New York Philharmonic Positions Digital-Only Releases

The New York Philharmonic and Deutsche Grammophon have announced a groundbreaking deal that will see the orchestra’s concerts sold as digital recordings. The first digital-only release from the Philharmonic will be an upcoming performance of Mozart’s Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, and 41 at Avery Fisher Hall. This performance will be made available for purchase in about two months, and will be priced somewhere between $8 and $10 for the entire set. Consumers will also be given the option of purchasing just a single movement or symphony, opening the possibility of an iTunes offering.

This new revenue stream is a welcome development for the orchestra, and comes at a time when many orchestras are cutting back on performance recordings due to market declines and rising player contract costs. Download-only releases offer renewed hopes for recorded classical music, as the reduced costs of digital distribution make it easier to recoup expenses. Moreover, a new revenue sharing model with musicians has made the Philharmonic venture possible.

The Philharmonic’s move toward digital distribution is part of a wider trend in the classical music industry. Prior to the recent announcement in New York, the BBC launched a highly successful digital-only release of all nine Beethoven symphonies. The project, a collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic, offered the downloads for free. That drew 1.4 million takers, a massive response. Label executives complained bitterly that the effort would ruin the market for Beethoven recordings, though the tremendous response indicated an untapped digital audience for classical music. While the BBC is responding to the label reaction by curtailing the amount of free downloads it offers in the future, other symphonies are now in the mood to experiment.

The New York Philharmonic’s partnership with Deutsche Grammophon is a three-year deal, and is part of a broader move by Universal Music Group to embrace digital distribution. The company has also signed deals with other orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. These deals are part of a wider effort to expand the market for classical music, and to reach a new generation of consumers who may be less interested in traditional formats like CDs and vinyl.

The move toward digital distribution is not without its challenges, however. One of the biggest challenges is piracy, which has plagued the music industry for years. While the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras are hopeful that digital distribution will help to combat piracy, there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Moreover, some consumers may be hesitant to purchase digital recordings, preferring instead to have a physical copy of the music.

Nevertheless, the move toward digital distribution is a positive development for the classical music industry. As more and more orchestras embrace this new format, it is likely that consumers will become more comfortable with it as well. And as the market for classical music expands, it is possible that we will see a renaissance in the genre, with new audiences discovering the beauty and power of this timeless art form.

Story by news analyst Richard Menta.