Let's get real - money calls the tune in classical music
It makes very good sense to use free streaming of classical concerts as a substitute for concerts with an audience during the current Coronavirus pandemic. But it makes no sense to welcome the 'new world of free streaming' as the start of a beneficial 'behavioural revolution' as classical music's mouthpiece Slipped Disc does. Because free streaming is revenue averse, and money calls the tune in classical music. Let me give three examples of that money habit. First, in the concert season 2016/17 the ten most highly-paid music directors of American orchestras earned between them US$18.2 million (£14.8m). Secondly, Simon Rattle, who is feted on Slipped Disc for a free streamed Berlin concert, is demanding a new London concert hall to match the Elbphilharmonie which cost €860m (£781m).
Thirdly, even a passionate proselytizer of free content like Slipped Disc has significant revenue streams. There is the banner advertising on Norman's blog plus paid for advertorial, and drilling down into the privacy settings reveals that no less than 98 'vendors' with company names beginning with 'A' (I gave up counting at that point) 'use' - ie generate revenue from - data on Slipped Disc readers. All this is reflected in the most recent accounts for SlippedDisc Ltd (Company number 10086567) which shows cash in the bank and in hand of £143k. And let's not get all self-righteous about this. The infinitely more modest On An Overgrown Path may not have banner advertising and advertorial content. But my blog is hosted by Google which will be monetising reader data just like Slipped Disc. All this is perfectly legitimate and in the public domain if you know where to look. So it should come as no surprise to anyone, except those who believe that a revenue-free business model holds the future for classical music.
The argument that streaming increases concert attendances is unproven. Even if it does increase attendances, free streaming reduces the perceived value of classical music. Why pay top dollar for a concert ticket plus travel and other city centre costs when you can stay at home and watch the same performance for free in high definition and with excellent sound? There may be marginal income from advertising linked to streaming; but this reduces orchestras to just another YouTuber dragged into the race to the bottom for online viewer numbers.
Yes, let's give audiences free streaming while force majeure applies. But once we return to normality classical music should be pursuing a strategy of increasing perceived value, not eroding it. Slipped Disc claims an enormous readership; it is accepted by the classical industry as its de facto mouthpiece, and it can therefore be assumed the views expressed therein reflect industry thinking. As I write there are 23 comments on Norman's hymn to the brave new world of free streaming. Of these only two express any reservations about the financial implications of this 'behaviourial revolution'. Which means, based on this sample, 91% of the classical music community is in favour of moving to a revenue-free business model. Which part of common sense doesn't classical music understand?
Header image adapted from Forbes - How To Build A Top Quality Classical Music Library For $100 (II). No free samples of $100 bills used in this post. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).