La Scena Musicale

Sunday, February 17, 2008

CBC Responds to Montreal Gazette Article

Update: In a letter to the Montreal Gazette, Jeff Keay of CBC Media Relations, claims that Arthur Kaptainis's report (see previous blog post) on the downscaling of CBC Records was erroneous as the CBC is planning to introduce "new channels like podcasts and audio streaming, which are growing fast," which Espace Musique started to offer last fall.
For example, beginning next month we will be recording all nine Beethoven symphonies with Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

We remain committed to classical music on Radio 2. However, at the same time, we are building a schedule that reflects the incredible range of musical genres created by and for Canadians throughout the country. No one else does this. We see it as a fundamental part of our mandate.

In this context, it is most regrettable to see Robert Sunter's comment characterizing CBC as being "in a downward spiral." In fact, CBC Radio as a whole is enjoying the best ratings in its history.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Recordings on Hold at CBC Records

A cloud hangs over the future of CBC Records in producing new recordings of classical music or other genres, according to Arthur Kaptainis's report in today's Montreal Gazette. Over the past weekend, the Canadian label's recording of Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos featuring violinist James Ehnes with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bramwell Tovey won a Grammy Award in the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra category. Despite the recognition being the label's first Grammy, the news is bittersweet.

"We are certainly in a different situation now," Randy Barnard, general manager of CBC Records, said the day after the Grammy ceremonies in Los Angeles. "There are changes at CBC Radio 2 and (the French FM network) Espace musique. We have been refocusing our intent to non-classical releases."

But even the non-classical outlook is cloudy.

Barnard confirmed that CBC Records has nothing "in the can" - industry jargon for a completed recording pending release - in any genre.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Profits in the Classical Music Recording Industry

Two recent announcements from the recording industry shows that there are still profits to be made in classical music. According to the company's press release, Arkivmusic's 2007 year ended with a 30% increase in revenues year-over-year.
Operating exclusively online, ArkivMusic's advantage is its "endless shelf" of available classical CD inventory. The company is an example of The Long Tail theory where companies profit by selling less of more. Classical aficionados can access the largest number of classical recordings available anywhere in the world -- over 82,000 titles -- including nearly 5,000 formerly out-of-print titles produced "on demand" as ArkivCDs.

"The ArkivCD program made up about 10% of our overall business in the fourth quarter," continued Feidner. "That's a significant percentage for what is essentially a new line of products. We launched this initiative late in 2006, and we continue to reissue hundreds of releases each month as we expand the catalog of formerly deleted titles."
Just a couple of weeks ago, Naxos founder Klaus Heymann revealed in an interview with Stereophile that the company was profitable, especially with their digital strategy.
When I started, all I was trying to do was sell a CD at the price of an LP. It was a marketing idea for the Hong Kong and Southeast Asian markets. I never imagined we'd become a powerhouse, with 300 employees worldwide, and 60 programmers and systems analysts in our Information Technology department. We're the only record company in the world with our own digital platforms. We have our own download and streaming sites, handle digital distribution for some of the labels we distribute physically, and also have books, audio books, and educational materials.

For me, being in classical music has always been a lifestyle decision. For years, we didn't make any money. I've invested an enormous amount of money--$80 million US--in the entire catalog and range of products, and never had a normal return until, thanks to the advent of digital platforms, I made a decent return last year. I'm extremely happy. I'm doing what I love, and I'll finally make some money from it.
The moral of the story is that there are always winners and losers in any industry. While the major labels and retailers were downsizing, specialized companies can turn a profit.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

The sincerest form of flattery

My recent book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, contains an analysis of the 20 worst classical records ever made. Colin Larkin (see press release below) has appended the 100 worst pop records to his outstanding and important Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which goes online from next week (see below once more).

Among Colin's 100 worst are seven chilling Xmas albums. My list had room only for Kiri at Christmas, although a new compilation from Sony came tantalisingly close. Has there ever been a less festive track than Charlotte Church trilling Dong Dong Merrily on High with the London Symphony Orchestra? Or Bobby McFerrin's Ave Maria? Or Josh Bell's Ave Maria, with a ghostly background chorus? Oh look, and here's Kiri again with Andre at the piano...

You've heard worse?

Tell me about it, right here. Lines are open til Midnight Mass.


The Christmas jingles we love to hate...

'Once music publishers had heard the cash tills ringing there was no stopping them and since the 1950s things have been steadily declining into a bottomless pit of mediocrity that now asks the perennial question, what will be the Christmas number 1?'

No less than seven Christmas records have been included in music guru Colin Larkin's 100 worst albums of all time, part of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the critically acclaimed 10-volume work now available ONLINE for the first time this December through the subscription website

And, for the launch of the new online edition, Colin has charted the rise (or fall) of the Christmas record on Oxford University Press's own blog at

'The celebration of Christmas in popular song must really be credited to the wise old men of Tin Pan Alley, USA; more specifically, the pre-Rock 'n' Roll market that existed in the mid-40s to the early 50s,' says Colin. 'Clearly there was a market for a 'great' Christmas single, but what the world would also learn, was that there was a market for terrible, wretched, awful, trite, saccharine-soaked, sentimentalist-nonsense, let-me-out-of-here rubbish.'

Colin looks at the all-time classic singles and albums ('White Christmas' by Bing Crosby and others, 'The Christmas Song' sung by Nat King Cole, and The Beach Boys' Christmas Album) and also discusses his all-time turkeys (Shakin' Stevens' 'Merry Christmas Everyone', Chris de Burgh's 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' and basically anything by Sir Cliff Richard).

'It is well over 40 years since the Beach Boys and Phil Spector albums were released, and yet nobody has come near them for quality or sheer feel-good factor,' says Colin. 'Or is it simply that we have milked this Christmas cow dry and nothing will ever match the likes of the soothing comfort of Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald at Christmas?'

And Colin's greatest all-time Christmas song, ever, ever, ever? 'Father Christmas' by the Kinks, a 1977 single that never even made the charts, anywhere. Bah humbug!

Christmas culprits in Colin's Larkins' 100 worst albums of all time:

· Michael Bolton: This is the Time: The Christmas Album (Columbia 1996)

· Booker T. and the MGs: In the Christmas Spirit (Stax 1966)

· Father Abraham and the Smurfs: Merry Christmas with the Smurfs (Dureco 1983)

· Hanson: Snowed in for Christmas (Mercury 1997)

· New Kids on the Block: Merry, Merry Christmas (Columbia 1989)

· Lou Rawls: Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (Capitol 1967)

· Jerry Jeff Walker: Christmas Gonzo Style (Rykodisc 1994)

For more details or to interview Colin Larkin, please contact Juliet Evans on 01865 353911 or email

Visit for background information and resources or join the mailing list at to receive regular updates.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best Classical CD's of 2007

As we approach the end of another year, we here at LSM delight in the seemingly endless string of "best of" lists coming our way. Via our friends as NPR Classical WGUC has this year's best classical music CDs pegged at:

9./ Cantus

Robin Gehl writes:

"To paraphrase an old marketing slogan, "this is not you father's Oldsmobile," these are not your father's classical artists. A new generation of instrumentalists, singers, and conductors has been taking the consort stage by storm, represented in part by these ten standout recordings of 2007."

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