The classical record business is either immune to or ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. Label executives virtually everywhere are crying the blues about slow sales, yet few indicate any plans to cut back. As a result, the market remains glutted, even as stores order fewer and fewer titles.
“Stores are empty and people are buying less,” says Deutsche Grammophon VP Karen Moody, echoing her colleagues’ perceptions. Yet DG will continue to issue eight or nine full-price titles per month. Fall priorities include Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” and a Bernstein-Vienna Philharmonic Mahler Eighth, recorded from a radio broadcast in 1975. Moody says the label will simultaneously release a specially priced 13-CD set of the complete Bernstein-Mahler cycle, with Vienna, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw, and the New York Philharmonic.
DG recording plans in ’92 include “Otello” with Placido Domingo and Cheryl Studer, Giuseppi Sinopoli conducting. Studer will also record “Aida” with the same conductor. Kathleen Battle plans a recital disc with Andre Previn. Big news for DG is the completion of the James Levine-Met Opera “Ring” with the release of “Siegfried” early next year.
Like her colleagues, Moody sees the increasing popularity of budget product and to that end plans to revitalize DG’s Galleria line. She calls cassettes a “dead breed,” pointing out that superbudget CDs have eaten substantially into the cassette market.
Luciano Pavarotti’s “Otello” on London will precede Domingo’s new one on DG. Former is slated for Fall release and features Kiri Te Kanawa, Leo Nucci, Sir Georg Solti, and the Chicago Symphony under Solti. It was recorded live in New York’s Carnegie and Chicago’s Orchestra halls. London will also issue a “Pavatotti Songbook” this fall, “intended,” says PolyGram Classics and Jazz president David Weyner, “for all those who went bonkers over the Three Tenors.” Label also plans a Rags and Tangos disc from Joshua Rifkin, a Christopher Hogwood “Orlando,” and a Solti “Magic Flute.”
London continues to promote composer Michael Nyman in all his guises, from soundtracks to string quartets, and Ute Lemper will sing his “Songbook” for Spring ’92 release. The revitalized Argo line will issue about 20 titles, including Michael Torke’s “Color Music” with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, and William Bolcom’s Fifth Symphony with the American Composers Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. John Mauceri will continue his Kurt Weill series with “Street Scene.”
Weyner points to the increased sophistication of marketing techniques in classical music and the “extraordinary persistence of the top line. If people want a particular artist, the issue of price seems less important.” Out of PolyGram’s 500 classical titles per year, he says, the Top 25 are impervious to price.
He points to the Three Tenors phenomenon as an indicator that “with the right record there’s an extraordinary audience out there.” Perhaps thinking of Sony Classical’s recent Carreras-Domingo-Pavarotti reissue, he adds, “If we go out and market cheap imitations of the Three Tenors, we have failed as an industry.”
- Philips’ 180-disc/44-volume complete Mozart edition should be complete by early ’92. VP Nancy Zannini reports “spectacular success” with the set, which has thus far sold over 4-and-a-half million CDs worldwide and has been entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the largest collection of recordings ever devoted to a single composer.
Jessye Norman celebrates her 20th anniversary on Philips with several projects, including a spirituals repackage. New recordings are expected from Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and Kiri Te Kanawa, who’ll record a new “Fledermaus” with Andre Previn.
- Philips will also launch a new-music label, Point, with Philip Glass as A&R chief. Zannini calls Point “a realization of the musical context of Philip Glass, directed at the person who is beyond rock’n’roll and who goes to Serious Fun and BAM’s Next Wave.” Point will issue about eight discs in 1992.
Zannini echoes her colleagues in reporting a softening at the retail level, especially with full-price product. Among market shifts, she notes “marketing has to be more creative in that we no longer have any music magazines to speak of.”
Marketing is key, concurs Elektra International Classics VP and GM Kevin Copps. “The audience forclassical music is not growing,” he says, “so we’re all trying to outmarket each other.” After an 18-month startup, he reports EIC is now up to speed, with about 300 Erato titles out and half that number on Teldec. “We have great visibility now,” reports Copps. “People know who we are.”
