Why 'own label' releases are a vital tool for classical musicians

The big-name "own labels" are the most visible signs of a practice that has been widespread at grassroots level for years. For musicians or ensembles that spend much of their life playing and touring to audiences that range from under a hundred to a few thousand, the economic facts are subtly different.

There is, of course, a classical independent sector in the traditional sense, and it's a thriving one: companies such as Naxos, Chandos, Hyperion and BIS are, in terms of repertoire and releases, a dominant force. However, at grassroots level, particularly for smaller groups or individual musicians, the key factor is that the investment has two purposes: sales and promotion.

Anybody can hire a room or a producer. After some post-production in a professional studio, the CDs are run off. Then they go into the touring kit. One batch becomes part of the marketing pack, others are sold in the concert foyer. The rest are sold through the musicians' website. At this grassroots level they really can't lose; and the public gets to have recordings that otherwise wouldn't be available.

However, for the more ambitious, there is a role model in the cunningly titled ArtistLed label. This creation of the US cello-piano duo David Finckel and Wu Han started in 1997 and has released eight CDs. Because of the name it's guaranteed to come up in internet searches. Styling itself "classical music's first musician-directed, internet-based recording company", the founders say ArtistLed is "a means for musicians to record what they want the way they want, and to offer their records directly to the public".

Philip Glass ran Point Music in collaboration with Polygram for a decade. The deal was that half the releases were expected to be commercially effective while the others could be less so, and since the composer's own music was a mainstay of the Nonesuch catalogue at the time, Point Music concentrated mainly on other composers: "Music that I liked that might not sell very well, and I would balance that with records that I also liked that would sell very well. We ended up making about 60 records - about half of them are good in the sense that they are music that would not have been recorded had we not done it."

Other composers on the label included Gavin Bryars and Jon Gibson, and Glass's own Low Symphony (based on themes from Bowie's Low) was one of the releases intended to boost sales. Eventually, Polygram bought out the company. Glass was philosophical: "I would take a 10-year contract with anyone - you can achieve a lot in 10 years." But when he formed another label, Orange Mountain Music, the model was significantly different.

Founded to release some of his own archive recordings, Orange Mountain runs from his New York studio. The label is distributed internationally and sold through Amazon. The idea was to extend into other composers' music, but in the last couple of years it has become the label of choice for Glass's new concert works. In the UK, Gavin Bryars has GB Records, which has reached half a dozen releases now sold through the trade, though "autographed copies" are available on his website. Michael Nyman launched MN Records last year with rather more fanfare and grumbles about the rigid schedules and unsatisfactory marketing of his works on major labels.

Star tabla player Zakir Hussain set up Moment Records in 1991, preserving performances by himself and colleagues plus a compilation by Shakti, the group he formed with John McLaughlin. Sir John Eliot Gardiner founded his label Soli Deo Gloria specifically for a 51-CD project to record all Bach's cantatas which his then company Deutsche Grammophon had unceremoniously dumped.

This year the label has extended to "SDG On The Night", a venture which involves recording the first half of a concert, burning CDs during the interval, and selling them to the audience as they leave. The Bach project has own-label competition from another cantata cycle conducted by Ton Koopman: the recordings appear on his Antoine Marchand label, a "sub-label" of the Dutch company Challenge. Both cycles sell directly online.

London orchestras, joined by regional ones and most recently by the Wigmore Hall as a chamber-music promoter, have rushed down the same path. The pioneer was the Royal Philharmonic, which started releasing its own recordings back in the vinyl days, but it's the LSO Live label that has inspired the current rush.

The breakthrough was that the players agreed to make recordings at their concerts and to work for royalties on sales instead of up-front fees. The CDs could then be sold direct to audiences for less than half the price of traditional releases. What has resulted is a catalogue of around 80 CDs, including works by Brahms, Elgar, Beethoven and Berlioz, with conductors Sir Colin Davis and Bernard Haitink prominent. Treated with initial suspicion by the media, the releases now regularly show up as top recommendations.

The London Philharmonic, the Hallé and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic now have their own labels. Not yet the Philharmonia, which instead became the first orchestra to provide a live concert webcast, giving itself a head start in a field that the classical world has been slow to exploit - a different form of independent distribution that in the long run has even more potential than home-grown CDs.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot