use Szell Beethoven. Because in some cases, the artists tags don't include the conductor or soloist's name, like this album.

6, Album. This one is very useful, if you want to see a series of album covers and titles in search results, instead of a long list of tracks, you can try like this: szell album:beethoven. Note that you should use Beethoven for album title search, not Szell. Because most albums names are tagged with composer names, but not always include the performer's.

7, Genre. This may work well for other genres like Math Rock, but it simply doesn't work for classical so far. It seems that the labels don't even bother to tag the classical albums as classical. Just did a search for Year:2011 Genre:Classical on Spotify US and the result is empty. There are already 700 new recordings in my 2011 new classical releases playlist (not including re-issues).

8, Combinations. Some labels are not exclusively focused on classical music, like Nonesuch, or Sony/BMG. If you want to find all Beethoven recordings on Nonesuch (including the piano sonatas by Richard Goode), simply add Beethoven to the label search, like: label:nonesuch beethoven.

More examples, the Great Conductors series on EMI: label:emi great conductors (see playlist here).

All DG Karajan reissues from the past ten years: label:deutsche-grammophon year:2001-2011 Karajan

All Bach cantata recordings on Harmonia Mundi: label:harmonia-mundi bach cantatas.

9, Plurality makes a difference: Here's one thing you should note, Cantatas and Cantata may give you different results. Because there might be a recording of one cantata or an aria in a recital album or compilation, so search for cantata might give you more results. But if you only want to see albums that features Bach cantatas alone, search for cantatas instead.

10, An advanced trick. If you search for Mahler's 2nd symphony, it takes a lot of time to scroll down and browse the full list because there are dozens of recordings on Spotify. Here, you can search for Mahler track:Urlicht instead. Urlicht (Primeval Light) is the title of the fourth movement, so the results give you a easy-to-browse list of albums of Mahler 2nd and only one track per album. Another example: Mozart Requiem track:Confutatis or simply, Mozart Requiem Confutatis.

11, This fan-made search page also makes searching for albums easier: Searchify.

12, Use this site Spotify Classical Playlists as a reference. Even though many recordings available on Spotify UK are not on Spotify USA yet, you can still browse my playlists to get an idea of how extensive Spotify's classical catalog is. And I believe Spotify is doing their best to offer their US customers the same catalog as in Europe.

That's what I can come up with for now. Enjoy the listening. If you have any questions regarding this topic, or want to teach me a trick or two, please leave a comment, thanks.


  1. In 3, it should be quotes, not colons.

  2. Thanks for these useful tips. In addition to 11 (Searchify) i made a tutorial using it in combination with the Sonos music system. Check that video here.

  3. Oh, and unfortunately, as far as i can see, the special searches like label, year and track do not work on the iPhone app.

  4. Thanks so much for doing this tutorial! It's very much appreciated. (and nice shoutout to the Naxos Music Library!)

    One comment, I think it WOULD be worth it for them to correct the metadata for die hard classical fans like us. First, because it wouldn't be that much work. Librarians have been doing this stuff for ages, and the metadata already exists in marc record form at OCLC (they've been around since the 70s as a collective to help libraries gather and share cataloging) so all you would really need to do is work out some kind of arrangement to sync the album information you have with the cataloging that's already been done and build a search function around that. They wouldn't have to start from scratch.

    Second, since classical searching is abysmal on most online sites, I think a lot of classical fans are put off of them, think the sites are just for pop music, and they wind up losing a lot of potential customers. I stuck with my eMusic subscription for a year longer than I'd have liked (after they went mainstream) simply because they had a decent classical search.

    If any one of these companies made a really good search functionality, had a mobile app (unlike Naxos) and all of the other goodness, I would be a member for life. I can't believe I'm alone in that...

    That being said, I'm bookmarking this and sharing it on facebook for sure :) Glad you pointed your blog out to me on twitter!

  5. Actually, they could correct the metadata by licensing Gracenote's data. The Gracenote CDDB most likely has metadata for nearly all, if not all, of the tracks on Spotify.

  6. @Heather T. thanks for the comment. Hope Spotify HR see this soon:)

    @Kirk, I think there might be some technical barriers. As far as I know, most streaming services ask the contents providers to do the metadata. Because other than the information we see, it also has to include ISRC, UPC, CP info and geographical restrictions etc.

  7. Thanks for the search tips. I shelled out for Spotify Premium, and I'm enjoying it, but right now I'm inclined to cancel after I get my month's worth because the tagging issues and the "label has made this track unavailable" are too annoying for me. (Gracenote or freedb are unlikely to help, even if they did decide to use them.)

  8. I wish I could find a way to search. It seems Spotify only lists movements and not entire works, so I have to figure out how to piece the work together in a playlist. Ugh.

  9. In search view Spotify lists tracks and album titles, if you see a list of Mahler movements but you want to save them to a playlist as albums, just drag the album title to a playlist, all tracks in that album will be added into the playlist in the right order. No need to sort all the tracks yourself:)

  10. Thanks for this tutorial and all the great comments as well. I opened Spotify once when I first got it weeks ago, got frustrated and never opened it again. Now at least I have some idea how to use it. All the lists will give me some great ideas of things to listen to. Many thanks!

  11. I appreciate the help this article gives and I've been able to find what I want to play. Thanks!

  12. Great blog!

    A couple of things I find useful for searching for classical music on spotify:

    Using wildcard to include alternate language spellings

    e.g. symphon* will match symphony and symphonie, sonat* will match sonata, sonatine, sonati etc

    Using - to screen out irrelevant results.

    e.g. strauss -johann will give more results than "Richard Strauss" though it will give some false hits too some of which can be screened out with other - filters.

  13. Suppose I want a 2-3 hour opera, and I find nothing more than a whole lot of 3-4 minute "songs" listed in no particular order. Do I spend all day organizing them into a playlist? or is there an easier way? (and suppose it's a 4-4 hour opera like Rosenkavalier. . . . . )

  14. @duxomnium, you can search for Rosenkavalier, or


    and click any the album sleeve listed at the top of the search view, or album titles under the Album column, and select a full recording of Rosenkavalier to play. And you can drag the album sleeve or title to any playlist you want, if you drag it into "New Playlist" at the bottom of your playlists list, it will create a new playlist. Hope that helps.

  15. Thanks so much for all this, you have made Spotify a truly useful tool now for Classical music listeners!

  16. For awesome record label searching of classical music on Spotify, check out LabelM8 (http://www.labelm8.com) It's a very cool site that pulls up all record label releases and organizes them and lets you play them in Spotify.

    Label searching by URL --> http://www.labelm8.com/naxos

  17. Why wait for Spotify to improve its metadata, when there is a new music app, specifically designed for classical music?

    The app is called IDAGIO, and it aims to tackle all of the problems that classical music enthusiasts face when trying to listen to music digitally.

    Our music library is curated by a team of musicologists and collates thousands of hours of hand-selected masterpieces in the palm of your hand. The app is based on relevant and correct metadata, so you will not be left frustrated by not being able to locate what you are after.

    At IDAGIO, we are a small team that combines decades of experience in both classical music and digital music products, and we are passionate about improving this user experience. It’s an ambitious goal and the road ahead is long, but we are starting now!

    The app will launch in closed BETA in the coming weeks and we need your help! Just visit and add your email into the field at the bottom of the page. We will send you the download page on its launch date.

    1. The website is:
      www . idagio . com / about

      :) Happy listening!

    2. Very excited to hear about this.

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