Industry in Crisis?

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by GrahamN, Jul 5, 2003.

  1. GrahamN

    GrahamN

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    There's a discussion going on in 'the other place' about the impending death of the single. I thought it interesting that there's so much feeling that the 'popular' music industry is in crisis, because exactly the same thing is being said about the classical side.....but I really don't see it. This is a copy of the post I put up there - 'cos I'm interested in others' feelings about the classical music industry.

    From where I sit, I see an unprecendented amount of music being released and available. When I was at school/uni I would go into the local music shop and see maybe one recording of some of the mainstream repertoire...(except if you went to Blackwells in Oxford or Foyles in London)...and that was about it unless you forked out for a special order. Now with internet shops you can get any record currently on release (and all sorts of deleted ones 2nd hand as well) at the press of a button. And the range of stuff is huge - there's the period band revolution, new chamber groups all over the place, and loads of repertoire (modern and ancient) getting first recordings - and the recording quality has never been higher IMHO. There are all sorts of independent labels around as well that I don't remember when I was a lad - maybe they were there but I never saw them in the highstreet. So we see a bunch of labels pushing church and organ music (Priory, Saydisc, Gimmell etc), others that do a really good job on the English niche (Hyperion, Chandos) or scandinavian (BIS, Ondine) and also play with the big boys. The success of Naxos is quite staggering - they've forced prices down, made damned good stabs at the niches (I'm particularly impressed by their English, Scandinavian and Russian repertoire), and made money out of it - and got the majors to actually make use of their back catalogue.

    Admittedly the area that's suffering is the mainstream - I heard Andre Previn on the radio a few weeks ago bemoaning the fact that e.g. the Boston SO or Concertgebouw (although not sure I agree about the second - they've produced a fair number of recordings under Chailly) very rarely get into the recording studio now, whereas when he was in charge of the LSO in the 70s he could just phone up the guys at Decca or EMI when something came together and get it recorded the following week. This is being addressed now though by orchestras setting up their own labels - e.g. LSO Live, Halle just doing the same thing, and Avie acting as a production house for orchestras that want to do their own thing but can't get the majors interested (e.g. the recent SFSO Mahler cycle under Tilson Thomas, after being dropped by RCA).

    Maybe this is just the last blast of a dying industry (a sort of Supernova effect?), but things are pretty busy at the moment - R3's Saturday morning CD review program is about to be expanded (when it returns after its summer break) from 3 to 4 hours, largely to accomodate the vast numbers of new releases coming through!

    The major damage I see being done to the classical field is misguided attempts to popularise by 'dumbing down': popularise by all means but do it by giving quality music with top quality performances, but without the snobbishness and pretention that too often comes as part of the 'classical' tag. The majors have all dropped big stars in their fields (I remember RCA dropped Tilson Thomas and Slatkin - and others I can't remember now have been dropped by the others), and just keep the superstar names (like Ma, Chang) or latest wunderkinder, who may not be bad but almost certainly require a bit of maturing before justifying the hype they get.
     
    GrahamN, Jul 5, 2003
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  2. GrahamN

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Hi, Graham, I've only got time for a very short response at the moment, but that may be good, because then I can't talk too much rubbish!

    For a start, here's an interesting article:

    http://www.naxos.com/newDesign/fopinions.files/bopinions.files/industry3.htm

    My personal feeling is that the industry is still in a major state of flux and that it's too soon to see any clear trend. Up to very recently, all the major labels had both popular and classical artists, and the vast sales of the former helped cover the losses of the latter. Now things have changed, and as you say, the classical sides of the majors are cutting costs and resorting more to their substantial back catalogues. Two other victims of this trend have been Gardiner and Pinnock. The success of Naxos and the smaller specialist labels is encouraging, but I wonder whether this can continue. Classical sales are a small percentage of the record market, and are at best holding. I personally think that the slide will continue, as popular music becomes more prevalent in our culture and a new generation with virtually no knowledge of classical music succeeds the present one.

