Given that it’s illegal to sell a polyester shirt as silk, I struggle to understand why so many record companies think it’s okay to push out pop trash on their classical labels. And then they have the effrontery to be amazed when those labels lose their once-loyal public.
The history of crossover is short and nasty. It began in the 1990s when the CD boom faded and most shops still had classical shelves. Fill those racks with more popular material, ran the argument, and you maintain market share and profitability.
It was short-termism at its worst, replacing symphonies with slush, but the tactic continues even now when there are few record shops left, let alone ones with classical shelves. So why do labels do it?
Well, one crossover album in a hundred still makes a mint so executives believe it’s worth playing the lottery in the hope of hitting the jackpot. The real reason, though, is a refinement of the original deception.
The adjective ‘classical’ suggests something worthwhile, uplifting, exclusive. Attach it to any musician and its boosts their prestige, gets them onto better and broader radio outlets. It can also give them an aura as public benefactor and educator. Witness the late-life resurrection of Sting and Elvis Costello.
The downside is that it drains the vitality of what was once a vibrant classical market. Much the same has happened to jazz, as Clive Davis demonstrates in today’s Times.
The way to revive classical records is to restore their integrity. So far, only one major label has understood that lesson. From what I hear, another may be about to do so. Watch this space.
Meantime, here are a few more horrors that readers have asked to be drummed out of the classical charts:
21 Sarah Brightman (#18 on Billboard classical charts)
22 Richard Clayderman
23 The Priests
24 Mike Patten/Mondo Cane
25 Josh Groban.