Stereophile just published an online article “Naxos: Classical in the Key of MP3” with more information on the MPkey collections from Naxos and eMusic. Along with providing a complete list of the MPkey collections to be released, it has some insight into the marketing strategy behind MPkey:
On examining iTunes track lists for Naxos CDs, Naxos discovered that most downloaders buy The Very Best of Mozart and assorted wedding samplers rather than recordings of hardcore repertoire. . . . MPkey’s first 12 titles are thus geared toward the downloading neophyte rather than the classical aficionado.
In other words, MPkey represents classical music as a “lifestyle product,” as opposed to putting it on a pedestal (highest achievements of Western civilization, precious relics of solitary genius, etc., etc.). In fact, Jim Sturgeon, CEO of Naxos of America, seemingly goes out of his way to (literally!) rub the noses of Stereophile readers in this fact:
[Sturgeon] has already discussed including Naxos’ lullabies collection in gift packages of disposable diapers, and delivering floral bouquets along with MPkey collections of Music for Mother’s Day, Music for Lovemaking, and Christmas Music You Love.
“MPkey can provide added value to an existing product,” he exults. “The card doesn’t even have to come in a CD box. You could find an MPkey card inside a Christmas card. You can get a gift of flowers that die along with music that lives. You can throw away the diaper and the shit, but keep the music.”
As the article concludes, “The mind boggles”—or at least the minds of “classical aficionados” do so. But really, I think this is exactly the right strategy not just for Naxos but for classical music in general: If such music becomes part of people’s everyday lives then it will have a hope of attracting more devoted listeners; otherwise it will be confined to an ever shrinking coterie of aging aficionados.
In fact, I think Naxos should consider adopting the same strategy with “contemporary classical” music. There are lots of “post-minimalist” and similar works that work quite well as “lifestyle music” for relatively casual listening and in my opinion would be natural fits for themed MPkey collections. (For example, recently I’ve been listening to the album Cover of works by Belinda Reynolds in exactly this way.) Given that Naxos has an active program of recording contemporary works I’m sure that they have a number of existing releases that could be mined for suitable material. If they need additional ideas for new releases they can also select from such sources as Kyle Gann’s PostClassic Radio playlist, which contains lots of accessible works in this general vein. In my opinion it would be a great way to bring some excellent music to new listeners who would appreciate it.