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Classical Music: A Tradition With A Future – MusicTank

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Classical Music: A Tradition With A Future

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This Think Tank will consider ways of reinvigorating the classical music market; reviewing the role of digital delivery, live performance, new business models and marketing in growing the classical audience.


Classical Music: A Tradition With A Future – Transcript

1. KEYNOTE (SUMMARY) – Chaz Jenkins

Hands up who is in the recording industry? Hands up those who are in the live music/concert industry?

The outside world views us as one and the same – the music industry – but it is quite clear that we view ourselves as two quite separate industries who are nevertheless symbiotic and co-dependent.

The classical concert industry is in rude health relative to the recording industry, where sales are falling and there are constant doubts about the future. But the concert industry should also be concerned about these issues. Recordings are an investment which draw people to the live experience and can market the UK classical scene internationally far better than live ever could. Importantly, a decrease in sales of recordings doesn’t equate to a decrease in interest in an artist/ensemble.

But retailers are allocating less and less shelf space to classical – a threat to our recording industry which must in turn be seen as a threat to our live industry. The internet can potentially revitalise the market for classical recordings for the benefit of all.

At LSO Live, the orchestra members are the only shareholders in the label meaning the label is constantly working for the artists. It is therefore in our interest to increase the number of recordings made and maximise the international exposure of LSO Live via online sales. Players’ income is substantial from these recordings, which also do help to grow the audience. Without this technology there could be no LSO Live. Traditionally, orchestras send people around the world while record labels send recordings. The latter has been an often insurmountable logistical challenge for smaller indie labels in the past – unlike orchestra members, the recordings cannot get up and transport themselves. However, advances in technology allow LSO Live and other orchestra-owned labels an easier option to deliver recordings worldwide.

It is extremely difficult for audiences to connect with a dead artist – in order to really engage with an audience, emerging classical performers must be able to appear both live and on record. It is up to us to put those recordings physically within reach, particularly for those in their twenties and thirties. Live performance does this very well – it is far easier for a concert to reach out to new fans. Recordings are further removed and we have to be careful not to patronise or speak down to our potential audience.

The internet is invaluable in this process. It allows customers to explore new music in the comfort of their own home and via a variety of models, e.g. try-before-you-buy, online recommendations. The market for online music peaks with the thirty-somethings but then shows another rise with those in their fifties – i.e. those with the time and willingness to experiment and learn about new music. And this process must be encouraged with all demographics.

Selling classical CDs remains an extremely inefficient use of space for physical retailers. In the US last year, classical accounted for just 2% of the physical market but, more encouragingly, 7% of the overall digital market.

Paradoxically, LSO Live has actually experienced an increase in CD sales since developing its digital offering which shows what a valuable tool the internet can be, in terms of increasing sales across the board. With ever-developing options (webcasting, podcasts etc.) online allows classical far more options to reach out to potential listeners who were previously intimidated by the genre.

People have eclectic tastes if you just give them the chance. Far too many people are awaiting the upturn in classical without doing anything to initiate it. If we utilise the full potential of digital then there is a far bigger audience out there for classical than previously imagined.


Costa Pilavachi:  LSO Live has been a fantastic success story but one remaining concern is that CDs are being sold at too low a price – five to six pounds. The worry is that this could be another nail in the coffin for classical’s existing business models with traditional, non-orchestra-owned labels unable to compete.

While it is true that many symphony orchestras are without recording contracts and therefore desperate to make money via new models, this is only a small section of the wider classical community. There is astounding and ever-increasing diversity in the genre with music being released (e.g. every Handel opera) that we were unaware even existed.

Accordingly the ability to reach a younger audience varies. It is far harder for orchestras to reach out to that demographic than it is for Baroque music, for example. The core market for orchestral recordings is male, 40-60 yrs, with the female market favouring male opera singers.

When we talk of the future of classical it is undeniably digital, but Universal are the only major label to have aggressively embraced this with online concerts, Decca Live etc. in order to become a true digital record label.

But digital is also about audio-visual stimuli. With classical DVD availability ever-rising, the days of providing audio in isolation are over. Think visual. We are starting to see some consolidation in this market with companies buying up and integrating the smaller video providers and if the major record labels are not careful, they may lose out on this opportunity to build their classical offering. Major labels, with the exception of Universal, are ignoring the DVD phenomenon.

