Good news: Hilary tops the charts. Bad news: lowest ever sales

Good news: Hilary tops the charts. Bad news: lowest ever sales


norman lebrecht

January 22, 2014

Hilary Hahn’s In 27 Pieces was the top-selling classical album in the US this past week. It sold all of 341 copies, a new all-time low ( I feel I know half the people who bought it).

hilary hahn


In second spot on the Nielsen Soundscan charts is Barenboim’s New Year concert from Vienna. Just 260 sales.

These are shocking stats. There is not much point in making records for so indifferent a market.


  • robcat2075 says:

    Does anyone know what the sales bar is for a “gold album” in classical now?

  • WineGuy says:

    In the U.S. a gold record for a physical product is one that has “shipped” 500K or more until 1M, then it is a platinum record. It varies greatly country to country,

  • Joe Shelby says:

    Gold is still 500,000 in America, Platinum 1,000,000. It is 1/10th that for certification in Canada and the UK each. I am not aware if they have reworked it so that downloads count to these numbers.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    Let’s face it. We are a shrinking niche market. Please don’t discourage the distribution of whatever we can get. This is a very good album.

  • butch says:

    Do these numbers reflect iTune sales also?

  • Kyle says:

    So slightly more than 1 out of every million people in the U.S. bought Hilary…

  • David H. says:

    These are US-American stats. Not much to do with the classical music in the world. American (self-appointed) exceptionalism certainly doesn’t apply to classical music, where the US is still more like an “emerging” or actually now a “declining” country.

    • Michael says:

      Agree. The US are not the benchmark when it comes to classical music.

      So that repeated focus on one country is not describing the whole picture and I am at a loss why this seems of such repeated interest.

      For example in Germany things are different.

      Sales in first half of 2013 were up from 38 Million Euro to 42 Million Euro,the report from the renowned SZ speaks about a Renaissance of the CD buying culture.

      Interestingly enough the digital downloads still only account for 5 % of all sales in Germany.

      It would be interesting to have more statistics from other countries like UK,Japan,Korea.

    • In 2012, pop, rock, and folk comprised ca. 75% of the audio recording market in Germany. Classical (including crossover) only had 6.7%. Jazz had 1.6%. The rest were audio books, children’s productions, and specialty items. See:

      With only 6.7% of the market, and wide range of products available, the number of CDs sold by classical best sellers in Germany is not particularly high compared to pop – though better than the USA.

      Germany subsidizes 50% of the cost of every classical music ticket sold. Without this subsidy, the market share for classical CDs would probably be even lower.

      Here is a current list of the top 20 selling classical CDs in Germany:

  • Walter Apostolou says:

    Much of what is written in the Slate article is true, but much of the fault for the demise of classical music labels is to be placed at the doorstep of the major labels, particularly Universal Classics. They have assembled a group of people who, for the most part, don’t have a clue about classical music, yet they are making major decisions about how classical music is recorded, by who and how it is marketed and distributed. The problem is that the management of Universal Music, for example has deliberately weeded out any employee who is classical music literate, with very few exceptions. How can a genre survive when the very people responsible for creating it are not even knowledgeable at a high level. That’s why we get today what we get from Deutsche Grammophon and the others, no consistency, no clear artist policy, no feeling that they know where they are going. It is all a mix of cheap populism and one new name after another, with very little artist follow-up, so it is all quickly forgotten. Universal Classics, in particular, should serious think of closing up shop, for good. In any case, they won’t be able to continue going on like this for much longer.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    Hilary Hahn’s choice of repertoire is quite unatractive. A CD of encores is outdated and quite pathetic, regardless of the choice of works. No wonder the sales are poor.

    As for the 30th version if not more of the New Year’s concert in Vienna, how many versions of Strauss waltzes does one wish to have?

    • R. James Tobin says:

      Have you listened to these encores? Hahn commissioned all these works from dozens of living composers in order to have fresh music to play for audiences enthusiastic enough to demand one. And they are fresh, inventive and varied. Her disc of improvisations may not be to your taste, but her repertoire is very wide ranging, from Bach to up-to-the-moment work. She also had two concertos commissioned for her, by Jennifer Higdon and Edgar Meyer. (See my reviews of those at, and see the reviews at for the encores and improvisations, including brief ones by me.) Hahn is one of the most skilled, most musical, most wide-ranging violinists living. If her repertoire is unattractive to you, be assured that that is a very personal judgment.

  • TMM says:

    Bought my Hilary from iTunes! Is that where she can count better sales results?

  • Distribution models are changing. While CD sales are declining, downloads and vinyl (!) are going up. A more useful statistic would combine all media. There are detailed discussions in several forums on Amazon. (I won’t provide links, to avoid being accused of promoting my favourite CC artist!)

  • David H. says:

    Classical music is most beneficial for the development of the cerebral brain, particularly the frontal cortex. That big part of the brain means the difference between man and animal.

    So in order to manipulate the masses and make keep them dumb consumers, classical music ought to go. To go from the daily life, to go from the school curriculums, to go from the cultural life. At least in those nations, that are dictatorships of the mammon, they don’t want humans with cerebral development and free thinking. They want consumers with reptile brains.

    Rock music and pop “culture” is the way to go back to the reptile brain.

  • TMM says:

    Anyone with common sense knows that most of the people who write reviews on Amazon forums are actually sociopathic liars.

  • sdReader says:

    I don’t know about the HH disc, but the VPO New Year is a yawn with DB, though of course he is able.

    WHEN are they going to give the NEXT GENERATION a chance?

    Mehta, Maazel, Barenboim … . ENOUGH already of these serviceable interpreters whose fame grew from, and still rides on, the recording boom of the 70s and 80s!

    Does the VPO have no talent scouts?

    Hanus, Carydis, Carignani, Dudamel, Minkowski, Bolton, for example, would all do well in the waltzes, polkas and marches, having excellent control of rhythm and plenty of lyricism.

  • Geoffrey Decker says:

    Does anyone know how these numbers were gathered? I would like to know where Nielsen got the nice round figure ‘341’? I would like to know the numbers that iTunes sold via their U.S. site and also know Amazon’s number sold via their U.S. site. 341 sounds ridiculous, and I am skeptical.

  • Andy says:

    Ironically, it takes three minutes 41 seconds to download her CD using torrent.

  • BillT says:

    Why blame the audiences? It’s time to start blaming the musicians. They have lost the ability to communicate to their audiences. That is their fault, and the fault of their teachers. When musicians re-learn how to communicate to their audiences, the audiences will return. How will they learn in the absence of a living tradition? By listening to the recordings we are so fortunate to have, particularly of live performances, made in the days when for a performer, each performance was a life and death struggle to excite, to entertain, to engage the deepest emotions of the audience.

    • m2n2k says:

      If you are saying that these days there are no classical music performers who are interesting to listen to, I strongly disagree. There are many.