No classical record sold 300 copies last week

No classical record sold 300 copies last week


norman lebrecht

August 04, 2015

The Nielsen Soundscan stats are in for the week, and it’s looking bleaker than ever.

The top-selling classical record, Decca’s Monks of Norcia, shifted just 298 units in the USA, physical and digital.

Andrea Bocelli was the only other artist who topped 200.

Worst of all, no entry in the Nielsen top ten was a new release. The classical market is almost wiped out.

monks of norcia




  • Petros LInardos says:

    So the Monks of Norcia recording was the only one to top 200.

    Nielsen is wrong to classify Bocelli as a classical artist. Here is what Thomas Quasthoff has said in an interview with Norman Lebrecht:

    “Andrea Bocelli is not an opera singer, and I cannot understand why Pavarotti should have called him ‘my successor’. What is that? Where are we living? Where is the quality? Why are big conductors making records with this guy? I am a teacher, and I know how hard it is to learn classical singing. He is not a classical artist.”

    • Keepingitreal says:

      Poteito-Potato. Tomeito-Tomato

      The harsh reality is this: 2 CELLOS, PIANO GUYS are classified as ‘Classical Artists’

      There’s a new definition for ‘classical’ the media has created: CLASSICAL = ANYTHING PERFORMED ON AN OLD INSTRUMENT, SUNG BY A GUY WEARING A TUX AND TRYING TO HIT HIGH NOTES.

      Open your eyes, look around and this is what your kids, grandkids and the next generation will assume is ‘Classical’.

      This is here to stay. In that context, Bocelli is actually being very conservative.

      Now, what you and I think ‘classical music’ is….pretty soon will be a very rare commodity.

      Again, not opinion, just look around:

      – Sony doesnt really have a classical arm anymore (except in specific countries)
      – Universal is the same one who signs these crossover acts (Garret, Bocelli)
      – Orchestras are moving towards playing more and more pops, even the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Philharmoniker.


      Its a megatrend, nobody – not even Norman – can stop it.

      Enjoy what you like while you can.

      Things are about to get very interesting.

      • PDQ.BACH says:

        « It’s a megatrend, nobody – not even Norman – can stop it.»

        It’s not a law of nature. It’s a trend we can stop. With our wallets. With our credit cards.
        And if the (former?) big labels are just too dumb to regurgitate anything but stale bilge and candy fluff, there are still indie labels offering great music and fighting a good fight.

        Maybe Norman would care to put up a questionnaire for his readers some time: How many records/downloads/paid streams have you purchased over the, say, pas six months? What are the top ten you would recommend out of that list?

  • Anthracite says:

    To the above post, such a shocking and depressing statistic is quoted in the article, and the best you can do is nitpick who can and cannot be rightly considered “classical” by your own ivory tower rhetoric?

    Since conductors are obviously seeking him out, the best I can say is, the train’s moving, Petros. Maybe you should get on board . . .

    • Petros LInardos says:

      I am happily riding other modern trains. There is no shortage of excellent classical artists in our days. Even Mr. Lebrecht keeps publishing four and five star reviews for new recordings.

  • Anon says:

    Quasthoff ask the wrong questions then. Bocelli just released Turandot conducted by Mehta, and you can’t say Zubin isn’t a big conductor, certainly in that piece.
    It’s fine to disagree with Pavarotti, but not to dismiss his opinion as inconvenient.
    Bocelli may or may not fit Quasthoff’s definition of an opera singer, but he certainly sings operatic works. And I dare say he’s taken some of the greatest operatic works to a far wider audience, too.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Bocelli’s singing technique doesn’t meet basic conservatory standards. Those who listen to Bocelli don’t go back for more opera sung by classical singers.

      • Anon says:

        So what? If they go back to the same composer, the same arias sung by him, is that a problem? Why should we think people “ought” to wish to listen to a highly-trained warbler?

      • PDQ.BACH says:

        I remember talking to Natalie Dessay many years ago, when she was very young, and she had just been offered the leading soprano part alongside Andrea Bocelli at some well-heeled shark’s vanity gala. Despite the extravanganza being paid handsomely, and she in serious need of cash at the time, Natalie declined. “Lui et moi, on ne fait pas le même métier,” she said about Bocelli. “If what he’s doing is opera, there’s no place for me in there.”

  • herrera says:

    Bocelli and Mehta should team up with Dr. Susan Boyle in Carmen. La Habanera is well within her range.

    I can see Beyoncé as Norma. Lady Gaga would make a terrific Desdemona.

  • Stephen says:

    It is not only in music that standards by which artists are judged, even in the “top” dailies, at least online. I have seen Laurence Olivier called “an old ham” by a young pup in “The Guardian” – a young pup not even conceived when Sir Laurence gave his last stage performance or his superb final performances for BBC TV.

  • Stephen says:

    Correction: the end of the 1st sentence should read “standards….have declined”.

  • Richard says:

    Two things – what the relatively few, including singers like Dessay, think matters little. Bocelli is a success because people want to hear him sing. End of story.

