A number of people have written to me over the last two weeks, asking why** I’d wade into a ridiculous debate like “Is classical music dead/dying?”
It’s not complicated. It’s because the ideas they promote do real harm. These dumbass articles make my job harder, and for no good reason. Commissions don’t get sponsored. Recordings don’t get made. Events don’t get coverage. Broadcasts don’t happen. Organs don’t get mended. Concerts don’t get booked. Startups don’t get funded. Music doesn’t get made.
It might seem like talking in dramatic terms about the challenges facing our industry would be the way to get people to take them seriously. In truth, though, the people who need to take these issues seriously are already doing it. Proclaiming “the end is nigh” just makes it harder for us to get anything done.
It’s really that simple. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pitched a viable and profitable project to somebody with the means to make a substantial long-term investment in the arts, only to hear a response along the lines of “Yes, but everybody knows classical music is a dying art form”.
I can sometimes talk these people around, but it isn’t easy, especially if I’m the first person they’ve ever heard challenge something they thought they’d always known.
That’s why it’s important that this prejudice doesn’t go unchallenged – not just by me, but by anybody who has the opportunity. If we can give people within the classical music community the ammunition to do this, then so much the better. I can’t tell this to every powerful person you’re going to meet, but you can. You can tell them it’s something millions of people do and you can tell them that reports of its death have been exaggerated for centuries.
If you want to do something to help interesting projects happen in the arts, then challenge ignorance about the state of classical music wherever you see it.
A colleague at iTunes began every presentation to potential partners with a series of slides showing just how big the company had become. He called these “The Fuck You Stats”. I suggest we do the same. I’ve listed a few below.
1) Classical record sales are going as well or better than sales of other genres.
Classical sales have fallen because music sales have fallen. In the US, classical marketshare was 2.8% in 2013, up from 2.4% in 2012, which is exactly what it was in 2005. In the UK, the picture is pretty much the same.
2) Classical music is popular.
In the UK, around 17% of adults attend classical music performances, compared to 15% who go to church at least once a month. Classical music is more popular than our national religion. In the US, 8.8% of adults attend classical performances, whereas only 6% of US adults attend NFL football games. Looked at another way, the UK’s concert audience is about the size of Austria, and the US concert audience is about the size of Syria (or sixteen whole American states.)
3) Classical audiences are stable or growing.
In the UK, the percentage of adults attending concerts has increased over the last decade. In the US, the percentage has dropped because of population growth, but the actual audience size has held steady for at least 30 years.
4) Classical radio is very popular.
The single largest commercial radio station in the UK is ClassicFM. In the US, classical music has grown to dominate public radio, with 406 out of 1,247 stations broadcasting a classical-based format and accounting for 29.1% of all listening. 30 million people listen to public radio in the US, so these are not trivial figures – the US classical (public) radio audience is about the size of Sweden. ClassicFM’s weekly audience is the same size as the population of Norway.
5) Classical music is resilient.
People have been predicting the demise of classical music for a very long time. It hasn’t happened yet.
6) Classical music is big business.
The Metropolitan Opera made $93m in ticket sales last year, selling 79% of a total of 800,000 available seats. If the Met was an NFL team with these figures, it would have had the #2 attendance for the 2011 season, behind the Dallas Cowboys at #1 and above the NY Giants at #3. Incidentally, while the Met took very slightly more at the box office than either of these teams did at the gate, but the mean ticket price is almost identical.
Then again, maybe the NFL isn’t the best example of success. After all, if everything was going well in the world of professional football, they wouldn’t need to draft in an opera singer to convince people to watch the Super Bowl, would they?
*May not be true
**Speculation on this point has included “because it is easy” (like I have nothing better to do) and “I’m angry because I’m secretly worried it might all be true” (as if, perhaps, my whole career were a figment of my imagination).