Hot tip: How to be #1 in the classical charts

Hot tip: How to be #1 in the classical charts


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2013

The trial of two Italian sisters accused of defrauding the art collector Charles Saatchi and his celebrity chef ex-wife Nigella Lawson has yielded much testimony of the careless lives of the super-rich and some tips on how to get that way.

For instance, creating your own best-selling book. Charles Saatchi did it, allegedly, by sending aides to buy copies of My Name Is Charles Saatchi and I Am An Artoholic at stores that are monitored for the best-seller charts. ‘I took out £200 and we would go around different stores across London four times a week, Waterstones and also Amazon. All of the staff had to do it,’ testified one of the defendants.

Think how much easier it would be to rig the classical charts. In the US, 500 sales buys you a classical number one. In Britain, 200 should do it. Give your PR £2,000 and get her to buy 200 of your CDs in the week after Christmas. Then announce yourself as the UK #1.

It’s so easy I’m surprised artists aren’t doing it already. Or are they?

(I have my suspicions about those humming nuns.)




  • Anon says:

    But try to find a bricks-and-mortar retail store in the UK where your disc will be stocked, and you’ll search long and hard. Particularly for a new core classical disc. Not so simple!

    As for the nuns, they’ve been towards the top of the US charts for so long, and have so little to gain from forcing themselves there (there’s no touring or live appearance income which might be derived from a solid chart position), that it is most likely genuine.

  • David Hill says:

    So easy to do, because the chart returns shops are very well-known to all the reps, and the industry always ensured that these had plenty of freebie stocks to ‘donate’ to those returns shop managers, so that they would be sure to promote particular items, or ‘hype’ them, as they used to call it. I’m so glad I got right out of that world in the early 90s. Most folk are blissfully unaware of the true nature of the venal spivs who operate the marketing of classical CDs in this country, and, I suspect, everywhere else, probably imagining them as lovable, avuncular, tweedy figures. They are not , as you know, Norman – most of them would sell their own grannies. The industry used to hypocritically wring their hands in the industry papers, always claiming that they were determined to end this abuse of the system, but it was too ingrained to be changed. As for the nuns, it’s the same old nonsense as we are always fed – ‘Punk violinist’, ‘angelic’ choirboy/girl’, ”singing monk’, ‘opera singer who has never sung in an opera’, and, worst of all, ‘blind tenor who cannot actually sing properly’. None of these could get where they are without coverage by the tabloid media. These performers seldom even register, in terms of credibility, in the serious classical music press, of course, so the charts are mostly reflecting cds that are sold to/for non-classical buyers anyway!

  • anon2 says:

    On a more serious note (any self-respecting classical musician knows better than to have any interest in the charts, notwithstanding Radio 3’s incessant imposing thereof), it is possible, apparently, for a composer to increase their royalties by having their music played in venues included in the PRS sample (leading to the assumption that the piece is being played loads of times all over the country). Is it really beyond PRS to include every declared performance in its calculations, in our information age, and especially in view of the fact that most pieces get performed only once or twice, and thus never make the sample?

    I think one of the wonderful things about classical music is the sheer diversity and breadth of repertoire, and that it would be horrific for us to go any further in the direction of playing a *very* small number of “chart-toppers” repeatedly (unfortunately, Radio 3 is following more populist stations in succumbing to this disease).