    It’s funny because we all have our own opinions about singers. I personally can’t stand certain singers. There’s just something about their voices that grates me but clearly others enjoy them. Sometimes when those singers sing evil roles like Alberich or Iago I can accept them. I think that Alagna stepping into big heroic roles like Radames and Calaf is ridiculous. When two relatively smaller instruments like his and Gheorghiu’s did Trovatore a couple years ago I almost laughed. But on recording it was fine. I love their voices and accepted it.

    Actually I sort of felt that way about Pavarotti doing the big roles for which he needed a low end that he didn’t have – or Corelli doing lighter stuff which required a technique that his raw power couldn’t accommodate.

    The point is that there are a million voices out there. Why the vitriol for Bocelli? I’ve heard much worse. And in fact I think the thing most people who aren’t necessarily “true” opera fans come to his voice because it lacks the overly trained sound.

    ON THE SECOND POINT: I run a record label and we sold more than 300 classical records last week of a single title. So m

    uch for Soundscan. If you don’t register with them (and pay them) you don’t count. Plus, the concept of “sales” in the streaming age is anachronistic. There is in fact no way to judge nowadays how popular music is. “How many clicks did this Turandot get?”….

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      « Bocelli is a success because people want to hear him sing. End of story.»

      Not so simple, Richard. Bocelli is a success because
      1. most people who want to hear him sing don’t know better
      2. the way he sells his story and the way he is relentlessly marketed.
      (The French have a very apt expression for it, “matraquage médiatique”, media bludgeoning.)

      The problem with 1. is that the people don’t know better because they don’t know the difference. And they don’t know the difference because they are no longer taught to care for the difference. If they cared, and still went for Bocelli, fine with me. But it’s not so.
      Lots of reasons for such a cultural decline. But I know, from setting up blind listening sessions with people who had little or no prior exposure to classical music, that a sense of critical discernment can be nurtured and, indeed, relished. Most people don’t listen to Bocelli because they just adore him; they listen to Bocelli because that’s what’s being thrown at them, by default, all the time.

      • Richard says:

        “1. most people who want to hear him sing don’t know better”

        This is the type of condescension that is thankfully disappearing. Rather than celebrating music this brand of “I know better than you” is exactly why classical music is dying. It’s a generational thing and personally we’re happy to see you go.

        “2. the way he sells his story and the way he is relentlessly marketed.”

        Unlike Netrebko, Gheorghiu, Kaufman, Kwiecien, Grigolo, etc. ARE YOU of the opinion that those singers don’t endlessly market themselves?

        • PDQ.BACH says:

          Par for the course: the personal rudeness of your comment is surpassed only by your failure to follow a sequence of simple points.

          I’ll repeat the gist of my argument: do the people who buy Bocelli actually like his output because he is really good at it? Or do they buy Bocelli because they like the kind of music he sings, but they haven’t had the opportunity to listen to other, perhaps vastly better performances?
          Unless, of course, you deny need for aesthetic criteria and the possibility of aesthetic comparisons.

          It’s one thing to prefer one performance to another because you have learned to know what you like, and why. It’s another thing not to be given the choice, nor the opportunity to form the criteria for making a choice. And you dare accuse me of condescension?

          As for the artists you named as negatives, they are (with one exception) among those I admire the least in their generation, precisely because of the way they play the stardom game. But they are also artists: I can’t deny their musical craftsmanship; that suffices to set them apart from the likes of Andrea Bocelli.

      • Anon says:

        Richard has it. Bocelli is a success, like Andre Rieu, because people want to listen to him. and engage. You might not like his voice, you might think people “should” know better or want something different, but the fact is they buy what they want and you don’t get to dictate their taste.
        To draw a parallel, I can’t understand why so many people seem to like Hardy’s Stamp, Jacobs Creek, or most wines at €8 a bottle, but I don’t go round pointing and sneering thinking that everyone else should spend time and money learning about wine and developing a taste for expensive Bordeaux and the art of the expert winemaker just because I and some other people like it. And so it is with music.

        • Richard says:

          Anon, well said. It goes straight to the point: ok, so Bocelli is to opera what Rieu is to violin playing. If Rieu decided to record the Beethoven Violin Concerto, PDQ Bach would have a conniption “an assault on anyone with taste!”

          What the wet blanket is missing is this isn’t about quality, and it’s not even about cultivating taste. Every French person I know can name the where and when of the best glass of wine they ever had. A fine wine is a fine wine, and maybe Bocelli is an $8 bottle of wine. So be it. But he inspires a lot of people and brings people into the opera world unlike the attitude of PDQ which is, very seriously, the main problem with classical music, why people find it unapproachable, and why it’s dying.

          As for marketing, all of the people we remember from history – singers or composers or instrumentalists were almost all shameless self promoters. Again, being snobby about it is wrong.

          But mostly this is about PDQs frustration that people aren’t better judges of quality. I hate to break it to ya, but you clearly don’t spend much time actually in the music world. It’s just a bunch of people doing the best they can.

        • PDQ.BACH says:

          Argumentative failure on multiple levels.
          I’ll stick just with the wine comparison.

