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Breaking the i-code: How did Beethoven get to be this week’s #1 US bestseller?

Ever since we broke the news a few hours back that Beethoven’s back on top, the wires have been buzzing with speculation as to how Decca got Daniel Barenboim’s new Beethoven set to the top of the Nielsen Soundscan chart – itself the most accurate tracker of real sales in the US.

Our sources at Universal have been sworn to silence, but some of the other moles who report to Slipped Disc from lowly parts of the musical ecology tell us of a deal that was done between Universal and Apple to promote Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven for All on the front page of every iTunes store (except Japan who release in September), right up there with Justin Bieber.

Both a more popular ‘best of’ with music from the symphonies, sonatas and concertos (the last two sets coming later in the summer) and the complete symphonies were released to as wide a download audience as possible and at a sweetheart price. The new ‘Mastered for iTunes’ format is also a much Improved sound quality.

Easy, really, when they put their minds to it. You wonder why they ever bother with the crossover trash.

UPDATE: Here’s a Decca press release, 24 hours behind Slipped Disc:

For Immediate Release

 

DOUBLE CHART HITS FOR DECCA’S BEETHOVEN FOR ALL WITH DANIEL BARENBOIM AND THE WEST-EASTERN DIVAN ORCHESTRA

TOPS BILLBOARD’S CLASSICAL TRADITIONAL CHART

 

Two CD Set of Highlights From Beethoven for All: Music of Power, Passion and Beauty Debuts at #1; 5-CD Set of Symphonies Nos. 1-9 Debuts at #3

 

June 28, 2012 (New York, NY) –  Decca’s Beethoven For All 2-CD highlight set and 5-CD symphony set debuted at #1 and #3 respectively on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, marking a significant first week in the launch of this landmark recording series. From this first installment of these dual releases on June 19th and extending through the fall to the holidays, Beethoven For All includes recordings of Ludwig van Beethoven’s complete symphonies, piano concertos and piano sonatas with conductor-pianist Daniel Barenboim – one of the greatest Beethoven interpreters of our time.

 

The five-CD set of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 1-9 sees Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble acclaimed the world over for imbuing fresh, irresistible life into the classics. Of Barenboim’s concerts with this orchestra of multi-national talent, The New York Times said that the conductor’s “penchant for spontaneous music-making clearly excites these young players,” resulting in performances that are “impassioned and risky.” Individual releases of all nine Beethoven symphonies were also mastered especially for iTunes.

 

The two-for-one CD set of highlights from the complete Barenboim-Beethoven series features select movements from the new recordings of the symphonies, piano concertos and piano sonatas and is a must-have for classical aficionados, the casual classical consumer, and the newly curious to explore this composer’s iconic work.

 

In a bold marketing campaign typically reserved for pop music releases, Beethoven For All was supported with a national TV advertising campaign showcasing how the composer is an inspiration to many.  Additionally, social media and on-line visibility were incorporated into the marketing efforts ultimately reaching a sizable group of consumers.

 

Paul Foley, General Manager of Decca & Deutsche Grammophon U.S. comments, “Beethoven For All is a truly special series that we feel confident has broad appeal to a variety of music consumers who crave quality recordings.  This strong first week reinforces our belief that classical music truly is for all.”

 

For more information please visit: www.beethoven-for-all.com/us/home/.

 

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Comments

  1. This sounds correct. Non-classical labels buy prime iTunes placement all the time. I believe it was done for Bartoli’s and Fleming’s CDs a couple of years ago.

  2. Carolyn says:

    I thought those days were over. In the past, it is my understanding, in the Pop world one could only make a deal up to number 5, or 10. The rest a recording had to earn. It was not unheard of, either,for something to be a ‘ turntable hit,’ meaning the public really wasn’t buying, but the radio stations played it far out of proportion to what the public requested.
    I wonder, how Barenboim’s contract reads. How much does he make per download? What about the musicians’ royalties? Barenboim is only the conductor.
    What do you mean, Norman, about the ‘improved’ “Mastered for iTunes” sound? How can the sound really be satisfactory? Would you, please, explain?

