There aren’t many brands like Ferrari or Lamborghini in classical music. For a long time, Deutsche Grammophon was one of the only ones. It was obvious why: the label stood for tradition, good taste, objects of value, cutting edge technology. When you bought something from Deutsche Grammophon, you knew you were getting a reference recording. True, the quality of the product wasn’t always as high as the impeccable reputation of the brand–at times, the brand brought more prestige to the artist than the artist to the brand. But even for people whose main cultural experience of music was through pop culture, the Deutsche Grammophon records on their parents’ shelves had an irreproducible aura. For a long time.
The story of the crisis that came next has been told often. DG wasn’t the only label to suffer. Across the industry, profits from record sales crashed; the supply of recordings and artists on the market came to outstrip demand; standard repertoire was played so often a kind of interpretation fatigue set in; and a new generation of musicians came of age who didn’t achieve, or even strive for, the cult appeal of earlier stars. The window of time in which to find new business models and ways to profit from digitalization was missed. At some point, the core product DG was offering wasn’t enough to cover larger overhead and administration costs, salaries and fees, advances and marketing budgets. The label reacted to this development by distancing itself further from its core classical business and looking for new customers. And so the things that made the Yellow Label special fell increasingly away. Loyal fans began to look elsewhere for their quality records. Browse through forums for classical music obsessives today, and you’ll find few more common targets for invective than Deutsche Grammophon.
Interesting article, but I’m not sure things are as clear as it suggests. DG is simply following the more general decline in classical music, and the rise of smaller labels, which make the concept of a “reference” label anachronistic.
Source: Deutsche Mega-phon