Posts from the The Unquestioned Answer Category

In February of last year, I wrote a rather alarming post about one of my offspring. Regular readers may recall his weight was increasing by 24% each month. At this rate, I predicted, he would be heavier than me by the time he was 19 months old, and would consume the entire planet by his mid-30s.

At the time, I was surprised the story didn’t get wider coverage, in spite of my bulletproof analysis. Still, Fox News will be underwater before they stop treating climate change as an unproven theory, so I guess they were just waiting for the giant toddler to eat somebody.

My blog has a small but loyal following, and I know some of you will be preparing for the inevitable showdown. Why do you think Elon Musk is building a spaceship? He knows good analysis when he sees it. This makes what I’m about to say a little awkward.

Initially, it really did seem like he was going to destroy us all, but as the days went by, his growth became less and less alarming, possibly thanks to all the blueberries he eats. 19 months has now passed, and he’s a perfectly normal size*. I’m a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, I’m relieved that I haven’t spawned the force that will destroy us all**. On the other hand, it does mean that I need to issue a correction, and probably an apology. That shelter you built in the garden? You might not need it now. My bad.

I worry about the best way to get the word out.

Typically, newspapers hide their corrections away like dirty laundry, which doesn’t seem like a proportionate good-faith effort to fix all the damage you did. Somewhere at the bottom of page 22 there’s a little box that says “CLARIFICATION: Last Thursday’s front page headline strongly implied doom for all mankind. It now turns out the risk is mainly to blueberries and anything resembling lemon curd yoghurt”.

This isn’t the way to behave if you want to be a trusted source of accurate information. A publication that routinely refuses to clearly acknowledge its errors is a publication that knowingly leaves its readers misinformed.

The convention for corrections on blogs seems to be to update the article and note the changes at the bottom. This is fine for anybody who reads a story twice, but what about all those people who only saw the wrong version and went on to make terrible decisions about blueberry futures?

We rarely put the same effort and ingenuity into propagating a correction as we did into spreading the falsehood in the first place. Since many readers are subscribers who may never visit the website, I thought the news that you are not*** doomed was at least worth a post of its own.

Also, while I have your attention, I made a mistake about Spotify royalty rates in a post earlier this week. If you’re using what I write about this to inform your opinions, please go back and check the revised version.


* for a toddler, not for a 30-something strategy consultant
** yet
*** necessarily

Your snappily titled Salon article, “It’s not just David Byrne and Radiohead: Spotify, Pandora and how streaming music kills jazz and classical” is very misleading.

I have reproduced the entire article here (in italics) with my comments (not in italics). Let’s take it from the top.

After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing. We know now that many rockers don’t like it. Less discussed so far is the trouble jazz and classical musicians — and their fans — have with music streaming, which is being hailed as the “savior” of the music business.

The entire premise is a straw man. There are lots of articles about how streaming is bad, and lots about how it is good. There are also many articles about how classical and jazz are losing out to changing music market. Let’s not pretend that we’re treading new ground here. You’re not questioning conventional wisdom, but rather trotting out a series of tired clichés and weaving them into a simplistic narrative that bears little relationship to the truth and serves no useful purpose except possibly to generate page views.

But between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing.

This article could have been really interesting if you had investigated any of these things instead of asking people to speculate.

It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.”

No it isn’t.

The shift to digital is also helping to isolate these already marginalized genres: It has a decisive effect on what listeners can find, and on whether or not an artist can earn a living from his work.

If it was announced tomorrow that, in future, all music could only be purchased by mail-order or by going in person to a physical store where a single individual had chosen a limited range of products to make available, then the classical and jazz world would collectively lose their shit. The Internet is where most music is sold. If you’re going to blame the Internet for destroying classical and jazz, you’d better make an impressive argument.

(Music streaming, in all genres, is up 42 percent for the first half of this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, against the first half of 2013. Over the same period, CD sales fell 19.6 percent, and downloads, the industry’s previous savior, were down 11.6 percent.)

