Gramophone Awards and CD sales

You don’t look to blogs for reliable statistics, unbiased facts or 100% accurate information. Of course conscientious bloggers check their statistics as much as possible and try to get their facts right; after all what’s the value of any personal opinion and argument if it’s based on a false premise? I think I’m a conscientious blogger and do what I can to ensure the accuracy of my facts and figures. But after having received so much comment about my pieces on CD shops in south east Asia, I thought I had better try and look into the matter a little more closely. The real things which set me off were Rupert Christiansen’s blog entry concerning the latest figures emerging from the British Phonographic Institute (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/7793334/Is-this-the-final-curtain-for-classical-records.html) and today’s Gramophone Awards ceremony at The Dorchester in London.

Rupert Christiansen is a fine and upstanding critic for the Telegraph in London and he’s never one to court controversy or make sensationalist claims; unlike his predecessor Norman Lebrecht who would go out of his way to do both. So when he starts on about the death of the CD, one has to take him seriously. Yet, talking to Record Industry executives and those in the business, it’s clear that they see the CD as having quite a bit of life left in it. For my part, I don’t see an alternative just yet. Downloads and streaming get you the music (if not always in perfect audiophile quality), but they don’t all give you the full documentation, which most genuine classical music lovers demand, Christiansen had written his piece in June just after the figures on annual CD sales IN THE UK were released by the British Phonographic Institution; and they were certainly deeply depressing showing not just CD sales down but the market share for classical down even further.  On top of that, I was told today that last month fewer classical CDs were released than at any time over the past 25 years; which might seem to add fuel to the fire stoked by Christiansen’s piece. 

But hold on a moment.  The Gramophone Awards showed that the CD industry is still very much alive and kicking, and if numbers of sales are diminishing, how does that square with the undoubted fact that the contenders for awards get stronger and more numerous by the year.  The obvious answer might be that with the market shrinking, it’s quality rather than quantity which matters – and I’m not sure that’s not a very good thing.  As one of the judges for the Awards I know just how hard and onerous a task it is listening through all those fantastic CDs and trying to decide which is better than another.  You’ll find a list of winners at http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/gramophone-awards-2010-unveiled and very interesting reading it makes.

The first thing that will hit anyone between the eyes is the Record of the Year; the CD which obtained the greatest number of votes from the panel.  You might be tempted to expect that to be something vocal. crossover or, even, operatic.  You might expect it to be a big orchestral piece or a star pianist.  Not a bit of it.  The assembled critics adjudged a very specialist recording of William Byrd’s sacred music to be the best CD released in the last year.  I raise my hands in surprise, and although when I reviewed the disc for International Record Review (and my published reviews of this and other Award winners is posted on this blog elsewhere) I recommended it for the ultimate “Outstanding” place, even I thought of it more as a niche thing than a world-beater.  So, you might think, these critics like to show their esoteric credentials by voting for out-of-the-way stuff.  But then, take the winner of the Choral category – yet another recording of the Verdi Requiem – or the Instrumental category – a populist recital by that phenomenal pianist, Arcady Volodos.  No, quality is the defining factor and when a company can invest so much of its resources into what might seem a niche release as Hyperion have done with their Byrd disc, one suspects that the CD industry is by no means dead.

It is virtually impossible to obtain precise figures about CD sales in such markets as Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong; but don’t be swayed by the bad news coming from the UK and USA; as Live! Singapore showed in June, whatever might be the situation elsewhere, in south east Asia, Classical music is very much on the up.  Nobody should write classical music CDs off just yet when there are still such wonderful things coming on to the market, and if the situation is bad in the old markets of Europe and North America, does that justify us in south east Asia meekly following their trends and denying ourselves some wonderful musical experiences?


1 Response to “Gramophone Awards and CD sales”

  1. 1 johann
    February 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Dear Dr. Marc,

    Your email box rejected my email.

    I got the result back today, I got 80 marks – a distinction in LTCL, then I am happy. Let’s forget about the examiner interrupt thing. The examiner seems didn’t take away much marks from me. Thanks


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