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[Grand angle] The risks and alternatives of classical music

A few days ago, in the framework of the Cinars Biennale in Montreal, a meeting aimed at supporting the export of Quebec and Canadian arts, a round table was held entitled Classical music, a precious stone?. The exchanges made it possible to highlight several topics as well as many avenues for reflection or challenges for the following months and years.

“Before the pandemic, there were disturbing situations. The pandemic has confronted us with realities. It has strengthened everything and the entire musical ecosystem, from training to creation, production and distribution, has been affected”, summarizes Dominic Trudel, director general of the Conseil québécois de la musique (CQM), which brings together 300 organizations and 50,000 musicians. and cultural workers.

Before the pandemic there were worrying situations. The pandemic has confronted us with realities. It amplified everything and the entire music ecosystem, from training to creation, production and distribution, was affected.

Mr. Trudel was one of the actors in the debate moderated by Françoise Davoine and which brought together Mathieu Lussier, conductor, bassoon, professor at the University of Montreal, music director of Arion and Domaine Forget; Marc Boucher, baritone and director of the Classica festival, and Guillaume Lombart, president of ATMA Classique, Ad Litteram editions and the Livetoune.com platform.

Some topics exposed to foreign observers during this professional meeting seemed old and repetitive, like that of training, raised by Mr. Trudel. Since the teaching of music has not been compulsory in public schools since 1981, Mr. Trudel considers that “beginning in music has nothing to do with a musical education that can develop the audience of tomorrow”. Mr. Trudel, noting that music studies programs were offered in only 13% of public high schools in Quebec , also laments a geographic disparity in the opportunity to learn an instrument. “In the regions it is more difficult,” he notes. The pandemic has led to a drop in enrollments, but also in the regions, to a lack of teachers in private schools: “Teachers who could no longer teach went to do something else, and there they continue to do something else. François Davoine recalls, however, that the speeches on the subject were more or less the same in 1990.

Change the rules

By buying ATMA in March 2020, Guillaume Lombart, head of Ad Litteram, got to know the classical universe at the worst possible time. And the indicators immediately began to turn red. Thus, in the revenue structure, 25% of the physical product sales are made by the artists after their shows! Nothing remained. Guillaume Lombart witnessed the decline of the CD firsthand, but he discovered some interesting facts about the trade: for example, that two-thirds of the turnover is done internationally, a share that rises to 85% when only digital revenues are taken into account.

And what impresses the young head of ATMA is that 80% of the turnover is generated from the catalog fund, something unimaginable in popular music: “Discs are still being sold after 10 or 15 years. It’s an advantage. Because this recurring income makes reinvestment possible. But it is a disadvantage because at the level of public subsidies, the aid is based on the innovations of the previous year and since we are in competition with all styles, we are penalized. »

Here is a new limitation that the classic would have done well without. “Canadian Heritage, above all, decided in 2020 to change the rules for redistributing aid to the entire industry,” explains Mr. Lombard. Companies are given a weighting based on revenue, investments for the year and future investments, but now the style of music doesn’t matter. An album with an orchestra costs between $50,000 and $100,000 compared to a hip-hop album that costs $10,000 to $15,000. In hip-hop, help can be allocated to advertising, while we throw it into production. As a result, their income increases and they get more help afterwards. In practice, in 2020, our basic aid has fallen by 49%. This is the sum of two records”, sums up Guillaume Lombart.

To open Quebec internationally, but also to open the activity of music centers throughout the territory, Marc Boucher worked on the development of the video content distribution platform Le Concert bleu.

Blue horizon

“I try to see the possibilities of the pandemic, says Marc Boucher. More than 400 million dollars have been injected into the cultural network. We are ready to put this money back in the pocket of the musicians; it is a moral responsibility. »

“Our generation of extraordinary talent does not have enough opportunities. Lyrically, the findings are stark: The United States is too complicated, and Europe is catching up. Concerned about job opportunities in the opera sector, Marc Boucher created the Nouvel Opéra Métropolitain. His productions will, next spring, be filmed and broadcast on Le Concert bleu. Marc Boucher calls this $2.4 million project “cheap when you see it SOCAN has swallowed 53 million in the saga Dataclef”, and sees in it “a great opportunity and a problem when thinking about the public in Rouyn-Noranda, the Magdalen Islands or Kuujjuaq”. The Blue Concert model is that 70-80% of revenue (not profits) goes back to the artists.

With his platform now operational, Marc Boucher starts the pilot phase and calls on content depositors, including Mathieu Lussier, who, as Arion’s artistic director, is a big supporter. “We have our footage that we’re most proud of putting in the pilot,” he says. But a very specific problem slips in: we no longer have rights to the recordings. We paid them for six months to a year. This problem is general: “Since production costs are high, many organizations have gone for two-week, one-month or six-month distribution contracts,” explains Mathieu Lussier.

So can Arion afford to buy the rights to the three or four productions the ensemble is most proud of, or does it need some help to do so? Will Arion talk to his musicians and say, “Do you accept that this content is out there with no guaranteed income, but with a promise to return 80% of the income?” “It is part of the discussions between us and the Association of Musicians”, says Mathieu Lussier. Marc Boucher capitalizes on this, reframing his hope “to bring these unions into the 21e century”, and Guillaume Lombard sums it up: “It’s like asking a film producer to reward his actors every 15 days. It’s crazy. »

Musicians’ interest in revenue was adopted in Europe by members of the London Symphony Orchestra when the record label LSO Live was created in 2000, to great success. As for the visual rights in Europe, they are negotiated once with a fixed price at the signing of the concert contract.


Mathieu Lussier’s experience makes him note that the elite training of young musicians is going quite well. “At the Académie du Domaine Forget, there are hundreds of young musicians of an increasingly high level who come from all over and want to dedicate themselves to this profession. At the University of Montreal, despite a slight drop, we still have 575 students this year who want to do music. »

But if there is an interest in devoting yourself to this art form, the trip to the room is no more. The boss and teacher is not a defeatist. To combat what he calls “petrification”, a phenomenon that consists in consuming all the music at home, he wants to increase the socio-affective relationship towards a producer, such an artist or such a festival. Example of eliciting reflex: “I like Yannick Nézet-Séguin, no matter what’s on, and I go there because I like the energy. Mr. Lussier thinks that this is where the sequel fits in: “If young people no longer know music, but like music; if the audience no longer knows the details, but seeks the energy on stage, knowing that we can also watch the formula of the concert, I do not see why we should be depressed. »

To see it on video

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