Cathy Graham:  The changes in classical brought about by the likes of LSO Live are not only about evolving technology and increasing the availability of recordings but have also been enabled by a changed attitude in classical performers who will now record music without demanding an upfront fee.

London Sinfonietta has just started a small niche label and has been successful in providing customers with repertoire which is otherwise unavailable. This is enhanced by the fact that a concert performance is a one off opportunity to hear this music – it will come and go. Financial strictures have prevented a bigger indulgence with digital, and indeed remains a barrier to entry for some.

In terms of making the most of copyrighted music there remain problems which need to be addressed with the publishers in order to enable more exploitation of repertoire, including online. It is senseless to drive up prices until they are prohibitively expensive for the customer.

In terms of reaching new audiences, people will listen to a wide variety of music given the chance. Sinfonietta audiences are getting younger and larger – key to this is to create a non-threatening environment within which to enjoy music. The Sinfonietta has had great success in attempting to guide these eclectic tastes – for example, collaborative concerts with Warp Records, melding electronica with contemporary classical, getting young classical composers to arrange, an acoustic troupe to perform and adding the audio-visual element via Warp video artists. At the same time we stressed the fact that this was a big experiment and audience members could come and go, clap when they saw fit.

The Ether festival performances provide for that all-important visual element, and for which we commissioned videos by Warp artists, in-so-doing, we tapped into a new audience.

There are plenty of young people with open ears who will come to classical events if you reach out to them – one third of our audience at these events tends to be new attendees. We also engage with young invitees to advise us on future marketing and how we can improve.

In order to appeal to new audiences classical has to find similarities with other styles and offer clever, innovative ways in.

Prof. Merlin Stone:  Talking to the classical fraternity about marketing is like stepping 30 years back in time, stuck as many are in a sort of marketing myopia, because they’re still afraid of their customers. Nowadays most advanced companies would be looking to embrace their audience whereas the classical industry tends to pigeonhole innovative marketing with negative labels such as “crossover”. They resist innovation and when innovation works it inevitably looks shocking to them. Many at the last ABO conference couldn’t grasp this.

Most orchestral managers are not listening to their audience, only to the orchestra itself. They have to engage with the audience.

The digital music sphere is a massive revolution. Soon everyone will have an MP3 player because it will be integrated into their mobile phones. Certain mobile companies are still desperate for musical content and don’t know where to go to get it – particularly in terms of classical.

There is an enormous opportunity here – the digital market so far is only the tip of the iceberg. iPods are too restrictive and only offer music on Apple’s terms so will most likely die out. There are other providers waiting in the wings who are hungry for music content but the response from the classical community is one of deafening silence.

Matt Fretton:  Classical music, much like heavy metal, will never necessarily appeal to one and all. It has an inherent value which will appeal to some and which won’t appeal to others. It doesn’t have to reach everyone.

The classical genre is still seen as old and remote, yet modern art is totally different. It’s cool. The real problem is the cultural accretions and traditionalist baggage which prevent classical from appealing to all of those who might appreciate its inherent value. This baggage forces classical into a corner and obscures the actual roots of the genre – in Medelssohn’s time the performers stood up, Beethoven begins with a crashing chord in order to wake everyone up! We need to free classical music up again and make sure that people are there out of choice, not some cultural obligation.

We shouldn’t expect to draw everyone but rather ensure that classical music has a vital and relevant role in modern life. In order to do this we need to strip away all the extraneous stuff (the concert hall rows, the proscenium etc.) and stop making classical into something it essentially isn’t.

Paul Westcott:  The mainstream recording industry often assumes a role it is ill set up for – that of introducing people to new music. Audiences in earlier decades were far more prepped for an appreciation of classical music – whether through the film music of the 1940s or even The Beatles’ use of organic strings. When record companies try to initiate such crossover, however, it is often a disaster.

The audience for contemporary classical music is also very different to the audience for the likes of Beethoven and Brahms, the former does not necessarily graduate to becoming the latter.

Chandos focus on 19th century performers and have found that there is a great market out there for the more obscure classical artists.There is a hunger for new repertoire on CD, yet the concert hall is still very narrow. But in terms of reaching entirely new classical audiences this gives little clue – perhaps what is needed is more lobbying of government to encourage better music education in schools to reveal the variety of classical music on offer.

