Deutsche Grammophon chief Clemens Trautmann speaks to Kathimerini about DG’s recent deal with Apple and developments in the industry.
In a few days’ time you will be six months into your presidency of DG. What can you tell us about the label’s position in a musical industry that is facing many diverse challenges?
Before speaking about current challenges, let’s start out with the two things that will always remain the same at Deutsche Grammophon, irrespective of technology: our highest-quality standards and the radiance of our yellow label. Otherwise, our industry has been undergoing tremendous change in the past decade and returned to growth of 3.2 percent in 2015. Commercially, the traditional business model, based on ownership of recordings such as CD, vinyl and download, is being increasingly complemented and changed by streaming, which is based on access to music. This obviously has ramifications for signings and repertoire policies as well as for marketing strategies. Artistically, in classical music a whole new genre of ambient and minimal music (which some refer to as “post-classical”) has evolved and the historical performance practice has filtered into the mainstream.
Is internet technology an enemy or an ally? Do you think internet sales can replace the lost revenues from CD sales?
Deutsche Grammophon has a longstanding tradition of embracing technological innovation. Our co-founder Emil Berliner is regarded as one of the inventors of the gramophone. Among other achievements, the company released the first double-sided record, was the first to record only on magnetic tape from 1946, and started the first industrial CD production in 1982. Today, it is our ambition to become the prime destination for classical music in all formats, including digital channels. Toward that end, we are partnering with technology companies such as Apple Music, where we have just launched a DG curator channel with a series of playlists and preview sections. Given that streaming is growing at double-digit rates and addresses a young audience formerly lost to the traditional music market, I strongly believe digital sales and subscriptions are a sustainable model.
Is there a plan for a further “digitization” of Deutsche Grammophon?
Let me put it this way: It would be wrong to assume that anything in the value chain – except the music-making itself, which will always be organic – remains exempt from the forces of digitization. And it is my philosophy to rather actively shape this development than be a late follower. What excites us right now is the field of online education, which creates entirely new possibilities for our artists to reach out to their fans and to educate audiences. At the end of April, we hosted an interactive online master class in Berlin with Daniel Hope where he taught a student in Italy – just connected through a notebook with camera and microphone. More than 10,000 viewers could actually follow how the student’s playing improved. And Daniel conveyed fascinating details about his new album “My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin,” which he would never have been able to share in a traditional interview setting.
How do you plan to attract new audiences? How do you build a loyal audience nowadays?
There are several offline and online formats to attract new listeners. For instance, our Yellow Lounge series, where classical music is presented in clubs, is very successful. An iconic DG artist such as Anne-Sophie Mutter has taken a huge interest in this format and released an exciting club album. The post-classical music of Max Richter and Johann Johannsson, who are signed to our label as composers and widely acknowledged for their film scores, is also important in order to tap into new audience pools. We can observe via fan activity and digital interaction that such novices to classical music may very well continue their exploration with Arvo Part, Philip Glass, Bruckner and late Liszt.
Deutsche Grammophon has built a recognizable and respected identity through the years. What is your vision for the label’s future?
There is a notorious quote by a former German chancellor: “If you have visions, go see a doctor.” In the past six months we have set up a clear-cut strategy with measurable goals. Our ambition is that in the vast ocean of digital recordings, Deutsche Grammophon will continue to serve as a lighthouse of listening quality. Thus, our label will remain the preferred home for the outstanding artists of each generation and represent a global brand of excellence for classical music altogether – as it has been for more than a century.