Since ClassicsToday.com launched a dozen years ago, the market for classical music recordings has changed almost beyond recognition. When we started, the major labels were in the midst of a vast retrenchment, deleting huge swaths of the enormous catalogs that they had built up during two decades of insane spending in the 1980s and ’90s, while still pushing new productions featuring a few big-name artists. Independent labels were stepping into the gap, picking up major-label refugees, acting as a vehicle for the release of individual “vanity” projects, and exploiting relationships with soloists, orchestras, and chamber ensembles through a variety of public and private funding sources.
Then, as now, all of the effort lay in producing rafts of new recordings on a monthly basis, irrespective of the fact that the chance of actually selling many of them in quantity was virtually nil. Practically no money was spent on marketing and promotion; record shops vanished, advertising budgets dwindled and were allocated more to public relations representatives who could “control the message.” Here at CT.com our approach changed accordingly. Originally, like most music e-magazines, we saw the Internet as an opportunity to offer more content without the financial constraints of print publishing. We tried to review “everything,” a fundamentally impossible task.
Then we realized: Who is going to buy this stuff?
How interesting could it possibly be to publish piles of tepid reviews of basically decent recordings, either of the same old music, or of pieces no one has ever heard of played by artists that no one cares about? Even more disturbing from our perspective was the attitude coming from many of the labels—the idea that just because they existed they deserved a good review, and it was our job (rather than theirs) to fill the void left by their non-existent marketing and advertising efforts. This feeling of aggrieved entitlement only emphasized an industry-wide desperation and lack of confidence in its own product.
So we went in the opposite direction.
We became more selective in our coverage, choosing to review recordings that (for good or ill in our opinion) deserved notice. We wanted a review to matter. We gave it extra time on the home page, so that the performances we felt passionately about could get the exposure they deserved. The result, we believe, imposed at least a modicum of order on the irrational wilderness that is the classical music recording industry today. And yet, we have always wanted to do more, to offer more, but in a way that meets the practical needs of our readers as expressed in the countless messages and suggestions that we have received over the years. We wanted to provide editorially independent information useful to you, and not just satisfy the demands of would-be advertisers.
The need for this has become pressing.
The availability of digital downloads, print-on-demand CDs such as those offered by Arkivmusic.com, and the wholesale licensing of major-label catalogs, means that just about everything previously deleted is now back. At the same time, individual artists, orchestras, and ensembles are self-producing new releases at an amazing rate. Independent labels like Naxos, BIS, Cedille, Channel Classics, Ondine, and CPO remain as busy and as interesting as ever. Over the years, readers have asked repeatedly for reviews of back-catalog titles, and for discographic surveys of specific works. A new generation of classical music listeners and collectors is coming online, sourcing music via the Internet, and looking for a way to sort through the vast sea of available product.
To address this need we have decided to offer, by subscription only, ClassicsToday Insider, a compact, no-nonsense, and exclusive adjunct to our website, featuring the kind of information just described: reviews of important catalog titles, discographies, new releases not otherwise covered, plus news and information that we find interesting and hope that you will too. None of this material will appear on the main website. In deciding to take this route, we have thought long and hard about balancing the need to maintain the free coverage in which we take such pride with trying to offer something of genuine value to readers who wish to explore in greater depth the current marketplace for classical recordings.
It’s going to be great journey, for us as well as for you.
We’re looking forward to listening to more music, getting in touch with old favorites, seeing if our memories of the good and the great have held up over the years, and sharing what we discover with you. For just $49 per year you will receive complete access to all of our exclusive reviews and editorials of straightforward, honest content; no “fat,” just useful information. We hope that you’ll join us, and thank you in advance for your support.
Editor in Chief