The pirates are in charge

Until relatively recently the only way for most performing musicians to make and sell audio recordings of their performances was through the sponsorship of a small number of (mostly large international) record companies. The company would make the recording, edit and transfer it to LP or CD and deal with the marketing and distribution to brick and mortar stores. Publishing books or sheet music worked on a similar basis. There were considerable expenses involved in this process, and the companies assumed the expenses and any commercial risks. The musicians were paid a percentage of the sales income according to an agreed formula. The wherewithal for the musicians or writers to handle the business themselves was not available to them.

Nowadays, decent recording equipment is available to all and the operations necessary to produce an audio file that can be played at home do not any more form a major exercise. The only thing lacking in many cases is the expertise needed to capture the sound in a musical manner.

On the other hand, in most cases, today’s much lower costs of distribution are not reflected in the price of e-books or soundfiles. In the case of soundfiles, even the big companies do not always offer any higher quality than that of the CD (16-bit/44.1kHz) and have not invested in making higher resolution transfers. Even famous pop musicians are complaining of the derisory returns that they receive from streaming companies like Spotify and others. It seems that the “middle people” are still taking the same cut as they used to, and it is for this reason that I do not participate as a customer of in for-profit streamed music. It is also not apparent that the costs of printing, warehousing and transporting sheet music has been deducted from the prices charged for e-scores.

In a related matter, the “old” EMI classical catalog now belongs to Warner Classics, and the latter market the recordings as if they made them themselves, often without proper documentation. A case in point is a CD I bought recently of Handel’s Fireworks Music. The only performing credits are Yehudi Menuhin/Menuhin Festival Orchestra. There are no liner notes, apart from “Remastered in 1989” – 33 years ago! – but credits are given for “product development, design concept and booklet editing [sic]”. A note on the back says “Let yourself be seduced [sic] by magnificent performances of stars from the Warner Classics and Erato catalogues – be inspired!” and “Inspiration for glanzvolle Feste, die Silvesterparty, dazzling parties, New Year’s Eve”.

I have put a copy of the rear of the original LP sleeve here. From it one learns that Valda Aveling was the harpsichordist and Leslie Pearson the organist on the sessions. The notes were written by Neville D. Boyling, who not only edited the music, but was the excellent recording engineer. A brief extract on the same page will demonstrate how natural the stereo orchestral sound is. (As was always the case in those days, the sound of the harpsichord is discreet! It and the organ can be heard slightly louder in the slow movements of the concerto.)

Sic transit gloria EMI.

One does not need the brain of an Einstein to realise that a new model is needed for the business of recording and distributing music, one that values the creative musicians and rewards them appropriately. This is even more important in a time when live performances and the international movement of performers have been considerably reduced, making recordings more important than before.

Unless this inequity is dealt with, more and more performing musicians will leave the profession for jobs that pay a living wage.

David

A question: how Youtube enters in the equation? I mean, many players seem happy to have their recordings on YT, free (one I personally know told me he was upset when his record company had YT strip down all his recordings). This puzzles me.

However, in order to bypass the recording companies, some players have established their own recording companies: for example Skip Sempé (Paradizo) or Frederick Hass (Hitasura). This could not possibly be a working model for pop music where they need to pass in radio and tv and need a strong marketing, but maybe it can work for the small world of harpsichord and early music?

David, the sound excerpt on your webpage doesn’t seem working here, don’t know if it’s a issue on my side.

Dom

A somewhat depressing situation (and maybe an argument for some alternative forum for collective distribution of group funded recordings). But your link to the Fireworks Bourée cheered me up- this was the first record I bought, when I was about twelve.

Yet another problem is that the present business model, whether or not fair for the musician, only caters for the already-very-famous-worldwide musician, known to everybody interested in classical music. Menuhin is a case in point, internationally-famous Skip Sempé is another.

For us musicians who are only known among our colleagues, selling recordings is an impossible proposition.

Personally, I can sell my own books very well, but this is because (a) they are niche products and I can communicate to almost everybody who could be interested, (b) I am happy to have a ridiculous unit price, (c) in many ways they are unique or otherwise recommended by conservatoire teachers, so the interested person has scarcely an alternative.

With recordings matters are very different. At present most of my recordings are available for free on YouTube, where they barely reach the thousands of free views. If I tried to sell them, even at a ridiculous price (say one Euro per harpsichord piece or mouvement), I would probably have less than a hundred pieces sold per year: it is not worth it. Some may argue that my recordings are not up to the level of a Skip Sempé, say. I would argue that on most musical aspects they are (including the use of studio-quality microphones), although surely the image and sound quality is not of the same outstanding level as a studio recording on an international-first-grade harpsichord. So when Skip makes €100 for something, sold in large numbers, I find it fair get €50 in smaller numbers, but not €1 in ridiculous numbers.

