Interviews

Interview with Alessandro Simonetto, Founder of OnClassical – The e-label for Audiophiles

Alessandro Simonetto - Founder of OnClassical

OnClassical is a new e-label that sells music solely via the web. Unlike itunes, emusic, rhapsody, and amazon, OnClassical offers only high-quality downloads that sound exactly like a traditional CD. Zeitschichten.com spoke to the label’s busy founder, Alessandro Simonetto, about music in the age of the internet, OnClassical’s business philosophy, as well as their upcoming projects (they will soon license music for commercial uses).

Zeitschichten.com: Your recording label OnClassical distributes its recordings solely via the internet. The music can be downloaded in .wav format without any copy protection (DRM-free). What brought you to this unusual business model?

Alessandro Simonetto: I have always thought that trust in the buyer is a great way to get respect from them. In this sense the philosophy of Creative Commons was a pleasant discovery and confirmation, so that control no longer depends on such entities as the royalty societies and other authorities, but on the artists themselves. With respect to OnClassical, it also means replacing the interest of the many (very often these are small record labels, agents, or producers) with the interest of the individual, because the interests of the many limits the artist in every way. So, in the end, it is the artist who benefits the most.

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Aleksandra Mikulska plays Chopin’s Ballade no. 4 op. 52

Zeitschichten.com: According to your business model customers can decide how much they would like to pay for the recordings. Possible prices start at 6 Euros (= $9) and go all the way up to 20 Euros (= $30). The artists will get half of this amount, which is many times more than they would normally earn per CD. Apart from this, how do artists benefit from working with your label?

Alessandro Simonetto: The average price paid is normally 7.50 Euros so musicians get about 3.00 Euros which is 50% minus half the IVA (Italian tax) and bank fees. Buyers, not infrequently, pay up to 12 Euros, more rarely up to 15 or 20 Euros, especially when they return and are satisfied with a previously purchased album (this fortunately happens!).
Artists also benefit from an unrestricted advertising on the Web and in music magazines, trade shows, and conferences, especially here in Italy. We have just printed a CD that contains the best of productions by onclassical.com for each instrument; selected artists have been included free of charge and have the CD for free.
Finally, signing a contract with OnClassical means not having to pay for distribution, and the contract is never exclusive (i.e. the holder of the record remains the artist) and he or she can record at less than half the price we normally ask for a recording.

Zeitschichten.com:
When you say that contracts are never exclusive, does this mean that the artist could also distribute their CDs via an alternative distribution channel?

Alessandro Simonetto: Yes. We ask only the artists who record with us to publish online only at onclassical.com. This situation enables us to cut back the recording fees which we applicate to our artists.

Zeitschichten.com: In addition to producing new albums you also take over the distribution of CDs that were produced by others (i. e. self-produced by independent artists). Do you see yourself as a competitor to places like CD-Baby when it comes to music distribution? Or is this service envisioned more as a complement for those artists who already record with OnClassical and would like to sell older recordings via your website as well?

Alessandro Simonetto: Yes, the recordings which we publish, but which we do not produce directly – in other words, the recordings sent to us by the artists – can be advertised through other web sites. Let me stress some important points about our competitors:
OnClassical sells only high-quality audio albums: as a matter of fact only 0.5% of CDs received so far have been published (i.e. one in every 200 disks; and about 75% of the times, these few disks have also been revised!).
At OnClassical we take a great deal of care in selecting performances (while at CDBaby and 90% of other sites there is a lot of minor quality work and sadly no selection).
CDBaby claims $35 per disc to publish it. They also ask for $20 for the bar code required to distribute MP3 files at the various shops and $4 for every CD sold! The artists then have to add all the shipping costs for every 5 CDs sent. If we consider that every CD has a cost of 1 Euro, and that artists usually have to print at least 1000 CDs, then they would spend at least 1000 euros (which equals approximately $1300!). We call that real torture. OnClassical does not ask for any of this; all it requires is quality.
OnClassical sells .wav files (not .mp3 o hard CDs) for the reason
specified here.
OnClassical gives the artist a respectable niche alongside a family of other important artists (this is certainly not the case with 90% of the other web sites).
So I think it should be clear to all why we do not consider CDBaby or other websites as our competitors.

Zeitschichten.com: Given that your label is geared towards audiophiles who often put a lot of value on packaging as well, are you thinking about offering traditionally packaged CDs at some point? Or will you limit yourself to the distribution of high-quality sound files only?

Alessandro Simonetto: For the moment we will only distribute files, not CDs. With our philosophy, infact, we would like the user to make his own packaging with the instruments that are now readily available to anyone (e.g. printers, burners, etc.). This important preference helps users save costs.
I am thinking, instead, of suggesting a good burner, possibly an open source one (but so far I haven’t found a suitable one!), and of offering the file from the mastering session so that the process of making the CD would become immediate. I am also considering the idea of hiring the services of a professional graphic designer to work on new captivating covers.

Zeitschichten.com: What are your current recording projects? What music will come out soon?

Alessandro Simonetto: Our next records include Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a trascription for two pianos by Joseph Reinberger; then organ works by Mendelssohn (we will record the complete set eventually), Reubke, and Liszt.

Zeitschichten.com: In twenty years from now, how will the music industry look like? Will people still buy recorded music? Will there be more concerts? Or less? What is your prediction of the future?

Alessandro Simonetto: That’s a dangerous question! Frankly I am not a soothsayer, but I can say what I would like to see happen: first, computer and data transmission will become the only electrical appliance, so the music will be heard directly from the network (without having to worry about saving it) in very high definition. I hope the current rights protection system and the distribution of royalties will disappear, leaving space for other, more fluid and transparent ways of paying artists. I also hope the economic system – but not our identity and privacy! – will become increasingly more electronic and easy to use.
As for concerts I believe these will still be held; yet, maybe they’ll differ slightly. For instance, I think we pianists will play at home – not so much with our hands but rather with ideas, or our minds – and people will listen from their own homes.
I think that one’s performances in the future will not be filtered by technical limitations (for instance, the body, the shoulders, the arms, the hands, one’s agility). And maybe even music recordings will be performed by non-musicians: clearly, there will always be a difference between professionals and non, but even mere music lovers will be able to interpret music thanks to new technology.

Zeitschichten.com: Thank you for this interview!

Visit OnClassical’s website at www.onclassical.com/ or find them on facebook.

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