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A Naxos release as album of the year? Stranger things have happened…

The budget label gets bursts of flak for doing things on the cheap, but I cannot find any fault with its collection of British sea songs by (mostly) living composers. It’s my album of the week on In fact, I don’t expect to hear a better choral album all year. Read on here.


songs of sea

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  1. Naxos recordings have long been receiving ‘editor’s recommendations’ in Gramophone magazine, and have won many awards. I thought people long ago stopped accusing them of doing things on the cheap. One can ‘cherry pick’ a large number of excellent recordings (performance and sound quality) from their catalogue. I particularly welcome their inclusion of lesser known composer / works and, over the years, they have done British and American music proud.

    • Will Duffay says:

      I agree. It’s many years since people were sniffy about them. Long gone are the days when they’re chucked out cheap discs performed by 4th rate eastern european bands.

      • Cheryl Anderson says:

        Not really. Most recordings are indeed made by “4th rate eastern european orchestras” that are paid peanuts just to add repertoire to the label (Naxos avoids recording the same piece twice even by different artists). The other recordings, made by actually good artists, are handed to the label for FREE (the artist pays all recording costs and it’s not guaranteed that Naxos will publish it anyways). Naxos doesn’t pay for the recordings it publishes, it’s the artist’s “privilege” to receive the marketing, which doesn’t go much further than a mention in their CD list which looks like a phonebook.

        • PR Deltoid says:

          Cheryl: “Most recordings are indeed made by “4th rate eastern european orchestras” ”

          Looking at the Naxoses on my shelf, I see recordings by the Royal Scottish Nat’l Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Nat’l Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, some excellent Scandinavian ensembles and German radio orchestras, and even some American orchestras. These are “4th rate eastern European orchestras”?

          • Steve Foster says:

            I was going to say the same thing. I suppose I don’t go looking for bad recordings from a label, but I know the Naxos recordings I have are by wonderful performers. Most of the solo guitar recordings are *amazing.*

            Additionally, I don’t know of many European orchestras that just hire anyone that comes along. There’s a rather grueling process to get any seat.

          • PR Deltoid says:

            Another awesome thing about Naxos is their innovative rep. While the “majors” release crossover crap and the zillionth recording of the 4 Seasons, Naxos puts out complete cycles of Carter’s string quartets, Berio’s Sequenzas, and lots of other fascinating things.

          • Mike Schachter says:

            Although the initial plan was to produce cheap versions of the standards they have now expanded the recorded repertoire enormously, to everyone’s benefit. And some of the orchestras are in indeed East European but that does not mean they are “4th rate”. Are other countries as afflicted by snobbery as the UK: the same mentality directed at supermarkets, chains of all sorts, budget airlines etc. A few months ago we had the great Totnes rebellion, with the serried ranks of the middle classes keeping out Costa. We were told there were over 40 independent coffee bars in Totnes: could we deduce many people with little to do?

        • This may have been true at one time but it’s really not the case anymore. Naxos has become a real force for recorded classical music and they no longer rely on recordings of obscure rep made by unknown backwater orchestras. They also have other label’s catalogs now. If you explore their excellent online library you’ll see a lot of excellent recordings, multiple versions of a lot of repertoire, and well-respected artists and ensembles.

  2. Cheryl Anderson says:

    Like I said, “most”, that doesn’t mean all. And like I said, the good artists/orchestras, don’t receive a cent for having their CD published by Naxos, not even sales royalties.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Now, could you be a bit more specific? “good artists/orchestras” is a bit vague. I don’t see the RNSO, the RLPO, the Baltimore symphony paying to get published.

      • You want to take a bet on that? I don’t see Naxos paying the RLPO full MU rates for their Shostakovich cycle.
        It’s in the orchestra’s interest to have recordings published (if good) for the reviews they receive – and because no-one else will pay them to publish them anyway. The orchestra pays the players, Naxos manufactures and distributes the disc.

  3. Cheryl basically has this right.
    Funnily, on one thread here we all complain that an orchestra isn’t paying it’s (looking-for-experience) players enough, and on another, we sing the praises of a label that fails to pay (often fully professional) players, often, anything at all. Naxos certainly does things on the cheap, including the amount they pay (or don’t) the production teams. Fortunately for the sake of recordings, there are some very dedicated people who go way above and beyond to make sure the output is excellent, and artists themselves are known to add to Naxos’ meagre production fees to make sure they have the teams they want.
    If Naxos was a start-up label operating like this, we’d all be piling in to criticise them.