If there’s a lesson to learn from these figures, it is probably not “make bold pronouncements about the future on the basis of short-term sales trends.”

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far:

I’m sorry to interrupt you mid-sentence, but had you considered the possibility that this might be because they’re not all extremely unhappy with the situation?

San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming.

You might also argue that Zoe Keating is exactly the kind of artist you would expect to cash in on downloads, because she communicates effectively with a large and loyal audience. Rather than speculate here, perhaps it’s best if we don’t pretend that a very unusual artist as typical of the broader classical music market.

The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated

So a Spotify stream pays seven times as much as a YouTube stream, and she chooses to put her music on both platforms. Perhaps you should have asked her why she does that. It would be nice if this anecdote crystallised into a coherent argument at some point.

For jazz and classical players without Keating’s entrepreneurial energy or larger cult following, the numbers are even bleaker. “It feels awful,” says Christina Courtin, a Julliard-trained violinist who plays in classical groups and has put out albums on the Nonesuch and Hundred Pockets labels. “I don’t count on that as a way to make money — I don’t see how it makes sense for a musician. It’s pretty dark — no one’s selling as much as they were even five years ago.”

Some people are selling more music than they were five years ago. Some people were not selling any music five years ago. Let’s not question this assertion, though, because it fits with the overall picture you’re painting.

Some artists remember a very different world. “I used to sell CDs of my music,” says Richard Danielpour, a celebrated American composer who has written an opera with Toni Morrison and once had an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical. “And now we get nothing.”

Literally nothing? Well, that sucks for Richard, but it isn’t happening to everyone.

It’s not just streaming, but the larger digital era that’s burying record stores, radio and recordings – and it’s hitting jazz and classical musicians especially hard.

Classical radio is doing fine. You haven’t tried to make the statistical case that it’s not, and you would find it very difficult.

Record stores are only getting buried if you only count the types of record stores that were around twenty years ago. If you apply this logic to people (only people born before 1996 are people), you can show the world’s population is falling. You might also like to do some actual research on the number of new recordings getting made. You seem to be assuming that we’ll all agree that the number of new recordings is going down. I’m not convinced that is true.

The skeptical reader might note that I have not produced any data in support of this argument. This is partly because I’ve addressed these assertions before (and regular readers have suffered enough), but also because you’re the one trying to prove your case, and you’ve thrown these things out there like they’re obviously true. Let’s just call it the prejudice that it is and move on.

For some young musicians launching their careers, the “exposure” they get on Pandora or YouTube brings them employment or a fan base somewhere down the line. But many wait in vain.

No musicians languished in obscurity before the Internet?

And like their counterparts in the pop world, musicians typically cannot opt out of streaming and the rest of the new world.

This is not true. Most musicians are not with record labels, so most musicians get to decide this, directly, for themselves. If the modern world scares you, then by all means opt out. If you want a deal with a label, they normally get to make commercial decisions about how the music is sold. This is capitalism. It has real flaws. We don’t need to make up new ones.

“One of the big reasons musicians kept control of their publishing was for the possibility that at least we would be paid when those songs were played in media outlets,” says jazz pianist Jason Moran, currently the jazz advisor for the Kennedy Center. “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much more wider scale.”

I would genuinely be fascinated to know the context in which this quote was gained, and what Jason was actually referring to when he said “this” because the “this” you’ve provided is a whole of things, and that matters when we’re talking about people getting robbed.

In some ways, the trouble in these genres resembles the problems experienced by any non-superstar musicians. Royalties on steaming services, for instance, are notoriously low. “All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”

This is perversely vague. The mechanism for paying composers is quite different to the mechanism for paying performers. Unions, statutory rates, resellers and agents all play very different roles which you have left completely unexamined. You have also ignored the extent to which composers are now commissioned on a work-for-hire basis. Lots of factors, lots of changes. This man says his royalties are bad. You’re the one blaming the internet.

