Official figures released by UK record labels association the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data, show that Classical music sales and streams struck a chord with UK consumers in 20181, leaping by more than a tenth (10.2%) on the previous 12 months2. The news was announced today on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, with presenter Tom Service that 2.23 million Classical albums or their equivalent were either purchased, downloaded or streamed3 during this period, with the Classical sector even outperforming the very strong overall 5.7 per cent rise in UK music consumption as a whole, reported by the BPI earlier this month4. The full story can be heard by searching ‘Music Matters’ on BBC Sounds.
Collectible CDs and box sets continue to appeal to passionate classical buyers
In contrast to the general trend in UK music consumption shaped by rapidly increasing digital engagement, the rise in demand for classical music in 2018 was driven by a 6.9 per cent jump in sales of CD albums, which still account for nearly 60 per cent of UK classical consumption. This marked growth underlines the remarkable resilience of the physical format among Classical buyers who love to own and collect CD albums and boxsets, valuing the benefits of tangibility and high audio quality.
Streaming surges forward among classical listeners
But in a ‘win/win’ for the classical sector, streams of Classical music also showed significant growth in 2018, up 42 per cent on the year (compared to a 33% rise for the UK music market as a whole). Streaming now accounts for a quarter (25.2%) of classical consumption – lower than the figure for the UK market as a whole (63.6%), but with growth now beginning to show real impetus (share was 19.5% in 2017). It is encouraging that streaming services are already focusing more on the profile of Classical, but if continuing structural challenges, such as around ‘search’ on streaming platforms, can be more fully addressed, for example by making it easier for users to find pieces of music online by ‘composer’, ‘conductor’, ‘orchestra’, and ‘label’ (an important consideration to knowledgeable classical buyers), then it is likely that more classical consumers may be drawn to subscription streaming services. Downloads were the only format where demand fell in 2018 – digital albums declining by 13.4 per cent, but, again, this compares favourably with the total album download market, which dropped by a quarter (26%).
Ginny Cooper, Co-Chair of BPI’s Classical Committee and Classical Consultant with Proper Distribution, said: “These figures reflect a very good year for Classical music, underscoring a healthy rise in demand for the genre across key formats, which impressively outperformed the growth for the music market as a whole. It is encouraging to see CD and streams thrive alongside each other, showing that collectability and discovery are simply different sides of the same coin, and wonderful too to witness an exciting new generation of diverse, music talent breaking through to pick up the baton and engage with younger audiences.”
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI & BRIT Awards, and Co-Chair of BPI’s Classical Committee, said: “This is a dynamic moment in the history of Classical music, with brilliant new artists such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Alexis Ffrench and Jess Gillam bursting through to accompany revered icons such as Andrea Bocelli, Yo-Yo Ma and Bryn Terfel. The popularity of soundtracks and new works by composers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter are broadening the appeal of Classical among younger listeners on streaming services. There is a tremendous opportunity for sustainable growth if the new digital platforms continue to improve the profile and searchability of classical music, while labels continue to nurture new talent and appeal to collectors through beautifully curated CDs and boxsets. We welcome the Government’s proposals to review music education. Funding and promoting much stronger music education in all schools would deliver benefits across society going well beyond Classical music.”
BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters presenter, Tom Service, said: “The news of this leap in consumption of Classical is a great start to the year! It feels as though we’re beginning to witness the impact of this new generation of young artists who really took to centre stage last year – such as saxophonist Jess Gillam at the Last Night of the Proms, and former BBC Young Musician winner, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, performing at the Royal Wedding. With listeners of all genres increasingly looking to find headspace and depth of thought, Classical music is proving more relevant than ever. This news is quite literally music to the ears.”
Best-selling titles show breadth and depth led by Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Si’ – the biggest classical title in 6 years
Sales of the best-selling albums of the year were especially healthy. The combined sales of the top-30 albums totalled 645,095 (including album streams), an increase of 69 per cent on 2017, demonstrating that the market increase went well beyond the success of one or two big selling titles.
Andrea Bocelli's Si sold over 200,000 copies in 2018 to become the first Classical title to pass that threshold since 2012 (Andre Rieu's Magic of the Movies). It also became the first Classical album to top the national Official Album Chart in almost 21 years following James Horner's Titanic soundtrack (No.1 for three weeks in 1998). The year’s second-best seller overall was In Harmony by Aled Jones and Russell Watson.
