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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 5

Analekta’s Mario Labbé Predicts the Future

by Crystal Chan / February 1, 2015

Version française...

François Mario Labbé

Twenty-seven years ago, François Mario Labbé was a concert promoter, presenting 80 shows a year at Place-des-Arts and another 50 across Canada. One day in 1987, he got his hands on three excellent recordings: one by the Red Army Choir and one by the violinist Angèle Dubeau, along with the soundtrack to the hit movie, The Music Teacher.

In an interview with LSM, Labbé recounts the story of the label he founded as a result: Analekta.

How it all began

“I shopped these masters around with the majors and nobody wanted them—so I stupidly decided to found a recording company myself. The first year I sold 150,000 recordings, so I decided to put [the profits] back in the start-up. And the rest is history.

“There was a company at the time that was really successful despite the fact that they were independent: Erato. So I took a plane to Paris and invited co-founder [Michel] Garcin to produce a recording for me in Quebec. He said, you have two choices: you develop a catalogue company to record all the composers from A to Z, or you develop based on the talent you have in Canada, like Erato did with French artists. And I said, I think that’s exactly what I want to do.

“I put a quarter of a million dollars of my own money in because there were no subsidies for classical music. Later, I convinced the government to help us as much as they were helping pop music. But there is still no special support for a classical music company. It’s a system based on sales. This is a problem, because classical music doesn’t sell as pop music sells.”

New formats, insights

“Physical units are selling less and less, down 60% in the last five years. And Internet business is doing better and better. While there was a terrific growth in downloads, now those sales have stopped and it’s the streaming that’s growing. We had 250,000 streams five years ago; now it’s close to 13-million streams.

“Analekta started on the web in 2003. At the turn of the century I thought that the business was going there. I predicted the disappearance of the CD 15 years from then. And now, length doesn’t matter; you don’t need a format anymore. People just want to hear the music. If they like Bach, they’re going to stream 18 hours of Bach.”

The dark side of the Internet

“The problem is money. Streaming doesn’t pay well, and there’s good reason for that. The ones making the most money are Internet providers, the Rogers and the Bell of this world. It’s not the artists, it’s not us the producers. Ultimately, it’s the public that doesn’t want to pay who will suffer. If we don’t change the source of revenue, and if the source of the revenue doesn’t grow, it will be impossible for us to be creative, to renew the catalogue, and to accompany the artists with whatever project they want to realize. That has already started. We have reached the point where we cannot afford to lose money. Out of 30 recordings a year, I used to have five or six that we knew would never break even, and another 10 that would just break even. Those 15 projects have disappeared.

“But there’s one thing that’s not changing: the appetite for music. People are listening to much more music than they used to. But the young are not listening to music the way of the so-called ‘mélomanes’ who listened strictly to classical music, thinking it was a sin to listen to anything else. I look at my son, 37, or my daughter, 22. They listen to classical music, but not only that. So we’re more open-minded about the music we’re producing. It’s harder to sell because our music is not confined to one targeted audience, but at the same time it’s healthy because we’re reaching a much larger one.”

Forecasting the future

“In another 15 years, my daughter is going to be 37, the age when you really switch to listening to more classical music. First, she’s of a generation that doesn’t know the CD. They don’t want to buy, they just want to listen to the music, so streaming will be the key. My prediction is that all the major access providers will give you the music in a kind of bundle. You will have the impression that the music is free. It’s not going to be free, but it’s going to be offered with your Internet, your TV, your whatever. The plug that comes in your house will include the music. It’s started with things like Galaxy, but it’s going to be more specific. I just bought a sound system, and the most important component is Internet access built in to the machine, and you choose whatever you want to listen to. When you start doing that, why would you buy a CD? A download?

“Then, the difficulty will be to tell the public that there’s a new thing out. And when you’re like me, building the artists’ careers, it’s going to be tough.

“The other interesting aspect with the Internet for a company like mine is the catalogue. I realize that we sell as much catalogue as we sell new releases. That assures a certain stability to the company. And with streaming, sales are growing worldwide. There are no more boundaries. Artists get a lot more exposure worldwide, and more easily than in the old retail system.”

On building cars

“We should not resist change. I often compare my business to the automobile business at the turn of the last century. There were still carriages, horses, and people to take care of all of that. Have you realized there’s not one builder of carriages that built a car?

I don’t want Analekta to be a carriage builder. We’re going to build what’s going to be the next car.”

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