Keith Harris:  I have always been amazed, when working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, at the ability of classically trained musicians to come in and record their parts in an afternoon when the popular artist may have been working on the album for several months. Perhaps seeing this in action could better inspire young people to get into classical music.

Cathy Graham:  We should never forget the mutual respect that exists between classical and pop musicians. For example, following a recent Johnny Greenwood concert we arranged there were practically love letters going back and forth between Radiohead and our classical musicians.

It terms of education this translates as people wanting to get involved and not just sit back and listen. London Sinfonietta are working on ways to increase participation and allow creative individuals to contribute and collaborate with their ongoing projects. I can’t imagine a manager who doesn’t talk to their audience.

Prof. Merlin Stone:  The real problem isn’t delivery, it’s finding the market for classical. While the classical industry is too obsessed with the product, production and how it’s valued, they are failing to effectively market and to properly assess their audience.

The programme is all-important. Ideally they should be trying to balance the classical portfolio – new classical offerings backed up by better marketing for the diversity of the older material. They also need to develop and exploit new ways of engaging with the customer – and this might involve revealing and explaining more. This will never happy so long as they remain too quick to pigeonhole: “Crossover” vs. “Real” classical music.

Chaz Jenkins:  The industry creates genre boundaries to make charting and retail racking easier – for convenience. The public don’t recognise such limitations – they flock to the Tate Modern, for example, unconcerned about what genre of art they are viewing.

The challenge to classical is how to make the genre less rigid and, by default, more cool, in the same way the Tate Modern is. The answer is undoubtedly to avoid talking down and provide recognisable, aspirational figureheads. Education (actually the LSO refers to it as Discovery), needs to be presented as a way to enjoy music, first and foremost.

Keith Harris:  How is classical threatened by the provision of free music – magazines with cover-mounted CDs and the like?

Costa Pilavachi:  When BBC Music magazine gave away complete works on covermounts then we were up in arms. The classical labels can compete against anything except music for free. As a whole, however, the classical industry has used covermounts strategically with Gramophone magazine offering excerpts of classical recordings which serve as excellent promotion for the official product.

Matt Fretton:  It is the nature of capitalism, however, that if orchestras can survive offering cheaper music, and other individuals can survive while giving music away for free, then that is a new challenge and a potential new business model and we all have to see where it leads.

Prof. Merlin Stone:  To complain about companies offering a product for free is stupid – there will always be a core of fans prepared to pay for something if they really want it and it is made attractive enough to them.

From the audience:  “Free” is not always free – when the Arctic Monkeys seemingly gave away tracks for free they were being used as a promotional tool to build a fascinating media story.

Chaz Jenkins:  Fans will not buy a product at whatever cost, however attractive it is. Smaller orchestras are changing things on a local level – catering to their loyal fans by setting a sensible price.

Costa Pilavachi:  Nevertheless, 90% of all classical fans would probably still buy the music at a slightly higher price. On an international leve,l the digital world won’t be so different than the physical sales world. The person responsible for classical music on iTunes will not be able to deal with every orchestra and indie label on an individual basis. There will be a few dominant major companies and the rest will have to aggregate their content and pricing in order to present it in a way that makes sense.

Paul Westcott:  Inspector Morse and Clockwork Orange opened me up more to classical than any aggressive marketing could have. The key is that you cannot be overly didactic, you need to allow people to absorb the music incidentally and once they’re hooked you don’t need marketing. What is not clear, however, is how you create a “Morse2 – perhaps lobby film and TV bodies?

Costa Pilavachi: Films and the like will always help to sell classical music. Where the marketing comes in is in terms of secondary sales of related products. For example, core sales of the Shine soundtrack helped to shift greater numbers of the associated works by Rachmaninoff and others.


In theatre there is little difference between watching contemporary drama and Shakespeare – why can’t classical music break down boundaries in the same way?

Matt Fretton:  So many modern performances of great composers such as Mozart miss the point. Where is the excitement of the original performance when the last minute subscription piece came in five minutes before taking to the stage and was sight-read by the orchestra, as they went along, the audience unsure what was coming next?

