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Hard Times

img  Tobias

Sometimes, a well-written article can tell you the same old things you heard a thousand times before - and still make you go: "aha!". This, at least, is what we said to ourselves after reading "When the music dies" by Paul Wells, an excellent analysis of the "why" to the current problems facing the Classical Music business.

Wells puts the misere down to one simple fact: The rise of the CD and its effect on customer behaviour and musicians' pay. With the advent of the new digital medium in the 80s, consumers replaced their old vinyl records with shiny silver-discs and boosted both the market for re-releases as well as prestigious new recordings. There seemed to be no limit to their spending and subsequently, orchestra musicians demanded a pay cheque to match those sales figures. As the transition period came to a crushing halt in the late 90s, things turned sour: Recording a new Classical CD suddenly seemed a grotequely overpriced venture, with charges for the instrumentalists alone at up to $150.000 or more. At the same time, the local scene had begun to flourish again and a new excitment for chamber music and small ensembles offered music lovers a real alternative to expensive opera houses and concert halls - life was beginning to get hard for the famous orchestras.
It didn't help that wages differed significantly around the globe. Local talent chose to go the States, where salaries were high, away from Canada, for example, and the influx of Middle- and Eastern European musicians (who were gifted and content with almost any pay) depressed salaries on the old continent. If players now ask for suposedly exorbitant amounts, this may well be explained by the fact that they can get a lot more elsewhere. And if local organisors fail to deliver, they will be left with the less talented.

Wells may well exagerate the importance of the CD - the real boom of Classical Music actually took place in the 60s and 70s, when most "historic" recordings were made. But his depiction of the 80s and early 90s as a time of hubris might well explain a lot of the current bitterness and financial problems. And he may well be right about one point: The golden days are definitely over.

Source: Mcleans

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