The pain is especially acute for indie musicians. While some jazz and classical labels are owned by one of the three majors — Blue Note and Deutsche Grammophon, for example, are now part of the Universal Music Group — the vast majority of musicians record for independent labels. And the indies have been largely left out of the sweet deals struck with the streamers. Most of those deals are opaque; the informed speculation says that these arrangement are not good for musicians, especially those not on the few remaining majors.

Where did you get your informed speculation from? Is it somebody who actually worked at a label in the last five years? If not, it might not be terribly informed. You’re not telling us, so let’s call this hearsay and move on.

“Musicians in niche categories need to be fearful of the agreements that labels are signing with streaming services,” says music historian Ted Gioia, who has also recorded as a jazz pianist. Some of these deals, he suspects, allow the steamers to pay nothing at all to some artists, including most who record jazz and classical music

This is definitely speculation. There are thousands of artists with thousands of contracts and you couldn’t get a single one to talk to you about this? Then you don’t get to use the claim.

“The record labels could make a case that they don’t need to share royalties with artists whose sales don’t cross a certain threshold. If you’re Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, you have no problem. But otherwise, you would get no royalties. The nature of these deals are that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

The nature of these completely imaginary deals? Completely imaginary deals that artists are forced to sign at gun point?

Labels that own substantial back catalog — old Pink Floyd and Eagles albums, and earlier music that no longer require royalty payments to musicians — have likely cut much better deals than labels that primarily put out new music, especially those in non-pop genres. Says Gioia: “I suspect we’d find agreements where the labels say, [to the streamers], ‘You can have our whole catalog for $5 million, plus you pay us a fraction of a penny for any song that streams more than a million times.’” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think this way: The major labels have a number of weaselly little tricks like this one, sometimes called a “digital breakage,” in which musicians get nothing.

This, again, is speculation, but this time about the contents of specific documents that actually exist, and you could report usefully on them if you actually had copies of them. You don’t have copies of them, you haven’t seen them it it looks a lot like you haven’t talked to anybody who has.

Moran compares the appearance of Spotify on the scene to the arrival of Wal-Mart to an American small-town: The new model undercuts the existing ones, and helps put smaller, independent stores out of business.

Mostly, though, independent record stores were put out of business by large chain record stores, and this all happened decades ago.

Indie labels are equally vulnerable. Pi Recordings is a jazz label that puts out recordings by the cream of the avant-garde, including Henry Threadgill, Marc Ribot and Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s been described as one of the rare success stories in a dark time. But Yulun Wang, who co-runs the label, is not sure how they can stand up against the streaming onslaught.

Apparently everybody is either equally or especially vulnerable.

“You have the guy who buys 20 jazz records a year — $300 a year,” Wang says. “He might buy one or two of our albums. If I convert that guy to Spotify – he’s now getting all-you-can-eat for $120. And the proportion that comes to me is literally pennies. That’s when it over. That’s will force labels like ours to either change the way we do things significantly.”

If a typical customer* buys 2 of your CDs out of 20, he’s spending 10% of $300 with you, and unless you sell direct to consumers, as a label you’re lucky if you see a third of that ($10) of which perhaps half is eaten up by costs specific to CDs: manufacturing, shipping, breakages, returns, overstock and mechanical copyrights that streaming services  would pay for you. That leaves $5. If that same customer spends 10% of his streaming time on your products, you get 10% of $120, and you get to keep maybe half of it ($6). You could have looked into this.

A related popular argument against streaming goes as follows: a stream pays less than 100th of a download, but purchasers almost never listen to a download 100 times therefore streaming generates far less revenue. This would make sense if people only streamed tracks they would have otherwise purchased.

So long as you’re making records people actually want to listen to, you should be fine.

The digital enthusiasts say that labels need to “adjust” to the new world – by taking a piece of musicians’ touring, or cutting “360 deals” in which they get part of every strand of an artist’s revenue stream. But for jazz artists, touring outside New York and a few other cities does not yield much. “If I take 15 percent of someone making $30,000, it’s just less money in their pocket.” At a certain point, the artist can no longer pay the rent. “That’s when it’s game over.”