Copps notes the importance of budget lines. He says Erato’s new Residence series has been highly successful, selling twice as many titles as a full line would during its first release month (May). Teldec launched its Esprit budget line in August and plans a midline chamber music reissue series in 1992. Copps likens the current abundance of budget CD reissues to the LP days of Victrola, Seraphim, and Odyssey. “The classical business has become the crossover and reissue business,” he says.
- Among new recordings, Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony are a continued priority on Erato, while Teldec remains committed to baritone Thomas Hampson and conductors Hugh Wolff and Kurt Masur, whose opening night New York Philharmonic concert, featuring the Bruckner Seventh, will be recorded and released in November of this year.
- Among promotional strategies, EIC has begun publishing an 800 number in all its ads; the caller can hear artist interviews and receive information about tours and upcoming releases.
It’s increasingly difficult to market frontline product at the retail level, other than the HMV and Tower chains, reports Harold Fein, VP/GM of Sony Classical, USA. “A lot of the major national chains are only interested in budget product,” he says, “and in the most major names, like James Galway and Itzhak Perlman – people who’ve been on the |Tonight Show.'” As a result, says Fein, Sony Classical is looking at alternatives such as direct mail.
Like Philips’ Zannini, Fein reports difficult in finding targeted outlets for ad dollars, what with the demise of the classical music magazines within the last several years, including High Fidelity, Opus, Ovation, Keynote, Classical, and the North American edition of Classic CD. He also says, “Our business would be healthier if we had more cooperation from classical radio and from record reviewers, who always seem to be looking for negative things to say.”
Sony will issue 250 to 300 titles in the coming season, about a third of which will be front-line product. Among priority artists, Fein named Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Claudio Abbado, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, and James Levine, and emphasized that classics is an artist-vs.-label-driven business.
Coming operas include Cherubini’s “Lodoiska” with Ricardo Muti conducting live at La Scala; “La Fanciulla del West,” also at La Scala with Maazel leading Mara Zampieri and Domingo; and a Met Opera “Luisa Miller” with Aprile Millo, Domingo, and Levine conducting.
Sony’s early-music series Vivarte is “doing terrific,” says Fein, “despite our anxiety that the market would be glutted.” He likens the series to “baseball cards – people who buy one want to buy the whole line.” In October comes the Sony Broadway launch, a full-price reissue series that will be supplemented by an occasional new recording, such as “Kismet” with Samuel Ramey, Julia Migenes, and Jerry Hadley.
Fein has found “great acceptance” for the Essential Classics budget line, the first 20 titles of which were issued in April. In ’92 Sony will launch a midprice Glenn Gould series and continue the Isaac Stern and Pierre Boulez retrospectives. And by the 75th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth in 1993, Sony plans to have some 120 titles out in all three price categories.
BMG Classics’ release of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Red Seal’s first operatic venture in 10 years, signals a major vocal initiative for the label. Carol Vaness and Marilyn Horne each have new discs coming and will sing in a new “Falstaff” together; Mirella Freni will record “Pique Dame” in the fall with Seiji Ozawa, the Boston Symphony and Dmitri Hvorostovsky; and Leonard Slatkin will issue a “Fanciulla de West” next year. The St. Louis conductor will continue his Americana series with the label and start a Vaughan Williams symphony cycle. President Guenter Hensler says new recordings will also be coming from Pinchas Zukerman, Alicia de Larrocha, Colin Davis, James Galway, Vladimir Spivakov, Barry Douglas, and Yuri Temirkanov.
BMG Classics issues about 250 discs per year, including full-price Red Seal and RCA Victor; midprice Gold Seal (which includes the Toscanini Collection); budget Silver Seal and Victrola; and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, which comes in both full- and mid-price guises. This month, BMG launched RCA Victor’s Greatest Hits, a new mass-market budget line that should have about 35 titles by the close of ’92.
