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What’s Lost When the Cloud Replaces CDs

“Recently, while moving my CD collection to new shelving, I struggled with feelings of obsolescence and futility. Why bother with space-devouring, planet-harming plastic objects when so much music can be had at the touch of a trackpad—on Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, and other streaming services that rain sonic data from the virtual entity known as the Cloud? What is the point of having amassed, say, the complete symphonies of the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82) when all eleven of them pop up on Spotify, albeit in random order? (When I searched for “Tubin” on the service, I was offered two movements of his Fourth Symphony, with the others appearing far down a list.) The tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”

Alex Ross ruminates, at The New Yorker, about what’s lost when we no longer buy physical music. His conclusion:

“But only by buying the albums are you likely to help the label stay in business.”

via What’s Lost When the Cloud Replaces CDs.

How much is a [classical] recording worth?

“How much is a recording worth to you? What’s its value – both artistic and in monetary terms? This is something that’s been brought into question quite starkly in recent years. Firstly, the increasing numbers of super-budget back-catalogue reissues – or even new recordings from the likes of Naxos – have caused many a buyer to pause a little longer before shelling out for a full-price disc. More recent still, the rapid developments in online music – first downloads, then streaming – have made most of the history of music available for free or at the very least through an astonishingly good value subscription model.

How things have changed. An industry colleague this week told me of the price to a record collector, back in 1963, of Herbert von Karajan’s first Beethoven symphony cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic, issued by Deutsche Grammophon (the Ninth Symphony is the subject of this month’s Classics Reconsidered – see page 108). The eight-LP set, when purchase tax was added on, cost £14 and 8 shillings (£14.40). At the time, the average British weekly wage was about £15. In the US it cost $47.98 – about 40 per cent of the average weekly American wage at the time, but even so, still a very significant investment. (As indeed was DG’s in making the recording – the label spent 1.5m Deutschmarks and had to sell at least 100,000 to break even. They need not have worried as, one decade on, it had sold 1 million copies.) The set’s just been remastered and handsomely packaged. You can now pick it up for about £45, less than a tenth of today’s average weekly wage.

via How much is a recording worth? | gramophone.co.uk.

(I’ve added the word “classical” above; the excerpt comes from Gramophone, a classical music magazine. Readers on the site know it’s not referring to a pop or rock recording.)

While music sales have been decreasing, no one seems to have addressed the fact that the cost of music has dropped as well. Not just from the extreme mentioned above, but the price of an album. If you look at the standard $10 price of a download, that’s just a baseline. While iTunes doesn’t discount, Amazon does, with steep discounts on many new and popular albums, with some for just $3 or $4.

In classical music, the precipitous drop in per-disc price has been astounding, and it’s certainly a good thing for those who buy a lot of music. Yes, new, single CDs by big names cost the same, but lots of classical music can be had for a pittance. With the price of box sets dragging down the general price of CDs, it’s increasingly difficult to justify full-price any more. Even small box sets – say, 5 or 6 discs – are now sold at the price of a single disc, while bigger sets often come in at $1 – $2 a disc. A set that once would have cost hundreds of dollars, such as Vladimir Horowitz Live At Carnegie Hall (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), is only $106 or £72 on Amazon as of today.

It’s tough for the recording industry to keep a balance between these low prices and profits. With classical labels selling fewer copies of each release – nothing sells like the million copies of the Beethoven symphonies mentioned in the article – it’s harder to break even.

leonard-bernstein

Essential Music: Leonard Bernstein

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Leonard Bernstein in the classical music landscape of the United States, and the rest of the world. If there ever was a megastar conductor in the US, Bernstein was that. Flamboyant, outspoken, and an immense musician, Bernstein contributed to the growth and development of classical music for several […]

The great classical music swindle – and why we’re better off now

“…the recording industry tried to fix in the collective imagination what individual musical works should be, like the totemic masterpieces of the Western canon (or rather, like those pieces of music that were turned into canonised totems, in part by the recording industry): a series of desirable, aspirational cultural and commercial objects, a collection of black-lacquer-magicked things that could be literally possessed by anyone who bought a record of Furtwängler conducting the Ring cycle, or Toscanini conducting Verdi. There was also a broader fixitive effect on the whole shooting match of classical music, which – arguably – was reduced by the heroic stage of the recording era to a library of unchanging, perfected icons instead of a living, breathing, ever-changing cultural practice.”

via The great classical music swindle – and why we're better off now | Music | theguardian.com.

What the article doesn’t discuss is live performances. While I find Glenn Gould’s studio approach interesting, and love his recordings, live recordings are certainly more powerful. I think one can “fetishize” some live recordings as being especially powerful and unique. This is the case with rock and jazz as well: everyone familiar with the music knows that Bill Evans’ 1961 Village Vanguard recordings, or the Grateful Dead’s 8/27/72, 2/13-14/70, or 5/8/77 are masterpieces.

The broad access, which leads to the ability to compare versions is great, but it leads to another problem: that of having lots of different versions of works, and getting lost among them. I confess that this is something that happens to me with some works. But for others, I’m glad I have, say, Richter, Badura-Skoda, Schiff, Uchida, Lewis and Brendel in my collection when I want to listen to some Schubert piano sonatas.

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, New Biography by Jan Swafford

51mBQbHwtGLI’d not come across a good, thorough biography of Beethoven (at least not currently in print). It’s good to see this huge (1,100 page) book just out by Jan Swafford, whose biography of Charles Ives I found very interesting. I’ve ordered it, and I’m looking forward to dipping into it to learn more about Beethoven and his times; a fascinating man, in a pivotal period for music.

Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon UK.

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