Stop whining, start wine-ing

Hmm… more of this….

Is it just me, or has prognosticating doom for working musicians become a nice little earner for some? I think there might be more honorable trades to ply.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to make and sell high-quality wine, beer or coffee in the US, you were out of luck. You couldn’t get investors to start the business. You couldn’t get shelf space in the supermarket. You couldn’t get distribution. It was the age of Gallo, the age of Folgers and the age of Pabst. Same for all kinds of food.

Of course, now there are hundreds and hundreds of thriving and profitable microbreweries, wineries and coffee roasters all over the country. They do get space in super markets, and their market share is growing, while that of the giant brands is shrinking.

I’ve made this comparison before, but I’ll make it again. After all, pundits make a living repeating the same hackneyed BS for years at a time. The corporate music world does not discriminate between classical and pop, it discriminates between musical Cheez Wiz and everything else. Mega corporations are going to sell mega crap.

Classical recording will survive or be reborn, just as wine making and cheese making and brewing and roasting all did because people who are passionate about it will get their asses in gear and make and promote great recordings. Some of them will build businesses that become so successful that they’re bought up by larger companies, who will gradually crap-ify them, but that’s normal. Many of the imprints that are now being killed off by major labels started this way- they were a labor of love that became successful, the owner cashed out, the mega corporation took over and gradually replaced all those Palestrina albums with “Kissed by the Classics.”

Imagine the master cheese maker 30 years ago trying to build his business. Surely everyone one told him “dude, that cheez whiz shit is hot, hot, hot. We’ve got to get the younger generation interested in what we do. They don’t want cheese- it’s too stuffy and old fashioned. They want cheez! They want wiz! Forget brie. How about Breez wiz?”

There’s nothing that orchestras can learn about programming and presenting concerts or that recording artists can learn about recording from the world of corporate music.

Any good, creative and thoughtful pop, jazz, folk or world music artist faces the same challenge as the Tackacs Quartet or the Berlin Philharmonic. My pop musician friends are just as depressed about the music business as anyone in classical music. They’d tell you we are “fucking insane” to think about trying to make classical concerts more appealing to the plastic-music listener, and “fucking pathetically stupid” (both direct quotes from a colleague in the rock world) to think that crossover acts are anything more than a lame alternative to elevator music.

There are no lessons on top 40 radio, there are no lessons on the Billboard charts. 

Does anyone care that Screaming Eagle doesn’t sell as many bottles as Gallo (yes, I know they now make some good stuff)? The difference between classical music and the wine business is that people see a small winery as a successful purveyor of a high-quality product- they’re winners, while the media (OUR OWN media, god help us), depict classical music as somehow losing a competitive battle with Brittany Spears- we’re losers. Corporate music’s profits are shrinking- doesn’t that tell us there is an opportunity for classical entrepreneurs to take market share from them?

I don’t know exactly what the model for the next generation of classical recording is, but I know I’m one of many who want to find it. I’m passionate about wanting to make records, as I am passionate about wanting to give concerts. There are a lot of us out there who know that there is room in this world for new recordings and for more and better concerts. We’ll find a way, and we’ll make money out of it when the business matures.

If the pundits want to help, they could start showing investors where there is room for making money in classical music recording, by identifying newly lowered costs, easier methods of distribution and opportunities of scale. They could call more attention to music that deserves to be more widely heard.

Cheez wiz sucks. Cheez wiz is cheez for people who aren’t in to cheese

Crossover sucks. Crossover is elevator music for people who aren’t in to classical music but don’t want to admit that they like elevator music because it would identify them as the tasteless nitwits they are.

Top 40 sucks. Top 40 is music for people who aren’t in to music.

Do we really trust huge multi-national corporations to improve the situation? Is Kraft going to finance the best and brightest cheese makers in the world to come up with new and smelly cheeses? No. If the current generation of artisans had waited for a corporate solution, we’d still be drinking Folgers, instead of my locally roasted, every so tasty cuppa I’m working on now.

Don’t join the crap parade- those people are only marching in one direction, and you know what you end up marching through.c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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2 comments on “Stop whining, start wine-ing”

  1. Jen

    This is interesting. Pretty much the “Everything” recording industry is being revolutionized by things like itunes, etc. It’s not the product that needs rethinking, it’s the distribution.

  2. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Archivio » LInL- James Smock

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