No classical releases in US classical top twenty

No classical releases in US classical top twenty


norman lebrecht

October 03, 2017

This week’s Nielsen sales show a new low for classical recordings in the US.

The best-selling record is a compilation of ‘most relaxing classical music’. Next is the Star Wars soundtrack, followed by two releases by the crossover violinist Lindsay Stirling and another by the Piano Guys. Not a single integral classical work in the top 20.


  • Raphael says:

    Billboard charts have Bach trios at #10 and Brahms trios at #12.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Nielsen is the most accurate sales chart.

      • Ben says:

        Based on what accounting / auditing firm(s)?

      • Anon says:

        Nielsen is not accurate at all. It does for instance not include online sales of physical.
        Nielsen is – these days – just absolutely irrelevant. Their numbers do not reflect sales reality, do not reflect actual copies of a recording sold.

  • Swedmusic says:

    Who is still buying records in the age of streaming?! What looks the top ten like at Spotify, Idagio and other streaming sites?

    • Will Duffay says:

      My guess is that classical CD purchases are still pretty strong, because the majority of recordings are bought by the slightly older, who still value the physical product.

    • Augusto Tresoldi says:

      If you just want the music, and you don’t care about nothing else, then a Youtube video with fixed image will be fine. If you want the complete product (including liner notes, cover and all the rest) there will never be any streaming acceptable. I still buy 50-60 CDs each year, for example. Streaming services are useful to pre-listen what you will buy (or not buy) later.

    • Una says:

      I do ascfarvas CDs go, not records, and not have to.listen from a screen all the time. You can also lend them to people who have varying IT skills.

    • Anon says:

      Most sane people in many countries still buy physical, because it’s a very good format, for many the best. Germany, Japan, South Korea, some of the biggest markets for classical worldwide, are still in the majority selling physical discs. Of course that is changing toward streaming slowly.

      And once the ownership of a recording is not with the consumer anymore, but you only can stream it, they will eventually make you pay for it big time. Every single time you listen possibly.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I buy cds still, but lately there just haven’t been too many new releases to get excited about. Second rate Edgar from Chandos, yet another Schmidt 2nd , a huge box of Solti? There’s just nothing being done that is very compelling that hasn’t been done before by usually better musicians. I feel bad for conductors and musicians who missed the golden age of recording.

    • Nik says:

      Can’t argue with that.
      I listen to classical music every day, and it’s been more than ten years since I bought a CD, though I do check out new recordings on Spotify.

  • Jon H says:

    There have been already some great interpretations of the classics – well recorded and performed – so anything new has stiff competition – unless it’s a new work in which case the market share is going to be small. YouTube audio isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the quality of many recordings actually – because as long as a mic is in the wrong place or the mastering was bad – you can’t bring back what isn’t there. And if the sound does suffer a bit, it is free…
    However, the problem with nothing being recorded is that there’s no proof of how good things were… so people/critics could say an orchestra was at a peak or “best in the world” but all you have are their words.
    But as a record collector I love the classical catalog – and how to build a relatively comprehensive collection around some favorite artists has been really fun. I hope the next generation can have the fun that this has been.

    • Laurie Drague says:

      Check out James D. Gish! His album is currently number 9 on the iTop Classical Charts. Gish is an up and coming artist and will become a household name soon. His voice is finesse combined with raw power culminating in a sound unlike anyone else in his genre today.

  • esfir ross says:

    I still buy CD-listen mostly when driving or cooking in the kitchen. Have big LP collection but not convinient to listen as CD.

  • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    People with 100k+ hifi equipment still want to buy CD/LP. In other words, currently the industry just ignores those who really care about music. That’s why the market is going down.

    • Michael Whight says:

      People with expensive ‘hifi’ would do better to ditch their CDs and stream at 24 bit 96khz which is much better quality.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        If I were starting now, I would seriously consider flac,

        However, four decades since I started collecting recordings (first LPs, then CDs), the situation is trickier.

        Why should I ditch my 2,000 cd’s? Digitizing them would be a herculean task I have no time for, and I would still want to access the booklets.

        Moreover, I would need to spend easily several hundred dollars, if not much more, to obtain hardware that matches the quality of my hi-fi system. I’d rather spend that money on recordings and scores.

        Am I missing something?

        • Una says:

          No! Just fine! In England Los have come back with a vengeance as people – and I don’t mean over 50s – realise they prefer the LP sound!

      • Anon says:

        But you underestimate the emotional factor of
        a) ownership pride “can I show you my new…”
        b) holding a physical product in your hand and put it to good use.

        Both are instinctive acts that satisfy our limbic brains. For some more, for some less, but it can’t be disregarded, particularly for products we consume for our enjoyment and hold aspirational value for us.

  • Dave says:

    Face the facts. The golden age of physical media is almost over. I don’t know anyone under the age of thirty buying CDs. This market is being kept on life support by crusty old white men. Streaming is the main way for listening these days and you might as well get used to it. Classical sales have always been a small percentage of the buying public anyway.