By “digital enthusiasts” do you mean “people who are made entirely out of straw?” There are real professionals making this market work. You just didn’t talk to any of them.

But it’s not just a problem of scale. There are distinctive qualities to jazz and classical music that make it a difficult fit to the digital world as it now exists, and that punish musicians and curious fans alike.

Not having everything made exactly the way you want it is not a punishment.

To Jean Cook, a new-music violinist, onetime Mekon, and director of programs for the Future Musical Coalition, it further marginalizes these already peripheral styles, creating what she calls “invisible genres.”

Invisible genres which make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from digital platforms, and where entire companies exist only selling their music through digital platforms.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, or Beats Music, she says. “Any music service that’s serving pop and classical music will not serve classical music well.”

For balance, it might be sensible to point out here that there are specialist download, streaming and home delivery services, and while some of them are growing (and others aren’t), the majority of sales and streams come from precisely the kind of mainstream retailers Jean is talking about here. They’re not perfect, but clearly it is possible to buy music from them.

The problem is the nature of classical music, and jazz as well, and the way they differ from pop music. They all make different use of metadata – a term most people associate with Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, but which have a profound importance to streaming services.

Most people? Did you just decide that?

Put most simply: Classical music and jazz are such a mismatch for existing streaming services, it’s almost impossible to find stuff.

When people make this complaint about classical and jazz on the web, I do wonder what the hell they’re comparing it to? When was there a magical period in the past in which physical record stores were successfully cross-referenced? I remember physical stores. They were worse.

Cook realized this when she got a recommendation from a music lover, and found herself falling down an online labyrinth trying to find it.

“…without even getting out of her chair” is the part that’s missing from this woeful tale of injustice and hardship.

Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.

They’re all listed. Did you actually look at iTunes or Spotify before you wrote this?

Spotify Screen Shot

iTunes Screen Shot

You are whining about an imaginary problem.

Or, if you want music written the Russian late romantic, do you want Rachmaninoff, or Rachmaninoff? Chances are, your service will have one but not the other.

If only there was a way to suggest alternative spellings and transliterations.

Spotify Screen Shot Rachmaninov

And what do you call the movements of a symphony or chamber piece? By their Roman numeral? Or by names like andante or scherzo?

If only somebody had thought of carefully listing all this information.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 22.17.18

“These services are built to serve the largest segments of the marketplace — pop, country and hip hop,” says Cook. None of these have this kind of complicated structure.

Really? Hip Hop doesn’t involve lots of guest artists? Pop music doesn’t require the creative input of producers who go completely uncredited in digital stores? World music wouldn’t be easier to explore if databases supported some sort of geographical taxonomy? New Age music doesn’t feature specific and very different subcategories? Lots of genres face specific challenges. Spotify and iTunes are great places to explore and discover classical music, and if you’d tried them, you’d know that.

Jazz offers similar difficulties, she says. Say you want to find recordings by pianist Bill Evans. You can find a bunch of them — but nothing linking him to “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the most important (and, in vinyl and CD form, certainly the bestselling) recording he was ever a part of. Evans shaped that album profoundly. You won’t find John Coltrane — another key voice on that session — there either, since it’s a Miles Davis record.

Oh shit. If only you were sitting in front of a computer that was connected to the Internet.

“Listing sidemen is something that is just not built into the architecture,” says Cook. It’s not a small problem. “I can’t think of a single example of a jazz musician who was not a sideman at one point in their career. We’re talking about a significant portion of jazz history that can’t get out.”

Jean is making a perfectly sensible point, but did you stop for a moment to consider the extent to which this is either (a) crippling or (b) new. Build a website that cross-references this stuff and use affiliate links to generate revenue from download stores and streaming services. Or don’t, because Wikipedia exists and people know how to use Google and this is really not that big of a problem, but either way, please stop whining about it.