Cathy Graham:  The comparison between classical music and theatre overlooks the fact that the audience for contemporary culture events is not the same as the audience for traditional classical events. Instead it tends to consist of modern dance or art students who happened upon contemporary music by chance.

At London Sinfonietta we have found, however, that performers who are more accustomed to the seat-of-the-pants live elements in contemporary classical music can bring some of that excitement to their performance of traditional classical music.

Chaz Jenkins:  DJ sets in chill-out rooms can play classical music and appeal to non-classical fans. Similarly the majority of the audience at a classical concert would not classify themselves as “classical fans”. They are more likely people who simply like to go out – whether that be to a rock gig, a restaurant meal or, occasionally, a classical concert. The dedicated classical fanatics are far rarer.

In a recent experiment, an audience of non-classical fans were offered tickets to either Beethoven/Mozart or Shostakovich. The majority plumped for the more famous former option but half of these were told they had to attend the Shostakovich concert anyway. At the end of the concerts, those who had reluctantly attended Shostakovich were far more enthused than those who got exactly what they expected from Beethoven/Mozart – showing the need to break down audience preconceptions.

Costa Pilavachi:  The majors have done little or no market research into classical audiences for the past 10 years and the IFPI research is far more general and cross-genre. They have also failed to supply the classical sub-labels with the support and freedom needed to go out and be creative. The only word from above is “sign big artists” and, unsurprisingly the mood in those labels is predominantly defensive.

Now Il Divo have proved to be something of a watershed act, possibly signalling a further shift away from classical labels. Despite the public perception of Il Divo as a classical act they are 95% pop – in terms of production, management and marketing teams. The classical industry has little or nothing to do with them.

Chaz Jenkins:  The problem is that the classical record industry is one step removed from the consumers and can see only sales feedback. Meanwhile the live industry is closer to their consumer-base and therefore finds it easier to do market research.

From the audience:  We as classical music publishers have actually been seeing some signs of growth and improved health. When we produced ringtones recently we punched far above our weight in terms of press coverage, showing that the media are interested in classical if given a chance to report on open and forward-thinking initiatives.

The two worlds of publishing and record companies are also now converging in the digital space. When producing a Sixth Pomp & Circumstance for this year’s Proms we decided to circumvent the record companies and offer it for download ourselves.

With independent labels getting more and more classical music out there, at cheaper prices, will the major labels be left stranded with the likes of Andrea Bocelli and Il Divo?

Response from the audience:  But the majors thrive precisely because they cater to an audience beyond the connoisseur market which is niche and perhaps better served by indie labels anyway.

The money going into classical at major labels, based on concert revenue, CD sales and downloads, is at best static. This is bad news for everyone because it means that the majors cannot reach out as well to new classical “crossover” fans who could make up the connoisseur market of the future.

Chaz Jenkins:  If the majors disappeared then we would all be in trouble. Classical music has always depended on their philanthropy in terms of developing new directions and accessing the finance to take risks. A major label with direction, such as Universal in developing the digital classical market, is a good thing for everyone.

Prof. Merlin Stone:  You get the customers you deserve. The classical music industry, through its negative attitude to “crossover” acts such as Bocelli, has fostered a culture of inaccessibility. This is marketing myopia of the worst kind and as a result the industry has failed to build productively on its successes and become obsessed with perceived failure.

Keith Harris:  What about the lack of ethnic minority representation in classical music – surely this is damaging its image?

Prof. Merlin Stone:  With increased immigration and a rising ethnic population the very make-up of the UK consumer-base is changing. But the classical industry understands its existing mainstream audience so poorly it is a pipedream to imagine they will be able to reach out any better to other cultures.

Matt Fretton:  The class connotations attached to classical are a continually damaging issue here. The predominantly white middle classes in this country are desperate to hang onto classical in an attempt to create their own defining culture.

Chaz Jenkins:  Although the situation is pretty dire here in the UK, we’re actually far better at reaching out to new audiences than in the US where the majority of classical concerts are sold to regular subscribers – a core audience which is now in decline.

Costa Pilavachi:  The paradox is that the sub-genre perceived as the most exclusive in classical – opera – is actually the basis of the biggest crossover act in the UK: Il Divo.

From the audience:  Meanwhile the proms sell out year after year to a young audience from a mixture of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Price is undoubtedly the key factor but it nevertheless proves that there may be a future audience out there for classical.