All change again at Deutsche Grammophon

Staff at the yellow label are being told this morning that label chief Mark Wilkinson is being moved to anotther role within the parent company, Universal Music, as Vice President International Strategy & Artist Development.

That leaves DG headless once more. Wilko has been in charge since the dismissal of Michael Lang in 2012. He has broguht two major pinaists to the label – Daniil Trifonov and Grigory Sokolov – but there were complaonts that DG was continuing to lose its core identity.

A search is now on for a new chief – almost certainly Austro-German – who will raise the label’s heartland profile at a time of great change in German music, with both Berlin and Munich appointing new conductors. Press release below.

 

 

beczala+wilkp

LONDON, 11 MARCH 2015 – Dickon Stainer, Universal Music’s President of Global Classics, has today appointed Mark Wilkinson to the new role of Vice President International Strategy & Artist Development. Wilkinson will continue to serve as President of Deutsche Grammophon, reporting jointly to Stainer and to Frank Briegmann, Universal Music’s President of Central Europe, until a successor is appointed in due course.

 

This new role follows Stainer’s appointment as President of Global Classics last November. Based out of Universal Music’s Global Classics headquarters in London and reporting to Stainer, as VP International Strategy & Artist Development Wilkinson will spearhead the commercial development of new partners to extend the global reach and success of classical artists and classical music. He will work on projects with UMG’s roster of classical superstars and new artists as well as driving opportunities to expose people around the world to the rich and historic catalogues of Universal Music’s Deutsche Grammophon and Decca labels.

 

Wilkinson has been President of Deutsche Grammophon since 2012 and he will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the company in Berlin until a successor is appointed by Frank Briegmann and Dickon Stainer.

 

Dickon Stainer said: “I’m delighted that Mark is taking up this new role which sits right at the very heart of our new global strategy for classical music. Mark is one of the most experienced classical executives in the world with a record of developing and nurturing artists of the highest calibre and in this new role he will be a huge asset in strengthening our global footprint for classical music.

 

“Together with Frank Briegmann we will find the best possible next leader for Deutsche Grammophon, someone who knows and understands the unique culture of this most legendary of labels.”

 

Frank Briegmann said: “I want to thank Mark for the great work he has done for Deutsche Grammophon over the past few years. He has strengthened our core repertoire, brought new crossover ideas and successfully integrated the teams at Deutsche Grammophon and Universal Music Classics Germany. Together we have made a number of strategic changes which the label will benefit from going forward such as innovative digital distribution channels and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him in the future. I want to congratulate Mark on his new appointment and wish him the best of luck and success and I have no doubt that he will continue to play an important role for Deutsche Grammophon and its fantastic artists.”

 

Mark Wilkinson (pictured with Piotr Beczala, above) said: “I’d like to thank Dickon for asking me to join his global team in this new role.  It’s a genuine honour to have been part of Frank’s team at Deutsche Grammophon and I look forward to continuing to work with Universal Music’s distinguished roster of artists and committed executives around the world.”

 

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  • Mr. Lebrecht, thanks for sharing this news, but do you actually check the spelling before you publish a new item? I mean, three typos in one sentence…

  • The more it changes, the more it stays the same…
    Mr. Wilkinson can leave, another will come and it will be more of the same at Universal Music and Deutsche Grammophon. Mr. Wilkinson may have turned out to be a failed appointment, but he is in a line of many failed appointments that came before him. I don’t blame the guy, but I do blame those at the top who hire people who don’t belong, nor fit, managing a company that doesn’t suit their profile, skills or tastes. Turning DG into a hybrid pop-quasi classical company was doomed to failure from day one. It would be like taking the branch manager at McDonalds and making director of a gourmet, five star restaurant, saying that his skills and tastes will attract new customers to the top tier restaurant. No it won’t. It will only dumb down and degrade the five star restaurant, whose chef will now be ordered to put hamburgers and fries on the menu, of course, in order to attract a “new client base”. It’s all outdated hackneyed marketing rubbish and the one who should be moved out of their job at Universal Music is the very person who put Mr. Wilkinson in that position in the first place! The incompetence and lack of understanding the business is at the top, not with the poor sap who gets a big promotion, to become President of a venerated label, only to realise that his profile has as much to do with it as a hamburger does with a five star Japanese restaurant. Enough of this same tragic comedy! Fortunately, most serious buyers have moved on to other labels and other means of getting their quality fix of classical music. Unfortunately, it is rarely from Deutsche Grammophon anymore.

