I’m a bit of snob when it comes to music, probably to my detriment rather than success. I stick comfortably to my preconceived genres, rarely straying into the world of new releases or pop. One of these genres happens to be that of classical music – a genre I was encouraged to engage with from a young age.
But this is not the case for everyone. Whenever I mention classical to my peers, the people who tend to engage are the ones I met at various orchestras or from my A level music classes. This has always bothered me because I have always rather thought young people could benefit hugely from discovering the genre.
The genre has seen some decline, but a resurgence is on its way
So, how would someone who has not studied music break into the lengthy and complex music that we find in the classical genre? After all, Spotify (at least for me) tends to push us towards more recent or ‘pop’ tunes – even the suggestions for my entirely classical playlists are pretty basic, meaning I have had to use other methods of discovering more niche variants of the ‘canon’ (as in, other than Mozart and Beethoven).
One of these methods has been radio. I noticed an article from Classic FM giving some pretty promising statistics on the surge of millennials tuning in to their service. It seems the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2020 was a huge success, with around 196,000 new listeners in the first few months of the year.
This is hugely positive, as I feel mainstream streaming services have neglected classical music somewhat since their inception. It is understandable though, as classical music isn’t a particularly lucrative business in terms of publishing or copyright, many of the more widely listened to composers are long dead and their work free to listen to and play at home through score sharing sites such as IMSLP.
Why is Classical seen as ‘niche’ or purely for the wealthy?
With monetary issues in mind, the cost of learning and participating in classical music has closed and locked the metaphorical door of opportunity to a wealth of young and old people alike. The price of instruments alone are hefty, even for entry-level models, and this doesn’t take into account the astronomically high cost of lessons, orchestras, and tours. Elaine Hirsch, in her article on the topic, suggested a dedicated student may end up paying “as much as a master’s degree”.
It is pertinent to state here that I come from a position of privilege in many respects – I was able to learn an instrument and had many opportunities to engage with the classical genre. However, I was always acutely aware of the heavy burden of cost, leading me many times to question whether it was all worth it.
And here lies a stark difference which holds more weight than other genres in the music industry. The running costs of getting involved in orchestral groups far outweigh that of joining a band or picking up a guitar and learning many of the skills to use it online.
As always, when there are communities which require a certain monetary status to become involved, there may be bitterness or contempt from those who do not have the wealth to do so, especially if these people might have done otherwise.
This is a big problem for anyone who may want to encourage a wider appreciation of classical music. Yes, the radio is free, but physically engaging and enjoying this genre is just not possible for many, as much as we might wish it to be.
An interesting phenomenon
Music streaming sites such as Spotify and Deezer love making their own playlists. It allows these companies to control (to an extent) the music that is listened to by your average, casual user. Compiling a playlist and considering one’s personal choice of genres and styles into a coherent collection takes up a lot of time and effort – I’m certainly reluctant to spend hours listening to different artists only to find one I like.
Another sneaky thing Spotify does is make their own music, then publish the tracks under a “fake” artist’s name. In short, the company pay a producer to create a track, make up a name and then it’ll be added to a Spotify owned playlist. This is slightly odd, but, as far as I’m aware, legal. The clincher here is, producers gain a flat fee for the track, but Spotify holds on to the master copyright.
If you want to read more on this, there is a helpful article here which explains the process in more detail.
And here lies the solution to the problem with classical music in the corporate sense; if a producer can create a ‘Calm Piano Tune’ and sell it to Spotify that puts it on a playlist with 2 million followers because Spotify owns the master copyright, they gain pretty much all the revenue per stream that would otherwise be split between the artist and their various counterparts (such as their record label).
Let’s cut Spotify some slack, their methods may be just what we need…
Of course, there are certain dangers with the integrity of these manufactured tracks in terms of pushing out smaller individuals who make a decent packet from being featured on these playlists. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing for classical music as a genre. If one were to listen to a few tracks on a Spotify playlist and then go on to discover Shostakovich’s 5th symphony, I’m more than happy about that. Actually, I’m pretty bloody ecstatic.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Accessibility. That brilliant concept helping to smash the stereotype of the classical genre as an intellectual, niche genre to listen to. I think we can allow Spotify a bit of slack if their methods that have allowed a wider audience to engage with some brilliant music.