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      We must fight for equality! We should make women and black people start to buy classical CDs.

      • Una says:

        All my LPs I donated to Kenyatta University in Nairobi for those music students at the time who had nothing. They could tell you all about Beethoven and Mahler in three languages and the instruments of the orchestra but had never heard any. Nothing to do with women or blacks, just well educated, good mannered and articulate people from whom I learned a lot when I was there.

    • Una says:

      I do at university here in England – plenty. They’re not old fashioned just because they choose to buy CDs. So many fine second hand ones on Amazon too and playable easily in cars or in lectures or whatever should technology break down or not be easily available!

  • Mark Henriksen says:


    • Anon says:

      …is a corporate hell hole and kills the industry and quality standards. They are simply evil companies. Nobody can make a living creating products these companies are putting on the market. Nobody. Welcome to reimporting third world working and living conditions to the first world.
      “Dear musician. Your recording played 1 million times on spotify. We are happy to award you your well deserved fee of 2.00 (two) US $.”

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Stop using streaming if you love music, because you are killing off the performers and composers you depend on.
    The Nielson ratings are obviously inaccurate as they are wrongly classifying these recordings as classical. How they categorize music must be addressed.
    It never ceases to amaze me how willing those who love music are prepared to murder it. Do you realize that the recording artists have to pay for every recording they make? The label does NOT pay recording costs, unless you are a bestselling artist. You are killing musicians. Especially when you post your collection on youtube.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      I find it surprising, and often shocking, what appears on Youtube . It can’t be legal, but there doesn’t seem to be the ability or interest to stop it. I was going to buy the new re-release of Ozawa/Boston doing the Mahler symphonies when someone said “why buy it? They’re all on Youtube.” Of course kids today who listen with cheap ear buds connected to their cell phones have no interest in high fidelity sound and aren’t bothered by mp3 sounds coming from Youtube.

    • Swedmusic says:

      The total earnings of the music industries are now as high as ever. Less income by CDs and other physical records outweighs by growing streaming payments. The record industry makes the same amount of money wituout regard to which media you use. That should even mean that the artists should get the same royalties for their works.
      And there is a big, big difference between payfree Youtube videos at miserable quality and HQ-streaming you pay for. Believe me!

  • Ben says:

    The only valid reasons to buy physical, classical music CD:

    1) You are an audiophile and you realize music streaming isn’t on par yet

    2) You don’t understand European language like German, French, Italian, et al – that you need the CD booklet with the translated libretto

    3) (minority, but not as minority as you think) you idolize the artists, thus you are at a CD signing

    4) (minority, but not as minority as you think) you idolize the artists, thus you want the CD cover to hug

    • Cubs Fan says:

      5) you are addicted to buying cds and having 12000 of them neatly filling the shelves on a wall is a sight to behold.
      6) you are a completist. You might have Mahler symphonies 1-9 with Solti, but NOT having his DLVDE is intolerable! This is likely a mental disorder unique to old, fat, white guys.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Let’s assume the CD Haters Foundation financed the conversion of my 2,000 cds to collection, along with the necessary hi quality hardware and software.

    What cataloguing software should my free assistant use to enable effective searches by performer, group, composer, period?

    For now, I do quite well between my memory (still working), and my CD’s, which are organized by composer’s birth year, and include specialized areas for anthologies.

    A not-so-fat middle aged white guy.

  • Carlo Centemeri says:

    A LP/CD/WhatTheHell is not just the music. For ages people have been forced to buy records if the wanted to choose the music they wanted to. Once formats like 45rpm (good to have the summer hit without needing to buy the album) have disappeared, you were forced to buy an album where there is maybe 1 song that you’re interested in (not to mention the situations where the rest of the album was crap). Obviously in this situation youtube or spotify are just enough for you (I want that song now). People don’t buy song anymore, the revenues go down.
    The market for real LP buyers was a different one, but it was doped by the hits. Once the hits disappeared, there are no more budgets to produce albums that will never pay back.
    If some of the so-called “classical segment CD” (including soundtracks. easy listening, mozart to make your grass grow and whatever) were re-inflated inside the production of serious classical productions (i.e. not the n-th teen piano player who can play chopin waltzes, which should go actually in the first group) it would be a growing circle. But this is not the case, also because these products do not pay back enough (mainly, because of lack of a real marketing strategy and a real insigth in creating commercial products).

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      Do you mean recordings of REAL classical music have never been profitable?
      How did record companies make money in the past? Some of them were running this business for decades.

      I am sincerely asking.

