An Insider’s Look At The Classical Music Recording Business

While I’m away on business, I asked Sean Hickey, National Sales & Business Development Manager Naxos of America, Inc., to step in as a guest author and write something about classical music and the recording business. I’m pleased to say that he accepted the invitation and delivered some thought provoking perspective from his position within Naxos and as a composer ~ Drew McManus…

Especially over the past three years, Naxos of America has moved away from the traditional distributor role to one that embraces the classical music dialogue far more fully. Many music professionals know the name Naxos as the large record label of classical music recordings, most of them with the ubiquitous white covers. Younger folks and students know the name through our popular streaming service Naxos Music Library. But as the traditional pilings of the “record business” – retail stores – started to go under after the turn of the millennium, we had to look elsewhere for those interested in classical music. Nowadays, there is no retailer on the planet that can tell our story more effectively than us. Further, the traditional sales channels have all but gone, and through our efforts in reaching people via the web, digital, social media, public libraries, institutions of learning, licensing and variety of other methods, do we now have a business more diverse and exciting than we ever had before.

More importantly in this context: a few Naxos services that orchestras have used:

Naxos Music Library – with all modesty the most incredible music research site on the web, found at and currently boasting over 625,000 tracks from more than 200 labels. Many American music directors use the site to research works, do comparative analysis of interpretations and the like, and the possibilities certainly don’t end there. Orchestras such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony utilize NML as a premium item for their membership, boards of directors and for those that commit to a larger purchase of tickets for the concert season. Currently over 1000 institutions of higher learning utilize an NML subscription for their students. Professors can easily create and edit their own playlists and build their curricula around the NML’s offerings. Orchestras can do exactly that as well: build a playlist of upcoming programmed works as a taster for the season.

Naxos Video Library – After four years, the first graduating students are finding themselves without access to the NML, which was authenticated for them through their respective university or school. In February of this year we launched, which makes NML’s technology look positively old school. Here, a student can sample comparative video performances of, say, Un Bel Di, by several singers and toggle back and forth. Further, in addition to subtitles, the original language libretto runs on the side of the screen in real time, for those wish to brush up on their Italian. NVL would make a fantastic offer for the symphony subscriber.

Retail web hosting – Our experience is that many orchestras don’t realize the potential revenue of selling recordings and/or downloads through their own sites. They’re already set up to make sales – they sell tickets via the web daily. The orchestras that record for Naxos and one of our 100 labels sell those recordings on their sites. These include Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle, Nashville, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. But why not make inexpensive Naxos recordings available which mirror the coming season? We handle all fulfilment from our warehouse, which includes processing, pick-pack-ship, invoicing and returns. The consumer receives their goods with the orchestra logo on the invoice. All of this is done with our retail site, Classics Online, as the backbone.

Label distribution – We handle the North American distribution for a variety of orchestra-led labels including the Chicago Symphony (CSO Resound), London Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and are continually in discussion with several others. If you’re thinking of going digital-only, we can handle orchestra distribution effectively. We’re a marketing company and we market classical music to the digital service providers every day, and understand the particular felicities of selling classical music to the song-based format that DSPs provide. We can do the same for orchestras, opera houses and concert presenters of any kind. Presumably, all concert presenters record their concerts. Why not continue earning revenue on a concert that has already taken place? There are several options and we’re willing to go over them with anyone interested.

Recording – There are more effective ways to take a recording to market and to reach a targeted audience through creative marketing and social media. We’re happy to discuss options, for Naxos or for any of the labels we distribute.

About Sean Hickey

Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1970, Sean Hickey’s earliest music education began at age 12 with an electric guitar, a Peavey amp, and a stack of Van Halen records, the early ones of course. He studied jazz guitar at Oakland University, later graduating with a degree in composition and theory from Wayne State University. His primary instructors were James Hartway, James Lentini and Leslie Bassett. Several of his recording and concert reviews may be found in the pages of the New Music Connoisseur, 21st Century Music, Modern Dance and numerous other publications. He is also a principal contributor to the Omnibus Guide to Classical Music on CD, has contributed liner notes to dozens of classical recordings and is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His travel and adventure pieces have appeared in Transitions Abroad, the Burlington Free Press, Trailworks, Trailsource, Orlando Weekly, ITN, Babylon Travel and elsewhere. Otra Dia, a travelogue of the writer’s travels in Peru, was published by Cantabile Press. He also lectures extensively on career options and marketing strategy for composers.

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An Insider’s Look At The Classical Music Recording Business