Label news: DG signs a singer-songwriter

Deutsche Grammophon today signed the Danish composer, singer-songwriter, pianist and producer Agnes Obel.

Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon, said: ‘We are fascinated by Agnes’s compositional autonomy and the precision with which she creates and produces her vocal and instrumental soundscapes. With every song and instrumental piece, she opens up small universes, thus reaching a broad audience with sophisticated works. With Agnes we share confidence in the long-term success of artistic excellence and credibility, as well as the intention to inspire many more fans around the world.’

Obel, 37, lives in Berlin with the video director Alex Brüel Flagstad. She has written theme songs for US, UK, German and Australian TV series.


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      • Actually rap, as an evolution of the Rhapsodic tradition as it existed throughout the ancient world and in Africa for centuries afterward (the Griots), is Classical; but don’t let that worry you…

        • True. The Kyrgyz epic tradition known as the Manas is readily comparable to some genres of hip-hop in the way the bard chants somewhat repetitive lines at a steady beat and haughtily recounts the Kyrgyz defeating foes and piling up bling and bitches. The Manas has been recognized around the world as a masterpiece of cultural expression. Yet, when the same thing is done by African-Americans, it is somehow illegitimate?

          I personally dislike nearly all hip-hop because I don’t like braggadocio – the difference between earlier genres and most hip-hop is that griots and epic bards were storytellers who praised their tribe while themselves remaining pretty anonymous, but the rapper usually praises himself. But that just leads me to look for other music out there that I do enjoy. Those who are wasting their time criticizing hip-hop might do the same.

          • Indeed; but it should be noted that not all rap is self-referencing: from Gil Scott Heron to Public Enemy to the new, politically aware, Grime scene.

        • Your use of ‘classical’ in music is off. Classical does not mean ancient. Classical in the original sense means a certain period in European music tradition, very roughly from 1750 until 1827. It it today used in a wider sense for the whole tradition following and the preliminary period (baroque) of that particular musical universe. Classical is today also used as an attribute for other genres, describing it’s first prime development phase.

          • Oh, dear God; you actually spent time writing that.

            As someone who received not only a first class Classical education but also a first class classical music education, I am quite aware of the difference. You’ll notice the C is capitalised. It’s a play on words.

            But then, you’re the group of people who has spent the entire day arguing about a memo that is so obviously fake it made me laugh out loud. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person here with a client who records for DG, and with other clients who record for other Universal labels. The idea that the marketing department at Universal would even begin to write a document like that is pie in the sky.

            With regard to your fervent belief that classical music makes you more intelligent – the majority of such studies are centred on how the formal arrangement of classical music engages the brain in a more efficient manner. The internal mechanics of the brain are now better understood; but this understanding is still vague; but it is likely that the brain, even should it benefit from listening to classical music, will have to contextualise it within other things. So, in fact, listening to broad range of music is desirable. The brain has a complicated method of reasoning with regard to art and music best explained in Iain McAllister’s wonderful The Master and his Emissary.

            One last thing. My company has had artists recording on DG for nearly 50 years. We recorded two crossover records with the company is the late 70s/early 80s. This is not new.

            Hope this helps. Now will all of you, please stop posting silly things on the internet!

            Have a lovely day.

          • What a silly answer. Only that much: it’s not about absolute scientific truth. It’s about plausibility to be exploited in marketing a certain product as superior over others. Something EVERY manufacturer does, if he finds credible sources to use. Only classical music labels paradoxically seem to suffer from inferiority complexes about their own product and and dilute the portfolio apologetically.

      • I think the label´s decision is ahead of our time. AGNES OBEL can stand many comparisons with classical artists. See that for example Vangelis was signed to DG in 1985 with Invisible Connections, an album even more experimental within the pop genre than any other of his work I know. I say so for she doesn´t produce cheap entertainment or something to use outside the music. I just never heard such valuable artful inspiration. All the very best for her! Andi (with a dedication to her on Soundcloud – Andreas Egerland)

  • Nothing against Agnes Obel, but does she belong with DG? I don’t buy the argument that her fans will then go on to buy the recently released Perahia’s recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier and Zimerman’s of Schubert’s last two sonatas.

  • Somebody please explain Universal Music Group’s marketing concept.
    It’s crazy. Go to their website and try to find out which labels they actually operate. I bet you can’t. Like it’s a secret. Well, you can kind of find it hidden under the company info in the small print.
    You don’t need to be a genius to understand, that Deutsche Grammophone was a better company with a better connection to their clients and their product, when they were a more independent entity, not just a small fish in that huge pond – or is it a black hole – of Universal Music Group.
    Now apparently Universal has labels with a profile that suits the style of Agnes Obel. Deutsche Grammophone is not the first one that comes to anyone’s mind?

