Even Classical Record Labels Dumb Down their Music

Just yesterday, I wrote about a guest spot I did on the Conducting Business show, on WQXR, about streaming classical music. Today, in my email, I got the following from Decca Records:

Clasically chilled

This is how they’re selling classical music. As playlists of music “designed to help you unwind.” As if that – and elevators – is all that classical music is good for.

One note. I tried to access the Spotify playlist. It opened in my web browser, and, since I’ve removed Flash from my Mac, I was unable to log into Spotify. The playlist wouldn’t open in the Spotify app, and, when I searched for it in the app, I didn’t find it. Whatever.

28 thoughts on “Even Classical Record Labels Dumb Down their Music

  1. The end of a businesscase. Reshuffling of the entertainment business. No more no less imo. This week ripping the Beaux Trio’s 60 cd box…..why isn’t there a really serious database of that box (and others) for metatags? -franz joseph haydn, haydn, haydn franz joseph etc 🙁
    I’ve Dbpoweramp osx and itunes but glad I still have a cd player. Streaming isn’t the way because it lacks ‘the story behind’ the music.

  2. The end of a businesscase. Reshuffling of the entertainment business. No more no less imo. This week ripping the Beaux Trio’s 60 cd box…..why isn’t there a really serious database of that box (and others) for metatags? -franz joseph haydn, haydn, haydn franz joseph etc 🙁
    I’ve Dbpoweramp osx and itunes but glad I still have a cd player. Streaming isn’t the way because it lacks ‘the story behind’ the music.

  3. I teach a course on how memorial practice associated with catastrophes and when we get to the discussion of the various memorial works linked to the bombing of Hiroshima, I have them listen to Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The two most common reactions from students tend to be (1) that the piece scares the hell out of them (particularly when they listen to it while looking at survivor drawings from the Unforgettable Fire collection … so much for multitasking) and (2) that they found it hard to reconcile the piece with their assumption that “classical” music was something that you listened to when you want to relax or as background music while studying. (I should also mention that, since my university has an arts college associated with it, I also get a fair number of students who do not buy into the prevailing assumption that the proper “uses” concert music is “relaxing.”)

  4. I teach a course on how memorial practice associated with catastrophes and when we get to the discussion of the various memorial works linked to the bombing of Hiroshima, I have them listen to Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The two most common reactions from students tend to be (1) that the piece scares the hell out of them (particularly when they listen to it while looking at survivor drawings from the Unforgettable Fire collection … so much for multitasking) and (2) that they found it hard to reconcile the piece with their assumption that “classical” music was something that you listened to when you want to relax or as background music while studying. (I should also mention that, since my university has an arts college associated with it, I also get a fair number of students who do not buy into the prevailing assumption that the proper “uses” concert music is “relaxing.”)

  5. Having a fairly large classical cd collection (2000+) and loving the physical product, downloading was never attractive to me and exposure to iTunes did not help. Streaming, on the other hand is attractive and having tried a few, services, Qobuz for Classical, Jazz and world music is the best I’ve come across. This is what I got from Qobuz yesterday for example http://www.qobuz.com/index.php/newsletter/newsletter_classique_274_en?p=hosted&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_source=newsletter_classique_274_en

    Apple music will bring streaming to the forefront of customers minds but having tried the service since launch, all I can say is that it leaves a lot to be desired. The real danger as I see it, is that it may put smaller companies like Qobuz, who seem to have a deep knowledge and love of music and strive for high standards, out of business. One Apple to rule them all? On their performance to date I really hope not.

    • Unfortunately, Qobuz isn’t available in the US, so we’re left out of what looks like a nice service.

      I looked into the Naxos Music Library a while back, but it costs at least $20/month at the lower quality bit rate (they don’t tell you what that is) and you have start each track separately. No play lists at all. But they do make the album notes and a lot of other metadata available. It looks like a great resource for schools, not so much for individuals.

      http://www.naxosmusiclibrary.com/

  6. Having a fairly large classical cd collection (2000+) and loving the physical product, downloading was never attractive to me and exposure to iTunes did not help. Streaming, on the other hand is attractive and having tried a few, services, Qobuz for Classical, Jazz and world music is the best I’ve come across. This is what I got from Qobuz yesterday for example http://www.qobuz.com/index.php/newsletter/newsletter_classique_274_en?p=hosted&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_source=newsletter_classique_274_en

    Apple music will bring streaming to the forefront of customers minds but having tried the service since launch, all I can say is that it leaves a lot to be desired. The real danger as I see it, is that it may put smaller companies like Qobuz, who seem to have a deep knowledge and love of music and strive for high standards, out of business. One Apple to rule them all? On their performance to date I really hope not.

    • Unfortunately, Qobuz isn’t available in the US, so we’re left out of what looks like a nice service.

