Questions on the Classical Music Recording Industry

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by rfreez, Mar 27, 2007.

  1. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

    Greetings to all.

    Here in Chennai, South India, most (former) major (?) labels releasing acoustic music have closed down. Some are lying dormant and ONE company is releasing serious Carnatic music. There are a few fundamentalist religious organizations which sometimes record the big musicians, but I cannot take them seriously. And then theres some type of "fusion" in which tasteless individuals will get together and bastardize multiple genres in one go. As for the one company currently actually active, i'm pretty sure its not a profit making scene... Somebody has a lot of money and is running it to suit their fancy. The base reality is that not enough people here want to spend money on serious music. Piracy/sharing is the dominating means of distribution for the very small listener base that has time for anything other than bubblegum pop and "bollywood" style film music.

    Now my question: Whats happening out there? Is the classical music industry profitable as a whole by itself, or does it survive because of governmental subsidies and corporate sponsorships? I can believe that the sort of guy who listens to Bartok or Stockhausen will probably want to go out and buy a CD (tho' the only guy i know who listens to Bartok and Stockhausen freely copies stuff for friends) , but your run of the mill casual listener who wants to listen to "Fur Elise" or some iteration of "Greatest Hits of Classical Music" again will probably have no problems with downloading it. And then I imagine that the major part of the audience which listens (?) to classical music will be the "coffee table book" type, for whom it will simply be mandatory to have some work of "The Three Tenors" or Andrea Bocelli or whoever is the current "face" of classical music... What i'm saying is that I find it difficult to believe that when established pop music record companies (with 1000 times the listener base as classical music) are not able to survive, how is the classical music recording industry keeping its head above the water?

    My second question is perhaps a bit more subjective... Out here, old timers believe that the best days of classical music are over (but don't they always :roll: ?) and what we have today is simply not worth recording/preserving. Either it is the beating of a long dead horse or some tasteless abomination in the name of progress and experimentation. I AM personally inspired by the phenomenal capability of some of the musicians I work with, but still, I am always a little insecure when a veteran listener tells me that the music is long dead.

    Would you guys care to discuss these (that i imagine must be) universal issues confronting the acoustic music recording community....

  2. d_fu

    d_fu Guest

    Which ones are you referring to?

    It isn't... Many major labels have closed facilities, Decca, Sony, Philips... Money is being made with the Boccelli/Rieu kind of bubblegum indeed.

    It may be different for small independent labels, some of which may in fact be profitable, but they don't have to feed as many people. I also think recording fees have changed...

    Yup... Even in the olden days, everything was better in the olden days... :roll:
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Classical music recording in the US is almost non existent. Naxos and Telarc are about the only ones left doing classical recording and now that Telarc has been bought out I am not sure what their fate will be. I think in the last couple of years that Telarc has been working closely with the Cincinnati orchestra producing a lot of the "best of" or "songs from" and not much real "sink your teeth into it" classical recording.

    There are a couple of problems with classical recording today. First is is so expensive to hire an orchestra or larger ensemble and the hopes of making any money on the album are dismal. Even if you go with a single performer doing the recording the hopes of making back your investment are really slim and record companies are keenly aware of this problem.

    Today, the first time a school has budget problems (and what school does not have budget problems), the first thing to go is the arts. When I was in school our high school had a lot of music ensembles but now my high school only has a marching band for football games. The orchestra, wind ensemble and chamber ensembles are all gone. Since no one learns or is exposed to classical music in schools how are they suppose to want it when they are adults. A lot of young people today don't learn to play any type of classical instrument and if it is not an electric guitar, electric bass or drums they want no part of it. Also a lot of young people today spend an inordinate amount of time playing video games and listening to their ipod (sometimes doing both at once) and unfortunately classical music sometimes requires your undivided attention.

    I know there is still a lot of classical recording going on and we do some on a regular basis but most of it is going to CDs that will be sold by the performer or the local book stores or is used for getting live gigs for the performer. I live less than a mile from a major conservatory of music and I know a lot of the professors. I also know some of the students and they are worried about what is going to happen to them when they get out and try to get a job in the real world. With most major symphony orchestras having money problems, with the virtual stoppage of any classical recording and with stable professorships (i.e. no one going anywhere soon) in a lot of colleges their chance of landing a really good high paying job are not good.

