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Old 10-15-2007, 11:07 PM
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Internet giveth and Internet taketh away

The Well-tempered Web
The Internet may be killing the pop CD, but it’s helping classical music.
by Alex Ross October 22, 2007


In the spring of 2004, I made the questionable decision to start blog. I reserved a dot-com address, signed up for an Internet-for-dummies service called Typepad, and, to the delight of more than a dozen compulsively Googling insomniacs around the world, began adding dribs and drabs to the graphomaniac ocean of the Web.

Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate. Yet a nagging sense of possibility also drew me in. Classical music, my subject, was thriving on the Internet in unexpected ways. Not all blogs, I discovered, were devoted to cataloguing continuity errors in the films of George Lucas; a smattering of musicians, composers, and listeners were writing on music with intelligence and verve, revelling in the chance to express ideas that had no other immediate outlet. Between 1980 and 2000, classical music more or less disappeared from American network television, magazines, and other mainstream media, its products deemed too élitist, effete, or esoteric for the world of pop. On the Internet, no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student’s ruminations on György Ligeti’s Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question—Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler —was himself twenty-seven.
News bulletins were declaring the classical-record business dead, but I noticed strange spasms of life in the online CD and MP3 emporiums. When Apple started its iTunes music store, in 2003, it featured on its front page performers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Anna Netrebko; sales of classical fare jumped significantly as a result. Similar upticks were noted at Amazon and the all-classical site ArkivMusic. The anonymity of Internet browsing has made classical music more accessible to non-fanatics; first-time listeners can read reviews, compare audio samples, and decide on, for example, a Beethoven recording by Wilhelm Furtwängler, all without risking the humiliation of mispronouncing the conductor’s name under the sour gaze of a record clerk. Likewise, first-time concertgoers and operagoers can shop for tickets, study synopses of unfamiliar plots, listen to snippets of unfamiliar music, follow performers’ blogs, and otherwise get their bearings on the lunar tundra of the classical experience.

Chris Bell, the director of worldwide product and music marketing at iTunes, happens to be a classically trained violinist, and he has closely monitored the progress of the classical division. He told me, “An interesting fact I recently uncovered is that, when you look at different genres in terms of sharing and cross-pollination, there’s more dabbling going on than you might expect. We sell almost as much hip-hop to classical buyers as we do jazz. We’ve made iTunes a safe place to try classical music. It is easy to sample and the buying is low-risk.” Bell talked about the serendipity of listening on the Internet, where someone might come to the site looking for a souvenir of Pavarotti and end up with the Kronos Quartet playing pieces by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. He declined to discuss over-all sales figures or classical music’s percentage of the total market, but he did say that “classical music overindexes a great deal more over the figures commonly quoted for physical retail”—meaning that the figures are considerably higher than the two- or three-per-cent share to which the genre has generally been consigned.

More at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/22/071022fa_fact_ross?currentPage=all

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