Hensler concurs that moving front-line product is difficult and that the national chains, excepting Tower and HMV, have become “extremely selective” in what they’ll carry. He says innovative marketing is key, noting that BMG has added several classical specialists to its field staff. “That should make a major difference,” he says.
Partly as a result of its year-old distribution pact with BMG, Musicmasters has shifted its A&R strategy, cutting back its classical release schedule by 50% and focussing on “long-range projects with long-range value and aggressive marketing potential,” says president Jeffrey Nissim. By way of example, Nissim cites the St. Luke’s-Robert Craft project to record all of Stravinsky’s orchestral works and his company’s four-year agreement with the New York City Opera.
Otherwise, MM will continue with guitarist Eliot Fisk, conductor Dennis Russell Davies (with the Beethovenhalle Orchestra), and composer Lou Harrison. Nissim says the word “Classics” is being added to MM packaging, since jazz now constitutes about half the company’s offerings.
In addition to Steven Murphy’s appointment to the presidency last February, Angel/EMI has been undergoing major changes, including moving its base of operations from L.A. to New York and hiring new marketing, finance, and A&R personnel. Murphy points out that the company will step up its U.S. recording activities considerably and expand its artists roster. He and Blue Note head Bruce Lundvall are already looking at several Broadway cast recording projects, and some studio re-creations are also planned. Continued classical priorities include Roger Norrington, Nigel Kennedy, Kiri Te Kanawa, Thomas Hampson, Simon Rattle, Riccardo Muti, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Paul McCartney’s “Liverpool Oratorio,” recorded in June with Te Kanawa and Jerry Hadley.
Murphy, whose background is in the book business, says he feels the current tendency at retail to carry out only budget and superstar product is “short sighted. Our research shows that a very high percentage of people know what they want when they go into stores. Therefore carrying a breadth of inventory is imperative. Without it, you lose a huge segment of the customer base that isn’t coming in to browse.” He also says he wants “to move away from knee-jerk discount across all lines and more toward thematic programs and consistent marketing.”
Telarc releases its first opera this fall with “The Magic Flute,” conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Soloists are Barbara Hendricks, Jerry Hadley, Thomas Allen, and June Anderson. No other operatic ventures are planned; CEO Jack Renner is taking a “wait and see” approach.
The label currently has about 200 full-price titles in its catalog and issues about 45 front-line discs a year. Recent signings include the Cleveland Quartet and Banchetto Musicale, a Boston-based early-music group. Other A&R priorities include the Atlanta Symphony under both Robert Shaw and Yoel Levi, David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, Andre Previn, Mackerras, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Renner says he is feeling the slowdown of the economy but remains pleased with Telarc’s behavior at retail. He adds that Telarc’s quarterly newsletter, mailed to 115,000 names, is a major marketing tool.
“There’s too much product out there and we’re all fighting for space,” reports Roger Holdredge, GM for Virgin Classics, USA. This fall the company launches Virgo, its first budget series. The all-digital line starts with 20 newly recorded titles designed for the novice classical buyer. Holdredge says the early-music series Virgin Veritas is doing “exceptionally well,” accounting for 25% of overall sales. The full-price crossover line Virgin Variations will this Fall carry recordings by the Gay Men’s Chorus, Sharon Isbin, and the Swingle Singers, while flagship Virgin Classics will feature “Salome” with Karen Huffstodt in the title role and Kent Nagano conducting I’Opera de Lyon Orchestra. Holdredge reports more unusual repertoire to come from the Plymouth Music Series as well.
Nonesuch Records continues to branch out in directions additional to mainstream classical, including soundtracks, jazz (through Elektra Musician), ethnic music, and contemporary. Its most recent tributary is the American Explorer Series, a full-price line of new recordings of grassroots American music, which complements the midprice Explorer Series reissues.
VP of marketing and creative services Peter Clancy says guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad will have a new Baroque record out in late fall. Sanford Sylvan has recorded Schubert’s “Die Schoene Muellerin,” and Richard Goode will continue his Beethoven cycle. New discs are also expected from the Boston Camerata, the Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, and John Adams, whose new opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is due in the Spring, conducted by Kent Nagano. Also, David Zinman leads the London Sinfonietta in Polish composer Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony, with Dawn Upshaw as soloist.