It also makes you wonder — what are the chances that sidemen, or their heirs, get paid when things are streamed? And what do potential music consumers do when they can’t find what they’re looking for?

The labels pay them. The labels know who they have to pay. If the labels don’t pay them, it’s a matter between them and the labels. It has always worked this way, and the technology behind getting the music to the customer is entirely irrelevant. It is not responsible to just make up things for people to worry about.

There used to be a solution to this. “Go back to the days of record stores,” says Gioia, “and customers could learn a lot from browsing the racks, or asking the serious music fans who worked there.”

Your argument seems to be trying to reductio itself ad absurdum.

(Classical record stores, then and now, tended to have their recordings organized by composer rather than group.)

…and this worked for Mahler cycles, but it was hopeless if you were shopping for repertoire that only came on mixed recital discs, or if you wanted a short work by a famous composer who, in a big store, had hundreds of discs for you to trawl through, track at a time. Plus, did I mention that you’d have to get out of your chair? In the end, classical and jazz alienated people who didn’t like hanging out in record shops, and these people in turn find themselves alienated by websites. This does not mean the entire genre is dying.

The algorithms for specialized genres — classical, reggae, acoustic blues, Brazilian music —are hopeless, he says.

I will pay you $100 of my own money if you go back to Ted Gioia and get him to explain to us what an algorithm is.

“These days, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for. If you want something by Beyonce or Miley Cyrus, it’s not hard. If you’re interested in niche music, you can be in the position of not knowing what’s out there. I still find myself missing important releases by musicians I care about. Streaming provides access to millions of hours of music, but it’s easy to get lost in it.”

These days you can listen to music before you buy it, and you can buy it without using your legs. If people are not buying your records, it is not because it is too difficult.

If dedicated fans like Cook and Gioia have these problems, what will happen to the casual or new fans that every genre needs in order to stay alive? They’ll simply drift away to the stuff that’s being beamed at them by advertisers around the clock.

You’re dangerously close to exploring an alternative cause for some of the problems you list here, Tim. Better back quietly away and leave it completely unexplored.

Even some of those frightened and demoralized by the digital transition think things can be improved for jazz and classical music.

That’s just as well, since they’re the only people you talked to for this article.

So far, Wang’s solution has been to drop out. It’s nearly impossible for artists to withdraw, but as a label head, he can pull all of Pi’s music off Spotify. After three or four months on the service, two years back, he received a royalty statement of about $25 for all of it, and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

That is a thing he is entitled to do – something you might have mentioned earlier.

“What we found when we got out of Spotify — after these dire warnings — was that our sales went up; they absolutely jumped.”

People notice that vitamins cure autism, which is why we don’t make important decisions on the basis of a sample size of one.

He’s very familiar with the pressure to give art away. “We were always told you need to get as many audiences as possible … With the exposure argument, you’re told, ‘You could become the next Lady Gaga!’ It’s like playing Lotto — buy dollar tickets, and you could hit it big. In jazz, keep buying dollar tickets so you can win a dollar fifty.”

Jazz isn’t well-paid? What a surprise.

Cook sees the poor fit of these genres to streaming services as part of a larger phenomenon: Their radio playlists don’t show up in Billboard, their ticket receipts and album sales are often not reported to SoundScan and PollStar, and their awards on the Grammys are rarely televised. “This affects the visibility of jazz and classical music, and the way they are viewed by the rest of the industry.”

…and we should try to make the case that something be done about many of these things, but “our art form is dying” wouldn’t be the way to make that case if it was even true, which it isn’t.

Part of a solution involves getting the data straight. “There is no database that tells you who played on what recording, and who wrote each song. ASCAP has one piece of the puzzle; iTunes has another. If you’ve got a music service, you need this, because you need to know who to pay. You need to tell listeners who they’re listening too. And if it’s not consistent, it’s not searchable.”

