Classical music sales have been struggling for years now. They make up just 1.4 percent of music consumption, compared to 29 percent for rock, according to a Nielsen survey last year. Symphonies from Nashville to Canada’s Prince Edward Island are dealing with mountains of debt. And audiences of classical music haven’t changed much, which makes it tough for artists who aren’t Andrea Bocelli to make it in the industry.
When Lara Downes, a classical pianist, describes what she does, she uses terms familiar to today’s generation of starving artists. Terms like "entrepreneurial" and "DIY."
“We’re in survival mode,” she says. “We need to build an audience. And we’re kind of tired of making music for the same people all the time.”
So Downes not only does the concert circuit, but she’s on social media, and she’s at schools. And she posts her work on sites like Soundcloud.
She’s hoping her music will land on fresh ears. At performances, she looks out into audiences and sees mostly older people who are there because they love Beethoven. Her job, she says, “is to find the person who could come to the concert hall because you get them curious about Beethoven.”
Audiences of classical music aren’t diverse, which is a challenge for the industry, says Michael Boriskin, artistic and executive director of Copland House. The organization promotes classical music through live performances and outreach programs.
Boriskin says touring is still the bedrock of an artist’s career. But they can’t just walk out onto a stage, perform, and go onto the next city. “Because there is so much competition for people’s attention,” he says.
Boriskin says that personal interaction is what makes the difference. And there’s a chance to sell a few CDs.