    • Who is in charge of UMG website? It needs updates. And maybe an option to switch language between German and English?

      DG’s mission statement as of today says nothing about non-classical acts in the portfolio.

      “Im Sommer 2011 hat die Deutsche Grammophon ihren Sitz zum Mutterkonzern verlegt und ist nach Berlin zurückgekehrt. Von hier aus wird sie weiter mit den begabtesten jungen Künstlern kooperieren und Aufnahmen der herausragenden Protagonisten der klassischen Musik veröffentlichen.”

      “In the summer of 2011 Deutsche Grammophon moved its headquarters to the parent company and returned to Berlin. From here, she will continue to collaborate with the most gifted young artists and release recordings of the outstanding protagonists of classical music.”

      WTF is that supposed to mean? ‘young artists’? No more Pollini, Barenboim, Argerich? And what about the great dead ones? What is up with the PR department of that company? Asleep at the wheel?

  • Deutsche Grammophon used to be for me the No. 1 classical label, with most of the best artists (Böhm, Karajan, Kleiber, Abbado, Fischer-Dieskau, Amadeus Quartet, Pollini, etc), and outstanding sound quality. Some of DG’s releases in recent years concern “world music”, “cross-over”, and other non-classical music. The release in this blog feature is definitely “pop”. What comes next – “classical rap”? UMG will probably not sell more pop albums just because they are issued under DG’s label.

    • A typical justification is that a new broom sweeps clean. However, it’s not the broom cleaning the dust but the person who is sweeping… And realy personalities who know their job are missed these days, I’m afraid…

      Only after the last real artist has been cut down
      Only after the last record has been poisoned
      Only after the last qualified employee has been fired
      Then will you find classical music cannot be diluted.

      • A fly on the wall forwarded to me the key points from the last UMG strategy meeting with the DG management:
        DG’s branding and public image should reflect: ‘Hey, kids, we are ashamed of classical music. Don’t buy it. We don’t believe in it ourselves. We are also ashamed of age, experienced great masters of their trade, artists who have come a long way. We idolize the cult of superficial, visual youth instead. We don’t care that even with the most recent scientific neurological advances, classical music turns out to be a hot commodity for improving the human condition, educating mankind, fostering optimal mental development and social skills. That story could be told, those emotions could be evoked in the potential customers, they could be made like ‘hey I want that, I want to be that.’. We totally ignore that. Let’s basically destroy the most iconic brand in classical music. Let’s not think long term. Let’s only look at the quarterly results. All quality can be measured in numbers. Non tangible assets and product stories do not exist.’

        Pretty extensive. Also that insider told me, they said they should confuse the customer more. Like food companies putting meat into vegetable packaging and vice versa. Or apple sauce in tomato sauce cans. So called ‘cross over’. To confuse the customer. Brilliant strategy. Customers love it.

          • You mean that strategy, when you go to a Porsche dealership, and they try to sell you a lawn mower, and you return as a happy lawn mower owner with a Porsche badge on it?
            I heard it is very successful indeed!

        • “We don’t care that even with the most recent scientific neurological advances, classical music turns out to be a hot commodity for improving the human condition. ”

          <citation needed> I’m in my late 30s already. Everyone I know in my generation and younger who got interested in classical music became interested in it in spite of those old claims it is somehow superior to other genres or it promotes moral development, not because of them. That’s all talk from a bygone era. We were simply exposed to the sounds at some point and liked what we heard. It is also extremely rare for anyone these days to listen to classical music exclusively; even passionate classical fans tend to like other genres as well, and I daresay most would bristle at the idea of claiming any one of their tastes is superior to the others.

          In marketing classical music, one can promote the genre in terms of getting it heard more often without making those silly claims that only risk turning potential fans off.

          • Being in your late 30s, you grew up before current scientific insights were made. They were confirming older, empirical, knowledge, sure, but it was hard to make a factual case, not anymore so hard.
            Not sure why you think those claims are silly, when they are in fact true, and also don’t know why they would turn off anyone. Also nowhere did I talk about ‘moral’ development. It seems you do not fully comprehend what we are actually talking about.
            What turns ME off is people who engage in discussion with their opinions, but lack knowledge to have such an argument.
            As far as marketing is concerned: it makes only sense to promote something for the unique value it gives to the individual and the whole of humanity alike. Make people want that. People pay money for all kind of self improvement nonsense. Money is better spent for actual self improvement. (even though it is debatable how much of that can be participated at through consuming recordings, compared to actually engaging in musical activity yourself it’s a whole spectrum of involvement, from most passive background consumption to the most active engagement with it.)

