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Today’s Classical Music Industry’s Movements

Author :Andreas Vierziger

Written in Summer 2020

We are aware that many aspects of the music industry change rapidly and that we have to filter tendencies of society and need to foresee developments with a clear mind.

Especially in current times, classical music artists and young professionals need to focus on an entrepreneurial mindset and forward-thinking, a feeling for current aesthetics and trends. It is crucial that people working in this sector start being even more reactive to the market, proactive and innovative. It is important to get a feeling for tendencies in this business and how the future music business will or can adapt to these changes. 

The classical music industry and its players have to be aware of the changes that the fourth industrial revolution will bring in the future. Hence the required skill set for a lot of industries will change and it obviously also makes sense to work on the right mindset for the future successful artists and leaders in classical music. 

Computers, automatisms and algorithms have already arrived in this industry and its future players, leaders and administrators should ideally fulfill a certain skillset: It is about critical thinking and problem solving; new media literacy and the ability of computational thinking and understanding; transdisciplinary thinking and collaborating across networks and industries; accessing and analyzing information; effective oral and written communication; developing a design thinking mindset which evokes curiosity and imagination, cross cultural competency, initiative, an entrepreneurial spirit, agility and adaptability. 

We see that big companies in the classical music field broaden their spectrum of activities and become hybrids that don’t focus on only one thing anymore. Already some time ago some record labels, for example, created sub-divisions or companies within that focus on presenting concerts or on artist management; others have arranged 360° deals with their artists. In 2008, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra created an audiovisual streaming state of the art example with their Digital Concert Hall. Several other top notch institutions on the classical music market followed this example. Leading concert presenters consult other venues, leading music universities consult less renowned academic institutions and several artist management agencies also became concert presenters (or merged or collaborated with them on one level or another) and consult or direct festivals and concert cycles. 

In terms of audio streaming portals and subscriptions, the record label Naxos Records started their Naxos Music Library already in 2004, which has been seen of great encyclopedic value before the bigger streaming platforms started, such as: Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, etc

Will people still be thinking in albums when consumers buy fewer and fewer CDs in our digital times? We don’t necessarily need to consider a running time of approximately 70 minutes anymore. We can start thinking in programmatic and topical clusters. Several artists and labels started thinking much more about onlined playlists and digital platforms where an entire album or program cluster or parts of it can be made available. What will it mean for release policies? In this context it is important to be aware of streaming playlists and that it certainly will not harm to land on one or the other of these playlists that have a huge following, no matter how strange or cheesy the title of that particular playlist might sound.

In the classical music field among interesting international streaming start-ups is IDAGIO, a music streaming company that focuses on classical music consumers and picks them up where the common music streaming services are not satisfying. IDAGIO labels classical music tracks clearly, in terms of sound quality, algorithms and information. While Primephonic offers a similar service, IDAGIO is expanding by starting to stream exclusive content as well as selected concert video live streams.

Good examples for streaming audiovisual classical music content as a business model are certainly Medici.tv, Marquee TV and takt1.com. Medici.tv was already founded in  2008 and offers live streams as well as a big archive of classical music concerts, masterclasses and documentaries to their subscribers. Marquee TV additionally covers other offerings, such as theatre performances. Meanwhile, takt1.com also creates written editorial content besides live video streams, a big video  archive and linear program. All three platforms collaborate with the big players on the market.

Streaming audiovisual classical music content was one of the few active things remaining since the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic hit the music and performing arts sectors forcing countless live performances to be cancelled. In many countries gatherings above a certain number of people were not allowed anymore, so a lot of performers and institutions started streaming their art, concerts and productions via various channels on the internet. They either made their content available as a premium service with a ticket price or offered it for free using platforms like YouTube, Facebook or their own websites, sometimes asking for a donation. On hiatus the Berlin Philharmonic made its Digital Concert Hall with its more than 600 concerts free of charge for 30 days in the first lockdown period. 

The internet got pretty much swamped by online live streams, but the online concert obviously will not oust the offline performance as soon as the halls will be allowed to fully open again. But streaming became a solid alternative and even people in the industry who first opposed it became more open in this regard since especially for touring orchestras visibility in territories they usually perform is important. Many institutions have plans to keep on video streaming in the future, several on a smaller level and while others even built their own video streaming platforms recently. It is worth a thought though to challenge the format of a concert video stream. Although we all are used to videos of classical music concerts, there is still a lot of room for experimenting, for example in terms of the overall production style, possibilities for interaction or other technical novelties that can push the envelope.

