Classical music sales and streams rose by an annual 10.2% in 2018, recording industry body the BPI has announced, despite grim predictions caused by the demise of retailer HMV and the collapse of overall CD sales.
Official Charts Company figures show CD sales up 6.9% and still account for nearly 60% of classical revenue, while streams surged 42% to account for nearly a quarter of the market – still well below its 63.6% share of the overall UK music market. Digital downloads declined by 13.4%, well below the 26% drop in its drop overall.
Geoff Taylor, BPI chief executive and co-chair of its Classical Committee, said: ‘This is a dynamic moment in the history of classical music, with brilliant new artists such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Alexis Ffrench and Jess Gillam bursting through to accompany revered icons such as Andrea Bocelli, Yo-Yo Ma and Bryn Terfel. The popularity of soundtracks and new works by composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter are broadening the appeal of classical among younger listeners on streaming services.
‘There is a tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth if the new digital platforms continue to improve the profile and searchability of classical music, while labels continue to nurture new talent and appeal to collectors through beautifully curated CDs and boxsets. We welcome the government’s proposals to review music education. Funding and promoting much stronger music education in all schools would deliver benefits across society going well beyond classical music.’
Andrea Bocelli’s Si topped 200,000 sales, the first classical title to do so since 2012. Ludovico Einaudi was the most streamed classical artist, accounting for 8.6% of classical streams.
Chris O’Reilly, CEO of Presto Classical, said the figures were reflected in the online retailer’s 13% annual rise in CD sales in the crucial fourth quarter of 2018, continuing growth in downloads, plus plans to move into streaming.
‘At present we have a lot of customers who spend £80 to £100 a year on physical product,’ he says. ‘If they spend £10-£15 a month on a streaming subscription, that’s a revenue gain.’
He also pointed out that some 70% of streams are of old titles, which in physical formats might not not up a single sale for months.
O’Reilly agreed with the common view that the classical CD will eventually occupy the same niche as the resurgent vinyl disc does now: a specialist item produced on demand (which Presto already does with deleted titles) at relatively high prices. ‘But we have to be careful not too raise prices too early – people will always want good value,’ he warns.
He also saw problems in bespoke production of the big box sets that are money-spinners for the major labels – even now they are usually advertised as ‘limited editions’ because of the cost of re-pressing limited numbers.
IDAGIO is one of about half a dozen services that have sprung up to counter complaints about pop-oriented streaming services’ audio quality, search facilities and revenue return.
‘We may like or dislike streaming, but it is the future,’ says Till Janczukowicz, founder and CEO of IDAGIO. ‘But when we started in 2015 everybody – artists, managers and labels – wanted us to succeed.’
As an artist manager, he had seen artist revenues dropping over the last 10-15 years not just because of the fall in CD sales – a small fraction of any performer’s income – but its shrinking marketing impact. He contrasted that with IDAGIO: ‘The young pianist and Busoni competition winner Ivan Krpan recorded his debut album playing Chopin and Schumann just days before he went on tour in Korea. With IDAGIO, audience members could immediately access the recording with their smartphones and listen to it right after the concert.’
At its Berlin headquarters the service has a Steinway D so artists can perform live online, ‘because listening to recordings and listening to live music belong together’.
IDAGIO’s payments are per second and per user. It also offers an associate scheme for artists and business partners that help generate new subscribers.
Janczukowicz said there were 600,000 downloads of IDAGIO’s app last year and once its subscriber base reaches two or three million its earnings for artists and labels will be considerable.
He insisted his venture will not kill the CD. ‘In these times or instability and risk, people want a token that keeps their memories, a CD or LP they can hold in their hands.’
Over the last 30 years the traditional structure of the recording industry has reversed, with artists rather than labels finding the funding for most recordings. The few small labels that still finance insist they cannot survive on the meagre returns from streaming.
Resilience and flexible thinking are essential in tackling such challenges, according to Henry Little. When he became CEO of Opera Rara in 2016, one of his first moves was to replace the label’s 15-20 distributors with a global pact with Warner Classics. ‘Small distributors are vulnerable in a difficult market and what we lacked was dynamic sales partners,’ he says.
Opera Rara, he said, is not the standard small label. ‘We are an opera company that makes recordings and the reason we make recordings is because we want to bring the lost masterpieces we find not just to current audiences but to future audiences.’
That said, he cited last year’s alliance with Covent Garden to release Donizetti’s L’Ange de Nisida as a ground-breaker in partnering major opera houses to cut costs.
Similarly, last year’s recital recordings – made almost by chance with Joyce El-Khoury and Michael Spyres – generated hundreds of thousands of streams, albeit with only a few hundred pounds of revenue. He is also looking at is new uses for OR’s half-century archive to issue, say, Donizetti or Rossini editions.
David Blake, managing director of Naxos/Select UK, said streaming has become a significant earner but has turned the sales process upside-down. Instead of focusing on new releases, Naxos and the major labels now employ people to learn what themed playlists are popular and ‘make sure your stuff gets due prominence’. But he said classical CD and download sales continue to be surprisingly robust and he expects that to continue.