Stop Killing Classical Music

How often have you heard that classical music is dying lately? Articles and blog post cite statistics from declining record and ticket sales. They write about aging audiences and a lack of music education.

But let us go back to the basics. Classical music has some of the greatest content in the world. The music of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and others is more often performed and recorded than music of most – if not all – pop music composers. Music by classical composers has been performed regularly for hundreds of years while pop music is pretty new as a genre.

On the other end of the value chain you have customers interested in classical music for hundreds of years. Never ever were people more knowledgeable about classical music than in the last fifty years even if we all would wish for a much better music education. More children are learning a musical instrument than ever before. Just in China millions of children are learning to play the piano.

So, why are we complaining about the death of classical music if we gave great content and interested customers? Any media business with great content and interested customers would thrive.

The problem lies in the connection between the content and its customers. It lies within the business practices of classical music. They haven’t changed much since the times Johann Salomon invited Joseph Haydn to London in 1791. Purchasing classical music products has become tougher. Even the capital of classical music, Vienna, has only a handful of record stores left selling classical music.

If you want to buy records online you face the problem of the metadata. These are the search categories you use to find what you are looking for. The metadata for music was developed based on pop music and has just five fields. That makes it tough to find an opera with your favorite singers.

But also the marketing side of classical music has its challenges. Have you ever traveled to New York and tried to buy tickets online? Great if you speak English well enough but otherwise you are pretty lost. If you have succeeded you will be on the mailing lists of the venue for ever. But you are not necessarily interested in the venue but the artist, composer, genre or specific piece of music. So your inbox gets spammed with offers which are uninteresting to you.

It is time for the dinosaurs in the classical music business to move aside and leave it to a young and upcoming generation who is not afraid to question the business practices of the last 200 years. It is time to seriously question the elitist approach we have around live performances of classical music without neglecting the respect for the artists and the music. We have more and more examples of great musicians bringing classical music to the people – flutist Emi Ferguson performing at the start-up accelerator Runway in San Francisco or violinist Michelle Ross bringing Bach’s music to 33 very different venues in New York.

If we do not want to kill classical music we need to accept that we are dealing with a highly fragmented industry. Even the biggest brands of the industry are negligible on a worldwide scale. Therefore we need to start working together and support the consolidation of our great content. This will allow our customers – the audiences – to enjoy the rich content we have to offer. And we can see the music we are passionate about to be enjoyed by a much wider audience.