Sentences to ponder

The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. [Hilary] Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.

The full story is here.  And:

In early October, pianist Murray Perahia's much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies. No. 25, the debut of the young violinist Caroline Goulding, in its third week, sold 75 copies.

I buy a lot of classical CDs, but it's rare that I end up listening to such chart-toppers, instead preferring more obscure performers.


There is also a chasm between bestselling book sales and pop album chart-toppers. Book publishers can easily manage -- and often do -- purchase enough of their own books to push them in to bestseller status as a marketing tactic. The music industry would have a hard time doing this (I think still).

What are the online (download, eg MP3/iTunes) sales of classical albums like?

Oh come on. We know that people never buys something because someone else buys something.

Why, such a theory would undermine a rational market.

No way. No how. Forget about behavioural economics and bubbles. Never happen. Never will.

At those sales levels, purchases by friends and family would significantly move the needle. Thus "genuine" sales are undoubtedly even lower.

Bach partitas. I'm sure the artist does a wonderful job, but do I really need another copy of these?

Classical hasn't done a good job of selling new pieces. It's easier (and cheaper for the orchestra) to play the stuff that's been out of copyright for decades.

My most recent classical purchase? "In C Remixed"
Lots of awards and glowing reviews, but try to find it anywhere. I had to backorder it online.
How did I find out about it? Via "Radio Lab", which is mostly a science show.

Why is it so hard to find good reportage on high-cultural and popular music, relative to high-cultural and popular literature? Are critical judgements more difficult for music? Are critical judgements more obvious for music? Would it be different if journalism used the medium of song?

"when and why did R&B begin to dominate the Billboard 100 number ones?"

Because Rock-n-Roll died, remember?

It's easy to pinpoint the exact era of rock-n-roll. It was the period when you could write a song where the chorus mentioned the words "rock" and or "roll". This takes us from Bill Haley/Chuck Berry to Led Zeppelin/Kiss/Ozzy.

Try writing a song about rock and/or roll now. Go ahead. Try.

So now popular music for white people is either made by whiny babies or retards in big hats.

"where the chorus mentioned "rock" and or "roll""

listen to lucinda williams's new version of "it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock-n-roll".

it's kinda heartbreaking.

oh yeah, classical music. i dont want to hear mozart unless mozart plays piano. im sick of new translations.

David: I would've thought that sales of 189 for any composer born before the 21st century

Probably a lot more than that, considering that 189 represents the weekly sales for one interpretation of one set of works by that composer. Even assuming a sharp drop for existing, old CDs, a dozen sales on average for each reputed interpretation of all major works will add up to a notable number.

The article doesn't cover the state of sales in China & Japan. My impression is that classical music is a stable and maybe even growing market in those countries. Any informed opinions?

I'm not really surprised. Classical music has turned into more of a "live performance" type of thing (the article mentions that concert ticket sales are far greater than album) rather than a mass-marketed music genre. Not surprising, when you consider that most consider it to be well past its peak (most Americans would probably be hard-pressed to name a classical music composer from later than the 19th century).

Tyler, it sounds from your excerpt that if you would just buy a few multiple copies of these CDs that they wouldn't be so obscure anymore and might, in fact, end up as a best seller.

"when and why did R&B begin to dominate the Billboard 100 number ones"

R&B's big surge came about the time Billboard began measuring sales at the point of sale. There's an argument to be made that the previous lower popularity of the genre was measurement error.

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