People will be able to use the gathered digital experience – that they were sometimes forced to have due to the pandemic – in a convenient way in the future. Several classical musicians launched live and late streaming initiatives in order to keep reaching their audiences, be it on social media, existing platforms or newly created platforms. They experienced that the step from producing to distributing will not necessarily need to be  a very big one in terms of creating their own distribution channels or even labels. This might open the doors for more self-published recordings being released. Many artists also created digital content beyond the online concert experience: late night talks, discussions, interactions with artists from other disciplines and so forth. 

This situation started accelerating a lot of development in the digital sector and it furthermore shall lead to changes in social life and also in business life: Things that would have developed slower but that might have come to a similar result anyways.  In this case the music and performing arts sector will not end up with too many irreparable cracks over the course of the crisis. 

People saw things working on an online level as well as on a digital level. Many had to try out all kinds of new digital tools and acquired new skills. People in various industries saw that it is possible to lead a team (at least temporarily) using online productivity tools, to communicate easily online using solid software and that we don’t need to travel as much for business  as we used to. A lot of people found ways to work from home, universities stream their lectures online and music students get their instrumental and singing lessons online. Many ensembles and bands experimented with new ways to rehearse while being not in the same place and several of them succeeded using tools like SoundJack, which makes real-time communication and rehearsing possible without any noticeable delays. This crisis turned out to be a kind of catalyst for new technologies.

Several musicians and artists in other fields invested in upgrading their internet connections and technical equipment such as microphones, portable devices and their built-in cameras, in order to react to the fourth digital revolution.

By now it is old news that besides the concert stage the internet needs to be conquered. Streaming is not only part of the future but also of the now and a solid social media strategy or at least activity will certainly not harm. People should be more aware of algorithms, filter bubbles and how to get attention online.

It is crucial to maintain relationships and to also have things like continuity in mind. Is there a story that can be told and how can it be used for public relations? The number of followers on social media became more important since record labels – already some time ago – started looking at these numbers as an indicator for potential future sales before signing a new artist or before producing a new recording. 

The live concert of course will have a future. But what will be the limitations that people will have in mind before full scope, big concerts can happen again? What will be the compromises the key players from classical music live business have to make?

In terms of current restrictions for concerts, the music market did not only face limited numbers for audiences, orchestras, choirs etc., but also closed borders, non-existing flight schedules and quarantine rules. Recitals and concerts of smaller ensembles obviously were the first ones back on stage, especially as long as the concert halls only were allowed to admit a reduced number or people. Later, so-called “ghost performances” without audiences happened, often in order to generate video content.

To a certain extent concert life in general can become a bit more local. Does it mean the audience will not need to have a different international orchestra in town every week or  will an ensemble stay  for a longer while and do a residency instead? Will the same ensembles, artists and orchestras be booked more often in the same season as long as there is a variety in terms of program? What will happen to contractual exclusivity clauses?

Since various lockdowns caused by the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus, planning concerts became a difficult challenge, especially since different rules apply to different territories and it became difficult to have an overview. Presenters followed strict “hygiene concepts” for making a performance happen and concerts often don’t have an intermission or even a maximum duration. Performances were cancelled, postponed and postponed again. Although a lot of concert presenters tried to find alternative dates –  the list became very long – realistically a lot of the scheduled concerts will not happen at a later time. Planned seasons are empty now, several presenters even had to put their entire activities on hiatus until further notice. Cancelled concerts meander somewhere between force majeure clauses and fee compensation.

The situation is especially difficult for artist management agencies since there are hardly any possibilities to generate revenue and the orchestra touring cash cow got – temporarily – pretty much slaughtered. Several artist management agencies disappeared (including well known ones), others have to operate between furlough and subletting their offices. 

Having called the situation as an accelerator of change before, it will certainly make sense to look at the traveling and touring issue from another angle as well: the carbon footprint in the touring industry was an issue that already got a lot of attention before patient zero getting infected by the novel coronavirus. How much sense does it make to tour orchestras of a similar quality throughout the world? Will the situation for chamber music ensembles, soloists and conductors also change?

In 2019, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra created the “world’s first sustainable  season” not inviting any musicians who travel by air. Already in 2015 the Finish Lahti Symphony Orchestra declared its goal to become carbon neutral and they, for example, plant trees. Companies and initiatives such as Music x Green or Julie’s Bicycle focus on environmental issues. Although reducing traveling will be relevant, traveling will come again. Musicians and orchestras might stay longer at one place and strengthen their bonds with their community partners.