The labels clear the publishing and pay the artists. That is part of their job. Search engines are remarkably good at searching inconsistent data.

She wonders how it happens, though, even with open-source software that makes it easier. “The classical community needs to say, ‘This is a good index, instead of the crap the record labels are sending you. It requires a coordinated effort by a lot of different parties.”

So does world peace, which is why we don’t have it.

Composer Danielpour says that classical people should not give up on recording work and trying to get on the radio. “Even though radio is a mid-20th century medium, for classical music it’s still a powerful source of revenue,” especially in Europe, where royalties are typically better. He recently returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. “For European and Russian audiences, classical music is religion. For us in America, it’s entertainment.”

The poor guy probably had to fly economy and everything.

Gioia, a former businessman, is pragmatic and forward looking. “My view is that the only solution for this, that is equitable for everyone, is for the music labels, in partnership with the artists, to control their own streaming,” says Gioia. “They need to bypass Silicon Valley.

Yes. Grab your pitchforks. Let’s go to the mill and burn it down.

“They need to work together with a new model, to control distribution and not rely on Apple, Amazon and everyone else. The music industry has always hated technology — they hated radio when it came out — and have always dragged their feet. They need to embrace technology and do it better.”

Finally. The uplifting finish which restores our hope for the future by suggesting what exactly? That the workers take control of the means of production? Good plan. Somebody should try that sometime.

There is not one single piece of practical advice anywhere in this article. There is not one piece of useful information that a musician, a label or a retailer could use to do their jobs better, there is not one single prediction or revelation which will help a consumer to gain better access to the music they want and there is no useful information for the investor keen to see this change.

You have to wonder what it was for.



An earlier version of this story said:

“If a guy buys 2 of your CDs out of 20, he’s spending 10% of $300 with you, and unless you sell direct to consumers, as a label you’re lucky if you see a third of that ($5). If he spends 10% of his streaming time on your products, you get 10% of $120, and you get to keep more than half of it ($6).”

This is misleading. Streaming services generally don’t share out the revenue from individual users according to their individual listening. Rather, they distribute the label share of the subscriber revenue according to the total amount of listening. I’ve revised the text above slightly to be clearer about this point: if that’s what the typical user does, then that’s what the label will get. The more people listen to your music, the more you get paid, regardless of how large a percentage of an individual’s listening is accounted for by your music.

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).

Your Slate article “Requiem: Classical music in America is dead” is poorly-researched, badly argued, and, well, wrong. There’s so much crap in it, the only way I can think to deal with it is line-by-line, so here we go:

When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton.

From the outset you’re not saying it’s dying. You’re saying its done. Finished. We’re two sentences in and I can tell you, you’re not going to win this thing. (more…)

Anybody who has ever tried to take confectionary away from my children can tell you that “like taking candy from a baby” is a bad simile for something easy. They’re small, but those boys will take you down.

In the hunt for easy ways to add content to my blog, though, I see that “like making fun of people trying to find easy ways to add content to their blog/website/newspaper of record” is a winner.

We begin with Friday’s Times, where Danielle De Niese gives an interview which might have started off about her performance in La Calisto at the Bayerische Saatsoper, but certainly ended up as an excuse to print a picture of her in a leopard print leotard, talking about wearing a leopard print leotard. Top marks to Jack Malvern for understanding the job of the modern arts correspondent.


Q. Am I really wrong?


Q. Are you sure?


Q. Can you prove that I’m wrong?

Yes, but, you’ll have to agree in advance what proof looks like, otherwise you could just move the goalposts after the game.

Q. How come I have so much evidence that I’m right?

That’s confirmation bias. Your brain carefully files away all the reasons you might be right, and disregards all the reasons you might be wrong.

Q. How come so many people agree with me?

They’re wrong too.