    • Cheryl Anderson says:

      Finally someone who knows a bit about the industry. And a very well known producer told me a few months ago, that even artists from the Deutsche Grammophon roster pay for their own recordings (which also explains the increasingly number of new artists in the label, they pay to be there). Apart from musicians like Anne-Sophie Mutter, Anna Netrebko and the like, very few will receive any income from their recordings with classical labels.

      The musician pays for the CD, the label is responsible for the manufacturing and distribution, even marketing might not be included in the “deal”.

      • Indeed. And in some cases – I’m thinking of a reasonably prestigious independent who Norman praised for a recent ‘signing’ on this blog recently – the pay-to-play model extends even further. For that label, the big-name artists who were signed would likely (unless the label has changed policy) be paying to make the recording, and also paying for the artwork, manufacture, advertising, and a management fee to the label itself. For that label, it’s a no-risk game. Costs covered and a small margin anyway, and selling any discs is merely the cherry on the cake.
        At least in this instance, the artist concerned can likely afford to pay those involved properly to do a fine job. Naxos, on the other hand, offers to pay an entire production team for recording, editing, mix and master roughly less than a major label would pay someone just to undertake the editing of a disc. That, combined with not paying the artist, is how Naxos can afford to put out “innovative repertoire” at a budget price, and one reason why the major labels struggle to do so.

  4. The business model of the entire recording industry has changed since Naxos was founded. Records paid for by the artists used to be called vanity recordings, but since that’s the way the majority of recordings are now made that stigma has all but disappeared.

  5. I thought I should put the record straight here. I have made over 50 recordings for Naxos with the Toronto based Aradia Ensemble (on period instruments) and the Toronto Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments). Many of these recordings have been nominated by the Gramophone Magazine as Editor’s Choice and have also won many other international awards. We are a small organization punching above our weight—not 4th rate, and not Eastern European.

    Naxos has paid for all of these recordings—for all the production and a fee for the players.

    About five years ago, I met with one of the “major” labels who said that yes, they would record us, but they said they couldn’t pay anything. (We could get royalties—but I knew that would never really amount to much—much better to have the Naxos deal!)

    At a time when many of the “major” labels are simply reissuing older recordings month after month, I for one, am happy to see Naxos continue to release new recordings—and of course, I am grateful to still be making recordings. This is more than many of my colleagues can say!

  6. neither Cheryl Anderson nor Anon has any real understanding of our industry.

    Here are my comments on some of the statements made:

    Our eastern European orchestras were never fourth-rate — orchestras such as the Slovak Philharmonic, the Capella Istropolitana, the Polish National Radio Symphony or the Hungarian State Orchestra were not inferior to modern-day British regional orchestras. Check out the many three star reviews in the Penguin Guide. and let’s not forget world-class ensembles like the Kodaly Quartet and instrumentalists like Jeno Jando and Takako Nishizaki.

    The orchestras were never paid peanuts – they were paid in hard currency and enjoyed a comfortable standard of living compared with their colleagues in other orchestras.

    Cheryl Anderson has no idea of what she is talking about. We work with more than 60 different orchestras around the world and with very few exceptions they all get paid. There is a market out there after all and we pay market rates. We do get more and more freebies, not from orchestras but from individual artists whio come to us with pet projects which they would not normally tackle, mostly repertoire rarities with limited commercial potential. Artists appreciate our worldwide physical and digital sales and marketing network and our many online platforms.

    the orchestras that don’t get paid an up-front fee get paid royalties.

    ANON is not much better informed.
    Nobody can afford to pay full MU rates. that’s why the London orchestras started their own labels. As far as the other orchestras are concerned, we pay the same rates as independents such as Chandos and Hyperion.
    Even these rates are no longer really affordable under present market conditions which is why even these British labels produce more and more orchestral recordings in Scandinavia and elsewhere on the continent.

    Contrary to what ANON says, we pay our producers market rates, otherwise they wouldn’t work for us. occasionally, an artist will contribute to our production costs if he or she wants to work with a specific producer we don’t normally work with. the sound of recordings is as good as that of any other classical label, independent or major — check out the reviews.

    Where Cheryl Anderson is right is that the existing model where the label pays both the artists and orchestras and for production it is no longer workable considering declining physical and download sales. Indeed, before too long artists and orchestras will have to cover all costs with the labels being responsible for distribution, sales and marketing and paying the artists and orchestras modest royalties, after recouping basic costs.

    ANON sounds like a frustrated producer who doesn’t have enough work. We have a pretty good idea of what the major record companies pay for production – with very few exceptions their budgets are very similar to ours although they may spend more when recording demanding big-name artists who may insist on thousands of edits which, for an independent, would be unaffordable.

    I don’t normally respond to uninformed comments but am making an exception in this case because there were so many uninformed statements made by Ms. Anderson and Mr. ANON.

    Klaus Heymann

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