Classical music sales are booming

Online sales of Classical music is making some companies a great deal of money. Off clasical music? - Yes, classical music.

According to Newsweek, "Although total sales in all music categories (on- and offline) fell 5 percent last year, classical sales grew by a whopping 22 percent." Some of the online sales are coming from music downloads, but 75% of Naxos (the largest independant classical music company) is still based on sales of CD's. Retailers rather than needing to stock the CD's so space was limited so retailers chose items that would sell, now can sell a much more diverse selection online.

Decca, the classical division of Universal, is now 20% of Universal's overall sales and growing. Companies like ClassicsOnline are contibuting to this boon in sales by partnering with a variety of lables (including BIS, PentaTone, Chandos, Marco Polo, Naxos, and Profil). They boast over 17k albums. A retail outlet really can't compete with that size of stock all in the classical genre. Classical composers who scores films often pull pop audiences into the classical world with albums like James Horner's "Titanic'' sitting at No. 1 for 13 weeks and eventually touring in live performances. John Williams has had similar success with "Star Wars", "Harry Potter" and "Schindler's List". Howard Shore is receiving huge success with his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy now turned into a 2 hour symphony. Pop composers, like Paul MacCartney, are trying their hand at classical music and getting sell out crowds.

This new trend in classical music sales are seeing other pop artists move into performing classical albums. Again in Newsweek, Michael Bolton (best known for his soft rock balads) released an album of arias in January and it went to No 1 - for six weeks. Aretha Franklin sang ""Nessun Dorma'' at the Grammys. The Newsweek article goes on to speak about Vanessa-Mae, a British classical violinist, has a pseudo pop album due out now. The marketing side has played on her sex-appeal with pouty lips and skimpy dress. Other classical starts, Kim Sunwook - a young pianist from Korea, is often pictured with spikey hair and dashing good looks. Opera Babes often suggest more than just music on their CD covers. Outloud Music suggest the move to incorporate sexual approach is much more blanant than their pop counterparts.

Getting people who don't normally buy classical albums to do so is called the crossover market. Philips has 40% of its classical sales are crossover. BMG Classics' release expect 60% percent crossover and more than half of Sony Classics' 65 annual releases is crossover.

Record labels are also re-releasing old recordings in digitial format giving users a broader choice of selections. This is partly to do the cost of recording a classical album verses the cost of a pop album. Sony Classical president Peter Gelb says, when a "record costs $150,000 to $250,000 to make, it's pretty clear what the choice should be. Make the great recordings of the past available, and move forward.''

What is all this doing for new classical artists/composers? As with emerging pop stars, classical artists are in need of finding a way to get their music heard. Some groups, such as Boston String Quartet, are creating a blend of pop and classical music, pulling in other artists to work with and touring, lots and lots of touring. Other's are taking a book from Amy Winehouse and posting their music on MySpace or YouTube in the hopes of getting discovered.

But one of the problems with YouTube and MySpace is the limited space - and the problem with the modern audience is limited attention span. For unknown pieces of music or artists, if the video or "song" is more than 2 minutes long the number of downloads drops by 80%. So the key is to keep it short.


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