What do the Gramophone Awards reveal about the recording industry?

Martin CullingfordFri 18th September 2015

Indies and majors, CDs and downloads... Gramophone's Editor reflects on a changing business

I’ve now worked on 14 Gramophone Awards. Not as many as my colleague James Jolly, this year notching up 30. But, looking back to 2002, it’s fascinating to compare our winners then to today. Happily, many of the names remain familiar: Leif Ove Andsnes, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Sakari Oramo, Harrison Birtwistle, all winners back in 2002, featured in this year’s shortlist – our 34-page Awards section in the latest edition of Gramophone will reveal how they fared. Which isn’t to imply stasis; many of this year’s shortlisted musicians were entirely unfamiliar names back then – one of them, Benjamin Grosvenor, a mere 10 years old.

While I’m not claiming there was anything uniquely significant about 2002, it did mark the point at which the weighting between major and independent labels shifted. That year, the honours were evenly shared between the two. Prior to that, the majors received most awards. After 2002 the trend begins to move towards this year’s situation in which the indies account for three times as many awards as the majors. With the greatest of genuine respect to the majors, who continue to produce many fantastic recordings (could one imagine this issue’s Recording of the Month, a star-studded studio Aida, being made by anyone but the likes of Warner Classics?), this is not an unhealthy situation. The indies are, after all, far more numerous – it shows that our Awards are reflecting the sheer diversity of what is being released. That Award-winners are just as likely to emerge from a small-sized or in-house label as from the classical departments of corporate giants is cheering evidence that whatever shape the future of our industry takes, it’s one about which we can be optimistic. This isn’t a major vs indie polemic: I’m thrilled to see that both are excelling. 

But there are other ways that 2002 had marked something of a turning point. It was the first time an orchestra’s in-house label (LSO Live, for Berlioz’s Les Troyens) triumphed. It was also the Awards that followed the launch of the iPod. Both developments are taken entirely for granted now, having helped shape the recording world we see today, resolving but also provoking challenges that the industry is still getting to grips with.

Today, you can buy the Award-winning recordings from a CD shop – and if that’s the way you collect music, I’d urge you to do so; such institutions are fewer in number than they were in 2002 and those that are left deserve your support. But you can also sample, stream and download them from many digital retailers – not least Qobuz, sponsors of our Recording of the Year – and this will, I know, be not only the preference but the unquestioned, automatic action for many readers, young and old. Majors or indies, label stables or in-house, CD or download: much is familiar but much has changed when I look back over those 14 Awards. Two things haven’t though. Statistics show that the Gramophone Awards still make a significant difference to the sales of the winning recordings, which is down to you, our readers. And the music-making itself remains just as extraordinary, which is down to the artists and teams behind all this year’s winners, to whom I extend my congratulations, and my gratitude.

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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