Is classical music on life support, or simply in a cyclical recession? Certainly, its long history of survival beyond the lifespans of other types of popular music, doesn’t foreshadow an early demise. But it may be facing some significant health issues, such as aging benefactors, and a technological upheaval of its current business model.
It’s a form with a short list of superstars, unlike rock or pop. Lang Lang and Joshua Bell can guarantee a sellout. And, while you may face a waiting list of at least 6-years to see the Vienna Phil, your local orchestra may be giving away tickets to fill seats.
It’s no secret that many of the people now filling those seats are of generations that can’t keep going to concerts forever. Sure, younger ones turn out for the big names, but who will attend the next show, after Lang Lang has left town?
The aging concertgoers are often the most generous financial contributors. This could spell budgetary doom in the near future.
Money that classical ensembles once counted on from sales of recordings, is also drying up, thanks to the changing technology of music distribution. Streaming royalties are negligible compared to the profit margin from a cd sale.
You Tube has become a popular means of music discovery and free entertainment. While that can be good and bad, sparking new interest in classical might draw new audiences to live performances, or viewers may be content to watch from home for free.
So, now the question becomes, can classical find a new business model, as it has before? Some local groups are reaching out to a much younger audience, requiring musicians to spend plenty of hours in schools and other mentoring functions. Engage them while they’re young, and have many years of classical enjoyment ahead. Though it may be many years before they replace the current donors, the seeds are being planted.
But, what to do in the meantime? Even the next-up demographic expected to provide financial support, grew up with Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, Madonna and U2. It’s going to take some doing to bring them under the tent as converts. A more contemporary program and image may be necessary. Shedding the white tie and tails could be a start.
No one seems to appreciate classical more than musicians, because it’s the most popular music for instruction. A Suzuki Violin 2nd-grader is more likely to be a classical lover than his/her non-musician parents with ipods full of Mariah Carey and Eminem.
It would be easy to say that schools are the answer to classical’s problems, but school districts in recession have cut music programs. This reduces, not only interest in classical music, but the number of classically trained musicians for the future.
The current business model that keeps classical music playing, is definitely in trouble. It may be a very long recovery. The quality of the product though, has never suffered, so the art itself will surely be with us for centuries more.