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Each month, International Record Review publishes a list of classical new releases.

This month, the list contains 778 discs of new or reissued music.

778 discs in standard jewel cases would make a stack 26’6″ high.

My pile of CDs kept falling over around the 300 mark, so let’s pretend every 25th record is usually bright red and I didn’t use photoshop to make this picture:

Displayed facing outward in a shop, 778 CDs would need 362’5″ of shelf space. That’s slightly longer than a standard American football field.

If there were 74 minutes of music on each disc, it would take 39 days 23 hours and 35 minutes to listen to them all.¬†That’s slightly longer than a standard British cricket game.

There are 31 days in October. You couldn’t keep up.

I’m not saying that there are too many new releases, but here are some questions to consider and, if you feel like it, try to answer in the comments:

1) If there were such a thing as “too many new releases,” how many would that be?

2) If the classical record business is in trouble, how do so many records get made?

3) Is it possible for this many albums to be really good?

4) Can this level of activity be sustained?

5) Why isn’t Gramophone magazine thicker?

6) Does anybody want to buy my CD collection?

7) Is there a world record for the highest stack of CDs, and will the Guinness folks accept a picture as proof?

8) Who are we expecting to buy all this music?

9) Isn’t this just evidence that putting out albums has become really easy?

10) Can anybody think of a source for historical new release counts so I can chart the number of releases over time?

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  1. October 11, 2010

    A lot of those new releases are re-releases of older material. Many of those true new releases are excellent, and many have performances of important and interesting music that has never been recorded before.

    From what I hear from the recordings I review for the American Record Guide (the best record reviewing magazine of them all, by the way), and from what I read in the magazine from other reviewers tells me that there is far too much worthwhile recorded for any one person to listen to during a lifetime (or an adulthood). This embarrassment of riches often works counter-intuitively to the way people who love music want to listen to music. Many of us want to listen to recordings we like several times, which doesn’t leave as much time for anything new.

  2. October 12, 2010

    OK, I’ll take a shot at a few answers:

    1) Not sure, but this seems to be past whatever number is reasonable, certainly considering sales numbers.

    2) I don’t think that the classical record business is in trouble as much as too crowded, obfuscated by re-releases (as Elaine points out in her comment), and hampered by lame marketing. But people are still buying classical recordings. It seems to me that what’s more in trouble is the live classical-music-playing business.

    3) No. Sturgeon’s (second) Law would be apropos here.

    4) Unlikely, and probably to the good, unless every single one of those new and re-releases are absolute, undowithoutable GOLD. It would be nice if the classical record business figured a way out from under its entrapment by the monolithic weight of The Canon.

    5) How much can you really say about this month’s 17 (re-)releases of recordings of Beethoven symphonies? Have there been shocking new developments in the way pianists are playing Chopin?

    6) Went all digital last year, it’s fantastic. Ripped everything and sold my CD collection. I feel so liberated. And have one less piece of giant furniture in my den. Highly recommended. (But be sure to back everything up.)

    7) No–but you deserve it anyway

    8) – 10) It’s a little like making carts for horses all the way into the 1930s, isn’t it? There may be some residual market around, but it clearly is very time-limited. I’d think a few of these record labels would want to put some of this CD manufacture money into finding and cultivating an online audience. I’m surprised so many recording artists and companies are still locked into the concept of an “album” this long after music needed to be packaged and distributed as such. I hope these companies start exploring new ways to release music (for instance, “Follow this artist: sign-up for new releases by your favorite performers” which are then released one or two pieces at a time as the recordings are made, rather than in up to 74-minute chunks; release new recordings with behind-the-scenes footage of recording process or interviews with performers talking about those pieces, etc. etc.) and new ways to find listeners (some outstanding efforts out there already, like the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall).

    They seem sort of conceptually stuck.

    Also, just found your blog, love it.

  3. October 20, 2010

    Classical music in a broadly international concern.

    How many books come out every month in the world?

    How tall would that stack be?

    How long would it take to display and read them all? How many are good?

    The answer is of course the only good music is by Philip Glass on the Orange Mountain Music label (no other label until after 2012, thank you), and the only place to responsibly obtain it is on iTunes.

  4. Jeff Wanser #
    October 26, 2010

    Responding only to Question #6: No, I don’t want to buy your CD collection, but if you’d like to donate it to the college library I work for, we’d be very grateful. We still love CDs, and don’t much care for mp3s.

  5. Gary Bachlund #
    October 29, 2010

    The tall stack of CDs was wonderful, frightening, ferociously fine imagery. How much taller would many collectors’ stacks be? Oy.

    Falling into having Mister-Collection-of-Things seems, in short order, to become Mister-Collection-of-Things having you. Oy twice. And the dusting!

    I’ve been to a number of live concerts with actual human beings playing instruments and singing. Imagine that? No little spinning disks. How novel. Lovely little faults not ironed out by recording technology. And so many people! Putting a CD on just doesn’t cut it for this curmudgeon. The smell of bow resin and Applausordnung flowers and valve oil is just so-o-o nice. And I not compelled to save the program either. Anti-oy.

    • properdiscord #
      October 29, 2010

      Well said, although let’s not forget that it is people, not technology, that “perfect” recordings.

      • Gary Bachlund #
        October 30, 2010

        Oddly, some of my favorite old recordings are far from perfect. Great names from the past performing great works in a time when recording technology could not wipe away the little glitches, the mistakes and “not quite rights.” And yet some of these performances simply sound more musical to me than the newer which some of my colleagues have shared. Life is imperfect, after all, but still lovely. “Let’s not forget that is people….” Amen.

  6. mclaren #
    December 10, 2010

    I don’t know about you, but I’m in hog heaven. Set the Wayback machine for the 1970s when I was in high school…just try and find contemporary music on LP. Try. I dare you.

    There was just about nothing. Most kraut schlockmusik put out by Deutsche Gramophon. You wanted to hear some Terry Riley? Fughgeddaboudit. You had to live in a big city with a giant record store. I vividly remember travelling all over town to find the only dual LP of Wendy Carlos’ “Sonic Seasonings” available. I practically wept when I found a Gate Five LP of Partch’s music at the local record store. The girl behind the counter shouted, “Look! Somebody finally bought it!”

    Fast-forward to today, and I’ve got no trouble finding new released by Simeon Ten Holt or Jeroen Van Veen or Valentin Silvestrov or Michael Gordon or Phill Niblock.

    Personally, I have to say that’s a good thing. And, yeah, I’m one of the people who buys this stuff. I’ve bought just about everything in Niblock’s XI catalog, and my big complaint is that he hasn’t yet put out more CDs by Ellen Fullman.

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