      I looked into the Naxos Music Library a while back, but it costs at least $20/month at the lower quality bit rate (they don’t tell you what that is) and you have start each track separately. No play lists at all. But they do make the album notes and a lot of other metadata available. It looks like a great resource for schools, not so much for individuals.

      http://www.naxosmusiclibrary.com/

  7. A representative from Deutsche Gramophone told a class of conservatory students not long ago that the only genre they are really interested in now and in the future is classical crossover. And then take a look at what leads the classical iTunes charts – The Piano Guys. – That’s the business side talking of course. – And back in the days when they had to manufacture, ship and market physical CDs, only concentrating on what sells in big numbers made even more sense than today. But that’s how big labels like Deutsche Gramophone still think.

    Enter digital music and the concept of iTunes. Many artists are dropping their labels who only think of the few top sellers and don’t care about the smaller artists. Now artists can do that and it’s great for the variety of what’s being offered. I am talking about pop, rock, alternative music of course.

    But even classical musicians are starting to put out their own releases, but not enough of them. I guess it comes down to the fact that a lot of the top classical artists are vastly overpaid by big lables (and don’t see a need to leave) and a lot of the less famous artists lack the business sensibilities of being an entrepreneur. Things have to change and will change, especially with younger generation entering the market. The era of the big record labels is over.

    • Wow. I don’t think there’s two words of truth in this post.
      Musicians – classical, pop, reggae, rap – have to focus on live performances to make any money. Their recorded music promotes their concerts, the opposite of the old days when concerts promoted their recorded music.

      • Steven, if you read my post carefully, nowhere did I say that recordings are the way artists are making money these days. You are right – now recordings promote artists, who make money with live performances (across all genres). But recorded music is still essential, because it’s everywhere and we take it for granted (for good or bad). And that’s exactly why big labels only focus on the few big moneymakers (for them) and on recycling and repackaging old titles into “elevator compilations”. They don’t make money from artists playing live performances.

        So the essence of my post is absolutely true and valid. Ditching a big label (or not even trying to join one) can be a big opportunity – to promote oneself and to put out music that otherwise might get pushed to the side by the establishment. It’s a win-win for artists and for us consumers. And because it’s all digital and downloadable these days, it’s also possible to do so on a small budget.

        But it takes a generation of performers/musicians that has more of an entrepreneurial spirit. One can only hope that conservatories are taking that trend seriously.

        • Many record companies DO make money from their artists live performances. Contracts and financial arrangements are evolving and the two areas are not as separate as they seem.

          I’m at work and can’t reply to everything but I can’t see anyone of authority at universal classics (“DG”) making a public statement that “all they care about are crossover artists”. They do need to make money. They are a business just like any other. To expect them to run their business as a charity is unreasonable. I don’t know how many times I read someone lament who some old obscure LP box set, let’s say that big Charles Ives set Columbia issued in the 70s, hasn’t been re-released on CD. Because there’s not s snowball’s chance in hell the mastering costs would ever be recouped.
          Yeah, many artists & orchestras are releasing their own CDs. Vanity issues or heavily sponsored. Not an example of some magical financial formula where they can make money doing it themselves while the majors couldn’t.

  8. A representative from Deutsche Gramophone told a class of conservatory students not long ago that the only genre they are really interested in now and in the future is classical crossover. And then take a look at what leads the classical iTunes charts – The Piano Guys. – That’s the business side talking of course. – And back in the days when they had to manufacture, ship and market physical CDs, only concentrating on what sells in big numbers made even more sense than today. But that’s how big labels like Deutsche Gramophone still think.

    Enter digital music and the concept of iTunes. Many artists are dropping their labels who only think of the few top sellers and don’t care about the smaller artists. Now artists can do that and it’s great for the variety of what’s being offered. I am talking about pop, rock, alternative music of course.

    But even classical musicians are starting to put out their own releases, but not enough of them. I guess it comes down to the fact that a lot of the top classical artists are vastly overpaid by big lables (and don’t see a need to leave) and a lot of the less famous artists lack the business sensibilities of being an entrepreneur. Things have to change and will change, especially with younger generation entering the market. The era of the big record labels is over.

    • Wow. I don’t think there’s two words of truth in this post.
      Musicians – classical, pop, reggae, rap – have to focus on live performances to make any money. Their recorded music promotes their concerts, the opposite of the old days when concerts promoted their recorded music.

      • Steven, if you read my post carefully, nowhere did I say that recordings are the way artists are making money these days. You are right – now recordings promote artists, who make money with live performances (across all genres). But recorded music is still essential, because it’s everywhere and we take it for granted (for good or bad). And that’s exactly why big labels only focus on the few big moneymakers (for them) and on recycling and repackaging old titles into “elevator compilations”. They don’t make money from artists playing live performances.