In terms of the content of  a concert itself the classical music industry is ready to walk down new paths. Of course this will be hand in hand with the core classical repertoire that is the base of any quality and it is something that ideally has to be protected in spite of all commercial tendencies. Traditional crossover of course has been around since the 90s, but there still is a very big core market for classical musicians that should not be neglected or at least it should be perceived. A novelty on the other side is the willingness of big traditional classical music presenters to also look at and even (co-)produce new concert formats, be it in terms of changing the audience situation, performing in a new venue, creating a new context or teaming up with another discipline. 

Cross-disciplinary collaborations will of course absolutely not oust the classical music performance. But why not challenge and tweak the format a little bit and provide a creative playground where new things can be developed? The hunger for projects of this kind has become  stronger in the last decade especially, but several artists have been working on projects of this kind already long before. The fact that Yo-Yo Ma’s Inspired by Bach project was still released on VHS in the late 1990s is solid proof for that. The cellist recorded all six Suites for solo cello by Bach and paired each with another discipline. Nowadays there are many interesting and great projects spearheaded or joint by artists such as Vanessa Wagner, Midori Seiler, Pekka Kuusisto and many others.

Such productions can add another layer to the music that helps in discovering or highlighting a lot of hidden parts within an actual composition. They can furthermore attract new audiences and strengthen the brand of a concert cycle, concert venue, artist or ensemble.

Technical possibilities nowadays advance quickly and we can expect some change in this regard. What will happen for example with 3D-audio in combination with classical music? There are already compositions for this technology, but what can come next? What can be created using augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality? Let’s think of Alexander Skriabin’s efforts of using a clavier à lumières (or Chromola; color organ) in his composition Prometheus: The Poem of Fire from 1910, adding color as a new element to a composition. Why not push the envelope for concerts, audiovisual recordings and new ways of presenting, marketing and advertising? There always have been brilliant ideas such as the Bravo Gustavo app being released back in 2009 by the  Los Angeles Philharmonic. By swinging the handheld device like a baton the user turns into the conductor (Gustavo Dudamel) and controls the beat of the music. 

We generally see that brand-awareness is a much bigger topic nowadays than it was years ago. Especially in combination with new media people can certainly develop a powerful strategy. We can distinguish between institutions who are aware of their branding strategy and the ones who are not. Are the messages and the offers clear to the recipient? Do they seem to be authentic? Is there consistency in terms of frequency, quality, flow of information etc.? Storytelling and creating narratives became of much more importance in classical music management. In this case, we should look at the experts in the classical music field as well as get input from other industries.

In classical music we have to be aware of the fact that ways of production become more commercial than they used to be. Key players have to think about new strategies of this kind since a lot of European music and art institutions are used to getting subsidies from the state. It will be more and more important to also at least strive for a certain kind of financial independence in this regard. Big donors of big orchestras in the US, for example, get rewards such as being able to conduct the orchestra in a closed rehearsal. It is in any case important to think about creative funding strategies, depending on the project or institution, not only due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rome was not built in a day and there are great initiatives that are steadily growing. The recent developments were of course hitting the music industry hard and over the next couple of months we will most likely need to adapt to further challenges approaching. 

It makes no sense to stand still though. It makes no sense to put the head in the sand and wait for old times to come back. We can steadily adapt to the circumstances of this industry, acquire the right skills to face upcoming challenges and to sustainably shape what we are going to build up again altogether.

Author

Artistic and strategic consultant Andreas Vierziger collaborates internationally with concert presenters, festivals, orchestras, record labels, educational institutions and other partners across the classical music business and beyond.

As a former artist manager he worked with several artists of highest international acclaim, including GRAMMY winners.

He was a board member of Camerata Salzburg and he judged more than 20 international music competitions such as International Johannes Brahms Competition in Austria, Fulbright Concerto Competition and New York Concert Artist Auditions in the USA and Karol Szymanowski International Music Competition in Poland.

Andreas Vierziger has been giving lectures at numerous universities such as Tokyo University of the Arts, Helsinki Sibelius Academy, Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts, Royal Academy of Music Copenhagen, Zurich University of the Arts and Paris-Sorbonne.

www.andreasvierziger.com  

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