Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Classical Music marketing

I love Greg Sandow’s blog on the future of Classical Music.

Classical Music has its own unique set of problems within the many problems of the music industry as a whole. But unlike many pundits, I don’t believe the illness is terminal and Greg Sandow seems to be one of the few people giving intelligent thought as to potential cures.

He has some interesting thoughts on the traditional audiences and their attitudes to the Artist and Repertoir choices made by classical recording labels, which I’m not qualified to comment on, but I think there are also some obvious (and easily remedied) marketing issues that I am.

Classical Music enthusiasts complain about dwindling sales but the ability of classical recordings to reach new audiences is being held back by the same people who want the genre to remain elitist and won’t accept change for fear of ‘dumbing down’ or not doing things the way they have always been done.

The idea that Classical Music requires some sort of specialist, trained ear to really appreciate is pure nonsense and there is no reason why it should be marketed in the apartheid way that is currently is. Rock magazines talk about Reggae. Jazz magazines talk about Hip Hop. Most real music fans have a very catholic range of likes. What makes Classical Music people think they are so special?

I know plenty of people with tastes for long, challenging, instrumental, beat-less pieces of music. They listen to classical music if it is on labels like ECM or Rune Gramafon and promoted via blogs and websites that carry other styles of music that they also like. In fact I know a lot of people who obsessively seek out this kind of thing. They wouldn't think twice about buying a collection of string quartets or an album of orchestral music if it was presented to them in this way.

But they won't know about it if it’s only reviewed in Classical Music publications and they won't buy it if it has a picture of a violinist in an evening dress on the cover.

I’ve never understood why the design surrounding Classical recordings is always so fusty. It’s as if the audience should be reminded that the music is centuries old and god forbid they confuse it with something that has any relevance to contemporary life.

People involved in producing, performing and marketing Classical Music should pull their heads out of the sand and start seeing themselves in the context of a wider culture. There’s a great opportunity for someone to start a Classical label that is sophisticated, thoughtful and even just a little bit cool. Anyone game?


  1. Oh, Classical. You're a mess.

    Granted, so much of the problem with the lack of interest in Classical stems from limited music education which is adds to it seeming like a "not for me, but for educated people" genre (which is hogwash). But as a designer, when I look at Classical album art, advertising, and pubs it sure feels like the industry is trying to stay exclusive.

    I'm with you: Classical isn't exclusive. If it wants to be, then it will continue decline. But a harbinger of the return of it can be found in the art produced to support and promote the genre. So many Creatives do free work for album covers and work for other musical genres because of the creative freedom of the work - Classical should adopt that same model. (Imagine a Blue Note Records cover for a Classical violinist. Classic!)

    Classical music listeners and producers should be reminded: Beethoven, Dvorak, Stravinsky, et.al. were radicals in their contemporary culture. They should be treated so, visually today.

    (by the way, check out Aaron Copland's "What to Listen for in Music" as a great read for insight into listening to Classical (and any genre!) with new ears.)

  2. I very much enjoy the title of your blog and greatly appreciate the way you think about classical music. As it happens I too have started to blog on this topic. I hope you'll be kind enough to have a look and tell me what you think. Here's the article most germaine to your writings: