by Tom Manoff
Formerly classical director for iTunes, now at Naxos Records, Andy Doe will be a key figure in classical recording in coming years.
MANOFF: Can you mention some of the important recording projects that you’ve been involved with in your career?
DOE: I’ve spent most of my working life in offices rather than recording studios, so when I’m involved in a recording project, it’s usually as executive producer. That means agreeing the repertoire with the artists, getting hold of a producer they trust, making sure the venue is suitable, getting the right piano there on time, and keeping the whole thing within budget. One of my first projects at iTunes an exclusive EP with John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma. I did a series of concerts and live recordings in retail stores around New York with a whole bunch of artists including Phillip Glass and Leif Ove Andsnes. I also organised a series of live recordings with the New York Phil and the LA Phil. One of them was nominated for a Grammy.
MANOFF: What is your musical background ?
DOE:I really loved music as a child, so I did a degree in performance. I got a scholarship and won a prize or two, but I don’t think I was born to be a performer. It’s tough to make a living as a French horn player. In the end, I decided to look for another way I could introduce people to the music I find so exciting. That’s what led me here. I still try to play in one really good thing a year. Last summer it was John Adams’ City Noir with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. That was a blast.
MANOFF: Naxos leads the pack in recording American Composers –many who would never be heard were it not for your company. What are the future plans ? Not only for American Composers, but living composers around the world. Will you be looking for “break-out” composers –”unknowns” whose names have not reached the music culture as yet.
DOE:This commitment to new music is one of the things that most excited me about working at Naxos. There are hundreds of recordings in the American Classics series, and quite a few more in the pipeline, both from well-established composers and some less-well known. We’re always on the lookout for exciting new projects, but I don’t think it’s fair to describe any of the composers as “unknown”. They might not be very famous yet, and their music might not have been recorded before, but they all have a following. We just hope we can help to increase the audience for their music.
” [The] commitment to new music is one of the things that most excited me about working at Naxos” – Andy Doe
MANOFF: With the great market share of downloads, what is the future of the CD
DOE: I really wish I knew, because people keep asking me this question. The only sensible answer I can give is that I don’t know.
People are still pressing (and buying) vinyl so there’s a good chance that CDs will be around for at least another decade or two. Every physical format represents a compromise of playing time, sound quality, versatility, convenience, compatibility, portability and cost. The compact disc represents a pretty good compromise for most people.
“Every physical format represents a compromise of playing time, sound quality, versatility, convenience, compatibility, portability and cost. The compact disc represents a pretty good compromise for most people” —Andy Doe
MANOFF: Concerning downloads, what formats will be offered by Naxos ?
DOE: The difference between downloads and shellac, vinyl, tape, CD, SACD or Blu-Ray is that the download isn’t a medium – it’s a method of delivery that exists independently of the various formats for storing music.
This is great because it gives us the flexibility to deliver music in almost any format the consumer wants. Right now, you can get our music in lossless FLAC and AIFF formats from HDTracks.com, as 256kbps AAC files from iTunes, or as 320kbps MP3 files from Amazon and our own store, classicsonline.com. We’ll probably add FLAC support to classicsonline.com in the near future.
MANOFF: What are the possibilities at this point with surround sound in any format ? Aside from the SACD, is there a download future for home theater and computer playback, among others ?
DOE: Surround sound has been around for more than half a century, but it is still a developing technology. The home theater market is driving most of the development, and this is helping costs to fall as the quality goes up.
As far as we’re concerned, the best physical surround format on the market today is Blu-Ray, so that’s the format we used for John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus, a piece that places the audience very much in the middle of the action.
Right now, it’s difficult to download multichannel audio, not so much because it’s complicated to deliver, but because it’s complicated to play back, out of your computer, into six or more speakers. Some people have the hardware to do it, but most people are still figuring out how get two channels out of their PC in a way that sounds good.
We’ll get there, but the hardware isn’t widely accessible at present.
MANOFF: Will the growing interest in high-resolution downloads and audiophile equipment to play downloads beyond CD quality be important for Classical Music’s future markets ?
DOE: For us, it’s important not to overestimate the size of the high-resolution and surround sound markets. People didn’t stop buying CDs because they didn’t sound good enough, and SACD didn’t catch on, in part because not enough people wanted to buy them.
If CDs don’t sound good enough to you, it’s because you’re an outlier, at the very top end of the audiophile market. It’s a necessary feature of outliers that there aren’t very many of them.
Blu-Ray offers wonderful quality, but they cost more to manufacture than ordinary CDs.
In this context, high resolution downloads should be great for us, because they allow us to serve an important segment of the market without increasing the cost of pressing every copy. That, in turn, makes it economical for us to offer a greater range of products in high resolution.
Once the hardware is more widely available, I think we’ll see some serious growth in this sector.
” As far as we’re concerned, the best physical surround format on the market today is Blu-Ray” – Andy Doe
MANOFF: I have to admit that I have “CD fatigue.” I see so many, except for certain kinds of packages, it’s hard to even crack them open, much less find space for them in my house. I can’t imagine I’m the only one. How much will this perception become a market force ?
DOE: I used to be the same way. I worked in music retail for a really long time, and people would just send me CDs, hundreds of them every month. There was no way I could possibly listen to them all. Now I have to pay for music again, I see CDs as quite precious objects.
With sound recordings, the question of “value” is an interesting one. You can pay $50 – $150 to hear concert once in person, or you can have it delivered to your house, to keep forever, with all the mistakes edited out, for less than $10. The experience isn’t the same, of course, but is a concert really worth five to fifteen times as much?
The limiting factor here is supply, not demand. Concerts have to be expensive because the hall has a limited capacity. You can fit 2,804 people in Carnegie Hall. If we could only sell 2,804 copies of each album, we’d have to charge more for them, especially if we had to sell them all in one night.
“What I hear from composers …. is the hope that the digital marketplace will give them greater flexibility, not additional pressure ” — Andy Doe
MANOFF: One of the most culture-changing trends for Classical Music (in my mind) is the ability to download separate tracks. As one example : What will be the impact in the long run upon composers ? If you know that movements of a longer form may be detached from the whole, will composers offer shorter works ? A play list is an act of artistic creation by the consumer. But it may also present a completely new cultural mechanism for how recordings will be conceived. How will you handle this question for downloading ?
DOE: The track-at-a-time thing isn’t completely new. Until the long-playing record was introduced in 1948, classical recordings had only ever been sold as individual tracks because the 78rpm record and the pianola have such a limited playing time and dynamic range. Hindemith, Stravinsky and Milhaud all wrote music to fit these these constraints.
What I hear from composers, though, is the hope that the digital marketplace will give them greater flexibility, not additional pressure.