    Maybe it is different in Europe or the rest of the world but classical music is dying a very slow death here in the states....and it really is too bad.
  4. Fozzy

    Fozzy Guest

    On the first question of there being money to be made, I can not comment on the state of the classical recording industry but where I live (Suffolk, UK) most classical concerts employing only professional musicians are either subsidised by a regional arts promotion body (using government, i.e. tax payer's money, or money from the European Union) or sponsored by a local business (or both).
    Are the best days of classical music over? There are several different facets to that question...
    The first thing to look at surely is composition. Are modern composers producing something worthwhile or are they under pressure to be novel at the expense or writing something that is a pleasure to listen to? Whatever the reason it is unfortunately the case that many modern compositions have a much more limited appeal than the older, established repertoire. As far as I can see this has always been the case though because many of the current popular composers were considered avante-garde and not very popular during their own life times.
    The quality of performance is also a factor and as other people have pointed out, to make sure you discover the very best performers of any generation you have to make sure they start a course of musical study so there must be that incentive.
    Finally there is the quality of the recording. Even if you can not convince people that a new recording of bruch's violin concerto is a must have because the violinist is the best there has ever been you may be able to get sales by the violinist being top flight and this being the new digital recording.
    Perhaps where we are at is that most of the market for classical music is for established works and that most of the record companies have recordings of all of this catalogue with quality performers with digital recording so why would they add anything new to the catalogue when they can just sell what they have got. If that is the case then perhaps if surround sound takes off for classical music listening there will be a host of new recordings (old old compostions).
  5. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    I hadn't heard about this. Can you provide more details??
  6. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    It's clear to me that the business of making recordings of "core repertoire" classical music and selling them to a mass market is all but dead. The final nail in the coffin will be driven as the classical recordings from Europe made in the 60's lose their copyrights on their 50th birthday. It's hard to beat free when it is illegal. Even harder when it's legal.

    We'll have to see what markets open for new music and if any of them have mass appeal. One good thing is that it is much easier for a niche market to survive than it was even a few years ago.
  7. uncruss

    uncruss Guest

    Something else is going on, too. The world social-economic climate is changing. As Asia has become more dominant, all other countries have had to compete harder to keep up. That means more stress and more hours at the workplace. People come home too tired or jittery to relax to classical or other kinds of acoustic music (assuming they listen to music at all).

    Classical is out of place in the car when traffic makes you late for an appointment. You'll often tend to listen to something "up" and mindless as you look for shortcuts across town, not something soothing or that requires concentration to appreciate. (i.e., How many kids of any era traditionally have preferred orchestral music?)

    This isn't a bunch of theoretical nonsense. It's real and it has affected what people listen to and how they spend their diminished free time.

    Classical music is suffering because we live in an era that has become too hectic; people no longer take the time to appreciate it. And bottom line profit is now the only thing important to business so grants to the arts are harder to come by.

    It is up to us to find the niche audience necessary to keep contemporary performances and recordings alive. Nobody else cares.

    Russ Reinberg
  8. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I think the recording industry is dying, but the live music scene is alive and well. We still have wonderful concert series and festivals coming through our city every year and subscription rates are remaining steady. Live music is really where its at.

    Recordings are at saturation point, everyone has numerous copies of this and that, there are old recordings to choose from, modern "state of the art", there are simply too many. I laugh at Gramophone reviews where those guys are struggling for new adjectives, new turns of phrase, new angles to describe yet another new but typical rendition of something that is already in listener's record collections 10 times over. You will see that all new artists are all young and sexy. This is what they are now trying to sell, youth and sex. Some of the photos of female classical performers, pouting at the camera with a twinkle in the eye are hilarious. This is an industry in a desperate state.

    Live music is the future, its a collective experience which human beings love so much. Sitting at home pleasuring oneself with a recording (pardon the parallels) is boring. Go out and get amoungst it.

    Says he, having just bought some big new loudspeakers for the lounge and playing his old CD's again. :)
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Let's face folks, the New York City metropolitan opera is now starting to offer live performances, presented and projected, at your local movie theaters, across the country, in high-definition picture quality and 5.1 Dolby surround. Those recordings are certainly being archived and/or made for release later but you have to be there and in on the productions. So now it is our job to start canvassing our local orchestral and operatic organizations to broadcast their concerts to the local movie theaters, live. We all need work and it only requires a single high-speed Internet connection!

    The future is here
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  10. rfreez

    rfreez Active Member

  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I think it's a paradigm shift in general.

    Think about it, in the 30s and 40s, there weren't a large number of professional orchestras - at least not NEAR as many as there are now. In addition, there weren't near as many professional musicians. There was a boom through the 50s-80s - going to the symphony was a viable form of entertainment and as Russ points out, it was easy to relax to classical music.

    Now, with busy lives and hectic commutes, putting on a Mahler Symphony just isn't practical while speeding from point a to point b. Also, taking 4 hours out of your life to drive to the concert hall and listen to music you may or may not be familiar with.