I believe that this is not a simple marketing matter, where the difference would not be so huge, but is largely due to “the Hollywood star system” that also applies to commercial recordings nowadays.

Establishing your own company is much easier than it was in the past (I do not refer to any legal requirements, which vary by location). There are manufacturing companies that will press CDs, when you send them your files through the internet; or you can distribute files directly to customers, and collect payment via Paypal, etc. Publicity is done by means of a website.I think this is a good way for classical solo artists to proceed.

Youtube is another pirate, by which I mean that those who publish their recordings there are not paid significantly well enough to regard it as a professional means of support, and the audio quality is pretty minimal.

Re the recording on my website: I can only say that it is working here (of course!), and that it is in both Ogg Vorbis and MP3 format. which covers all the browsers I know.

David

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Correction: There appears to be a problem with Apple devices and HTML5 audio. It will not play on my iPad or iPhone…

David

Interesting the varying legal requirements. For example, when living in the Rep. of Ireland, I was able to “register the business name” Bray Baroque: that’s what I have, just a name on a nice diploma, not a company. This allowed me to open a bank account, get a restricted *.ie domain, and to act to all purposes as a company. As long as my sales and expenditures did never exceed the few hundred Euro per month, I was not required to register Bray Baroque as a company and to pay taxes, yet my business name was protected, as if it were a (much more expensive) patent.

Things are different now in Italy, where I have not been able to find how to register a business name. Truly indeed, I was able to get a domain “Lucca Barocca”, and have been using this moniker for recitals with no problems, but legally speaking I have no piece of paper in case somebody objects or, worse, steals my name for any other purpose.

You can register a trademark under your name without registering a new company. You can choose if the trademark be valid only in Italy or UE, in how many categories. For example: Lucca Barocca as 1. publishing company and 2. concert organizations. This prevents another Lucca Barocca as - say - publishing company but doesn’t prevent another Lucca Barocca as - say - architectural services.
Costs are varying depending on how many categories, Italy, UE or worldwide registration, whether you ask for a research on previously-registered “Lucca Baroccas” and so on. But they are not high in a case like yours:
https://www.ufficiobrevettimarchi.it/utilita/costo-registrazione-marchio/

Dom

Dear David:

Here are just a few comments about the state of the recording industry and the relationship with artists. My perspective comes from having spent almost 25 years working as a tonmeister for Deutsche Grammophon and continuing as an independent producer after my retirement.

In the old days, the equipment needed to record digitally was extremely expensive. Only large companies who had a good functioning distribution system could afford the investment in this technology. Because sales were relatively high, artists earned money (short or long term) paid as a result of their contracts. Unless they were very well known, and with large sales, artists had very little say in what they did but were usually happy to be involved with these corporations. Most artists had no access to this publicity or income.

Now the situation has radically changed. As you mentioned the technology is now affordable! Sales of CDs have fallen rapidly! (Still my favourite medium.) Apart from the wellknown artists, most musicians do not earn based on sales of their products. (They may be paid directly for the recording particularly with orchestras.) In the majority of cases, the publishers require up front payment from the artist or from a sponsor to not only cover the recording costs but also for all the rest of the manufacturing as well. They may receive CDs but will also have to pay for extra copies, usually at a reduced rate. Often their are problems about release timing or other issues. This has resulted in some individuals or ensembles forming their own record companies. (eg. Berlin Philharmonik etc.)

The main commercial reason for artists now to release content is to gain publicity for themselves in order to hopefully get concert engagements which will support them. Youtube and to some extent Spotify creates a new situation which is much more successful than trying to market CDs or other physical medium. It remains much less expensive and more effective. The total number of classical titles consumed has also increased over the years which is a reason for hope.

(To do a bit of promotion, here are links to two videos with which I was recently involved:)

Matthias Weckmann

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4HTRLfA6oY

H.L. Hassler

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N_erre1f4o

Over the years, I have also been extensively involved in the transfer and remastering of old content for re-release. Up till about 15 years ago, the business model of the industry relied heavily on long term revenue from the back catalogue. Artists also relied on this continuing revenue to form an important portion of their retirement support. This has unfortunately changed dramtically. Even the large companies have substantially reduced their re-releases. (Fortunately, there still is a demand for high quality digital streaming particularly in Japan. Not everything is disheartening in this respect, the numbers for digital high bit streaming have been increasing.)

As with many other elements of our lives, (I will not go into the dramatic changes for musicians as a result of Covid) the internet world has changed almost everything. It is up to us to experiment and to take advantage of the new chances open to us in order to survive.