    To me, one of the basic problems of classical music is that it's like land - they're not making any more. I (and I don't think I'm alone) find modern serious music largely unapproachable and more or less completely ignore it. I've tried, out of a sense of duty, and have failed. I suspect that the relative success of the original instruments movement has largely been fuelled by people like me, seeking something different and listenable. So, just how many Beethoven's 5ths can the market stand? 50 years ago, there wasn't a single recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the catalogue, now it's the most recorded work. The lack of approachable new stuff gives classical a "fusty" image. Perhaps it's a matter of education; people like me need to be taught how to appreciate modern stuff. Yet, this wasn't always so - Johann Strauss Jr., the Waltz King, was loved by the people in the street and admired by Brahms and Dirty Dickie for his musical facility. Is that no longer possible, without compromising one's artistic integrity?

    In short, I keep my fingers crossed. As you correctly say, we are enjoying a great availability of repertoire (partially fuelled by the rise of CD - it would never have happened in the vinyl era). I hope it continues.
     
    tones, Jul 6, 2003
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  3. GrahamN

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Slightly off topic.

    Yes, the record industry is exploring niches that were ignored until now. My wife just gave me a record of an integral of Alessandro Scarlatti's cantatas. An integral! A good crisis, in this case. There is always a Buxtehude project, including all the harpsichord pieces (and they are not very interesting: just instructive).

    And I just ordered a new version of the Art of fugue. So, well, it isn't like the beginning of the CD era, but new things continue to come out.

    By the way, I don't thing classical or erudite music will ever die.
    I say so because whenever I go to a concert it is full of young people - be it in Portugal, in France or in Belgium.

    The music schools are making a good profit - all seems well.

    But I think this era must find its own idiom. Of course Boulez is impossible, most of the dodecaphonic works are just fun to analyze, but not to listen, and experimental music just shoos people away.

    I remember an organ recital in Notre Dame (Paris, of course) where Olivier Latry played a number of modern composers. The recital was free. Sitting next to me, right on the floor, was a girl of about 18. She was concentrating sternly, she obviously was getting the meaning of the music (I quite liked it, too).

    Of course pop music seems to flood the market, but that is because everybody has the power to buy. Even during Bach or Beethoven's days very few people liked their music - most people liked simple tunes, just like today. Only they couldn't afford to buy records (if there were records at that time) and now they can.

    So classical music, as pre-impressionist painting will remain with us. Just for a very few. It may happen that a modern erudite - that is, not musically mediocre - music idiom may emerge, and in that case classics will recede to the museum pieces, But even if that happens there will always been people interested in antiquarian stuff.

    Of course, the tragedy of the 20th century was that artists - particularly in music - could never get the Zeitgeist correctly. They tried: a Boulez partition is all steel and glass, all structure and no ornament, just as in architecture. But music is not architecture (after all, you may only by bold to a point in architecture: people will want to actually live or work in the house), so all excesses were available.

    The same happened with literature. If you have ever read something by Alain Robbe-Grillet you'll get my meaning.

    But modern music (at least in France, the reality I'm more familiar with), romance and architecture are becoming more human and more understanding. Perhaps because the artists can't count on governmental financing anymore...


    Don't know if this makes sense. Hope so, but I'm feeling slighly WadiaMonster today...
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Jul 6, 2003
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  4. GrahamN

    bifcake

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    I'm surprised to read that classical music recording industry is going through tough times in Europe. I thought that lack of interest in classical music was strictly an US phenomenon. We all look to Europe as a bastion of civilization and refinement. I guess we're rubbing off on you guys. What a sad state of affairs.
     
    bifcake, Sep 24, 2003
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  5. GrahamN

