The BPI – the UK record industry association – has today revealed that classical music, across both CD sales and streaming, saw an extraordinary 10.2 per cent increase in sales last year. Furthermore, the figures - taken from the Official Charts Company data – show a 6.9 per cent increase in sales of classical CDs alone compared with 2017.
It’s clear that, contrary to what is being seen across the wider music market, for the classical listener, physical products are proving resilient relative to online alternatives. CD sales still account for almost 60 per cent of UK classical consumption, while streaming accounts for a quarter (though the proportion is growing – it was 19.5 per cent in 2017; across all genres, streaming now accounts for 63.6 per cent of all consumption). Overall, classical streaming saw an increase of 42 per cent between 2017 and 2018 (compared to a 33 per cent rise in streaming across the UK music market as a whole). Downloads were the only format where demand fell in 2018, though many in the industry see the format as being largely superceded by streaming for many digital listeners.
The combined sales of the top 30 albums totalled 645,095 (this figure includes streams - 1000 streams is counted as an album sale), though more than 200,000 of these were of Andrea Bocelli's album Si. Overall, classical recordings saw album equivalent sales of 2.2m (CDs on their own sold 1.3m). 2017's figure was 2.02m, of which 1.25m were CD sales. While this is still lower than that for five years ago - figures for 2014 showed 2.58m album equivalent sales - the change in direction will still be very welcome news for all involved in classical recording.
While the term ‘classical’, for the purposes of industry data, covers a broad range of music from film soundtracks to crossover artists, the published data did reveal some considerable success among core artists. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason topped the Classical chart for 14 weeks with his Decca album Inspiration, centred around Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1 (the year’s third best-selling classical album overall), helped no doubt by the profile his appearance at the Royal Wedding brought him.
According to the BPI, other strong sellers included 100 Years of Nine Lessons and Carols from the Choir of King's College, Cambridge (the year's 12th best selling classical album), Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of Bach Cello Suites (a Gramophone Editor’s Choice) and our 2018 Artist of the Year Rachel Podger’s recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
A look at the most popular artists streamed also reveals a healthy mixture of current and catalogue artists. Based on the 15,000 most popular tracks, Ludovico Einaudi accounted for 1 in 12 of all classical music streams, Yo-Yo Ma was 5th, the Nine Lessons and Carols centenary helped King’s College-related artists take three spots (David Willcocks – music director from 1957-94 – at 7th place, King’s College itself at 8, and current conductor Stephen Cleobury at 15), while Herbert von Karajan, Daniel Barenboim, Glenn Gould, Luciano Pavarotti and Neville Marriner also featured in the top 25.