Rumors of Classical Recording’s Death Exaggerated?

My DePauw colleague Scott Spiegelberg wrote an excellent followup on his blog, Musical Perceptions, to my post on the assertions of the “death” or “decline” of classical recording. It turns out he’s been researching this subject himself. Among other information, he includes this, which I found startling:

I couldn’t find any industry-wide data [for classical new releases], but I looked at Deutsche Grammaphon‘s catalog to tally their number of releases each year. Here it is:
Year # of releases
1982 8
1983 18
1984 29
1985 38
1986 19
1987 75
1988 52
1989 72
1990 56
1991 39
1992 53
1993 72
1994 86
1995 120
1996 90
1997 88
1998 94
1999 109
2000 85
2001 77
2002 116
2003 129
2004 145
2005 235
2006 273

Scott notes that the huge increase in recent years includes many releases of older recordings. Both Scott and I (and others, I’m sure) are on the hunt for broader industry-wide statistics on both the number of releases and the number of new releases. In her comment on my post, Elaine Fine reports the following:

The November/December issue of the American Record Guide has 244 pages of reviews of new recordings, and there are roughly three reviews per page. That means that there are roughly 730 new releases represented in that issue. Multiply that by 6 (the number of issues of roughly the same size that come out per year), and you get around 4390 recordings for 2006. Those are just the ones that the ARG reviewers felt were worth reviewing.

I’m inferring that these are all classical recordings.

As I suggested in my original post, I imagine that as the major labels have been bought by companies more interested in profit than mission, so that the model using some mega-sellers to subsidize smaller-sellers has nearly vanished, there’s an enormous increase in performer-produced recordings on small labels. I have several friends, for example, who have funded the recording/editing costs of projects which the label Centaur has distributed. CD Baby and other online distributors have tons of interesting self-produced classical recordings.

I imagine the next big boom in major-label new ecording of traditional classical repertoire will come when there is some new technology that is a big step forward from digital stereo (CDs, MP3s, Itunes, etc.). SACDs, which use surround sound, don’t seem to have taken hold anymore than “quadraphonic” recordings did in the 1970s, probably for the same reason: it’s expensive and cumbersome to set up a really good surround-sound system. And stereo is much more like one’s experience in a traditional concert than is surround sound.

So until then . . .

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