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Not as tough, Bifcake, but tough nevertheless. The big companies are resorting more and more to their (extensive) back catalogues, vigorously promoting young new photogenic artists and making more and more crossover and compilation albums ("Classics for lovers", that sort of thing). I pass through Zürich's main classical record store at least once a week (it's only a couple of hundred yards from Zürich's main railroad station, through which I pass every night on my way home). I am constantly horrified at the dearth of interesting new stuff - all crossover and compilation and Beethoven's greatest hits. But that's probably a reflection of how dominant popular/rock music has become in our culture. There has now been two generations since Bill Haley rocked around the clock, and those generations have grown up with it and accept it as part of the background. As a result, the "muzak" in most Swiss shops is modern pop and rock. This, I guess, is progress, of a sort.
     
    tones, Sep 24, 2003
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  6. GrahamN

    bifcake

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    I think that if it weren't for Bill Haley, we would all be tapping our feet to the Grand Ole Opry.
     
    bifcake, Sep 24, 2003
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  7. GrahamN

    GrahamN

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    The basic point of my original post was that the Cassandras were exaggerating the problem. Since writing that though, I went and looked through the new release listings in several months of Gramophone. This probably supports both points of view.

    As I said previously, the good news is the number of new releases and ease of distribution of own label stuff. This month there's another new label "BPO Live" (no, not Berlin, but Budapest PO) with 11 discs initially. Chandos are releasing 7 new recordings (although 2 look as if they're part of their "light music" series). Arte Nova has 4 (including Zinman's 7CD set of Strauss Orch works), Avie has 3 and MDG has 5 (although all chamber - i.e. cheap to make). Surprised to see there's no Naxos release, as earlier in the year they were rock solid at 4 new releases and 2 historical refurbs per month, and nothing from Hyperion or ASV (maybe summer hols got in the way).

    The bad news though is the total abdication of the majors. This month is pretty typical, at:
    Decca (Universal): 2 new, 1 historical, 16 re-releases;
    DG (Universal): 2 new, 7 re-releases;
    Erato (Warner): 1 new, 10 re-releases;
    Philips (Universal): NO new, 10 re-releases;
    RCA (BMG): 1 new, 2 back-cat;
    Sony: not sure - 6 titles, 2 clearly back-cat (Bernstein's dead), 1 clearly new (Midori's alive and photogenic - but dreadful)

    EMI's the interesting one: 49 re-releases! 2 new from established artists, 3 light/crossover, but 4 in their "Debut" series - recitals from new artists (although one of them is by Alice Coote - I'm amazed she's not already made many discs). Glad to see them promoting new talent, although would be more convinced if they did a better job of keeping them through to 3rd, 4th and 5th disc.

    It was also interesting listening to Rattle on Saturday. He and the BPO have a contract with EMI to record 29 albums over the next 5 years. In the early '70s, Karajan would average about 25 lps per year! The sound quality from then is pretty fair (although generally a bit higher background noise), so the recordings still have great currency. So one comment was that the problem of market saturation was actually caused by people like Karajan in that "golden age". (Others would possibly consider the "golden age" finished about 1965, when producers got obsessed with multi-miking)

    At least the live music scene is not bad at present - there's normally 3 or 4 unmissable concerts in London per week. Unfortunately on 4th Nov, the LSO are doing the first (only?) performance since 1920 of the original version of Vaughan Williams' London Symphony on the SAME night as Gilbert Kaplan (the mad millionaire) is doing Mahler 2 at the RFH - and I'm on holiday in a different continent :mad:

    Actually bif, one of the reasons that live classical music in England does appear to thrive is that they get paid such a pittance. When Pittsburgh came here this summer, I heard that the worst paid member of that orchestra got paid significantly more than the highest paid UK orchestral player. That's also why the LSO and LPO are used for film soundtracks - they're so cheap!

    There are worries about interest in classical music here (e.g. I would estimate that there were probably 10-20% shorter queues for the Proms this summer than last), but the big venues and big names still get reasonably well supported (e.g. I tried getting a ticket for "The Sixteen" doing renaissance polyphony recently and it was sold out 3 weeks before the concert).
     
    GrahamN, Sep 24, 2003
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