This might seem like comparing apples and oranges. But you can do that if what you're really interested in is the makeup of the fruit salad.
As Anne Midgette revealed in a Washington Post article,
The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. [Hilary] Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.The article goes on to talk about how even the most heavily-promoted new classical recordings only sell a few hundred copies a week (including downloads).
Is this the end of classical music?
Well, I used to work for a classical record label, and even before the Internet became factor sales were around this same level for most of our titles. It was how the disc sold over the course of several years that mattered (and that's the point the article makes, too). So no, probably not.
Composer Robert Ian Winstin recently set himself a daunting task: compose, rehearse, record and post a new piece of classical music every day in the month of February. The project, "28 in Twenty-eight" proved successful in many ways. Winstin did indeed write twenty-eight works, and it attracted an audience as well.
Most of the music was for solo piano (Winstin's a concert pianist as well as a conductor), some were chamber works, and there were even some vocal compositions.
Over 20,000 people visited the blog (and presumably listened to the music), and over 12,000 downloaded the sheet music of the compositions Winstin also made available.
Here's one of the works Winstin composed as part of the project.
So let's mix our apples and oranges. Just looking at the raw numbers, it seems more people downloaded Winstin's music then purchased Hilary Hahn's latest major label recording.
So what does that mean?
Well, Winstin's blog was open to all, and the sheet music are free downloads. Hahn's Bach performances are available for sale at fine record stores and download sites. So one could say free trumps paid. But that's not really true. If Winstin charged $.99 for each download, it would be a fairer comparison. What would the numbers be then?
I'm not sure, but in one sense it doesn't matter. If modern music -- and you can't get much more modern than last month -- is such an anathema to listeners as some believe, there shouldn't have been any downloads at all.
Are these really two different audiences? I think so.
Which lead me to this thought. The classical music industry traditionally markets to one of those audiences and virtually ignores the other. But -- just looking at those apples-to-orange numbers -- which one represents a healthier future for classical music?