There is only one classical future – and it’s streaming

There is only one classical future – and it’s streaming


norman lebrecht

January 29, 2020

In the new issue of The Critic magazine, out today, I write about my recent conversion from hard disc to no disc in the rapid advance of classical streaming subscriptions.

Here’s how it all began:

One summer’s evening in the early 1990s, I met a student called Till at a festival in Schleswig-Holstein where major soloists were making music in cleaned-up cowsheds amid the lowing of displaced Friesians in nearby fields. Among the cowpats, I found some serious blue-sky dreamers. Till, for instance, had a vision that one day the whole of recorded music — from Caruso’s first aria to Decca’s latest release — would be available at the touch of a button. These were the heady days between the end of history and the internet dawn when anything seemed possible. Still, knowing the vexatious nature of the record industry, I could not imagine it might ever pool its closely-guarded treasures in a single virtual pot.

Fast forward 25 years. The classical record industry is now almost defunct and Till Janczukowicz is sitting in Berlin as chief executive of a streaming service that has raised ten million dollars from willing banks to bring the whole of classical music instantly to your smartphone. Till’s empire is called and, once you enter, you can kiss your working day goodbye.

Tap in the most obscure name you remember from your teenage LP collection – Sebastian Peschko, say…..

Read on here.


  • Tony Britten says:

    Any clues as to how the rights holders are to be reimbursed in this brave new world?

    • Dennis says:

      Do you think streaming services like Idagio don’t pay royalties? Not hard to find details with a bit of Googling.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        If there are rights-holders, then they can deny access.

        In television, for instance, there are now a multitude of streaming services which make content available; each for different rights-holders. If you want all the content, you have to pay for each streaming service separately.

        For music, we also worry about the sound quality of the download.

  • Anonymous Composer says:

    Surely a great idea, what about the royalties to all of us composers and musicans then?

  • Brian v says:

    This is good news especially when one is on holiday and you do not have your record collection with you.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But aren’t holidays for getting liberated from your record collection?

      • Cubs Fan says:

        No, because sometimes holidays are the only time one might have to actually spend time listening without constant interruptions! I look forward to my summer excursions with a few good books and a box of CDs I’ve been wanting to get to…and where I go camping there is no internet; streaming is not an option.

      • Brian v says:

        My collection is my best holiday it is an obsession

  • Brian says:

    An enjoyable read, but this constant advertising for Idagio is becoming slightly tedious.

    Whilst I recognise the merits of streaming, the main problem I see with it is that – theoretically – someone can decide at any time to remove a particular piece of music in a particular interpretation. Or a film, if we’re talking about Netflix & co.

    That’s why I’ll stick with my 6000+ CDs and DVDs, in the hope that the data will last a lifetime, i.e., stay in the disc.

    • mathias broucek says:

      Wise words from Brian.

      Also, what if music streaming fragments (as is happening with TV/film) and you need different services to get DG/Decca on the one hand and Sony on the other….

    • Brian v says:

      You have 6000 cds do you have time to listen to them all.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed. To turn things that are personally handled to a virtual realm without any control by the client, is asking for totalitarianism. It is already quite worrying how reality is gradually transferred into the abstraction of IT and the internet. It creates a certain mindset which is the opposite of culture and humanism.

    • Brettermeier says:

      “someone can decide at any time to remove a particular piece of music in a particular interpretation.”

      While that is true, it is also true that some of your discs may decide at any time to deteriorate.

      I copied all my discs to my server (there are backups, of course). That’s my streaming service. But if there’d be a better way… Haven’t seen that, yet.

  • Augustine says:

    I have been an Idagio subscriber in the USA from the very first day. It is an outstanding streaming service for classical music lovers.

    I do wish Norman, that you and the good folks at Idagio would begin offering playlist. It would make your Beethoven series and your other recommendations so much more accessible.

    In any case, your involvement with Idagio is a welcome addition to the world of streaming.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I believe the prediction is correct. I cannot wholly agree as to the wonderfulness of the end result.