          A CD (or iTunes album, whatever) by André Rieu cost roughly as much as one played by Thomas Zehetmair or Giuliano Carmignola.
          A CD of arias sung by Bocelli costs roughly the same as one by José Van Dam or Bryn Terfel. We’re not comparing Jacobs Creek to Château Mouton, we’re comparing two bottles of wine costing about the same. In the value-for-money equation, the money is a constant. So we’re talking about value. Value being subjective, of course. But the very notion of relative value implies comparison; and comparison implies criteria. Criteria which one has to acquire.

          How do you know which of the two or three wines you like best? By tasting. See what agrees with you, and try to find out why.
          Taste it with meat, with veggies, with pasta, with cheese. See if you like it better chilled, or at room temperature. Will you go for the Rioja, the Corbières, the Salento, or stick with Jacobs Creek, if all cost £8 a bottle? That’s the choice I’ve been pleading for, all along.

          But if your supermarket carries only Jacobs Creek, and you are swamped with ads for Jacobs Creek, and your neighbours get home deliveries of Jacobs Creek by the crate, how can you learn wether you wouldn’t actually like a Rioja or a Tempranillo a damn sight better, for your money’s worth?

          By the way, there is considerable winemaking know-how and craftsmanship involved in keeping the quality of Jacobs Creek constant and the price affordable. It would be unjust to dub it “the Andrea Bocelli of wines” just because it’s cheap.

          • Richard says:

            PDQ, I’d be happy to take this up with you off this forum. I’m being made to feel like Hans Sachs here and that was not my intention.

            At no point was I attempting to get into a point for point debate, especially since the back and forth seems totally humorless.

            Suffice it to say I don’t understand your position at all. Is someone holding you down and forcing you to listen to Bocelli opera recordings? if you don’t like it then don’t listen to it. That is the real story here. Please, don’t listen to it. Did you ever hear, in passing, the expression “If you don’t have anything nice to say?…”

            Do you think I am not familiar with many great voices from the past and present and cannot distinguish quality beyond basic subjectivity? You seem to take exception to basic concepts of a free society. Bocelli and the singers on his recordings live in a free society. They have a right to make a recording of whatever public domain opera that they want to.

            Does Bocelli have his shortcomings? Yes! Who on this thread has stated otherwise? I wanted to avoid a run down evaluation of singers but there are number of prominent singers I simply cannot stand to listen to, both past and present (subjective). Is there such a thing as a perfect singer (objective)? No.

            Every year we are faced with artists doing ill-advised things. Lyric singers taking on roles too big for them (Alagna, Gheorghiu – Trovatore). Over-the-hill singers playing youthful roles (Pavarotti, Nemorino) Te Kanawa doing almost anything nowadays – (I even have reservations with Hampson, whom I love, doing the heavy lifting he does at this point), foreign singers singing (Domingo singing Tristan). Sometimes these represent artistic stretches sometimes they represent basic bad ideas.

            Who is the final judge? No one! Not even audiences! Certainly not snobby pseudo-intellectuals. The only question is whether it moves people…even one person. There are art-song lovers that HATE Franco Corelli. I wonder if Dessay thinks that what she does is the same as Corelli? She’s drawing a line and making a distinction that doesn’t exist. Like a new music pianist arguing about piano technique with a baroque keyboardist. Sorry guys, the folks in the audience think you do the same thing. None of this matters.

            You also need to know that no one is taking away whatever your favorite precious recording of Tristan is. No one is coming to your home and removing it, or cutting off your internet connection. You are, and never have been obligated to listen to this recording. The world goes on. This Turandot recoridng will probably sell about 2,800 copies and garner about 2,000 streams. It is of no consequence to anyone except the few people who are moved by it.

            And in all seriousness, who is anyone to make someone feel badly about that?

          • Anon says:

            PDQ, the fact that CDs have broad cost-parity (where wine does not) only serves to strengthen Richard’s argument – people have free choice of all manner of singers singing all sorts of repertoire, and they choose, freely and of their own will, to buy Bocelli recordings. You may not like that, you may think they “should know better”, you may think that were they to make a comparison they would prefer another singer… but they buy what they buy. Perhaps not everyone shares the hardcore music world’s view as to what a great singer is, perhaps not everyone cares very much, or perhaps the generalist buyer’s criteria are very different from yours.

            As an aside, of course you are right, there is skill in the winemaking operation at a big mass-production house such as Jacob’s Creek. There is also a great deal of skill and high production values in a Bocelli record, and you only have to look at a typical credits list to see that much the same top people employ their craft there as on the sort of recordings you might prefer to buy yourself.

  • Holger H. says:

    Nielsen Soundscan stats are bollocks. They do only count the sales from smaller dealerships. Not from the large online sellers.
    Most physical sales are done online today through online outlets like Amazon, Barnes&Nobles etc.
    You might as well just ignore Nielsen soundscan in the future, or understand what it represents: that the small around the corner CD store is dying, at least in the US. But not physical sales altogether.

  • Ray says:

    Who has access to Nielsen Soundscan? I just did some research and some observer was of the opinion that the numbers are very expensive to get by (yearly cost in the hundreds of thousands) … Where does slippeddisc get their numbers from ? And are the numbers really as bad as the last comment states (small shops only) ?