        So the essence of my post is absolutely true and valid. Ditching a big label (or not even trying to join one) can be a big opportunity – to promote oneself and to put out music that otherwise might get pushed to the side by the establishment. It’s a win-win for artists and for us consumers. And because it’s all digital and downloadable these days, it’s also possible to do so on a small budget.

        But it takes a generation of performers/musicians that has more of an entrepreneurial spirit. One can only hope that conservatories are taking that trend seriously.

        • Many record companies DO make money from their artists live performances. Contracts and financial arrangements are evolving and the two areas are not as separate as they seem.

          I’m at work and can’t reply to everything but I can’t see anyone of authority at universal classics (“DG”) making a public statement that “all they care about are crossover artists”. They do need to make money. They are a business just like any other. To expect them to run their business as a charity is unreasonable. I don’t know how many times I read someone lament who some old obscure LP box set, let’s say that big Charles Ives set Columbia issued in the 70s, hasn’t been re-released on CD. Because there’s not s snowball’s chance in hell the mastering costs would ever be recouped.
          Yeah, many artists & orchestras are releasing their own CDs. Vanity issues or heavily sponsored. Not an example of some magical financial formula where they can make money doing it themselves while the majors couldn’t.

    • Christopher is short sighted. That 30% buys him a placement in the largest music store in the world.
      I hope he enjoys the extra 30% he makes from the minuscule number of copies he likely sells on his website. How do people pay on his website? Many are reluctant to deal financially with online stores. People have that relationship with iTunes already. It’s just a one click to purchase.
      Reminds me of a friend who complained how much his financial advisor was charging him. My friend was getting amazing returns on his investments, which more than justified his broker’s fees.

    • Christopher is short sighted. That 30% buys him a placement in the largest music store in the world.
      I hope he enjoys the extra 30% he makes from the minuscule number of copies he likely sells on his website. How do people pay on his website? Many are reluctant to deal financially with online stores. People have that relationship with iTunes already. It’s just a one click to purchase.
      Reminds me of a friend who complained how much his financial advisor was charging him. My friend was getting amazing returns on his investments, which more than justified his broker’s fees.

  9. While mavens may be offended, it doesn’t strike me as unusual that Classical labels are trying to expand their market. Don’t you want more people listening to Classical, more album sales, more interest in concerts? Marketing Classical as “Music to Relax To” is more palatable to the non-fan than “Four Viola Concertos From the Baroque Period”, which doesn’t mean anything to most modern listeners. Just ask Richard Clayderman.

    • Except that they’re presumably trying to market to the younger generation who have been raised on things a lot more exciting than elevator music or music for relaxation.

      About 20 years ago my next-door neighbor claimed that rock music was the only music at all worth listening to because it was infinitely varied; all classical music was boring. I tried to point out that modern popular music was pretty much all alike: most of it is in the same meter, same tempo, in blues harmony, the same instrumentation. He just scoffed and told me that I didn’t know anything about ‘real’ music. A few months later a friend of his talked him into joining a church choir. The current piece they were working on was something by Ives. A few weeks into that and he came over to apologize for the things he’d said earlier. He was excited and wanted to know more about how to learn his part and to read music.

      So I think that you can draw in the younger generation into classical music, but not with elevator music, the standard warhorses, or maybe even instrumental music. Modern and some Renaissance vocal works (such as Sting playing Dowland) might be more likely to get good results, but there’s not much marketing for those.

  10. While mavens may be offended, it doesn’t strike me as unusual that Classical labels are trying to expand their market. Don’t you want more people listening to Classical, more album sales, more interest in concerts? Marketing Classical as “Music to Relax To” is more palatable to the non-fan than “Four Viola Concertos From the Baroque Period”, which doesn’t mean anything to most modern listeners. Just ask Richard Clayderman.

    • Except that they’re presumably trying to market to the younger generation who have been raised on things a lot more exciting than elevator music or music for relaxation.

      About 20 years ago my next-door neighbor claimed that rock music was the only music at all worth listening to because it was infinitely varied; all classical music was boring. I tried to point out that modern popular music was pretty much all alike: most of it is in the same meter, same tempo, in blues harmony, the same instrumentation. He just scoffed and told me that I didn’t know anything about ‘real’ music. A few months later a friend of his talked him into joining a church choir. The current piece they were working on was something by Ives. A few weeks into that and he came over to apologize for the things he’d said earlier. He was excited and wanted to know more about how to learn his part and to read music.

      So I think that you can draw in the younger generation into classical music, but not with elevator music, the standard warhorses, or maybe even instrumental music. Modern and some Renaissance vocal works (such as Sting playing Dowland) might be more likely to get good results, but there’s not much marketing for those.

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