    My basis for this is what has happened and is happening in the world of photography, which of course is virtually all digital now. The last decades of digital photography have proven surprisingly fragile in terms of preservation. Not only are the physical media proving not to last forever (CD-Rs and such), just as music CDs are proving to have a lifespan versus the “perfect sound forever” claims of the 1980s, but many of the photo hosting sites including cloud based are proving to have limited lifespans as well. A great deal is available now in the way of streaming classical music. But I think we are still in the “idealistic” era of streaming music, just as there was an “idealistic” era of the internet which is now over and gone.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      You’re absolutely right , David, in terms of what the future may bring.
      But I like having the physical CD (and its liner notes booklet) for whenever I want to listen to, say, Das Lied von der Erde, and have the translations right in front of me.
      Not to mention the sound quality: the 16-bit 44.1 kHz standard of the CD matches or exceeds anything that can be streamed real-time. (I have SACDs, too, and a player for them.)
      And since I own a boatload of CDs – and SACDs – from all genres and historical periods, if my internet connection goes away, I’m ready. Musically, blissfully, ready.
      I don’t envision my CDs (or even CD-Rs) deteriorating to the point of unplayableness before I die, given my age. And no, I’m not going to tell you how old I am!

      • Idagiotester says:

        I subscribed to Idagio for a trial period. The browsing is easier than on Spotify BUT:

        – the catalogue is not as big as Spotify’s one
        – the are no booklets, not even backcovers.

        The absence of booklets is for me a major point where the online streaming services cannot beat the physical objects yet. I wrote Idagio to understand if they plan to add the booklets in a near future. Apparently, it is not in their immediate plans. But sometimes I really need to know the exact name of that comprimario singer in that opera full of minor roles, or I need to know the exact recording date and location… those details you only find in booklets.

        Since I don’t see any major improvement compared to Spotify under this aspect, I ended my subscription at the end of the trial period and will stay with Spotify premium for now.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    I subscribe to Primephonic (lossless), which has a clear statement of how artists are paid.

  • Gus says:

    Agreed! Far better choice.

  • Dennis says:

    I’ve been using Idagio for a little over a month now. Very impressed (especially with the lossless option – a big problem with most streaming and downloads).

    Though I still miss browsing real record stores (and bookstores), and always fear favorite albums, movies, etc. could be pulled from streaming services without recourse to a physical copy as backup.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Imagine listening to music from a smart phone. How could it be good for classical music if people use it in the background throughout the day ? When such people attend a concert they will just fidget.

    • Dennis says:

      True if people do use it that way. I only use my phone to listen if it’s with earphones while out walking, etc (never with just the internal phone speakers sitting around in the background).

      Otherwise I have an adapter to plug my iPad into my Yamaha receiver and Bose speaker system, so it’s no different listening to Idagio in that way than if I put a CD in the tray (but it’s like having millions of CDs at hand! – which can actually be a problem, so much choice that I sometimes catch myself spending inordinate time just searching for what to play next).

  • Calvin says:

    What about liner notes?

    For all the talk about Idiago there is stuff I find on Apple Music that cannot out be found there. I subscribe to both and the difference is not that great.

  • Vance Koven says:

    The reason it only takes $10 million to put together such a comprehensive library is because paying royalties for existing recordings is cheap compared to the cost of actually producing (hiring, recording, and editing, and sometimes commissioning) new recordings. Streaming services are picking at the bones of other people’s labor, but so far I haven’t seen how this model cracks the economics of doing new music production. Must we settle for the acoustic of live performance recordings, and the inevitable constriction of repertoire that comes from having to rely on what music directors select for live performance rather than for direct recording projects? That, it seems to me, takes a bit of the bloom off the rose for the brave new world of all streaming.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Studio recordings are pretty much finished. It just doesn’t cover the costs. Pretty much all new content is live recordings, and will be for the foreseeable future.

  • Mr. D says:

    Streaming is very bad for the environment. It is better to download the music. See the article from The Guardian:

    • engineers_unite says:

      Yes and if you believe lefty Guardian bollocks, you will believe anything.

      That newspaper is almost a by word for Greenpeace anti science, new world order agenda politics.

      The biggest environmental impact of the Guardian is using it for toilet paper or for wrapping up greasy fish & chips.

  • Wise Guy says:

    Except LPs are selling like hotcakes again….

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Not really: they are a fashionable niche product. The sale of CDs is holding up a bit better, especially for classical music.