Deutsche Grammophon turns digital

31 Aug 2016


Deutsche Grammophon, a historical bastion of classical music, drastically changed its policy after a substantial drop in the world of recording industry that happened over the past decade.  From now on, it is going to play by the rules of digitized world.


The main point of today for the entire music recording industry is a great shift from CD, vinyl and downloads to streams.  Deutsche Grammophon is striving to be an active participant of the process. First of all, it wants to access people’s mobile phones with DG labelled apps and playlists.


Here is an interesting interview with the new DG President  Dr. Clemens Trautmann, which was taken after the company closed important deal with Apple Music -  “Digital sales, subscriptions are sustainable model, says DG chief”


Some highlights from this interview:


• Streaming is a way to reach digital natives


"Given that streaming is growing at double-digit rates and addresses a young audience formerly lost to the traditional music market, I strongly believe digital sales and subscriptions are a sustainable model."


• The power of digitization is insuperable


"It would be wrong to assume that anything in the value chain – except the music-making itself, which will always be organic – remains exempt from the forces of digitization."


• DG must become a trendsetter in digitization of classical music


"... it is my philosophy to rather actively shape this development than be a late follower."


• DG must traditionally maintain the standards of highest quality


"Our ambition is that in the vast ocean of digital recordings, Deutsche Grammophon will continue to serve as a lighthouse of listening quality."


What modern realities could become an obstacle for these ambitions? Here are some of them:


For now, streaming is very unprofitable for the great majority of artists, as well as for the recording companies that represent them.


Streaming giants like Spotify, Google Play or Youtube pay the artist tenths or even hundredths of the cent for 1 stream. To earn $10, artist needs his track to be streamed for 10 000 times (conventionally). This poses a problem even for the most renowed and promoted classical musicians of today. Despite the fact that streams reach a much broader audience than CD sales, artist’s total income from streams is substantially less.


The same situation with recoding companies - streaming services don’t pay them much. If DG would not launch its own profitable streaming service, which is hard to imagine due to economical reasons, it will face strong pressure from the streaming services.


The rise of a great deal of independent recording labels and independent artists which record and sell by themselves.


Independent production is a trend for all fields of culture in the digital era.The Worldwide Independent Music Industry Network (WIN) comprises more that 20,000 members, and this number increases steadily.


The most important point in this situation is that the quality of modern affordable sound recording and sound designing equipment is so high that independently produced recordings are hardly distinguishable from those produced by the major labels. This is the growing issue for any historical label, and for Deutsche Grammophon in particular.


Declining demands of a broader public for the quality of artist’s technical skills and quality of recording


This comes from the overall lower awareness of classical music in digital audiences. The tendency of levelling the difference between amateur and professional musicianship is what musical analytics are already talking about. Extreme technical mastery, fairly popular at the present time, will lose its relevance in the future. A great deal of today's virtuosos are better equipped technically than many masters of the Golden age (only few of them played without technical inaccuracies) but are not as interesting as the latter.


The same idea follows about the quality of the recordings. Despite of their terrible quality, many of old recordings are more compelling than those made with the latest technologies. Interpretation is finally the only thing that matters.


That is, DG’s bet on extra high standards is not indisputable.


Music-making will not always be organic


This bizarre argument is nevertheless completely realistic. The explosive increase of Artificial Intelligence and its application in different fields of human creativity (science, games, language, painting, literature, etc.) leaves no room to doubt that artificially composed music will arise. A lot of studies are already being conducted (in Austria as well), and some results look rather impressive. Global digital projects like “deep learning” under Google or Ilon Mask will definitely result in creating music which will be indistinguishable from human's. It will cost nothing and will rapidly fill the market. Apparently, it won’t need recording companies.


The tendencies of such sort are inherent to digitized reality. The point is, they are not giving the giants of the recording industry an easy ride into the future.


I am planning to explore some of these tendencies with the greater detail in my later posts.







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Violinist deeply rooted in classical tradition and concerned about the future of the genre >> more about the author 

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