The nonprofit label New World continues to move beyond classics with jazz and such crossover items as Cole Porter’s “Fifty Million Frenchmen” (due this fall). But President Herman Krawitz maintains that “our main priority continues to be classical music,” and reports music by composers John Harbison and Ezra Laderman (on a disc recorded by Hugh Wolff and the New Jersey Symphony), Bright Sheng, Bernard Rands, and Ned Rorem to be issued this year.
Among trends, marketing director Paul Marotta notes the potentially competitive “swarm of American music” coming out on Delos, Koch, and the newly reactivated Louisville label. But he reports the past year as New World’s “biggest ever, “attributing that to the use of mail order and to the increased number of stores he services direct.
ECM continues to navigate both jazz and classical waters, with the latter increasingly represented on the label’s New Series, which issues about six recordings annually and has about 40 titles in the catalog. Seth Rothstein, director of ECM U.S., says the New Series represents composers from Gesualdo to Meredith Monk to mainstay Arvo Part, whose “Miserere” is due out presently.
Delos president Amelia Haygood says her label will “run faster to stay ahead of the pack” of Americana recordings, keeping as a priority the Great American Composers series with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle and New York Chamber symphonies. A mid-priced introductory disc to the GAC line tentatively titled “Made in the U.S.A.” is due out this fall. Haygood also reports positive response to the Music for Young People series, with a Lee Remick/Handel’s “Water Music” among additional issues expected. Delos will release discs by tenor Vinson Cole and, for the first time, soprano Alessandra Marc in ’92.
New music ventures at Bridge Records focus on neglected composers and on young bloods such as Jonathan Harvey, label mainstay Tod Machover, Stephen Jaffe, and Danish composer Poul Ruders. President David Starobin has a new period-guitar recording due and reports an early-instrument Beethoven Trio in the works. Starobin, who switched domestic distribution to Koch about 18 months ago, says Bridge’s sales are repertoire-driven and reports a receptive market outside of the U.S. “The market for new classical music just doesn’t exist in this country,” he says.
“There is no market whatsoever for standard repertoire by unknown people,” says Harmonia Mundi president Rene Goiffon, adding that “there are too many CDs out there.” HM has dropped a “substantial” number of labels for distribution, resulting, says Goiffon, in a 20% increase in dollar volume this fiscal year. The L.A.-based distributor used to carry 50 classical labels and is now down to about 35.
Goiffon’s next move is to bring more European artists to the U.S., since he feels touring bears tremendous impact on record sales. HM USA, the company’s U.S. label, will continue early-music projects with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, as well as more contemporary fare through its Modern Masters series. The big priority at the moment is the McGegan-PBO “Messiah”; the same forces will record Handel’s “Theodora” presently, yielding in 1992 the only complete recorded version available. Lorraine Hunt and Drew Minter are among the soloists.
Koch International has also pared down its label roster to good end results. President Michael Koepfle reports that the company has dropped about 10 classical labels and now distributes 30, including Chandos and Melodiya, whose N.A. distribution it picked up this year. Koch’s classical sales for ’91 are up about 20%, says Koepfle, who adds that his company will start a mail-order division.
The company’s own label, Koch International Classics, now has 80 titles in its catalog, with 50 more projected by the end of ’92. Principal Michael Fine says KIC will continue to focus on unusual American repertoire. This year he plans to record the Phoenix, Oregon, San Diego, and Chicago symphonies. This last will be a live Barber recording, conducted by Andrew Schenck.
Distributor Qualiton Imports has not dropped any labels, reports George Volckening. He agrees, however, that the market for standard repertoire has dwindled and says his suppliers are “much more conservative” about recording it. Coming highlights include late-’80s Earl Wild Liszt recordings on the Onyx label, more Alfred Schnittke works on Bis, and Respighi’s opera “The Sunken Bell” on Hungaroton. Volckening also says that “high-price CDs are a thing of the past.”
