Photo by Bill Bernstein, courtesy G. Schirmer/Associated Music Publishers
Right now we are at a point where the current structure of how classical music is recorded and disseminated in this country is radically changing. I doubt that we will recognize the same modus operandi seven years from now.
In pop music in the 1970s, there was a fairly dramatic shift in that a lot of executives who were making records had an interest not only in making money, but in producing an artistic product of lasting value. A number of these executives had friendships and relationships with their artists. It wasn’t just business. Then all of a sudden, it occurred to a number of executives that there was an enormous amount of money to be made that was astronomically higher than the average good selling recording had been. As a result of all this, the priorities began to shift and the bottom line no longer included a desire to create products of lasting value.
We see a commensurate equivalent in the classical music industry. The effect of “pop music greed” on the classical music industry was delayed in its effect. But eventually what happened was that a 15,000 unit sale (which had been considered very good for classical music) was no longer worth working for when one compared those sales with the sales of pop music’s flavor of the month. As a result, this gradual infusion of “a different priority” in the world of classical music had necessitated the need for changes both from the consumer’s end as well as from the artist’s point of view.
In my opinion, what we are seeing with Napster and the mp3 phenomenon is in some ways a reaction to these changes in the record industry. While I do not believe that a composer’s work should automatically be public property, I do clearly understand how in this age of big business with little or no aesthetic awareness dictating what people will listen to, that such a phenomenon can and will unfold.
I think that you have to deal with what causes the illness before you can find a cure. Today there are a number of small labels in the classical music industry whose CEOs have returned to a greater sense of artistic awareness and aesthetic concern. In the bigger companies, however, you often see executives who while being better than average businessmen have at best an adolescent understanding of the product that they’re putting out.
Without an awareness of the quality of the artistic product and what needs to be done to release a product of high artistic quality, you can’t expect inventive ways of dealing with the Napster problem. The problem lies in addressing the work first.
Classical music has never been a mass industry and never will be. Because of this, the way that Napster and mp3 will effect classical music will always be less dramatic that its effect on pop music. It is however an unavoidable reality that will have to be dealt with creatively.