Branding Classical Music to ‘Trick’ Younger Listeners

The Guardian recently reported how executives at BBC Radio 3 are considering whether to remove BBC branding from their new classical podcasts in order to entice more young people into trying them out.

Radio 3’s audiences fell by 11% in the first quarter of 2017, according to the article, and the BBC is now facing a classic dilemma: “how to increase audiences without alienating the core over-65 fans, which, according to a 2015 BBC Trust report, make up 42% BBC Radio 3 listeners.” The article quotes Gabriel Prokofiev, the DJ, composer and concert promoter, who suggests that Radio 3 call their podcasts Radio 3Xtra, mirroring a similar effort by the BBC’s Radio1 pop and rock station.

Any podcast must first offer meaningful or interesting content if it hopes to cut through the clutter. But there’s a larger question, of whether to disassociate classical music from “legacy” institutions that are seen as the domain of unhip older consumers. American Public Media, for instance, hosts YourClassical, a collection of music streams that include “Romance,” “Relax” and “Inspire.” APM’s branding is minimized on the homepage in favor of lifestyle-oriented themes, an approach that mirrors that of Spotify and especially Pandora, where “Classical Relaxation” is the most popular channel (and Satie is King).

Yoga at the Wanderlust Festival (Credit: Flickr/The Cosmopolitan)
Yoga at the Wanderlust Festival (Credit: Flickr/The Cosmopolitan)

Similarly, Seattle’s KING-FM in 2014 launched Second Inversion, a 24-hour contemporary music stream aimed at 20- and 30-something listeners. Though the name is a bit of musical jargon involving chord structure, KING doesn’t belabor the point. And the website and app barely mention the parent radio station.

But in another branch of the recorded music industry, classical record labels have mostly held onto their brand identities, even as they’ve chased trends and dealt with bottom-line pressures. Deutsche Grammophon, AKA the “Yellow label,” continues to display its crown of tulips logo on the cover its recordings. And when Warner Music Group acquired EMI Classics and Virgin Classics in 2013, it revived the long-dormant Erato Records brand, and placed several artists, including Natalie Dessay and Renaud Capucon, under this imprint.

Not to be underestimated is how potential new listeners find classical music: through search engines, where straightforward keywords like “classical” and “symphony” increasingly matter over seemingly arcane institutional names. Time will tell if this strategy catches on.

Photo: Matthew Henry/

Alan Gilbert Previews U.N. Project in Lincoln Center Finale

As Alan Gilbert prepares to close out his eight-year tenure with the New York Philharmonic, he’s laying the groundwork for a new project to be launched in collaboration with the United Nations, called Musicians for Unity. Continue reading “Alan Gilbert Previews U.N. Project in Lincoln Center Finale”

Streaming Classical Music Concerts: The Menu Grows

At a recent lunch for news media in New York, Hervé Boissière, the president and founder of the French concert-streaming service, showed off the beta version of his company’s new website. Gone was the old homepage dominated by a ginormous video player, which automatically started playing upon arrival (forcing you frantically reach for the pause button and/or volume if you had other plans). Continue reading “Streaming Classical Music Concerts: The Menu Grows”

Dearth of Women Composers Sparks Social Media Campaigns

Music by women composers accounts for just 1.3% of pieces performed by American orchestras during the 2016-17 concert season, according to a recent repertoire survey conducted by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Among living composers performed, women do somewhat better, accounting for 10.3% of all pieces. The survey examined the seasons of 85 orchestras, from small regional ensembles to the majors, and found that, as a whole, that there’s long way to go before gender balance is achieved in concert programming. Continue reading “Dearth of Women Composers Sparks Social Media Campaigns”

Why Spotify and YouTube Are Key to Classical Music’s Future

Attracting more young people is perhaps the most crucial challenge that the classical music field faces, and if one thing is certain, it’s essential to create low-threshold on-ramps in places where teenagers and millennials already frequent. Continue reading “Why Spotify and YouTube Are Key to Classical Music’s Future”

Ars Longa, Channeling Cuban Salsa in the Baroque

At not many concerts of Renaissance and Baroque music do the performers pick out random audience members to dance with in the aisles. Nor do such concerts typically feature a lutenist who wields his instrument like a rock guitar god, or a “horn section” that choreographs its parts with salsa- and mambo-style moves. Continue reading “Ars Longa, Channeling Cuban Salsa in the Baroque”

Met Opera Announces 2017-18, With 3 Notable Omissions

When the Metropolitan Opera announced its current season one year ago, it was notable for the fact that it brought back, in fairly short order, the four most-produced works in the Met’s history: Aida, La Bohème, Carmen and La Traviata. Continue reading “Met Opera Announces 2017-18, With 3 Notable Omissions”

Seattle Symphony Stages Concert to Celebrate Immigrants

The Seattle Symphony staged a kind of protest concert on Wednesday night, featuring composers and performers from the seven Muslim majority countries that Donald Trump has sought to bar from entering the United States. Continue reading “Seattle Symphony Stages Concert to Celebrate Immigrants”

Carnegie Hall Feeling Groovy With ’60s Festival in 2018

If you’re at Carnegie Hall next season, don’t touch the brown acid. The venerable venue this week announced its 2017-18 season, one that includes a two-month festival (January 14-March 24, 2018) dedicated to the 1960s. Continue reading “Carnegie Hall Feeling Groovy With ’60s Festival in 2018”