Monday, June 09, 2008

Trying to keep the music going

The music I like best, what is popularly called classical, along with jazz, has never been all that popular, and certainly never a major profit center for recording companies -- and it seems to me that it is almost inexorably getting less so. In the 1940s and '50s, I think it was more prevalent in semi-pop culture than it is now. TV shows, including Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson, regularly featured classical artists, there was the Firestone Hour, and a general sense in what elitists derided as middlebrow culture that while it might be a hard slog, a person really should try to listen to that highbrow stuff once in a while if he/she wanted to be respectably cultured. My sense now is that those who love it are simply blown off as queer ducks, far from somebody whose tastes are to be emulated. Ah, well!

Anyway, this sense gives me and interest in how those who purvey this kind of music are trying to survive in such culturally desolate times. It turns out that Sony, which owns what used to be Columbia and a bunch of other old labels, has been ransacking its files for photos of artists it has recorded. There are apparently images of hundreds who recorded at the company's 30th Street Studio from the 1940s on. They're making art-quality reproductions at $300-up, but are likely to find ways to sell more modestly-priced prints as well. Of course they figure they'll make their biggest money on pop and rock photos -- Dylan, Cash -- but they think there's a market for Miles Davis, Count Basie, and some classical artists too.

Meantime Universal Classics and Jazz, which is the worldwide leader in the apparently shrinking classical CD market, has formed Universal Music Classical Artists Management and Productions. They've already signed soprano Anna Netrebko and mezzo Elina Garanca, soprano Karita Mattila, tenor Joseph Calleja, and baritone Thomas Hampson. Tenor Rolando Villazon is said to be interested. Hope there are efficiencies in having the same company manage the concert careers of artists and trying to peddle their CDs too.

No comments: