Classical hits all-time US low

Classical hits all-time US low


norman lebrecht

January 22, 2016

On the annual breakdown of recording sales from Nielsen Soundscan, classical achieved just 1.3 percent of the market, bumping along the bottom with jazz and children’s records.

Even more discouraging, classical and jazz scored the highest proportion of physical sales vs digital, signifying that the consumer sector belongs to an older generation and is out of step with technology.

On a broader front, the mass market was stunned to learn that older catalogue albums outsold new material for the first time since records were kept.

A bleak picture all told. See for yourselves here.




  • Michael says:

    You read my mind from the last post!

  • Butch says:

    In this era of Hi-tech communication anything without a visceral effect that requires more than 60 seconds to connect, or from which one must invest feeling and thought, is litter alongside the information hi-way. Of course I’m not so sure it hasn’t always been so, now just more easily exposed.

  • FreddyNYC says:

    And never mind that you can get free downloads on Amazon Prime Music and apps like FreeGal Music via your local public library. And who else burns cds borrowed from the library? Makes you grateful for the vast public library resources available in NYC……

  • Meal says:

    Another explanation for the higher proportion of physical sales of jazz and classical albums might be that the listeners set more value on audiophil qualitiy. There is only a very limited offer on real high quality streams and downloads. Surprising that 9 % of the Americans do not listen to music at all. On the other hand, in average people have time to listen to music more than three hours a day.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Yes, we have to listen to music three hours a day. I experience it as being involuntarily subjected to acoustical pollution, if not assault.

      Glad I have only two ears.

      What is left of the art of listening….?

      • Peter says:

        You make the typical mistake to throw “art of listening” and the music business into the same basket. The music industry never ever sold in quantities to the the “art of listening” aficionados. It always sold most of its stuff to gullible ignorant masses.
        Now WHAT has changed is the mutual understanding of management on the production side, and trendsetters and public figures on the consumer sides, what is to be respected and valuable and what not. That consensus has been lost.
        But the gullible masses *always* have only bought what they were been told to buy.

  • Matt says:

    So the classical fans are old and can’t accept the new technology; but contemporary fans are young, adept with new technology, and buying older music.

  • Anne63 says:

    Yet another of these tedious reports.

    I’m listening more but buying less. Tell me, in which statistics is that reflected?

    • Peter says:

      It’s reported in the “10 biggest lost business opportunities” of the music business.
      Problem: the managers there don’t read.

  • PaulD says:

    I’m not surprised that older recordings are outselling the new ones. Box sets of, say, Bernstein’s Columbia Mahler recordings, are only a few dollars a disk. In a sense, the industry is cannibalizing the sales of new artists by making the back catalog so attractive.

    • Peter says:

      Valid point. The industry is currently cannibalizing itself in many ways, this being one of them.
      Making unsustainable deals with spotify and the like is another way.
      Basically failing altogether over the last 30 years to keep the value of recorded music as a trade commodity up is their biggest systematic failure.

    • John says:

      How many times can you repackage the back catalog and expect people to pay premium prices. Or is it that the market for recordings fifty years old has been saturated?

      As for the comment about older people not buying into the new technology, there was a time when this would have been viewed as the preference of a certain demographic, not that they are ‘out of step with technology’. I’m older, I’m always looking at and trying new technologies, but I’ve found that the technology I prefer (CDs) works best for me. So tech gurus, why not finding a better way to deliver your product to me?

      • Peter says:

        The problem is also “you”, as “you” in the average music lover and consumer.
        What you think is “Premium price” is actually dumping price, lower than ever.

        Just look what a mid price vinyl LP costed in the 60s, then adjust that for inflation, and think again about “Premium price”.

        An LP that cost between 5-10 US $ in 1960 would in today’s purchasing power have to cost between 40-80 US $.

        And that LP held only about 40 min music max. and had technically a lower audio quality (ok, let’s not go there, not in all aspects, but in most)

  • Robert says:

    Another reason older listeners are buying the physical formats is that they already have the equipment to play it with great sound.

    A younger listener probably has a tablet with no CD drive so download is the only option for them.

  • Christy says:

    And yet, whenever a classical artist attempts to cross boundaries to try to bring their music and voice to a larger audience, they are savaged by a big portion of the classical music critics and fandom.

    There are a few classical singers focusing on expanding – and those are the very singers regularly attacked for that very work.

    And there are orchestras working to make an impact on things like Google Play and other streaming services, and these efforts are regularly dismissed and mocked.

    So, what does anyone expect? In my estimation, there is no other genre that so quickly and completely eats its own.

    • Anne63 says:

      Mocked? Here, maybe, but who cares?

      People buy what they want regardless of what is said here.

      • Christy says:

        Sometimes here but not always and not only (and certainly less than some other blogs). At least things get discussed here.

        But when mocking happens, it eliminates promotion – so it generates few sales. The pop industry GETS that promotion is necessary to sell. Between the classical labels doing ZERO to promote music and the blogs, critics, etc., often ignoring unique projects or mocking them….. the classical industry just doesn’t seem to care if anyone notices what they do.

        • Peter says:

          True. The classical music industry managements are simply not used to taking the realities of their distribution and sales channels into their own hands. They have been riding piggy back with the mass pop culture all the time since physical medium music consumption became popular with the vinyl LP.
          Now that leniency is biting the classical music recording industry in the ass big time.

          Most classical music buyers, in average an older but financially potent middle class group, still would consume physical, also in the US, but the store network has simply gone out of business, because the pop industry is not utilizing them anymore.

          The labels are now sitting out there in the cold, freezing to death. They still have a product that is in demand, but not the distribution network needed to sell.

          This didn’t happen over night, That most suits on the top of the labels have been apparently clueless about this, just shows how poor the management in average is in these businesses. Unlike the great musicians and recording folks, who haven’t deserved being led into the desert like this.

    • John says:

      If Yo Yo Ma wants to do an album with the latest hip hop artist, I highly doubt that any article that any critic writes will affect his sales.

  • Peter says:

    Nielsen is not representative of the US market. It reports only a small share, the share of the small independent shops more or less. Physical sales online and through major outlets are not reported or at least not reported reliably!

    The US classical market is overall a representation of the overall decline of that decadent society, that is currently failing over its collective hubris, that you could break the law of “you can only reap what you sow”.

  • Peter says:

    Isn’t it ironic how the post is illustrated with a picture from Kabul, Afghanistan, from the time when that part of the world was actually progressing, *before* the barbarians, the kind *with* dollar, from the US, messed up the Middle East beyond repair.

  • Robert L. Edwards says:

    So laughable! The clue here is NIELSEN. The biggest fake job in the world is Nielsen tracking. The long-known Nielse TV Ratings do NOT reflect what Americans watch, but rather only programs watched by people who can tolerate the Nielsen technology, which consists of tracking watch/not watch in 15 minute segments for every TV in the house.

    In this Nielsen report, they tracked 500,000 Americans. Who determined how many of those listen to Classical music? Who determined how those 500,000 were contacted? If they sent invitations to people who have symphony orchestra or opera subscriptions do you think the results would have been different?

    The Nielsen report is TOTAL BS.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      The Nielsen sales reports are based on accurate POS data, as distinct from the TV ratings which are, as you say, BS.