Allegro Imports president Joe Micallef agrees, noting that he’s seriously thinking about phasing out any CDs that list for more than $15.95. Unlike his colleagues, Micallef reports success on the retail front, stating that sales are “just under 50% ahead of last year.” Allegro last year bar-coded all product for the U.S. market and this fall will begin using electronic ordering for stores so equipped.
Larry Kraman, principal of Newport Classic, calls the retail scene dismal and glutted. What with the majors issuing product in such huge quantities, he says, Newport relies on direct mail. Current Newport catalog contains 105 titles, with 40 more due by the end of ’92. Kraman says he will continue to focus on obscure romantic composers, period-instrument recordings including Handel oratorios, and new music, with composers William Bolcom, John Cage, and Jacob Druckman to be represented in the coming year. Anthony Newman and Barbara Nissman are among the label’s mainstays.
Allegro-distributed Dorian has lowered its prices to conform with regular full-line product. Publicity representative Randall Fostvedt reports domestic sales are almost double those of last year, with strong activity in Europe as well. (An office will be set up shortly in Brussels to oversee distribution on that continent.) Priorities for the coming season include the Dallas Symphony, whose first Dorian disc is due in October, Julianne Baird, the Baltimore Consort, pianist Ivan Moravec, and French organist Jean Guillou. Fostvedt projects about 30 discs due for release by the end of 1992.
Nimbus’ priorities this year will be the Prima Voce reissue series and a Spirit of England campaign that emphasizes repertoire by British composers. The British company will also launch its midprice Hermes line, devoted to vintage jazz and light classics. Among the first releases will be a 1930s recording of Lawrence Tibbett performing Gershwin under the composer’s supervision. According to marketing VP Peter Elliott, Hermes will use the same unique transfer technology as the Prima Voce line. “Nimbus is also considering the possibility of carrying soundtracks with classical overtones,” reports Elliott. Company is experimenting with interactive CD.
Expect new recordings by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Mexico Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, and Dallas Symphony from ProArte, says A&R man Rob Enslin. The coming year will see increased emphasis on chamber and contemporary repertoire by the likes of the group Cello. ProArte will also issue some Surround Sound discs in ’92.
Since reacquiring the Vanguard classical catalog from the Welk Music Group, Seymour Solomon has split his Omega Record Group into two labels. Vanguard Classics is devoted exclusively to classics, while Omega carries pop, folk, and jazz. In addition to reissues, Vanguard Classics has occasional new recordings by violinist Josef Suk and pianist Rudolf Firkusny, among others. Solomon reports the catalog has 50 titles, with another 50 projected by the end of ’91. He is looking at the possibility of a Vanguard Classics budget line to complement the full- and midlines already available.
MCA Classics will continue its relationship with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (PRO) label and reissue recordings from the archives of Westminster, Command, American Decca, and Kapp. New releases from Art And Electronics, the Soviet-American joint venture between Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and MCA Records, will feature major Soviet artists (e.g., pianist Nikolai Petrov) and regional ensembles (the Vilnius String Quartet from Lithuania). Repertoire will include modern Russian composers, Russian opera, and traditional folk music. Label spokesman Nat Silverman says the release schedule has not been affected by the recession; if anything MCA will step up its reissue program.
Arabesque issues about a dozen recordings per year, most of them new. Artists include the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, which has a Gunther Schuller disc coming, pianist lan Hobson, and the Portland String Quartet. In October the label will release the first of three Garrick Ohlsson Chopin CDs.
Japan-based Denon plans to record more Americans in America, a practice already started with the Boston Early Music Group. That ensemble appears on the Aliare Series, a period-instrument line spearheaded by Japanese flutist Masa Hiro Arita.
Other major artists for Denon include pianists Helene Grimaud and Michel Dalberto and conductor Eliahu Inbal. Classical promotions director Melanne Sacco underscores the importance of marketing, saying that Denon, once perceived as a primarily audiophile label, is trying to cater to a broader audience.