    • Once again playing “Musical Chairs” within Universal ???? Wilbur is right, this will not improve anything. Try to reach someone at DG or DECCA in order to inquire about their product. NO WAY. Where is CUSTOMER SERVICE ????? I was looking for Leinsdorf´s Figaro (DECCA 1959), no way to get any information.
      I found it on iTunes as a download with terrible quality, released by another Label.
      I would have preferred to buy the CD. How about the Mozart cycle with Szell/Cleveland? Schumann Claudio Arrau Solo works? Not available !!!!!! I could go on and on No wonder music Lovers start looking at other sites where you can download without paying, some of it in terrible quality,

      Universal; Erato and SONY: wake up and take care of your customers, who are willing to pay for good product if available.
      Ba the way, many customers want to OWN the music and receive all necessary metadata-information (booklet, text, etc.), not just stream on Spotify or other platforms. Amazon cannot do the promotion job, it has to be done by the labels.

      Pure Audio: who is communicating what this format is about ???? 5.1 on a Bluray disc, can be replayed on every Bluray-Player. This is the job of the label and the distributor !!!!!!

  • Mark Wilkison may be a very nice guy to have a beer with, but he had not the slightest clue of the “business” he had in hand (classical music), which he contributed to keep destroying. Whether he innovated during his management? That would have been not only good, but necessary, provided DG were able to be the custodians of the best tradition they claim to be, but I don’t think anybody would call his low-level experiments innovating. “Peinlich” is the word in German. “Pathetic” is the word in English.

    Wouldn’t it be better for Universal Music to shut DG down?

  • It is a revolving door at a company like that. They come, they go, they pretend to understand, yet they ruin everything that they touch. They watch as their company goes down, like the Titanic and think that they will find Mr. Right who will solve everything. They will soon announce another “saviour” and they will send out announcements of support and praise and tell the world that they will get it right. The problem is, nobody really cares anymore and nobody is interested.

  • This is at least one step in the right direction for the classical record industry. Mark Wilkinson has trashed DG almost beyond recognition, with it’s uninspiring, inappropriate and ultimately trivial artist and repertoire roster for the label’s new, full price release schedules.

    For years serious classical collectors looked primarily to DG for quality, integrity and artistic and technical gravitas. This was the label of Bernstein, Bohm, Giulini, Jochum, Kubelik and above all, Karajan. Great singers like Domingo recorded complete operas, great instrumentalists produced an impressive catalogue of concertos and chamber works. Everything about DG screamed ‘quality’…a unique fusion of both style and substance. Now, while these great artists are reissued in innumerable retro releases which many collectors will appreciate and enjoy, it’s the new artists, the new recordings where the crisis lies.

    If I wanted mandolin players, chanting monks, Berlin cabaret singers (of both sexes) and scantily clad violinists and pianists playing easy listening compilations I would look to a popular label not a top-of-the-line brand that was once regarded as the Rolls Royce (or should that be Mercedes?) of classical recording. Get rid of this superficial trash, DG. You are catering for an audience that does not exist. Trying to be trendy is not what classical music is about. Ditto these boring, two dimensional concept albums by obscure composers like Max Richter. They are neither one thing nor the other. And as for ‘The Yellow Lounge’…well the less said about that the better!

    A signal return to grass roots is what’s needed now. As Norman mentioned, with imminent changes with the Berlin Philharmonic in the air (an orchestra indelibly linked with DG since the days of Nikisch) it’s time to get back to basics and restore DG to it’s rightful place at the head of the classical record industry. It’s no use having style without substance!

  • This Wilkinson chap has accepted a major demotion. Having been the President of a company for a very short stint and then being removed and named ‘Vice President of International Strategy & Artist Development’ sounds like being parked in the garage and typical corporate doublespeak and gobbledygook. Has anybody thought of euthanasia for DG?

  • I sometimes wonder if DG might even care about these big orchestra changes, notably the self-publishing BPO label. As such I ask myself if this reshuffling is going to make nay difference. But will this signal the beginning of the end for all the major recording companies?

  • I wouldn’t have called this a demotion. It is at least a move across. Universal is massive in comparison with DG, which is a small division of Universal. Mark’s family remained in Reading, as far as I know, and I would reckon he is being moved back here for that reason.

    As to what will happen to the classical industry? Classical recordings have never made money. Almost all the great DECCA and EMI recordings could never have been made if the Rolling Stones and the Beatles respectively had not been shifting such huge numbers. But at that time the majors were owned by small groups of people and no dividends needed to be paid, so they were happy with putting money across to high end classical recordings.

