Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
Back in 1992 Hamburg-based East West Records, a Time Warner company by then, decided to produce a Broadway Songs album featuring Placido Domingo. It did so independently. After all, East West’s MD turned out deeply frustrated by the fact that, according to cpntract, he was no longer allowed to distribute Decca’s 1989 Three Tenors creating big sales still, neawhile complaining (bleating) that London-based headoffice (led by Peter Andry) was unable to sign the right artists.
Well, as East West Records heavily paid for the rights, the production – which included an orchestra & condcutor – and the artist – Mr. Domingo – all the more so, of course, and in spite of its astonishing investments in the marketing campaign profiling it as the one and only groundbreaking crossover album, the album totally flopped.
According to Hans Hirsch, the former DG boss and by then Teldec Classics International’s – a Time Warner company too and also Hamburg-based – this disappointment was easy to predict. Surely, he pointed out, the arrangements of the songs were too highly pitched, consequently too much stressing the specific qualities of Domingo’s somewhat lower tenor meanwhile – now crippling his ability to clearly communicate with his audiences right away -, as he couldn’t cope with the accent that these American songs require either.
As usual among the marketing boys, the music press and connoiseurs were accused of elitist bias, by then already easily covering their total lack of any artistic judgement, nevertheless convincing many artists, envying the successes of the Three Tenors three times (squeezing out all it had to offer), that they were the only onces to rely on meanwhile. (In my view attitudes alike actually obstruct any effort to convince people of the true values of classical music and its finest artists since.)
Whether it was the case with this Domingo album too, I’m not sure. However, quite a novice myself in this world of ‘nicht kleckern, sondern klotzen’ marketing then I noticed a habit among the major record houses that suprised me most:
As soon as salesmen were put under severe pressure to actively deposit huge numbers these guys tend to put any surplus at friendly shop owners, telling them that they should right away put the bulk at their backdoor. After all, returns weren’t officially registered anyhow. As this infuriated headoffice time and again, it didn’t have the power to counter such malpractices.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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