Regards,

Andrew Wedman

Dear Domenico.
Trademark or “brevetto” is a name that nobody has ever used for any company or product or idea of any kind. Registering one always involves red tape and costs: a few hundred Euro initially, another few hundred Euro every 10 years.
A business name is not that, is simply a name that nobody has taken for business in a particular country: in Ireland the employee just looks at it in the list of Irish business names, charges you €30 forever and prints the diploma!

Thanks everybody for all the suggestions, but perhaps you should re-read my post about the “star system”.

My problem is not how to start a recording studio.
My point is that scarcely anybody would buy my recordings, because of the “star system”.

Searchers (google, youtube) are not hierarchical, but textual. A famous person has 99.99% more chances to be found that a non-famous one.

Actually it is even worse. Let us look in YouTube at any piece by F. Couperin, say, not one of the very famous ones (Le Tic-Toc-Choc, Les Baricades) but another one, of which I have recorded over a dozen. In YouTube you may find just a few reccordings. But those by famous players have 99% more “views” than mine.

Please note carefully: I am not talking peer reviews, not even “likes”, just “views”: if you just click on my recording and listen for 1 second, I get a view, yet this is very rare. This proves that people do NOT search for a piece, compare recordings and choose; instead, they search simultaneously for the piece AND a famous player!

If statistics was not enough proof, over a lifetime where I not only have played in public but have also organised group listenings of recordings, I have countless personal anecdotes that confirm this.
Let me just tell you the last one (I can ask the fella to authorise his name!): a few days ago I got a visit, a very cultivated person, amateur musician, very fond of Frescobaldi. He asked me to listen together to a favourite piece of him, recorded by Gustav Leonhardt. At the end I observed that indeed the recording was excellent, yet there are other equally excellent, yet different, recordings that he might like to hear. He was adamant: for him, “the” great performer of 17th century keyboard music is GL and he is not ready to spend time listening to anybody else …

This is how most people think, and this is what I mean when I deplore the “star system”.
Having my own studio and recording company will not change this situation.
Which is why I am happy to have my recordings (just live-last-rehearsal-before-recital, not studio stuff) on YouTube for free …

It’s “marchio”, not “brevetto”. However there isn’t something like a simple “business name” in Italy. Nor can I see where it differs from a “marchio”: they are both something unique to you in that category and nobody else can use it. You can only have a business name in Italy if you have a business, i.e. an activity registered in the local Camera di Commercio. Part and parcel of the business name is the juridical form of the activity: for example:
Lucca Barocca SpA
Lucca Barocca Srl
Lucca Barocca sas
And others like srls, snc etc.
So it seems you haven’t the same possibilities you had in Ireland. However you should be safe in using the name you wish without registering it. If anybody uses it in the same area/category you are still protected by the art 2571 civil code: https://www.brocardi.it/codice-civile/libro-quinto/titolo-viii/capo-iii/art2571.html This does not prevent anyone from registering it but you can still use it because you were using it before.

You may want to explore the possibility of registering an “associazione” (“non a scopo di lucro”) and/or an event such a annual concert season. For a event name registration, this is the webpage of Lucca Camera di Commercio: https://lu.camcom.it/quesiti/1/4943

In any case it appears the cost is somewhat greater than the one you were used to in Ireland, I am afraid.

D

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This is an interesting thread and I agree with the overall point that the recording industry has changed dramatically, though I think that change occurred at least 15 years ago.

As for the star system, in early music at least, that went out the window some time ago, apart from perhaps 4-5 musicians who are actively promoted with a significant amount of marketing spend by a record label. Rondeau is probably the only harpsichordist in that category today, and he is by a long shot the most successful soloist in terms of concert bookings, somewhat to the regret of very fine musicians who are his senior.

Bear in mind that even Jordi Savall and John Eliot Gardiner formed their own record labels, around 20 years ago, because they were no longer receiving the support they needed from a record label. In Savall’s case, he probably gets a bigger slice of the pie from owning the label, and of course freedom to choose repertoire. Gardiner formed his label when DG said it would not invest in his complete Bach cantatas project. He enlisted Prince Charles to help raise money, did his ‘Pilgrimage’ and off he went. Gardiner of course has very substantial income from conducting modern orchestras as well.

For any performer, the question is: what are recordings for? To raise cash? Well, only for a tiny number of people. Almost all harpsichordists put their own cash into recordings (or find sponsors or crowdfund), and that includes most of the well-known names of today. The return is only from CD sales or download sales - the streaming income is pitifully small. For example, Voices of Music is an EXTREMELY popular YT channel run by David Tayler and Hanneke Proosdij. Their ‘Four Seasons’ video has half a million views. He posted on FB a couple of years ago that it requires a LOT of time pushing the channel to generate even a small income.

