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January 24, 2009
The Future of the (Classical ) Record Shop
The January issue of BBC Music had an editorial bemoaning the fate of the classical record shop noting the collapse of Zavvi and with a minor swipe at downloads. There was a touch of nostalgia in the article which thought that 'buying music shouldn't be a solitary affair'. The article suggested that a return to the listening booth and listening posts might be the way forward.
This all seems remarkably unrealistic and is mere tinkering at the edges of what seems to be a much deeper problem that was also alluded to. This is the fact that pop and rock accounts for 90% of all music sales! Assuming that this figure is right this means that Jazz, Classical, Folk, World and a couple of other genres are sharing a mere 10% of music sales. The issue here is not listening booths in the shrinking number of record shops but examining how it is that the populist / popular genre has come to dominate the marketplace despite / because of the unchallenging simplistic nature of popular music. A form which relies upon spectacle, celebrityand desire to self generate - A perfect example of Adorno's "culture industry"!!
A core issue surrounding classical music, in Britain at least, is that of class and the sociologist / social anthropologist Pirre Bourdieu puts a strong case for the concept of 'Cultural Capital' which effectively outlines what is important knowledge to have for power and status. For working class people to become enthusisatic about classical music requires shifts at the level of social structure. This means ownership of the music and a valuing of the music. This can only come through education and with the current dreadful skills based discourse driving the worst sort of ineffective education system there hasn't been much hope of change here to date.
That classical music doesn't have to be class-based was shown under the old Soviet system where many working class people could attend local conservatoires in the evenings after school. Currently the best model going is "El Systema" in Brazil which seems to be remarkably effective. Stirling Council and now I believe others in Scotland are moving towards it. Apparently Boris Johnson has asked for it to be considered in London as well. There are plenty of links below explaining the system and describing its successess so I won't go over this at present.
Gustavo Dudamel came through "El Systma" and now conducts the Los Angles Symphony Orchestra
What has this got to do with record shops you might well ask? Well, I think the issue is developing audiences in depth with a wide range of people who have knowledge. These people may well be performers, concert-goers and of course music buyers. With a much wider discourse of non-pop music within the culture I think outlets will start to look after themselves. The issue is to get to the roots of the problem in the first place.
There are other things which need to be considered which could develop new audiences. The built environment could be changed with a range of small venues properly designed for acoustics. These concert halls would be suitable for chamber music and would have the benfit of building audiences.With a cultural milieu recreated which has a broadbased audience it will matter less how and where people purchase their music but that they discuss the pros and cons of various recordings.
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at 2007 Proms
Gustavo Dudamel and Venezuelan Brass Ensemble