    Now? Well, either an investor has to be found who will foot all of the costs as a tax write-off, or companies like DG really have to mine their back catalogues. This can only really be done digitally. The cost of pressing CDs is high and it is not economical to do it in tiny numbers. Advertising is also massively expensive. With the advent of higher speed broadband, you will start to get the quality of recordings that you would like. Universal would do well to cut out the middle man and launch its own digital streaming site, with booklets and background materials. I asked Jeremy Caulton more than 10 years ago why this wasn’t being done for Sony. He thought it was something that should be done; but he could not guess when record companies would get round to it. 10 years later I asked the same question of the Commercial Director of Universal…and got pretty much the same response…

    • Anonymous is not strictly correct in his assumptions that classical recordings never made money. It is also a complete fallacy that the classical labels were supported by the pop side. The classical labels had totally separate budgets, which had to sink or swim on their own. By judicious juggling of releases between projects which would wash their faces commercially in the short, middle and long term, (I am talking about the eighties, nineties and early 21st century period) it was possible to balance the books in quite a healthy fashion. Of course, the volume of output was reduced – artists seldom had the sort of deals allowing up to 10 CD’s a year – but it was possible to make serious classics as well as shorter-term lighter fare. The industry today is, of course, a different one, but it is very heartening to see that a figure like Alain Lanceron is still able to run a major label and produce recordings of considerable artistic worth. It is figures like him which are sadly lacking at the other labels.

      • I head up a family company that has provided some of the biggest names for classical recordings over the last 50 years. Even in the heyday of the 60s, classical recordings did not return on their investment – I, sadly, still have the royalty statements – it will be many years before I am able to retire!. Classical and Pop divisions may have had separate budgets; but there is no doubt that the pop divisions were providing the overall profits and these were being fed over to the classical side.

        • We will have to agree to disagree. This was not my experience. You must not forget that the revenue generated from a very large back catalogue ‘fed the beast’ and provided sufficient funds for new recordings – provided one was careful.

          • Erich, the previous “Anon” has it about right.
            You can of course cross-finance one successful classical production with another less commercial one. But ultimately classical is not sufficiently profitable to cover the overheads involved. I agree that careful management will ensure you can afford to make the recordings, but the reality is it’s the pop stuff (i.e. by far the vast majority of music recorded, sold and listened to) which pays for salaries, marketing and promotion departments, and all the record label infrastructure and so on that goes into building a major label.

        • AFAIK what is killing the recording industry now, that even within the classical departments the controllers (called bean counters for a reason), acting on behalf of the share holders, have succeeded in forcing each single production to be profitable. Not like in the better days, where more revenue generating productions were cross-financing the interesting but not profitable productions.
          This win of the economists over the artists means no less than the end of any artistic ambitions of these major labels.
          Also the majors have first outsourced and then abandoned altogether their actual recording departments, which means no less than that they have let go decades of experience and sonic culture just like that. Idiotic but applauded by the bean counters, who cluelessly think, that you just need the yellow pages to contract even the most specialized service necessary.

          “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
          Hunter S. Thompson

          • Disagree. Abandoning wholesale full-size internal recording departments is sensible in today’s world. No label makes enough recordings to justify anything but a very small department, and modern employment laws make managing such very difficult. What happens when you’ve recruited someone who turns out not to be such a great balance engineer? You’re stuck with them on staff. A producer who falls out with half your artists? You’re stuck with them.
            The development of recording technology is no longer dependent on major companies with internal R&D, and both the quality of equipment available and the cost is far better than it once was.

            Greater reliance on external recording firms gives flexibility, is likely to ensure more professional working practice, allows artists to work with the recording producer and engineer they work best with, and probably means better recording facilities too.

          • From Anon to Anon: It’s not about the cost or quality of the equipment. It’s 99% about the people who operate them and who create the sound, the recording, the (recorded) music. Equipment doesn’t make good recordings, people do. Without building up in-house competence in that area you can never guarantee good recordings. Of course you must find good people, but that is a redundant argument, that’s true regardless if you hire them or if you pay them only for the project.
            Also, good people will leave the business, since they have other options, if they can’t find well paying jobs with a certain security.
            It’s simply a whole culture, that is about to be destroyed.

          • From Anon 1 to Anon 2 😉

            Cleaning up a few misconceptions here:

            “The development of recording technology is no longer dependent on major companies with internal R&D”

            True, but the development of recording technology is always dependent on major high quality productions with their equivalent demands. Thus the development suffers too if the recording biz suffers.

            “and both the quality of equipment available and the cost is far better than it once was.”

            True

            “Greater reliance on external recording firms gives flexibility,”

            It might give flexibility to the economic producer, but at the cost of a lot of insecurities on all sides involved. And it is to the economic disadvantage of the contracted service provider, which in the long term damages the whole business. But who is thinking in the long run anyway… only smart people would do that…

            “is likely to ensure more professional working practice,”

            No, the opposite is true.

            “allows artists to work with the recording producer and engineer they work best with,”

            Not in the reality, where now only the most powerful top artists have that option to choose their team. Also it is not only the artists, who know who is best suited for that job. There are other factors involved. Artists know only their part of the job, not enough to assess the full qualifications of a recording pro.

            “and probably means better recording facilities too.”

            definitely not. To the contrary.

  • Classical music may have not brought in the amount of money that pop did, but relative to investment it was a far less risky one and for the major labels it brought a solid and stable return on investment. Here, I am referring to major labels and the major artists that recorded for them. No doubt, the excellent releases of more esoteric and unknown repertoire, on small independent labels, or standard repertoire with unknown artists, was a much harder sell. First, unlike pop, classical recordings had lower fixed costs and lower marketing budgets. It had a longer shelf life and could be reincarnated multiple times over, appearing over and over again in new products and in new compilations and still reappearing to this day. Most all of these recordings were amortised decades ago, so everything that now comes in from them is pure profit. Most pop artists in fact failed and their failures cost enormous sums of money. That could only be offset by mega pop star releases. Yes, it took longer to break a classical artist, but the return on the investment eventually came, even if it took five or more years. That’s why it is imperative for the companies of today to build up that same catalogue, rather than just look for “quick fixes” like a desperate drug addict. Those “quick fixes” add nothing to the long-term value of the company, they just put a bandage on a gapping lack of artistic strategy, overall vision and policy. If you are in the classical business, then you are there for the long haul and if that is not what the financial wizards or shareholders want, then the classical business is not for you and you should get out and stop destroying once great companies. The problem with the major labels is that they believe or they believed that they could have the best of both worlds, i.e. live form their past catalogue and focus today, with few exceptions, on quick fixes. That is a recipe for disaster and the surest way to destroy a label’s identity and its once loyal following.

    Deutsche Grammophon is surely one of the worst examples of mismanagement and outright stupidity, trying to be everything to everyone and in the end making themselves irrelevant and ridiculous. This management shake-up and the sacking of their president at least shows that they acknowledge that they have done things wrong. Looking back though, they have only done things wrong for the past 15 years, at least!

    • At the end of the day, the problem is the clash of cultures between the artistic musical world and the share holder corporate culture.
      When companies with artistic visions like DG, Decca, EMI, Teldec, etc. were run by personalities who personally supported and backed their artistic sidearms in the company, everything was making some sense. As soon as the cool corporate structures devoted to share holder value alone crept into every decision to be made, it was the cancer that killed these labels who are intrinsically enterprises at the border between art and commerce.

        • New ideas are needed. Maybe it would make sense to run record labels with a strong cultural heritage as state owned cultural institutions instead of as redheaded stepchildren of profit making corporations? If you run museums, opera houses and orchestras, why not classical labels?

          If subsidies are given to make already wealthy people enjoy Bayreuth and Berlin Philharmonic live, why not give subsidies to those who actually have not the means to enjoy them live but only with a recording?

          The alternative is, we will be left with the likes of André Rieu, David Garrett and Lang Lang, best case…

          Too bad the big money makers in the corporate world, the Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffets, the Zuckerbergs and google owners, are not crazy about classical music.

        • Well heaven forbid that when your pension fund invests in a company there should actually be people there attempting to create a return for the investor, that would never do! Er…

  • Rieu ,Garrett ,Lang Lang …are what probably help keep the wheels turning at DG
    Poor Beczala can
    barely sell a hundred or so of his Tauber impersonation cds’ …hardly pays for coffee
    time break while recording ….…for most of the so called “classical world ” the ship has sailed .

  • The problem with DG is, whatever recording you buy from them. you never have the feeling there is a product of a company with people who are passionate about music and recording. It always feels like there is a big office building with a lot of business people and the actual core of the beast – making of recordings – is outsourced as cheap as possible anyway.
    The corporate structure must kill any business with strong artistic profile, unless you have CEOs who understand that you must run such cultural undertaking partly like a cultural institution, not only like a sausage factory.
    Best way to run a record label is privately owned plus state subsidies for special non-profitable projects.

  • Also, what happened at DG’s (cover) art department? The former yellow cartouche gave DG a house style that oozed elegance and quality although latterly they cheapened it with gaudy modern fonts rather than the traditional Garamond. Now we have nondescript imagination-free CD covers which, but for the DG emblem tucked away in a corner, could be the work of almost any record company. They usually consist of the artist in some cliched pose and if that artist is female, she’s posed in a provocative, scantily clad manner. In short, DG’s modern album artwork is crap.
    When I was young, one way of deciding what new record I would buy with my pocket money was how much the cover attracted me. Superficial maybe, but I enjoyed doing it and as a result the vast majority of my LPs ended up being DG. Now, however, the artwork positively puts me off buying their CDs and if I have downloaded a DG album, I’ve actually used Photoshop to create my own cover in the old DG house style. I just cannot abide the junk they produce nowadays.
    The superb CD artwork award now goes to CPO.

    • “The former yellow cartouche gave DG a house style that oozed elegance and quality although latterly they cheapened it with gaudy modern fonts rather than the traditional Garamond. Now we have nondescript imagination-free CD covers which, but for the DG emblem tucked away in a corner, could be the work of almost any record company”

      I couldn’t agree more…

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