The Classical Recording Industry: Revitalized, Not Dead

A variety of recent recordings have caught my attention, and they've made me think about the cliché that the classical-music recording industry is dead. It most certainly is not dead. It is changed.
What we have today is more recordings issued by artists and artistic institutions themselves: the Chicago Symphony's ReSound label; Bridge Records, which is all about its own artists; the Mariinsky Theater's own label; LSO live; and so many more. We have more and more high-quality re-issues of important recordings from the past (such as Audite's recent Furtwängler series), along with occasional reissues of not-so-important recordings from the past. And we have more recordings of little-known repertoire: Naxos's wonderful American music series; cpo's exploration of so many obscure composers; Bis's similarly adventurous approach. What we don't have any longer are huge, giant labels dominating the record industry. We have a growing recognition among musicians at all levels that the purpose of recording is no longer to make gobs of money, but to document their art. That strikes me as a very healthy development.

At the time I wrote this article, was listing 251 recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony that one could buy! Even more impressive for someone who grew up in an era when finding a recording of a Bruckner or Nielsen symphony could involve research and hard work, there were 61 recordings of Bruckner's Fifth, and 39 of Carl Nielsen's Fifth. Want further proof that the recording industry is alive and vital? There were, at the same time, two different recordings of George Antheil's Fifth Symphony.

Call it a tale of Fifth Symphonies if you wish, but when I started collecting and broadcasting classical-music recordings in the 1960s--the so-called heyday of the recording company giants--I did not have anywhere near the kind of mind-boggling choice I do today. Those who have sounded the death knell for recordings, including critic Norman Lebrecht, simply do not know what they're talking about. They do not understand that a major change in a business model doesn't mean its death. It actually means a revitalization of an industry.
August 14, 2009 11:05 AM | | Comments (7)



I don't think music is dead. But I think music as a creative art is dead; far too much, now, it is about the business side and commerce. 'Money' has completely overtaken the creative and innovative side of the industry, which, to be fair, is what their target audience are all about. And the commerce aspect has killed the business; the greed. Check out this article at The Music Void on the whole affair and see what you make of it -

I heard a presentation about making all the music free and that would actually in the end help the artists reach more fans and make more money on tour. But that would be really bad for the labels.

Henry, as an avid record collector I agree with you these are great times to seek out new and reissued recordings. [My collection's nothing compared to yours, but I do have about 4,000 classical LPs and 2,000 CDs, and am always looking for new composers and and new performances.]

Although times are pretty bad for the recording industry, your comments here and those of others are right that the "business" is becoming less businesslike but more artist-driven and thus more artistic. How great! Time for me to buy another shelf...

In a plug, I'd just like to add that here in San Francisco, the New Century Chamber Orchestra's Music Director, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, has her own label called NSS Music. The doomer-gloomers can say what they will, but our just-released record, which is called "Together" in honor of our new partnership, is getting great reviews all over the country.

Unless you are a huge mega-pop-star, don't plan on paying your bills with cd royalties. Speaking only for myself, the purpose of making recordings is to share with the world, present and future, your 'take' on a particular composition. Unless I have something unique to say about a work, I won't record it. In the case of the Mozart Sonatas just released by E1 (Volume 1), I dared only to record the complete Mozart sonata cycle because I love these works, and in the repeats, I challenged myself to put my Mozart cap on and add embellishments in the way Mozart might have done. He was a great improvisor--I am not a jazz improvisor, but I carefully created the style and with the help of my producer, we created what we felt would best exemplify the style. As a result, what we have may be a good reason for having done the cycle. I did the same for Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' released by Naxos in June. We now have downloading, mp3s, cds, YouTube, ah, so many avenues to enjoy musical recording. It is better than ever!

Reissued versions of our 3 catalogues (Baroque Records of Canada, Janvs/Pirouette, and Orion Master Recordings) - some 600+ albums, can be found on ClassicsOnLine and Naxos Music Library, under the LANUI label.

I have to agree with you. I have a huge collection of LP's and CD's but I still find new and exciting things each month that I MUST have.
I hope this continues and that I will keep broadening my range of new composers and compositions.

Gene Duman

Excellent post. The new business model of leaner, meaner, and more artist-attuned labels
will mean much more consumer choice.

It's true that a certain type of recording superstar and a certain way of big-label folderol will recede a bit. In the long run, we're going to see more fascinating music produced with quality by more labels, creating huge niches of dedicated audiences for new and forgotten musical works.


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