Anne Midgette, music critic of The Washington Post, has an interesting survey on her blog ‘The Classical Beat’: she wants to find out whether people still buy CDs.
How big is the swing to downloads? Who is listening to what? Is the inclination of labels like Naxos towards unusual repertoire being reflected in people’s buying and listening experiences? And now that the big record companies are generally acknowledged to be in very deep do-do, ever more musicians are turning to independent, own-brand or ‘artist-led’ labels to make the recordings of their choice: so, paradoxically, more CDs are appearing than ever. Are they more than a calling-card for performers?
Most music journos find that new CDs land on the mat of their own accord – in fact my husband has taken to humming ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ whenever another one pitches up (the bit where the brooms start dividing…). But I do buy them occasionally: mostly historical recordings by the great musicians who, obviously, I could never hear perform live. Pianists such as the under-recognised Hungarian emigre Louis Kentner, whose Liszt was second to none; violinists like Szigeti and Elman and Toscha Seidel; and the incomparable Pablo Casals.
Anne asks whether people prefer downloading, listening to music on the radio, buying CDs or finding ways to hear the music they want free of charge. I have to say, with the voice of bitter experience, that the advantage of physical CDs is that if your computer crashes, you don’t lose all your music if you’ve forgotten to make back-ups…
But downloads are bound to win, simply because of the laziness factor – you don’t have to stir from your desk, let alone trek to the nearest Last Remaining Record Store only to find they don’t have the disc you want. Indeed, you can download a recording almost anywhere in the world, usually for less than you’d pay for the physical disc.
Listening on the radio? Sometimes. More often than not, though, I switch off again within ten minutes. I can listen to the radio while I cook or iron, but not while I write; besides, if you choose Radio 3 you will probably find squeaky, overmannered early stuff or nose-flutes from Outer Mongolia, while if you select Classic FM you will hear sofa adverts.
There’s another way I prefer to hear music: live. There’s no substitute for a concert. Many of my favourite artists make recordings frequently, but I’d always prefer to hear them in person, experiencing full and direct involvement without the phone ringing, the cat miaowing and so on…well, we hope without the phone ringing…
And then the plot thickens. Some artists, such as the Russian genius of a pianist Grigory Sokolov, dislike studio recording and will release only occasional discs from live concerts. Of course I’d rather hear Sokolov in live performance too. But the UK’s visa processes have become so cumbersome that recently he has cancelled several London appearances. I don’t blame him one bit. After all, he can travel freely and easily everywhere else in Europe. That’s another issue…but isn’t there a certain irony that, while there’s music, music everywhere, sometimes what you most want to hear you can’t hear at all?!
Do have a look at Anne’s survey and leave thoughts there – but please leave some here too!
PS: one more way to hear music – YOUTUBE. From which, here’s a comment from Stacy Kent about the weather we’ve been having lately.