Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A mass medium?

The Washington Post lets you into the secret about classical music recordings: nobody in the United States buys them. Talk about a long tail.... it takes years and years of sales to make a dent.

The lede:

On Jan. 14, the violinist Hilary Hahn scored a rare gig for a classical music performer: She appeared on "The Tonight Show." And not just any "Tonight Show," but the "Tonight Show" during the final days of Conan O'Brien's brief tenure as host. Everybody was watching. So it came as no surprise that Hahn's new album, "Bach: Violin and Voice," debuted that week at No. 1 on the Billboard classical charts.

No. 1 on the charts: It doesn't get any better than that. Or does it?

The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.

And my favorite fact:
In early October, pianist Murray Perahia's much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies.
The pizza parlor near my house sells more pizzas in a day.


Muffy St. Bernard said...

So obviously, if you want fame (but NOT fortune), just release a classical music CD!

I confess that I own very few CDs of classical music. It doesn't appeal to me. I think I don't know how to contextualize it.

There are some modern works that I like, though (eg. David Lang).

Generic said...

God help you, Muffy, if David Lang is in Tulk's "tedious" column.

I'm pretty much lost listening to any music that lacks either a narrative element or a blatant appeal to emotion.

Tulkinghorn said...

Actually, he wrote something called "The Little Match Girl Passion" that has a certain reputation -- although I've only heard bits and pieces. It sounds fifteenth century, spare, and quite beautiful.

Meets Generic's qualifications pretty well since it tells a story and is beautiful...

Generic said...

Is "beautiful" now a term that's to be used only patronizingly? What would Roger Scruton have to say about that?

I've long since accepted the fact that I am not "musical." Can't play. Have no idea how to listen to music as music. Not proud of the fact, at least, as Tulk seems to be of all his limitations. There was hardly any music in the house when I was growing up, not until in the early 1960s I began collecting James Bond soundtracks so as to fall into reveries and relive the films. A collegiate opera buff because operas have a story to follow. Now listen to almost nothing but film songs. See the pattern?

This makes me, I guess, a savage of some sort. Fundamentally uncivilized.

Tulkinghorn said...

What exactly did you find patronizing about that use of 'beautiful'? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

One absolutely should be proud of one's limitations (or variations from the norm) -- properly understood and presented they can become interesting eccentricities.

We live in an age of liberation, and it's a shame not to join in and come out of the closet.

Generic said...

Beauty, like representation, is often spurned by noted hipsters such as yourself.

One possible explanation for why there's such a huge split now between the serious and the pop (in fiction, music and much else) is that for parctitioners of the former referring to or representing anything is regarded as eye-rollingly uncool. The solipcism of meta-music, meta-fiction, and etc, that can only be appeciated "for it's own sake." The stuff has no context, as well-put by Muffy.

Tulkinghorn said...

You live in a strange world in which classic values are constantly under attack by 'hipsters.'

Not in my world, in which the classic values are served very well...

Why don't you just ignore it all? And why, more to the point does anyone care about those who roll their eyes at what they do or think?

The only hipsters I know are people who stopped talking to me years ago. I think both sides are better off for it.

Generic said...

What can I say? I still wish I could be a charter member of the cool group.