Music consumption is up 14%. So why not classical?

Music consumption is up 14%. So why not classical?


norman lebrecht

April 16, 2015

The big news from Nielsen Music is that music consumption in the United States is up by 14 percent in the first quarter of 2015, a real uplift for the business. Streaming is especially strong. Digital has dipped. Albums are back.

And classical? Same as, same as, same as. Why does it have to be like that?

Read the numbers. Reflect. Discuss.

Marilyn Monroe records


  • V.Lind says:

    The Dumbing Down is really complete.

  • J. says:

    Because a lot of “experts” want to dumb down the classical music. Well, if an ignorant person wants to hear something bad, easy to digest and even easier to forget he/she has pop music. Classical music demands time, thinking, aesthetic sophistication. It’s not for everybody. Most people read Fifty Shades, not Proust. That’s how things are.

  • shenyeh says:

    As a professional orchestra musician, it is so depressing to constantly see comments like the previous ones. Instead of trying hardest to find effective new ways to share the beauty of our art with the mass consumers, we are an industry seems to have dominated by people like those above, who only know how to blame our failure on others and to insult the intelligence of the exact people we should try to win over….! Do you really need music education in school to appreciate classical music, absolutely NOT! There are more highly educated people and intellectually curious people who love music today than ever, and the failure for classical music to catch on is the fault of ours in making the art interesting to people, not others. There are many potential solutions, for a starter, how about dropping the taboos and the self-limiting ways we talk and explaining our art to potential classical music fans?

    • Michael Endres says:

      “Do you really need music education in school to appreciate classical music, absolutely NOT! ”
      Of course not.
      Instead the Kentucky Fried Chicken Symphony orchestra will find its audience without . Wanna Bet ?

      • Alex says:

        So sorry to shatter your wildest dreams Prof. Endres, but such education will very unlikely come from organized sources. The current model treats classical music as a product that needs expansion, rather than making it a service that adds value (for which one could charge a premium) to its current consumer base.

        To put it in plain words, the people who will get into classical music will get into classical music not because they saw a movie in the concert hall, but because of their immediate peer group.. There’s this patronizing concept that somehow if the entire world is not partaking in music making or is not buying the latest vomiting Beethoven cycle – then the population is dumb, because ‘Classical music’ is somehow ‘Superior’.

        THE MUSICIANS ARE DUMB! Who said we need an orchestra in every town in planet earth? The united nations? The pope? Classical Music is a NICHE! it always was, and it will always be. If you read Norman’s book, one can quickly realize how the overexposure of classical music for some decades in the 20th century was simply a by product of an inchoate industry, which quickly embraced Pop as it is obviously more profitable. It was an oasis in the middle of the desert. Not the norm, but a historical exception that HAD to end. Who needs 45 sets of Beethoven Symphonies? The best has already been recorded, and now its just simply redundant.

        There are very few Louis Vuitton bags, very few Bugatti’s and Mazeratti’s in the world. Nobody is protesting that “the public is missing out on “the cultural experience of driving a Ferrari” nor asking the government to “fund Ferrari dealerships”.

        Here’s the big elephant in the room neither Norman, nor anybody in the industry wants to realize: 80% of the orchestras that exist out there, should not have been created. Its plain and simple. If tomorrow china starts selling the idea that we need PIPA schoools in every city in the world, and that pipa NEEDS to be taught in conservatories, guess what?! We’ll have the exact same situation as classical music nowadays: Lots of graduates without jobs, “audiences failing” for pipa music. No, audiences are NOT down, they were ARTIFICIALLY up for some time, and that time is OVER. Let those orchestras die in peace and cherish the few good ones that will survive and continue to provide interesting programming.


        • Peter says:

          You don’t know what culture is. You also fail to understand, that for mankind in order to grow mentally, emotionally, intellectually, it needs to aim high, to hit the target. (and go even higher from there)

          We need classical music just as much as we need the sun. If you have something intellectually and emotionally more valuable than classical music, then bring it on. What is it? I don’t know anything.

    • Anon says:

      Straw man argument. Classical music never has and never will appeal to the masses. And it shouldn’t. It should set the excellent top level human condition can achieve in the arts, be an aim the enabled and interested will go after.
      Dumb it down and all mankind suffers.
      It must be high up in order for us who are curious to have something we can grow up to.

  • AZ Cowboy says:

    I know many classical listeners and not one of them is interested in digital downloads, streaming, or other nonsense. We’re all still quite happy with the presumably doomed compact disk, which classical labels are still providing. But younger potential buyers are having a tougher time connecting with classical for many reasons, not the least of which is the vanishing from the American scene of Tower Records, HMV and other great record stores. And people like me, with in excess of 10 000 CDs, have slowed down buying considerably. I have 23 sets of Beethoven symphonies, 18 Brahms, 12 Sibelius and an ungodly amount of Mahler. I don’t buy those things anymore. And those of us who buy each new release on CPO are going to show up in any marketing statistics.

    • Hank says:

      With the major labels issuing their back catalogues via remarably inexpensive boxed sets (sometimes amounting to less than $1 per disc), I’m buying CDs at a faster rate that at any time since I bought my first CD player in 1986. That said, when it comes to single CD issue, I am almost totally uninterested. There are only so many recordings of a given repertoire staple I need to shell my money out for.

      As for streaming, I do occasionally use Pandora when I am working for long stretches and don’t want to bother with selecting and changing discs.

    • Jim says:

      Nice of you to speak for all classical music listeners, but I for one am very happy with my paid streaming service, which allows me to choose from a much wider selection than your 10,000 CDs, all at my fingertips and without the need to devote a whole room to housing my collection.

  • Anon says:

    Can we get some numbers also from countries who traditionally have more developed classical music consumption. E.g. South Korea and Germany.
    The US is not very important when it comes to classical music sales.

  • Ray Kohn (@Tecchler) says:

    The notion of “consuming” music is, itself, a category error forced on jounalists by the media of which they are part. Placing music purely within the financial realm misses the point. It seems to me like measuring the number of marriages in a society to discover whether there is greater love amongst people. With music, the purchase of recordings in one form or another, does not tell us very much about how significant music is in a society. We know that it is the only cultural activity common to every society for the last 30,000 years. In whatever form, music seems to meet a visceral requirement and the power of certain forms of the art meet different people’s needs. So-called “classical” music (which actually covers a great deal more than that composed between Haydn and Schubert) meets the needs of a very large number of people: and that need may play a much greater part in moving our society forward than the needs that are met by others who prefer so-called “easy listening”/pop music.

    • Anon says:

      Let’s not overcomplicate this. Consumption is the way to count cultural participation. Be it ticket sales or record sales. As long as our brains are not wired online to Big Brother, we will never know if behind a consumption stands also a proper perception. C’est la vie.

    • Anne says:

      “With music, the purchase of recordings in one form or another, does not tell us very much about how significant music is in a society.”

      I’m glad someone has pointed that out. I’m not suggesting that the market is saturated, or that everything is hunky-dory, but a collection of good recordings can provide long lasting satisfaction. They don’t need to be replaced every six months.

      The only meaningful measure would be how much time is being spent listening to music by any means. When someone comes up with a way of measuring that, we might learn something.

      • william osborne says:

        That’s exactly the problem. The average date of the classical repertoire is about 150 years old. With so few new compositions on new CDs accepted by the public, classical music has become a dead art form.