News October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: Chaz Jenkins – Universal Classical

Classical music has been around for hundreds of years. It ain’t going away. Those who’ve made a career in the genre are confident it’ll be around for hundreds more. Chaz Jenkins is a big believer in classical. Jenkins, a Brit, is on a mission to connect classical with new audiences. And despite the naysayers, he’s confident the CD format should continue to play a big part in all this. Jenkins has responsibilities for the international marketing and promotion of all frontline releases for the core classical artists signed to Deutsche Grammophon, Decca Classics and Mercury Classics.

Prior to joining Universal in the last months of 2012, Jenkins was Head of LSO Live. He developed and launched LSO Live in 1999 — the first “stakeholder label” in classical music. Earlier in his career, he was a freelance promoter, nightclub manager and DJ. TMN caught up with Jenkins, who briefly visited Australia this week to spread the word.

Do record-buyers graduate from “crossover” to the “serious” classical artists?

To a certain degree, yes. Classical crossover isn’t anything new. It’s always existed, it just evolves all the time. If you go back, 40 or 50 years, you had crossover acts like Mario Lanza. Go back further to pre-war days and you had light music — that was “crossover”. It goes through waves. You have Andre Rieu as a phenomenally successful (crossover) artist. That’s where crossover is at the moment. Ten years ago it was all about Bond. In the interim period, we’ve had a wave of tenors and sopranos –Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Alfie Boe. Pavarotti was a serious classical artist. But much of his fame was built on his work in the crossover sector. Crossover does draw-in audiences to classical music, without a doubt. But it’s not the only route into the market. Classical market isn’t a tiny little niche. It is actually a substantial market. There is a serious end of classical music, which is a small niche. But the overlap, the crossover, the projects which sit at the edge of classical music, the potential is much, much greater.

What do we know about the classical music record buyer?

There’s a misconception that the classical CD buyer is male and over the age of 55. It’s significantly broader than that. Classical reaches people of all age groups, all demographics. It’s as broad as any genre. There is a core buyer, undoubtedly. There is a complete-ist. They want to complete their lifelong classical music collection on CD.

But classical music’s reach is absolutely huge in terms of dedicated media for classical. It’s synced widely and featured in shows all over the world, featured in adverts. Every country has (classical) radio stations, has a magazine. Classical music will always have some sort of presence in the national media in each country. The one thing which has always been lacking in classical music is a de facto international Website for classical music. Like a Pitchfork, which can be hugely influential. Classical never had that. Universal has developed its own classical music Website, Sinfini (http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/) which is editorially independent and reaches out to the concerts industry as well. It talks the language that is understandable by most people. It s much more about drawing in the audience to classical by presenting them with everything they could possible need as their first stepping stone into the genre. We’re rolling that out around the world. Australia will be one of the first markets to get their own dedicated editorial (team). That’ll come later this year.

We tend to think of the EDM kids as the most tech-savvy, and the country and classic guys as the least.

I don’t think that’s the case. Historically there’s been a strong crossover with electronic music and classical music. That was my way into a classical music — through electronic music. Services like iTunes, Spotify, they work well because they’re simple to use and anyone can use them. If you go back to the 1990s, a lot of DJs openly said they were influenced by composers. There is a significant crossover there. One of the biggest albums we have on Universal at the moment, through DG, is an album called Recomposed by a composer called Max Richter. He’s recomposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Max worked with Future Sound of London in the ‘90s.

The Internet and social media is playing a part in classical music education. We’re seeing many classical artists wanting to engage with music education through music workshops, going into music schools, going into conventional schools – and they’re posting video on the Internet. Part of the reason the market in China is strong and growing is because people are learning instruments again. In China there are more people learning to play the piano than in the rest of the world combined. So, the more people engaged with music education and play music, the better for the genre as a whole.

The CD format is still massive in classical. Is the transition to digital happening?

Classical undoubtedly works very well in the digital space. But it works in a very different way. You have certain classical titles where 90-95% of sales are digital. Then the deeper you go into the catalogue, you have other titles where the bulk of sales are physical. There’s no real evidence that digital cannibalizes the CD market in classical music. The CD and digital in classical music co-exists very well. Digital is undoubtedly much better at drawing-in new audiences to classical music. The whole experience of digital music, you can listen before you buy. For classical, that’s quite important. When you have the latest Taylor Swift record, you know what it’s going to sound like. But with classical music, most consumers don’t know the difference between Bach and Beethoven. But on a digital store you can hear the previews. Digital is a great way for newer, less knowledgeable audiences, to acutely make their first steps in classical music. The two markets will carry on, side by side. As long as there is a market for classical CDs, they will survive.

Is there growth left in the classical CD market? 

Absolutely. Fundamentally. There’s undoubtedly growth left in that market. The classical music following in a place like China or Latin America has always been huge. But there has never been traditional retail models in those markets. Now digital is reaching into those markets, there is growth and physical is actually following. Physical is growing in the wake of inroads being made by digital. The CD will actually grow in those markets. It’s quite bizarre when you look back a few years and everyone was predicting the death of the CD in 2005 to actually say here is a genre where physical will grow as well as digital.

Are classical fans migrating to streaming services?
The idea of a streaming service should fundamentally work for classical music. A lot of classical is about the repertoire, the great composers. And the music they wrote over the past 500 years. If you want to get into classical music, it’s almost like an education process. It’s something which people feel they have to learn. In the past it’s been difficult for people to learn about classical music. To hear the difference between Mozart and Beethoven and Bach and Mahler when you have to buy an album every time. With a streaming service, for a few dollars a month, you can listen to anything, you can find the classical music you like, you can learn about the genre in your own time in an economic way. It’s early days, but streaming services have a great future for classical music. They’re a wonderful solution for that audience who we want to draw in who felt intimidated by classical music in the past.

What are your thoughts on the Australian market for classical? And, of course, our classical artist community?
Australia has a long heritage in classical music. Some of the greatest classical artists have come from Australia. You’ve always been a long heritage of performing music here. The market for classical music remains vibrant here. You’ve fantastic orchestras and great presenters for classical music. It is a strong market. We would like to ensure that we’re doing our part to maintain the exposure for classical music here and supporting musicians. The role of a classical record company isn’t just to release recordings. It should be about helping set the agenda for a genre of music.

Many DJs I speak to listen to classical in their downtime. What do you listen to?

All sorts. I do listen to a lot of classical music, but I listen to electronic music, rock music. I’m having to listen to a lot of music my kids like [laughs].There’s always this perception that people are fans of a specific genre of music. Few people actually are. The music industry has tried to pigeonhole people because it makes retailing easier. You don’t put people into genres. People listen to all sorts of different things. They have eclectic tastes. There’s no reason why a classical fan can’t listen to rock music. It’s allowed.

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