Thursday, November 11, 2010
Classical music and the mass market fallacy
So much effort goes into trying to find a mass market for classical music, all with remarkably little success. Could it be that there is a large market for classical music, but not a mass one? Could it be that classical music is granular and is made up of lots of connected but different niche markets? Could it be that there is no such thing as 'one size fits all' classical music? Could it be that when classical music is homogenised for the elusive mass market it loses its essential appeal? Could the mass market fallacy explain why so much classical music today is bland and unappealing? Could it also explain why creativity continues to flourish in genres such as world music and jazz which have shed their mass market pretensions?
A perfect example of granular new music exploding into a blaze of creativity is the CD seen above. Dawn of Midi is a collective made up of Pakistani percussionist Qasim Naqvi, Indian Aakaash Israni on string bass and Moroccan pianist Amino Belyamani, see photo below. All the tracks on their debut CD First are improvised, the sound is purely acoustic and the recording was made in single takes. Think free jazz meets French impressionists meets John Cage, and think very understated yet very frontal lobe sounds. All captured with maximum slam by tonmeister extraordinaire Steve Rusch. Nobody was thinking about the mass market when this disc was laid down, which is why it is so good. Do I need to say that First comes from an independent label called Accretions?
More proof of the mass market fallacy comes from the latest UK RAJAR audience figures. There are many subjective views about what is happening at BBC Radio 3. But let's park those for the moment and look at objective data. Radio 3, in response to competitive pressure from Classic FM, has repositioned itself towards the mass market. In the last twelve months this has included broadcasting a classical chart in peak hours.
Audience data has just been released for the quarter ending September 2010, which includes the introduction of the classical chart as well as the crucial Proms season. This data shows that the BBC Radio 3 audience fell from 2.192 million Q3 2009 to 2.145 million in Q3 2010. More significantly hours per listener fell from 6.4 to 6.0 over the same period. This meant that total listener hours (audience x hours per listener) for Radio 3 dropped by an astonishing 8.4% year on year. There is no causal data linking this significant decline to the introduction of a classical chart. But could it be that there is a large market for classical music, but not a mass one?
* In an interesting case study in the use and abuse of statistics the BBC press office manages to spin an 8.4% decline in total listener hours into a success story. They do this by comparing the Q3 2010 audience with the Q2 2010 audience and completely ignoring the massive year on year drop in hours per listener. The Q2 to Q3 trend is meaningless as there is always an audience gain from Q2 to Q3 due to the Proms. The meaningful data is the year on year data analysed above. Bring on the free thinking BBC.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Dawn of Midi's CD First was supplied as a requested sample after a heads up from a reader. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk