Did you know that classical music is the fourth most popular genre among music consumers? Or that it numbers more fans worldwide than R&B or hip hop?
Despite the gloomy predictions of classical music’s death that have become ubiquitous over the last few years, a recent study commissioned by Idagio, the classical music streaming service based in Berlin, has found the future to be far from dreary for the beloved genre.
The research is gleaned from a study completed by MIDiA Research, a boutique research and analysis service based in the UK and focusing on “the intersection of technology and content”. The paper used consumer data from an online survey of 8,000 adult music consumers from across the globe, including the US, UK, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea. Market models were used to calculate trends.
The average age of classical music listeners is about 45.5, and about 40 percent fall into the 55+ demographic, but 44 percent are under the age of 44, and the numbers are growing when it comes to younger music lovers. The second highest demographic counted falls among 25 to 34-year-olds at 31 percent. Naturally, the MIDiA study focused on streaming music markets, which it finds plays a key role in introducing new fans to the music globally. The hard numbers bear out that assertion, with 30 percent of classical music streamers falling into the under 35 demographic. Even among 20 to 24-year-olds, the youngest demographic represented in the study, about 25 percent listen to classical music. A significant 42 percent of music listeners say that streaming has helped them to discover a broader palette of musical choices than any other format. As a whole, about 35 percent of music consumers count themselves as fans of classical music, putting it on about a par with country music in popularity
The study, and many analysts, point to the emergence of mood-based playlists on the big services like Spotify for piquing the interest of younger generations. Such playlists include music that is based entirely on mood, ignoring genre, and typically includes classical music tracks.
The figures are impressive, particularly when you consider that only about 5 percent of all music recorded falls into the classical music slot. That figure, however, is offset by the wealth of existing and even archival material that is now available. Fans of classical music aren’t like their trend driven pop music counterparts. Its current audiences are loyal, with many people adding classical music to the other types they enjoy. In some markets, such as Sweden and Denmark, up to 40 percent of classical music fans say they listen to it in addition to their usual music genre.
Classical music sales were up only 2.1 percent in 2018 over 2017; the big jump in classical music streaming is looking to make up the difference. The market for classical music recording amounted to $384 million in 2018, and classical music streaming was up a whopping 46 percent, worth $141 million, or about 37 percent of the total classical music market. In North America, the total classical music market is worth $146 million of which $89 million represents streaming revenues — that’s more than 60 percent.
While streaming is up and coming, though, radio and CDs are still the preferred listening media when it comes to classical music fans, with video streaming on YouTube or Vevo coming in a surprising third with 29 percent of listeners. Some 40 percent listen to classical music on the radio, with 35 percent saying they listen to CDs. Related categories include “relaxing piano music” at just over 20 percent, classical crossover at 11.5 percent, and opera at just under 9 percent.
While classical music listeners buck the industry trend, the market for physical CDs can’t be expected to sustain classical music sales into the future. Brick and mortar record stores are harder and harder to find, and many labels have put store promotions and physical CD sales on the back burner as streaming emerges as the fastest growing format. Overall, the market for CD sales in North America dropped just under 20 percent from 2017 to 2018, with music downloads dropping just over 21 percent during the same period. It’s not surprising. In the R&B/hip hop genre, for example, six recent No. 1 albums were never released in physical CD form at all.
The MIDiA figures are held up by another recent study commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) that looked at 2,095 adults in the UK and their preferred music formats. About 22 percent of the survey’s respondents said they wanted to discover more orchestral music — more than any other genre. That study found a kind of sub-trend among the youngest listeners choosing options other than streaming, including a surprising surge in vinyl album sales, and digital downloads.
The RPO study also underscores an important aspect of classical music — the concert experience. While many listeners preferred to experience classical music at home, 16 percent of listeners 18 to 24, and another 10 percent between 25 and 34, say that they choose the music they listen to because of concerts they have attended. James Williams, Managing Director at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra commented on the study results. “For many, it is the most emphatic way to enrich people’s lives and inspire a journey of musical discovery.”
New technology, new listeners, and timeless music are set to take the classical genre into a healthy future.