It is no secret that classical is hot on the Internet. This seems to be one of those, “if you build it, they will come” situations.
Visit the Web and you’ll find thousands of classical musicians, critics and fans chattering away in a rapidly expanding classical blogosphere. Internet radio also is streaming performances from major opera companies, orchestras and concert halls. And perhaps most surprising, the Web is fueling a mini-boom in the classical recording industry.
Sales at ArkivMusic, an online classical CD emporium, rose 30 percent in 2007, an astounding figure considering that CD sales in general were down more than 15 percent in the United States last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Classical downloads likewise have been brisk. At eMusic, the world’s second-largest digital music service after iTunes, classical music now represents 12 percent of its overall European sales, and its business in the U.S. is not far behind. That’s a big increase for a genre that rarely made up more than 2 or 3 percent of total sales in record stores.
The Internet, of course, is no miracle cure. Past technological innovations – from the Edison cylinder and the LP to the compact disc – also were hailed as classical music saviors. Once the novelty wore off, the genre usually found itself back in the margins.
But on the Internet, being a marginal or niche interest isn’t necessarily bad.
“What the Internet has done is fragment the entire music and entertainment industry, so in the future, I don’t think we’re going to see as many Michael Jackson-like mega acts,” said Douglas McLennan, founder of the online periodical ArtsJournal and an expert on Web-based arts culture. “On the Internet, everything is a niche, and in that kind of environment, classical music is one of the bigger niches.”
The Internet has fragmented the music world, but it also has opened opportunities for ordinary musicians.
A quarter-century ago, only superstar artists could get recording contracts. Now a musician like Wolcott can record and market his own CDs, since the Internet gives him direct access to the public. Wolcott is selling a locally produced album of children’s lullabies, “Stardust,” on his MySpace page.