Q. They can’t all be wrong, can they?

Most people are wrong about most things most of the time. If there’s one remarkable discovery to be made in the study of science, religion and philosophy, it’s that being wrong about almost everything does people so little harm. The fact that every scientific discovery since the stone age has only doubled our life expectancy is a cutting indictment of the futility of knowledge in the face of ignorance.

Q. What about the evidence that I should be right?

Those are mostly just reasons why it’s embarrassing that you’re wrong.

Q. What about the mathematical proof that I’m probably right?

That just means we should have been momentarily surprised that you were wrong. Total denial is not called for.

Q. Why has nobody told me this before?

Given the way you’re acting now, it’s hard to imagine anybody feeling like you might be anything but completely receptive to information relating to your wrongness.

Q. So what? I’m supposed to completely rethink everything I thought I knew?

Well, bumbling blindly got you this far, and we wouldn’t be exploring all our options unless we at least considered elective ignorance. Eternal darkness loses some of its lustre once you embark upon it willingly, though, so perhaps you should take comfort in the knowledge that you’re probably wrong about all sorts of other things, too.

Dear Aaron Dunn (founder of Musopen),

My gripe is pretty simple:

You have a website dedicated to giving away music that is in the public domain. Some of the music on your website is not in the public domain. It belongs to people, who should be getting paid when it is downloaded. You have made almost no effort to prevent this, and you hide behind an absurd interpretation of a law you don’t understand in order to justify your continued inaction.

Let’s start with the public domain. Authors are entitled to copyright protection for a period of time, after which their work becomes free for anybody to reproduce. Copyright terms are a bit confusing, but if you want to know if something is free in the major markets, it works like this:

Public Domain


The Times Higher Education Supplement and the Independent reported yesterday that the Royal Academy of Music enjoy’s the UK’s highest graduate employment rate at 100%.

There’s a small chance somebody might make a fairly important career decision (or at least spend £36,000) on the basis of this 100% figure (or perhaps on the basis of the Independent’s unambiguous advice “If you want to be employed after uni, study music”), and as these two respectable publications were apparently too busy to find out what it actually means, I thought I’d do it. It took 15 minutes. Here we go: (more…)

I must run out and buy a copy of the Radio Times. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa has an interview in the latest edition containing revelations so explosive that they have been reported in all the broadsheets. I’m sure they all did this spontaneously, and unaided by a PR company.

What’s extraordinary, though, is that each newspaper has used the same set of quotes to construct an entirely different story:

According to the Telegraph, she doesn’t think the X Factor qualifies for conservatoire status, and is concerned for young singers who feel under pressure to diet unhealthily.

That sounds perfectly sensible, but then the folks at the Telegraph missed the real story, spotted by the Guardian: Dame Kiri questions the value of TV talent shows. While promoting the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year. Yup. You read that right.

Perhaps the pinkos at the Guardian can’t see past their lefty bias, but luckily the Independent* is on the case, adding the subtitle “Why do all female classical musicians have to be thin and sexy?” as if it’s a quote and not a rhetorical question. The piece is somewhat unhelpfully illustrated with a picture of Anna Netrebko looking quite lovely but no less beefy than Dame Kiri.

Opera stars need beef

The Times uses the word “bemoaned,” which is almost, but not quite, enough to get me seriously wondering what other delights are hiding behind their paywall. Luckily, The Australian has syndicated the whole thing, closing with the bizarre revelation that some of the “less fleshy young opera singers” include Renee Fleming (54) and Natalie Dessay (48).

Less fleshy

I can only assume the Daily Mail** couldn’t find any pictures of Dame Kiri in a bikini on her Facebook page, but they still manage to achieve an astonishingly sexist tone. The headline and collection of bullet points (helpfully provided for the benefit of anybody too lazy to read the story) give the general idea:


Yup. She admitted to eating.

I’d say “you couldn’t make it up” but, apparently, you could, and they all did.

Save yourself the trouble of reading any of this crap, and let Google News summarise the situation for you:

not hugely big

* “It is important to us that we get things right”

** Not a broadsheet. Or even, really, a newspaper.