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Classical Music: The Web & Social Music

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Beginning an occasional series focusing on the Classical music sector, TMV’s Chris McLellan introduces some of the issues confronting this area of the music business across the music value-chain.

Is classical audience attendance improving? Reports vary on this, but certain areas such as Opera and Ballet seem to be faring better than Orchestras, at least according to a (fairly) recent Music Council of Australia Study. http://www.mca.org.au/web/component/option,com_kb/task,article/article,85.

Still, common sense would suggest that having a robust online presence will invariably play a big part in helping classical music attract a wider and more diverse audience for its live performances. Could the recording and streaming of classical content prove to be a useful recruitment tool?

Cross-Media the Key?

A noted orchestral success using just such a technique is the BBC’s annual 8-week Promshttp://www.bbc.co.uk/proms/2008/ events which have been going steady since 1895. The concerts, held in and around London’s Royal Albert Hall www.royalalberthall.combut (but including many regional and outdoor events) have been attracting record numbers due in part to the very active way in which the events are promoted to the general public via the BBC website, BBC Radio 3 (and it’s website) and BBC 1 Television. While few classical brands could hope to match the Beeb’s level of cross-media integration, I would suggest that there’s still plenty of room to explore for partnerships between traditional classical music organizations and popular brands and media outlets. In the context of classical music festivals, Jiří Bělohlávek has described The Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”.

A new website from France has also begun to capture the energy of live orchestral performances. While the site is unusual (and not necessarily in a good way) Medici TV http://www.medici.tv/ has been launched by the Cité de la Musique, a group of government-sponsored institutions in Paris which are dedicated to the country’s classical music tradition. This site offers full video downloads for a price, indicating there’s a market for this sort of content in certain territories, which other cultural institutions seem to have been a bit slow to pick up on (judging from the relative dearth of such video on their websites).

Also, worth mentioning in the live classical space is UK ticket start-up Song Kick www.songkick.com, who take a ‘register once’ approach for tickets and concert recommendations. Here we see how one-stop ticketing and recommendation might come together for the classic music-goer of tomorrow.

What Lies Ahead?

There’s no question that the same issues which affect the music industry in general are having a big impact on Classical music. Are free downloads and digital killing off traditional labels? Will live music replace declining recorded sales? Can copyright be adequately protected on video sharing sites?

But these questions aside, the genre faces some very unique challenges. Should popular music recorded in a ‘Classical style’ still be considered ‘Classical’? Will such ‘dumbing down’ prove essential, or devastating? Is the Classical online community poorly serviced by existing social music services? Does Classical even ‘get’ digital? Will an aging population (and their disposable income) improve Classical’s near-future prospects? Can the great success of BBC’s Proms events be matched or replicated elsewhere?

Interesting questions, many of which The Music Void will be exploring in more depth in this occasional series on one of commercial music’s oldest and most respected branches. We’ll leave this introductory post with the wise words of impresario Robert Newman, founder of the Proms events in 1895:

“I am going to run nightly concerts and train the public by easy stages. Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.”

Poor old Newman went bankrupt in 1902. But the (BBC) Proms are now more popular than ever.

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