      • Carlo Centemeri says:

        Not many companies were producing just classical music.
        In the beginning, every label could think of being profitable in adding in her own catalog famous compositions that people would have been happy to buy (everybody had all the major symphs/sonatas/quartets cycles).
        Later it was badly recorded, and there was the needing of a better recording (HiFi first, digital then).
        Then came HIP and the needing of a original instrument recording (HiFi first, digital then).
        Now you can buy a reprint of existing recordings and have a satisfactory CD at a budget price because the project was paid back since a long time.
        The sales expectations figures were much higher than today, and the investments followed (a company could record one opera out of her pockets). However, people like Karajan could make many records a year by finding different ways to fund the recording sessions (use the rehearsals or ask for high percentages on the rights).

        However making a good record was (and still is) expensive, and good musicians are expensive too: many companies are today profitable because they will pay the technical expenses (not the artists), and that’s it. Many others are profitable, but they pay the artist with 100 copies (no artist, no engineers) and that’s it. And there are also the ones who ask the artist to buy enough copies in order to cover all the production expenses.
        For sure if you make 100 concerts a year worldwide people may buy your records (for many reasons, not necessarily because they’re interesting records) in a quantity that is sufficient to pay back your job, the expenses, the promotion and everything that comes with it.
        As a general rule, in many cases they require that a big part of the expenses is covered by the producer . For sure not many labels would fund the recording of an opera or of a symphony cycle: private/public funding, sponsors, co-production with festivals are normal. Some companies could however afford, in the past, to reinvest big money (coming from other sources) in classical music for productions using only their own sources.
        But, as well, figures are significant also in this case, because a lot of persons who were buying a record just for curiosity (I still do it today) are buying budget series or going on YT. I fear that the end of many important labels will come from the fact that they don’t make records enough interesting for the one who has everything (and “everything” is a set getting smaller and smaller).
        Sorry for being so long and for my bad english…

        • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

          I really appreciate your post and the detail you shared with us about the recording business. And you have nothing to worry about your English, since I am apparently by far the worst in this forum.

          Would you mind specifying more details and making more concrete examples? For instance, how should I understand “the company pays the artist with 100 copies”. In cash money worth 100 copies of CD or does the artist really get physical copies of CDs as her wage? Furthermore, 100 CDs are actually not that much money, right? It’s just about 2000 EUR? Is it the typical wage for recording musicians?

          I would also like to know, how much would it cost to buy the license of some back catalog recordings of one of those dying companies. Like Brilliant Classics, I think their recordings are all bought from other companies. They just reissue them in low price and cheap packages. What if I would like to do something similar, but in much smaller quantity but much higher quality? Does it cost thousands, tens of thousands of EUR? Much more, much less? Could you give us a concrete example?

          • Carlo Centemeri says:

            I can try to. Then if you want we can proceed on separate channels not to be too boring for the other persons here (you can google my name to find my contacts).
            a. when I say “X copies” it means “X physical copies” (that the artist will need anyway for promotion and that he can sell in concerts, for instance, where is easier to sell cds for obvious emotional reasons)
            b. Brilliant (and many other ones) do a lot of inhouse productions, not only reissues (I know it being a brilliant artist myself). However, an existing master may come from two sources, a company who do not want to re-publish an old master and sells you a license or a company who is selling the archive (closing? bankrupt? business change? any reason). Licensing is a very complex mechanism with rules of its own on the single case.
            In the end there is a basic consideration: a label is a company that needs to go in balanced budget (or surplus) at the end of the year. If a producer offers to pay all the expenses (including booklet, duplication, press office and whatever) this will be a big temptation for the label, because every copy sold will be money gained, and will easily help in reaching the balance targets, even if the record sells 10 copies. He who decides should then ask himself if what he’s putting on the market is a necessary album (that would have been impossible otherwise) or it is not. Obviously this consideration transcends the simple economic side, but the economic side could override the artistic one and, in the long run, flood the market with records that sell 300-400 copies without worrying anybody (but feed considerations like “people don’t buy classical music”).
            I think that the good way to say it should be “people don’t buy crap”; usually excellent discs show correlated figures.

          • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

            Sorry about the not so accurate remark on Brilliant. But I didn’t mean to be negative towards this label. I was just shocked by the extremely low price and shear quantity of the encyclopedic cycles released by this label.

            Some of the facts about the recording business you disclosed is quite astonishing for outsiders like me. For instance, I could never imagine that musicians get physical copies of their own recordings as reward and have to sell these CDs by themselves. It sounds as ridiculous as a (freelance) product designer will get some units of smartphones she designed for a company as her wage … But now I see different industries have completely different ways of doing business.

            On the other hand, your comments on the logic behind record companies licensing scheme is quite encouraging. I just need the rights to sell their existing audio recordings. I will let my own team to completely redo the booklets (text, graphics), packaging, pressing, logistics and sales. Also rearrange the albums. Too many great recordings have been (re-)released in devastatingly shameful conditions just like garbage. Musicians deserve something much better. I will talk to you when I have more concrete plans.

          • Carlo Centemeri says:

            Well, I have concrete plans for an innovative way of producing quality records, and I’m trying to make the machine move. I’ll be happy to tell you (and anyone who will ask) about them, just let me know. 🙂