US orch launches a selfie

US orch launches a selfie


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2014

The Seattle Symphony has jumped late on the bandwaggon of orchestras with their own record label. Most have failed in their twin purposes: to replace revenue lost when the music industry died and to promote the ensemble’s activities in new markets. Few have broke even.

The only label that has succeeded is LSO Live – chiefly because it was first into the water, built up a rapid back catalogue to pay for new releases and was, from the outset, marketed worldwide.

Seattle has a British MD, Simon Woods, who once worked at EMI. He knows the basics of the record business, old-style. But he has a mountain to climb in a market that is not working.



  • Halldor says:

    LSO Live wasn’t first – like so many London “innovations” it had been done first in the UK regions, in this case by the RLPO – but yes, it was certainly the only one with the financial muscle to make a go of it.

    • David Hooper says:

      Pity that your correction has been made in a such a churlish way. These over sensitive, chippy attitudes don’t do the North any favours.

      London is not short of genuine innovations. The LSO itself does not claim to have been the first in this field.

      And BTW, I’m from the North, not London.

      • Halldor says:

        Who’s being chippy here? Just picking Norman up on a point of detail. Credit where it’s due: Liverpool were the leaders in the UK field and deserve to be acknowledged.

    • Alison says:

      Although he doesn’t say so, perhaps NL is referring to the first surviving own label, as RLPO Live recordings now seem to be distributed by Avie Records.

      It’s rather like the RLPO’s claim to be the country’s oldest orchestra. There were others.

  • Anonymus says:

    The market is working, except for one chain link: retail

    Small minority of classical music customers download, the majority still wants to buy physical format. That will not change substantially for years to come.

    It’s the labels who want to kill the physical format, not the customers. That’s the dilemma of the classical music market, which always had to piggy back on the much bigger whole music entertainment market.

    Btw, I love this statement, worth it’s own article to discuss in your blog.

  • G Ell says:

    No, the market ain’t working. For three fundamental reasons. #1 Fewer and fewer people are interested in classical, with the exception of the China bubble but that’s another story for another day, or have the time or patience or capacity to focus on/through an entire symphony or sonata or opera, let alone a single movement or a single aria. #2 Economics – the bread & butter of music institutions, the middle class, is squeezed and its priorities lie elsewhere in surviving, such as keeping mouths fed and keeping a roof over head. #3 Music, all kinds, is in a deflationary tailspin, meaning all of us have gotten used to freebies everywhere anytime 24/7.

    • Alison says:

      “….have the time or patience or capacity to focus on/through an entire symphony or sonata or opera”

      In that case I would expect book reading also to be in decline. There is anecdotal evidence for this but I’ve been unable to find anything solid.

      Anyone know?

    • Anonymous says:

      This is maybe true for the US but not for Central and Northern Europe as recent surveys have shown. Cultural participation is higher than ever in those countries, including cultural access through media.

  • Alison says:

    Small correction: Simon Woods is the Executive Director of the Seattle Symphony. Ludovic Morlot is the Music Director.

  • Eric says:

    LSO was far from first, and there have been others that I think would qualify as successful, but they’re all different models. I think Chicago’s ReSound has been fairly successful within its purpose, for example.

  • Barbara says:

    Could you spell bandwagon correctly please?

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Best of luck to the Seattle Symphony!

    My best advice, me having been in “the record industry” for more than twenty years, is this: PRICE YOUR DISCS LOW: ONLY A BUCK OR TWO – AT THE MOST – PROFIT PER UNIT!!!!!

    Folks leaving your concerts wanting a souvenir purchased in the lobby, are loath to pay the usual retail store price of $15 or more for a CD. The production costs of a short-to-medium run CD in a plastic case are probably closer to $4 or $5 per unit, and that would include nice graphics and some liner notes.

    What you want here is FRIENDLY PRICING! Keeping the per-CD sale price low means that you’ll sell a heck of a lot more CDs in the lobby, and overall make a few bucks back on them on volume.

    But more importantly, YOU’RE GAINING A SOLID BASE OF FANS!!!!! It’s the PUBLICITY, BABY…..the more people who buy those lobby CDs, the more people who will mention to OTHER PEOPLE that there’s some good music happening at the SSO. “I got this great CD at the Seattle Symphony – I’m listening to it in the car on my way to work, or on my headset at the gym, or while I’m cooking dinner… should check them out…..”

    Be smart. Don’t go for a big kill disc-by-disc. It’s volume sales and word-of-mouth that’s important. Trust me – I know what’s what.

    And BRAVO for launching your recording project!

    – Greg from SF