Classical Streaming Beethoven’s Data Flow

While big streaming service providers compete for dominance of the music market, a new Berlin startup has emerged in the classical music niche.
Classical music listeners want more sophisticated catalogues than big streaming services can provide. Photo: Getty

Do you remember Ivo Pogorelich, the legendary pianist?  The Lang Lang of the 1980s? No? Don't worry, you are not alone - only a minority of people listen to classical music, which generates only about 5 percent of the music industry's revenues.

But for this small, elite circle of people it was great news that Ivo Pogorelich has re-recorded Beethoven’s piano sonatas number 22 and 24. They were released by Idagio, a streaming service for classical music.

Christoph Lange and Till Janczukowicz founded the startup in Berlin in 2015. One of its financiers was the Australian investment bank Macquarie. “Bringing together classical music and technology is of key importance to get new generations enthusiastic about classical music,” said David Standen of  Macquarie Capital.

 

But it wasn't a love of Bach and Beethoven that made him invest his clients’ money. The streaming market is growing, and according to Bloomberg there are 92 million paying subscribers worldwide – including an increasing number of classical music fans.

“At last, it seems as though some fans of classical music have finally gotten over the digital hurdle,” said Florian Drücke of the Federal Association of the Music Industry.

Of course, Apple and Amazon, Spotify and Deezer are already major competitors for customers’ listening time. They all include classical music in their repertoire. But so far, there have hardly been any specialists of the genre.

Idagio offers 40 different recordings of Beethoven‘s fifth symphony.

The major service providers were neither able nor willing to satisfy the wishes of just 5 percent of all customers according to Mr. Janczukowicz. This is a sophisticated minority with above average education, people who don't just want their music sorted by performer and title, but by composer, conductor, venue and date of recording.  For example, Idagio offers 40 different recordings of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. And there are many more in existence.

Up to now, the Berlin startup has digitized mainly the so-called public domain repertoire – decades-old works of long-dead composers. For any other works, the startup has to form licensing contracts – either with record labels or with orchestras and solo artists who produce their own recordings like Ivo Pogorelich. The firm claims to have already made 600 such deals, including one with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.  The latter’s boss, Andreas Grossbauer, confirmed that Idagio had a “fair business model" –  as artists benefit from invoicing by the number of seconds played - not by each piece of music, as is the case with mainstream service providers.

“A pop song lasts three minutes, a Mahler symphony over an hour,” explained Mr. Janczukowicz.

There are currently only 18,000 recordings available at Idagio, although this is set to grow to 200,000 by the end of the year - a great deal of work for the founders and their staff of 24. By then, Idagio will have “all relevant interpretations of classical music available,” the founder said.

He has intimate knowledge of the scene. Originally, he wanted to become a pianist, but moved into management. He was in charge of master classes at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in northern Germany, and then he met Ronald Wilford, the president of Columbia Artists Management in New York. Mr. Wilford had artists on his books like Herbert von Karajan, and he asked Mr. Janczukowicz to open an office in Berlin.

He recognized the potential of digitization early - but didn't know right away how he could take advantage of it until he met Christoph Lange, who had already tried his luck in the music market. Mr. Lange, who is known in the startup scene as smart and analytical, founded streaming service Simfy, but finally had to capitulate to the all-powerful competition.

Still, his experience means that he knows about negotiating licensing agreements and how important the right timing is for the success of a streaming service. So far, Idagio has spent hardly any money on marketing. The 25,000 curious users who have registered so far are also useful for test purposes.

“The target group is very sophisticated, so you can't afford to make mistakes,” said Mr. Janczukowicz.

Pursuing customers on a big scale, especially in Asian markets, where users are crazy about classical music, is something the founders are saving for the future when their product has been perfected. Composers have an expression for this tempo: Allegro, ma non troppo.

 

Miriam Schröder is based in Berlin and covers the city's startup scene. To contact the author: [email protected]