    What I see is that more people are going to local, amatuer orchestra concerts where the musicians are either paid very little or nothing!

    The recordings we do are for these types of groups are usually made for the sake of preservation and for the members' sakes (occassionally some audience members).

    Groups are starting to understand that they don't need large labels to distribute their work when a good, local recording company and DiscMakers can get them a thousand distributable disks for around $3K! Considering that, over the course of a year, they can recoup all of their costs and then some.

    Basically, I see this whole phase as a re-adjustment in the music scene.

    There will be less musicians being spun out of college, less musicians taking symphony jobs, less symphonies (big-time paid symphonies that is) and more amatuer ensembles. Then, when this all happens (when we're at the "bottom") things will again turn around. People will start to want better orchestras again (versus the little community groups) and the orchestra will again begin to rise.

    I wouldn't expect it to be the Brahms orchestra - I think that kind of orchestra is all but dead. Instead, it will be a neo-classical symphony. Sure, they'll play Brahms, but they'll play 21st century music (likely MUCH shorter music based on movies or video games!)

    People won't GO to the symphony - they'll listen on-line. This will mean the death of the concert hall. Instead, orchestras (probably including a lot of virtual instruments) will perform in large studios (thus the resurgence of the larger studio). Eventually, it will come back in favor to go SEE the performance, thus the resurgence of the concert hall. Of course, this major paradigm shift will take place over the next 100 years.

    It's all a matter of readjustment.

    If someone in politics doesn't make a big statement about the arts soon and figure out someway to subsidize it (all art forms), there's going to be big trouble for the arts.

    Vote for me when I run for president in 2016 and I swear, I'll subsidize the hell out of the arts!
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    See this article or just type in Concord purchases Telarc on your browser.
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    This has been pretty well described in Chris Anderson's articles and book on "The Long Tail." The basic idea is that setting distribution cost to zero (via the web) lowers the bar to entry. For instance, if record klezmer music or Indian classical, iTunes is happy to carry all you will format and send their way. It will be there forever without your having to do anything about inventory. The distribution is international. You still have to market, and you may have problems with iTunes price structure, but one of the biggest problems for a niche distibutor - distribution and market access - is solved - cheap.
  14. Fozzy

    Fozzy Guest

    It is interested that a measure of civilisation and progress is the shift away from the essential life supporting activities of providing ourselves with shelter, food and water towards other activities that are there just for interest or pleasure. That doesn't mean that each person should work for less of his time but if you look at the mix of jobs in a western ecconomy you see that relatively few are directly concerned with building houses or food production - most are in the provision of luxury goods or services.

    No one doubts the importance of economics, but it is also possible to mistake wealth for quality of life. Here in the UK where I live we rate highly in Europe for wealth but we are certainly not top of the recent "standard of living" league table - that goes to the significantly more socialist France.

    Perhaps more people need to make a concious decision not to go for more money, a bigger house, a bigger car etc. and instead make time for family, friends and to appreciate the natural world and the arts (even if apreciating music is only taking the the time to put on a recording and really listen to it).
  15. leonin

    leonin Guest

    It is very difficult to discern the current state of music. We are simply too close to it to see the big picture. Historically, musicians have been poor. Mozart is a prime example. The fact that there does not seem to be much money in music today should not make us think that we cannot produce great music.

    Even something like recordings going into public domain, which on the face of it seems to be detrimental, is a complicated issue. Obviously if such recordings were freely available, people would be much more likely to be exposed to classical music. This new listener base may wish to hear new recordings, live concerts, and new compositions. Take for example remakes of films. A person may own a dvd of a film. He can watch it all he wants for the cost of electricity. Hollywood then releases a remake of the film. Many people go see such remakes, even if they have seen the original. It goes without saying that people go to see new films, even if they have seen others. They do this despite the fact that they can get an endless supply of free entertainment on broadcast TV. Strangely enough, some of the biggest selling dvds are television series, which were previously available for free.
  16. Plush

    Plush Guest

    When I read opinion contained here that classical recording is dying, I tend to think of the case of orchestral recording. THAT is the genre that has less work and less attention from the 4 large major labels.

    I cannot agree that other types of classical recording is dying, although the crummy neighborhood ensemble has less money to hire the crummy amateur recording person.

    The web based downloads are exciting and act as an instant world wide distribution channel. The news today that Apple is upping the encoding/playback data rate of downloads and removing digital rights managment from many selections is going to help classical music.

    All recording operations are downsized from years past. That does NOT mean that classical recording is going down the tubes. It means that costs must be controlled (no wild equipment buying because that "special" microphone will not help you,) less staff and more hand holding.