          • If scientists find out about a certain fruit being particularly healthy, ‘superfood’ then that is used in marketing extensively, claiming the superiority of the product based on said findings.

            But if neuroscientist publish study after study, that classical music is the best for the brain and mental development, a company like DG, who’s business is selling classical music does… nothing. Probably their offices inhabited by people like you who are intrinsically annoyed by their own product’s superiority. It’s really peculiar.

            Something for the psychologists? An anti-elitist reflex? A late adolescent rebellion against our old people, since they seem to be the main customer group of classical music?

        • Anyway, it seems, uncertainty is all over the place. Sony Classical once had a CD cover saying “I don’t like classical music, but I really like this” ( That’s really cool marketing: we’re (so) stupid but (pretending to be) sexy!?! Something for vicarious embarrassment?

          Can you imagine a Chef haute cuisine making excuses by saying: “Sorry, I don’t wanna cook anymore for my stylish restaurant and so I’m selling street food for you guys.” Or a haute couture designer announcing: “Hey, I have signed a copyist from elsewhere. He will do the next dernier cri!” Probably not.

          I only can speculate why they choose the “one dog from each village strategy”. Probably because core classical music doesn’t sell enough anymore and so classical labels in big companies like Universal or Sony are under real pressure. So they have to be open to every style, film music, pop music, re-composers, army choirs, etc. Nothing against this all but these artists and styles should be signed to other labels and a classical label should have the chance to sell classical music only. And the big companies do have enough labels for these kind of styles.

          Are we naive? Don’t know. Certainly I still will buy albums from Trifonov, Netrebko, Nelsons, Zimerman & Co. but if I want to buy pop music I go elsewhere, to labels who have the expertise with that styles. I have some doubts that DG has the right people and media contacts to market pop music in the sense of “stay with what you know”.

          • Sorry, wanted to start with the following:

            OK, here’s a more moderate version (don’t wanna be defamatory or aggressive but only address some painful subjects for thoughts):

            Only after the last real core classical artist has been cut down
            Only after the last record has been corrupted
            Only after the last qualified employee has left the sinking ship
            Then will you find classical music cannot be diluted.

  • Universal classic labels (incl. “crossover”) are absolutely clueless, their websites have no direct customer support information (except for FAQ… ) which is useless. Just one example: In the artists list of DECCA the tenor Carlos Bergonzi does not exist. 3 ago they released a box with 17 CDs. No contact adress is available on their website. DG does not do a better job.
    How do they expect to sell their product ???? A few hundred CDs sold gets them on the Top-Charts, this does not mean they are earning money. Grammys nowadays are not relevant anymore. I know of no other industry which has executives in charge which seem to live in another world. Many older recordings are not available to purchase, what are archives for ???? For this you need a marketing team which knows the repertoire and passionately promotes its product. This is definitely not the case. The legendary sound quality of the recordings is not legendary anymore.

    • Many large labels are less concerned these days about keeping their websites up to date and detailed, because most successful promotion is done through their Facebook pages.

      • It depends largely on your customer base, their sociological and age group distribution. For classical labels the equation might be different. But if you have people in a larger corporation running those departments, who are basically both detached from the core product (classical music) and the special customer base, then of course you get exactly what we see.

  • The problem with selling classical music is not the lack of demand. The problem is the lack of the proper distribution platforms for the digital non-physical age for the typical customer of classical music.

    The labels have slept 20 years, piggy-back riding on the popular music distribution channels.
    Now pop music has dropped the physical format and they have ended up with spotify and no own well established distribution format for download and streaming that is revenue generating like the physical format was. Apple iTunes can’t even structure classical albums correctly, knows no subdivision into compositions, again subdivided by tracks. And the labels are apparently even unable to promote their core interests there.

    The CONTENT is NOT the problem. That you are not selling enough is not to blame on the lack of demand for the product. It is your lack of seeing the digital age coming and what it means for distributing classical music in it.

    Switching your content now, so you can attract a younger customer base, since those are easier to catch over the internet distribution channels, is a classical ‘wag the dog’ management error. When the tail is wagging the dog.

  • I´m really pleased for her. She is the perfect symbol for an artist the world needs. I hope she can reveal her valuable abstract & concrete messages even better now. Andi (who has improvised a dedication to her; please enjoy it on Soundcloud – Andreas Egerland)

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