Thursday, January 28, 2010

CE Classical Challange Revisited

Back in September I decided to take a quantitative look at the types of classical music being programmed on public radio stations. I've looked at 10 stations so far, and more are being processed. I'll present the data and my take on each station's programming in future posts, but first I'd like to lay the foundation for the study.

Now first of all, I recognize that the primary purpose of music programming is to do good radio. That is, create an overall sound that's consistent (so listeners know what to expect when they tune in) and appealing (which is why Ravel's "Bolero" doesn't work on air -- the beginning is way too quiet for radio, and just sounds like dead air). But public radio has an additional standard, and that is to enlighten, inform, and entertain.

In virtually any other radio format there's a close connection between what's played on the air, what people are currently hearing in concerts, and what artist recordings they're buying. With the exception of oldies formats, listeners expect to hear current artists and new recordings.

There's a perception that classical music is as dead as Latin, but that's not the case.

New music by living composers such as Steve Reich and John Adams is eagerly anticipated. Innovative groups like the Kronos Quartet and Bang on a Can All Stars have strong fan bases and active touring schedules. Top-flight artists such as Matt Haimovitz and Gil Shaham are releasing their own recording on their own indie labels.

Young performers, composers, and ensembles are using social media to connect with audiences and fans the same way their pop music counterparts do.

While it's not quite a one-to-one correspondence, in the popular music realm someone who only goes to concerts will be exposed to the same body of music and the same artists as someone who only buys recordings, or someone who only listens to the radio (and granted, most people are somewhere between those extremes).

What about classical music? The most popular solo artists are opera stars. How often are their their recordings on the air?

Joan Tower, Michael Torke, Thomas Ades, Libby Larsen and other composers regularly introduce new music into the repertoire. How likely is it to be played on the radio?

The Anonymous 4 and other early music groups have successful careers. How often is music of the Middle Ages or Renaissance aired?

Many amateur musicians perform classical music by singing in church choirs and/or choral societies. How frequently will they hear choral music on the radio?

The purpose of the C.E. Classical Challenge is to see if, in fact, there is a disconnect between what stations are airing and what listeners are experiencing elsewhere in the realm of classical music. And if there is, what is the extent of that disconnect?


  1. Hi Ralph,

    The concert hall / concert going experience and the radio listening experience are generally thought to be completely different experiences. Do you have new thoughts or data that suggest we rethink that notion?


  2. Hi Ralph -- here's a link to Instant Encore's data base of worldwide concert listings for 2009. (It's a worldwide listing of Instant Encore's partner performers, ensembles and venues.)

    There are some surprises, affirmations and other interesting things to talk about.