Sunday, August 22, 2010


A new keyword is born thanks to NPR's All Things Considered. Because I keep up on any mention classical music gets in mainstream culture (and compared to our general audience, NPR qualifies as "mainstream"), check out All Things Considered's story on Seraphic Fire's recent recording of the Monteverdi Vespers. Significant because a) it is on the iTunes classical top ten and b) it was independently released. This is the future of not just classical music, but almost all music, as the economic justification for the "record label" continues to break down.

The short version of my argument: releasing and distributing records used to require extensive capital. If you were going to make any significant money off of record sales, you had to produce a significant number of physical records, which would have to be distributed all around the country (and world) to actual physical stores, which physical people would have to come and pick up. Not only that, but you would have to record your album in a very expensive space with very expensive recording equipment, microphones, analog tape recorders, etc. This was obviously out of reach of your average garage band or little-known Baroque chamber choir. However, thanks to the internet, this is no longer the case. The cost of recording an album on ProTools and uploading to iTunes is relatively insignificant. Seraphic Fire's success is emblematic of this- they are doing something right. And they didn't have to pay record executives anything to do it.

Of course, microphones are still kind of expensive.

Check out and listen to the full story here.

By the way, about half of the story is a review / explanation of Seraphic Fire and Monteverdi's vespers. Besides the economic issues the story raises, the album actually seems well worth checking out. I will keep you posted.


  1. I would really like to know how many downloads it takes to make it into the top 10 classical albums on iTunes. I can't imagine that it's a very large number.

    The key part of the story for me was the tagged image on Facebook. I think the take-away is that it helps to record a fairly large ensemble of people who use social media. Even if only a small fraction of their Facebook friends download the album, that alone might be sufficient to crack the top 10.

    (Incidentally, the album is now in first place on the iTunes chart -- driven mainly by the NPR story I imagine.)

    PS Love the blog Ben -- keep it up!

  2. Great blog, thanks. As one of the singers on the CD it's been exciting to follow all the buzz. And at one point today we were ranked 18th among all downloads on iTunes - we edged out Lady GaGa!

  3. It's true that to get to get on the iTunes top ten doesn't likely require THAT many sales- however, if you check the classical top 10 on any given day, and you have musical taste approaching mine, you will likely be very sad. There is an awful lot of "The most meditative classical music of all time" style albums on the list. And of course Yo-yo Ma. So getting on it with a serious Monteverdi recording is not too shabby, in my book. In fact, complaining about these "classical" albums is a good blog topic.