Meeting Audiences Where They Are: The Data Behind Streaming Classical Music

Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music are consistently ranked as the most popular streaming services on the market. Even though almost every popular streaming service presents difficulties for classical music, from cataloguing music to audio quality, audiences around the world prefer using these convenient streaming services to consume their music. With audience preferences so clearly defined by a significant increase in audio streaming, which organizations are taking advantage of these popular on-demand streaming platforms, and how are they using them?

A dataset for over 160 orchestras and opera companies from Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music was compiled to find some answers to these questions about streaming. Spotify in particular offered public data about monthly listeners, followers, and number of albums. Using activity across three streaming platforms and Spotify’s public data, there were interesting observations about the digital streaming strategies between orchestras and opera companies.

Orchestras are Catching On

Out of the 160 organizations,  101 were orchestras from across the US and Canada. This sample came from the League of American Orchestras member directory for budget Groups 1 through 4. The League breaks down its constituents by budget size by Groups 1 through 8. There is no defined dollar amount for the budget sizes because membership varies from year to year.  As of 2014, the League broke down the groups by the following budget sizes.

Group 1

$16.4 million or more

Group 2

$7.2 - $16.4 million

Group 3

$2.7 - $7.2 million

Group 4

$2.0 - $2.7 million

Group 5

$975,000 - $2 million

Group 6

$520,000 - $975,000

Group 7

$170,000 - $520,000

Group 8

Less than $170,000

A vast majority of the sampled orchestras stream on at least one platform (74%) and actually have content available on all 3 platforms (65%). The most used platform is Apple Music, which is not surprising considering the platform sources its music from iTunes, where the music is available for purchase and download. 

When broken down in group categories, Group 1 orchestras are more likely to have a presence on a streaming platform than their lower budget peers. Of the sampled Group 1 orchestras, 100% were present on at least one streaming platform, with 100% present on Apple Music and 96% present on Spotify and Amazon Music. The number of orchestras who stream and percentage of budget group both decrease as budget size decreases.

Orchestras Who Stream by Group.png

Moving into Spotify listener data, the top 11 orchestras with the highest number of monthly listeners includes 3 different budget categories. 

Budget Categories of Top 11 “Listened-To” Orchestras

Group 1


Group 2


Group 3


Perhaps the most surprising organization in this group is the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra located in San Francisco, CA. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is categorized in Group 3, and Baroque music is a very niche area in the classical music genre. Yet, at over 110,000 monthly listeners and 1,000 followers, the orchestra is definitely doing something right.

Overall, 49% of orchestras have 100 monthly listeners or less, 7% have monthly listeners in the hundreds, 14% in the thousands and 19% in the tens of thousands. This leaves around 12% of orchestras having monthly listeners in the hundreds of thousands. Of the 75 orchestras who are currently present on a streaming platform, the majority (51%) has more than 100 monthly listeners. This shows that streaming platforms offer the opportunity to reach more listeners, and that there is some demand in streaming classical music on the popular platforms.

Distribution of Orchestras by Monthly Listeners, for Orchestras with More Than 100 Monthly Listeners

Y-axis, percentage of orchestras; X-axis, number of monthly listeners

There is more information contained within the dataset, which can be found below for your own exploration.

Opera Companies Have Room for Growth

The remainder of the dataset came from 62 opera companies across North America. This sample came from the top 3 budget categories as defined by Opera America.

Budget 1

$15 million or more

Budget 2

$3 - $15 million

Budget 3

$1 - $3 million

While orchestras were relatively easy to search on different platforms, opera companies were a different story. When searching for a particular opera company, like Seattle Opera, its orchestra or chorus is listed but the opera company itself is often absent. 

This is confusing because a full opera album may be associated with an artist account under its orchestra or chorus, but unless a user is willing to click on something that is not what they searched for, the user would never know the content exists. 

For example, on Spotify, Seattle Opera has a branded, full 14-disk Ring Cycle available to stream (that is 14 and a half hours’ worth of content!), but the artists are listed as Seattle Opera Chorus and Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The Seattle Opera Chorus, however, has no monthly listeners. Perhaps if Seattle Opera was listed as its own artist instead of the chorus, the artist account have more monthly listeners.

This unclear organization made it slightly difficult to give absolute numbers, but from the information that was accessible, the dataset showed that 26 opera companies were present on a streaming platform in some capacity, with 8 of those only present with orchestra or chorus artist accounts. This means that of the 62 companies, a minority of 42% are present on a streaming platform. 

Overall, opera companies have significantly fewer monthly listeners and available content than their orchestra counterparts, even if they are located in the same city. While the opera audience is a smaller percentage of the US population than the “classical music” audience according to the NEA, the disparity of online listenership is dramatic.

As on-demand streaming becomes more popular, these trends may shift for opera companies. The NEA released a study in 2008, Audience 2.0, which highlighted the relationship between online “new media” participants and in-person participants. The study reported that “arts participants through electronic media are more likely than non-participants to report having attended an arts event.” In other words, those who listen or watch the arts online are more likely to attend an in-person event.

In opera, the study reported that 4.9% of the US adult population participated in opera through electronic or digital media, which is higher than the in-person attendance rate of 2.1%. While this data is 10 years old, it offers insight into the importance of the online audience. It also gives a clear indication of how streaming can benefit an opera or orchestra. Opera companies, orchestras, or other classical music organizations can use their digital content to spread their listenership and potentially increase their in-person audience.


Below is a Google Sheet of the raw data, as of April 2018, compiled from a free Spotify account and free trials for Apple Music and Amazon Music. The opera company data points for Spotify were taken from specific opera company artist accounts, not the orchestra or chorus artist accounts.


Gaylin, David H. A Profile of the Performing Arts Industry: Culture and Commerce. Business Expert Press, 2016.