  3. Wanderer says:

    Exemplary show case for what’s wrong with the record business.
    This is among all Beethoven Symphony recordings one of the less good ones. Interpretation and recording wise.
    Barenboim himself has a much better cycle recorded with his own Berlin orchestra with Teldec.
    Yet this is what makes it to the top of the charts.
    Go figure. The audience is deaf. And what’s even worse: The record label managers are deaf.
    And after we all agreed on that, then comes promotion… sell to the sheep, make them buy. Those who sell are right…

  4. Londonkings says:

    I really don’t understand the objections here. Carolyn, the chart position wasn’t bought but a prime promotional spot quite legitimately, which can never on its own guarantee sales. Wanderer, this is a chart naturally reflects recent releases and many people will have other sets. You’re entitled to your opinions on the quality of the performances and recordings, but so are others. That people have bought the cycle shows a curiosity to continue to explore this great music and should be celebrated not derided.

    • Hear hear, Londonkings.

      Beethoven Symphonies go top of the charts, and some classical music people still sneer that those who are buying them are “deaf” because they don’t think it’s the best recording. And we wonder why people find classical inaccessible!

      • Indeed. I wish the classical labels would buy space on the itunes front page more often. I sometimes wonder if labels and classical music fans wish to keep the music a secret.

        It is funny that a “mole” would report about something that is common in the music industry. Is Decca really so behind the times that its employees think this is strange or unusual?

    • Wanderer says:

      Sorry Gentlemen, you are missing the point. If you want to celebrate that classical music at all is sold successfully then I agree. But that doesn’t change the fact that the classical recording business is managed to hell these days.
      And Londonkings, taste is one thing, but if you listen to both of Barenboim’s recorded Beethoven cycles it is obvious what I’m talking about. Not even comparable artistically. Having said that, I admire Barenboim for his engagement with the Israel-Palestinian orchestra, he is a great man and inspiration. He makes this world a better place, literally. Many do talk, but he does the walk…

      • Neil van der Linden says:

        Ehh it is not only an Israeli-Palestinian orchestra, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Egyptians and even incidentally an Iranian is now involved. Although the starting point for Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian politicologist and historian Edward Said when they founded the orchestra certainly had very much to do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but they drew the topic into a wider field. One Iranian was Kiaras Bardia, who then for a while was traine with Barenboim in Berlin and now heads the Iranian National Orchestra, a wonderful person. Who created a stir in Iran because of his affiliation with ‘ZIonism’ but got protection from high in administrative circles as well.

  5. Neil van der Linden says:

    Unfortunately, as it stands, in the end the Barenboim-Beethoven albums ended up 2 and 8 on the Billboard Classical Chart, with on #1 the 100 Must-have Movie Classics and between 2 and 8 twice Il Volo, Bocelli, Il Divo and some movie soundtrack Moonrise Kingdom, featuring music by Britten, Saint-Saens, Schubert, Francoise Hardy, Hank Williams, but also by a founder of Devo. On 9 there is the evanescent Jackie Evancho and on 10 99 all time chillout classics. And on 13 the best videogame themes by the London Philharmonic.
    Admittedly online I cant find the mentioned ‘Traditional Classic list. In the past Billboard had a Clasical and a crossover Classical chart. On ‘Classicial’ you would get Hillary Hahn on #1 with the Scheenberg Concerto and even Parsiful under Thieleman would appear in the top 15, and most albums by Bocelli were not in sight as they have nothing to do with classical. Admittely quite recently HIllary Hahn’s recordings of Ives sonatas got in sight in this newly styled Billboard classical list. I wonder how they define traditional classical in comparison to classical if apparently Jackie Evancho and Joss Grobham are classical and Schoenberg and Parsifal are traditional. And maybe when you see ~beethhoven as traditional he has less competitors than wen you file him under classical and has to let Movie Classics come first..

  6. Michael says:

    Isn’t it amazing how well capitalism works; a little well-placed advertising and promotion can work wonders.

    The question is will it have the staying power of “the crossover trash”, as Norm puts it.

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