And of course many places don’t even have CD shops anymore, so those sales are not huge. (Rondeau excepted) A few CDs can be sold at concerts, but not in big numbers.

Are recordings, then, useful for marketing? Yes. CDs can be sent to critics, festival organizers etc. YT and Spotify links can be used in all kinds of online promotion.

I am friends with a lot of the harpsichordists who are still making CDs. For some of them, recording is a real financial struggle. And without much or any marketing spend from a record label, or from a concert agent for that matter, they are forced to self-promote constantly, usually through social media. Someone who has done that very intelligently and creatively is Catalina Vicens, and I think she is now reaping a bit of financial stability from all her years doing that; at least I hope so. It was so great to see her appointed to the job at the former Tagliavini collection in Bologna.

One way of raising funds for online performances is Patreon. I think that is a great way of putting money directly into the hands of the artists and I have supported a few people that way. For example, Early Music Sources (which is musicology but also musical performance at times).

And I emphatically agree that the streaming companies are pirates, and I refuse to pay them for a subscription. If I really like something, I will buy the full recording.

Thanks very much for this informed and level-headed reply, Douglas! Indeed for most of us, financial stability comes from other sources than playing, or at least: playing alone. Making recordings is most of the time a huge money sink and not much else; a luxury. One does it because one is interested in documenting a certain project, perhaps, but there is no gain.
Tilman

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Back in the days of Fred Gaisberg and Walter Legge (i.e. between about 1900 and 1970), a musician only got to make a recording of repertoire that he or she had already mastered in concert performance. This had several consequences:

– The repertoire was recorded piecemeal.

– Repertoire that was not performed in concert in those days did not get recorded at all.

There were some exceptions to the second rule, like the recordings of Nadia Boulanger, Wanda Landowska, and others; but there was no impetus to record the complete works of a Froberger or a Storace.

There were few exceptions to the first rule: performers picked and chose among the offerings of various composers. Why record Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata when most people had only heard of The Moonlight? Schnabel’s recording of all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, and the recording of almost all of Elgar’s orchestral works conducted by the composer were groundbreaking events.

Now we have boxes of CDs containing the complete works of composers that have not for centuries (if ever) been performed live in their entirety. I would venture to suggest that this comes into that category: The Complete Works of Hans Leo Hassler. How many of us even knew that there was enough organ music by this composer to fill 11 CDs and have the interest and patience to sit down and listen to it all? The same company, Brilliant Classics, has also issued a 15-CD box set of The Complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and a 13-CD set of Johann Pachelbel’s complete keyboard music. (Again, I wonder how many of us have even sight-read though all that music – I admit that I have not.)

Place alongside these Davitt Moroney’s 7-CD set of all Byrd’s keyboard music, the 6-CDset of Sweelinck’s complete keyboard music, and we see that these boxes of recordings challenge the listener to devote as much time to listening as Wagner’s Ring (14 CDs), or all the symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler or Shostakovich (available in multiple versions). It doesnt stop there for Brilliant Classics, who are filling in the gaps left by Naxos.

We can see from this that compact discs are not a dead medium. Similar larges boxes of reissues of the “complete” recordings of major performing artists of the past continue apace and, often at less than €2 a disc, may be said to be selling for peanuts. Of course, the balance of interest in CDs versus streaming varies in different parts of the world. Here in Europe one can still buy CDs on the internet and in shops, although these are closing gradually. (The famous HMV record store on Kärntnerstrass in Vienna closed its doors at the end of last year). I do not know what the balance is elsewhere.

I have lost count of the number of complete recordings there are of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons the Beethoven Symphonies or Wagner’s Ring, but we are surely at saturation point, if not beyond. Our art is the only one that has been recorded (using the word in its widest sense) so much, and this is surely an activity that cannot continue on the scale of today. Who needs it? The era of professional audio recording as we have known it is coming to an end.

The only long term chance for survival of musical performance by living artists is concerts and recitals. But we see a stranglehold there by the promoters, similar to that of the former major record companies. (Disclosure: I used to work for EMI.) As keyboard players. we see opportunities for full time employment by churches and other institutions declining all the time, and the only sensible response seems to be to support oneself from another trade/profession and give recitals/concerts at a low economic level in our “spare” time. This by no means implies a concomitently low artistic level, but we have to be committed enough to perform for love and cultivate our audiences. Not needing a large number of performers, this is particularly suitable for our instruments and repertoire and, once a loyal audience has been developed, larger ensembles can be supported. A lot of us already have experience of doing this in our local communities and hopefully, when the current plague conditions are lifted and people are not frightened of public spaces, the practice can be revived and enhanced.

David

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