    We are busier than ever with the highest quality client base in 25 years.
    The work is out there. However, the fact is that one must be in a major music center to do this work. The beautiful countryside is relaxing and renewing. IT is not a good place to earn a living recording classical music.
  17. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    That is a very valid and lucid response!

    The fact is, music is booming - there's just not the drive or ability to become millionaires in the music business.
  18. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    There's an excellent article/commentary in this months' EQ magazine (May 2007) Moses Exposes: Is the Music Business Dead? (By Moses Avalon). It's probably available online as well.

    Although Moses is talking primarily about the rock/pop music industry (and takes issues with some recent comments by famous producer Bob Ezrin), the same paradigm applies with the classical music & recording world. It's a great read, worth picking up. (There's a flaming MAC on the cover in case you see in a store somewhere...)

    Things have indeed changed, but they're far from dead. Of course, it's easier to say this when living on the East Coast, in a big city, with lots and lots of orchestras, universities, concert halls, and a deep, grass-roots level of musical tradition that goes way out into the burbs as well. No one is getting rich, and fewer still are able to make a living at it, but the Arts are still flourishing, although it is indeed harder every year to make ends meet. (But they've been saying that for decades as well) You HAVE to keep abreast of everything, in ways you never though possible, just to stay afloat.

    When we talk about the technical side of things; yes indeed, much has changed. Computers have changed just about everything about the process (except for perhaps the microphones themselves), but that also applies to every other profession you can think of, from optometry to tv weather to automobile service centers to print shops. it's affected everyone, the music biz isn't the only one being affected by it all.

    I've seen a lot of entry-level work go away since I started doing this professionally, 20 years ago.

    Here's a good example - a true story: Just this past weekend, i was recording a new chorle work with a local college chorale, and they were doing the SECOND performance of it, anywhere. Coincidently, I also recorded the FIRST performance of this same work, a year ago, with a different, local community choir. (The composer was present for both of these, as well.)

    It turns out the college choir was using a CD recording of the work to learn it as they go. (No surprise, it's a very difficult modern piece). Knowing that the piece was only recorded once before, I inquired of the music director just WHO'S recording was being used. He sheepishly said: "Um, the one YOU did for so-and-so's performance last year. They let us make copies."

    Now, it's a 120 voice choir doing this performance, and I've been paid both times to record it, so I can't really complain. The community choir that hired me in the first place can pretty much do what they want with their own recordings after I turn them over.

    But the point is: That "little" job - making 120 CD copies for the college choir and a little working capital - is a perfect example of what is "going away" these days. CD burners/copies used to cost between $35 and $70 THOUSAND dollars; now they're everywhere for $29 at Circuit City, used by many, even in college music programs. If you're under 30 and have a computer, it's been a no brainer most of your life to simply rip/burn copies as you need them. This used to be a "Black Art" a mere 15 years ago...baffling all but the bravest in "cutting edge" studios.

    I know I'll still get the bigger gigs because I have the mics, cables, mixers, hardware etc. to do a professional job, but I'm not oblivious to all the little 2-track digital recorders out there, some with built in mics. (A few of which I own as well!) Here as well is another example of those little jobs "going away". I have to plan and expect that type of work to change and mutate as the business evolves. Nothing stays the same.

    I still think if one reads the market properly, there's a lot of work out part time helpers are busier than ever - I can't hire them as much as I'd like during the busy season. One works for Comcast SportsNet doing live TV audio, one is creating his own flourishing Video production company, and another manages a full-time religious radio production program (five shows per week on the air, plus hundreds of CD copies - burned & printed by a duplication robot - to subsription listeners).

    Again, this is an east-coast, big-city environment, and there's tons of work out there if you're willing to change your plans a little bit.

    IMHO, the days of opening your own studio or label, hoping to attract walk-in clients (with actual $$ to spend) to make that "dream of a lifetime" recording just isn't happening anymore, if it ever did. New ones open up all the time, while others close in banruptcy, but the business, such as it is, keeps rolling ways that would be totally unrecognizable a mere 15 years ago.

    Add to the equation all of the folks who have their own decent mic, pre and computer program to at least get started in their bedrooms. What was once a little demo industry (cassette recorders and amatuer reel to reels before that) has raised the bar and brought home demo making up to a level that matches or surpases what used to get done in the "little" studios a mere 10 years ago. Another example of "little" or low-end work "going ayway".

    I also think that those making the REALLY big $ are too busy to let the rest of us know about it.

    Regardless, there's still a music/recording business out there, and you can make a living at it, but it might not be what you first thought it was. (Hell, I sure I was going to just play keyboards, compose, record and tour for the rest of my life, in some major band or studio situation. HA! At least I get to record cool stuff now!)

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