To see so many organisations, new and old, recognising realities and yet seizing opportunities is heartening
Every year, around this time, I report back from the annual gathering of the classical industry at the Classical:NEXT conference. Bringing labels, distributors, innovators and artists together always breeds good ideas, goodwill and a better, shared understanding of where, as an industry, we are heading.
Year after year, the constant is the extraordinary commitment to brilliant music-making. But much else continues to change. Streaming continues to offer both opportunity and challenge. According to the latest figures from the UK record industry body the BPI, streaming is increasing massively, from 200 million weekly streams in early 2014 to 1 billion at the end of 2016 (that’s just in the UK, though across all genres). People are paying for it too. There are now 100 million subscribers to streaming services globally; cheering news, as I believe it important that there should be a value relationship between people’s ears and pockets: recordings are not, after all, made for free.
But the concern I still hear from many labels – particularly those operating on the more traditional model of paying to make, and then own, a recording – is that they are not receiving the return on investment they would once have expected, and unless this is addressed and resolved, life will not get any easier for them, and we, the listener, will be the poorer for it.
Meanwhile, streaming continues to evolve. We’re familiar with the mega-companies in the online music world – Spotify, Apple – but we’re also seeing a growth in smaller companies trying to target more focused streaming markets, whether around sound quality, or repertoire and label, or the way information and music are presented. As to how many such services people will be prepared to pay for (as opposed to just opting for one that does everything), only time will tell. But to see so many organisations, new and old, recognising realities and yet seizing opportunities is heartening.
All this couldn’t be further from the Chelsea Flower Show, which I visited straight after returning from Classical:NEXT to see the Morgan Stanley Garden, created in conjunction with the National Youth Orchestra. For its designer Chris Beardshaw, it was ‘a vibrant celebration of the patterns found not only in nature, but also in music, art and communities’. For 17-year-old composer Lauren Marshall, who wrote a piece inspired by it, it was an opportunity to draw parallels between what she sees as the ‘linear journey’ of both a garden and a piece of music. Last month’s cover story explored the notion of crossing borders between genres of music – but here was a fascinating example of finding meaningful bonds between wholly different creative endeavours. On the one hand this felt wonderfully contemporary – forging unexpected links, drawing together audiences. On the other hand, Marshall is perhaps walking in the tradition of Handel, William Boyce, Thomas Arne and others whose work, south of the river at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, exemplified those bonds between gardens and music. But perhaps most exciting of all was simply that here was a project celebrating and showcasing the extraordinary accomplishment of youth. For where seeds are sown, flowers will bloom.