Andrea Bocelli told OfficialCharts.com in November 2018: “Life never ceases to amaze. I would never have imagined achieving this, even in a country that welcomed me from the very beginning. Yet beyond the numbers and the charts, what really counts is the affection of an audience – the handshakes, the smiles, the applauses. My heartfelt thanks to all those people who wanted to reward my latest effort. A big thank you also on behalf of my little, great Matteo who, these days, has been living by my side – an indescribable experience.” Andrea Bocelli and son Matteo seen here with their Official No.1 Album Award for Si (credit: Luca Rossetti).
Seven of the top-30 classical best-sellers in 2018 were film soundtracks, composed by Hollywood greats ranging from John Williams to Hans Zimmer. Typically soundtrack albums attract a high volume of streams, whilst releases from many established artists, such as Katherine Jenkins, still have physical format shares in excess of 90 per cent. In total, 309 of the top 1,000 albums had a streaming share in excess of 50 per cent.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Alexis Ffrench & Jess Gillam lead a new wave of British talent
The market was also invigorated by the arrival of diverse new talent. Teen sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason not only graced the Royal Wedding with his music, his debut album Inspiration spent 14 weeks topping the Official Classical Album Chart. It also enabled the 2016 BBC Young Musician and 2018 Classic BRITs winner to become the youngest cellist to appear in the overall Official Albums Chart top 20.
Contemporary composer and pianist Alexis Ffrench had a similarly galvanising effect, wowing the audience at the Classic BRIT Awards 2018, and seeing his album Evolution hold the No.1 Classical Album spot for three weeks – registering in the Official Albums Chart top 30 in the process, and in the top 10 best-selling Classical albums of the year overall. With saxophonist Jess Gillam also underlining her arrival on the scene as an exciting new talent in the shape of the Classic BRITs Sound of Classical Poll winner and wowing international audiences at the 2018 Last Night of the Proms, the future of Classical music has taken on a brighter sheen over the past 12 months.
Core Specialist repertoire continues to enjoy robust demand
The Official Charts Company's weekly Specialist Classical Chart provided a showcase for many critically acclaimed Classical releases of the year, including those with additional mainstream appeal. Alan Titchmarsh's album The Glorious Garden, recorded with the National Symphony Orchestra and featuring music composed by Debbie Wiseman, spent two months at the top of the specialist chart, whilst King's College Choir's 100 Years of Nine Lessons and Carols topped the chart for the final seven weeks of the year.
Other best-selling specialist titles included Yo-Yo Ma’s continuing exploration of Bach’s Cello Suites – Bach/Six Revolutions: Cello Suites, and Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2018 Artist of the Year, Rachel Podger’s recording with Brecon Baroque – Vivaldi/Le Quattro Stagioni.
Other independent labels apart from King's College Choir with number one albums during the year included Hyperion (for 4 weeks), Channel Classics (3), Avie (2) and Signum (2). The continued resilience of specialist repertoire CD sales owes a lot to the ongoing support of dedicated retailers such as Presto Classical, MDT and Europadisc. CD accounted for the majority of sales for each of the top 20 specialist titles in 2018.
Ludovico Einaudi accounts for 1 in 12 classical streams
Based on the top 15,000 tracks, Ludovico Einaudi was by some distance the leading Classical artist on streaming services, accounting for 8.6 per cent of all classical plays. Nuvole Bianche was his most-streamed track, and it has now been played 13.6m times, with 4.2m taking place in 2018.
Film music is an important contributor to Classical's market share and this was again evident in 2018. A significant number of titles credited to John Williams appear on soundtracks, and the tracks attributed to Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, Gavin Greenaway, Alexander Desplat, Ramin Djawdi, Rupert Gregson-Williams,
Thomas Newman and James Horner are mainly tracks from soundtracks and scores. Among other most-streamed artists were established names such as Daniel Barenboim, Katherine Jenkins, Andrea Bocelli, Yo-Yo Ma, King's College Choir and David Willcocks, who is known for his association with the choir. Also featuring was Alexis Ffrench, who made the top 25 artists of the year with only 13 tracks, most of which featured on his debut album Evolution.