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Classical Music: Sorry State of Affairs
January 30th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

In an oddly headlined article in the Style section of today’s Washington Post, music critic, Anne Midgette gave all of us working in the classical music business something to think about.

I kind of knew that it was increasingly tough to “make a living” in the business.

I kind of knew that attendance at classical events (at least in the US of A) is just a tiny fraction of what turns out for performances by pop culture (isn’t that really an oxymoron?) icons like Bruce Springsteen.

I kind of knew that CD sales in general were down, and classical cd sales were a miniscule part of that market.

But until I read Midgette’s article, I didn’t know that it was as bad as it is even for classical music stars.

According to Midgette, “In early October, pianist Murray Perahia’s much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies. No. 25, the debut of the young violinist Caroline Goulding, in its third week, sold 75 copies”.

Yikes! Murray Perahia’s Bach Partitas sold less than 200 copies! Murrah Perahia? Puh-leez.

It must be said that Midgette focused on albums aka CDs. She didn’t mention and might not have had stats on mp3 downloads, but she’s absolutely right when she says that “If classical music can’t make money, it can’t stay alive…”, and goes on to say that, “…it’s notable that recordings appear to do worse than concert ticket sales. If everyone who attended the National Symphony Orchestra on a given night bought a copy of the same album, that album would leap to the top of the classical charts every week”.

Got a point, she does.

But I need to ask: was anyone selling CDs in the lobbies before, at intermission of, and after these orchestra concerts? Is anyone actively soliciting email addresses at these events? And what about mp3 downloads? Why not push those? Why not do a lot more “live in concert” performances and sell the resulting recordings thereafter?

This is the 21st Century. If the wonderful, magical tradition of Western Classical Music that I love so much is to survive, we, in the community of those that love it, need to find ways to reach more people more ways, to market and sell in new ways.

I believe if we take on that challenge, we have a chance to succeed.

How about you?


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