In an article in the Arts Journal, Greg Sandow discusses the future of classical music:
"Classical recording used to be a profit-making venture, both for major labels and small ones, without anybody needing to release any crossover albums. Well, OK, major conductors might record an LP of Strauss waltzes, to boost sales, but that's as far as it went. And a week later the same conductor would record a serious classical piece, fully paid for by the record company, with the expectation that the recording might -- eventually -- make a profit.
Does that happen today? Barely. Classical recordings now are largely subsidized. I'm not saying that the big labels, DG, for instance, might not record a few favored artists at their own expense. But these are largely soloists -- stars, or stars in the making. And meanwhile the labels couldn't make a profit without crossover sales. Really large-scale recordings -- operas, orchestral performances -- are largely recorded live, and may be subsidized. As I've noted before, even back in the 1980s the Metropolitan Opera's Ring recording on DG was subsidized with private funds. Most American orchestras that record today produce and pay for the recordings themselves. They don't expect to make a profit. They make the recordings for promotion and publicity.
And the small classical labels? Many of them aren't commercial operations, in any meaningful sense....Do you agree with this report? If so, what do you think could turn the tides so that classical music can be in vogue again?
But despite all this, the bottom line is clear. For whatever reasons, classical recording used to be commercial; now it largely isn't. And if major labels in the 1950s released classical recordings because it was prestigious -- presumably accepting less profit than they would have made from pop -- doesn't that itself tell a story of classical music's decline? Clearly it must have been more prestigious in the '50s, in society at large, than it is now. Besides, pop music didn't start making giant profits till the 1970s, when multimillion album sales kicked in. So the profits from classical music in earlier decades, small as they perhaps were by current standards, would have loomed larger than they do now.