Decca’s 90th

Decca is a sexy brand.

I love the typeface. I adore the logo. It promises quality.

An extensive back catalogue stored in a temperature controlled environment where the staff are contractually obliged to wear cotton gloves at all times.

Not impressed by their guest list. Probably should have checked my spam folder.

That said, I am in my mid-forties. And yesterday was quite a full-on day.

Even so, it would have been nice to have been invited.

Pro tip: there’s nothing worse than being sent an email with pictures of an event that I never had an opportunity to attend.

However, Decca’s profile in its 91st year is impressive.

The collection of pictures from its birthday shindig reminds me of the significant part its played in various classical recordings I’ve enjoyed over the years. Recordings which, whenever I scower Spotify I always end up selecting whenever I see it: trusted brand; our version of Deutsche Grammophon; as good as we could be – kind of.

Decca have bold aspirations about its 90th birthday celebrations too.

Decca 90 will demonstrate why its early mission statement of being “The Supreme Record Company” is as relevant today as ever.

Decca90

Terrifying.

Most recently, it’s secured a strong foot in the door of a reasonably valuable distribution ‘partner’ thanks to BBC Young Musician, the missed opportunity Our Classical Century, and various ‘BBC Sounds’ vehicles including This Classical Life presented by 20-year-old Jess talking to other young musicians about their ‘musical discoveries’. Less of an editorial proposition, more of a talent-led vehicle for a record company signing. No surprise this isn’t a programme targetted at me. Hence why I didn’t receive a press release about that either. Someone’s doing their research at least.

All this cynicism aside, Decca’s 90th – more perhaps than the BBC’s centenary in a few years time – is an important reminder about how specialist music has maintained its audience over the past century.

Raise a glass to the technical pioneers of 90 years ago, and those who saw money to be made. Something we all take for granted,

About that Guardian letter

The classical music industry is working together to shout the cause of music education. But we should remember that its newest cheerleaders are still in development.

Saxophonist Jess Gillam’s letter to the Guardian. It’s a fundamentally good thing. The message is strong.

It’s not an especially new message. Plenty of others have been saying the same thing for a long long time now.

Set in the context of the ISM’s recent State of the Nation report Jess’ letter is prescient too, though I’m not entirely convinced the timing is accidental.

There are a number of other necessary bandwagons on the road to reinstating music education in the curriculum, the wheels of which are still turning, some slower than others, some considerably more squeaky.  

The letter to the Guardian refers to some of those other campaigns, along with Jess’ appearance at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Music Education established and maintained by the Incorporated Society of Musicians.

What impresses me is the way it appears that the industry is collaborating, marshalling resources and messages, timing their dissemination to support one another’s endeavours.

Record labels, membership organisations, and broadcasters are supporting one another to send out a clear message to politicians: music education needs to be reinstated in the curriculum.

But there’s grit in the tank.

Jess, like her BBC Young Musician cohort cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, is in classical music terms hot property. Since signing to Decca they’ve cropped up in all sorts of places on TV and various public events, usually coinciding with an impending album release

Both Jess and Sheku are valuable assets to record labels. Whilst we applaud their achievements and how they’re helping raise the profile of an artform and music education, they are valuable to record labels because these altruistic acts provide an opportunity to drive business.

And whilst that in itself isn’t a bad thing, there are some implicit messages surrounding Jess and Sheku’s appearance on-air and in-print which we should as a community remain vigilant about.

Both musicians are hugely talented and have come to prominence just at the time when pressure has rightfully increased to tackle various social justice issues head-on. What both musicians are able to achieve in raising awareness, influencing, and driving change is incredibly important. But to be clear, such endeavours on their part also help content distribution organisations drive streams and raise revenues.

What worries me (and this be me being over-protective here) is the way in which they are projected: as musicians who have completed their journey and ‘made it’ just by virtue of having won a competition and made various TV appearances. These musicians are are still in development as performing musicians. Had they not signed to a record label or won BBC Young Musician would their voices still be heard?

Jess’ letter to the Guardian is a positive message. It’s necessary. But I’m uncomfortable seeing it only in the context of music education. I see Jess’ letter as part of a much broader marketing and PR strategy to raise profiles that in turn increase revenues, drive advertising sales, and importantly allows a large-scale brand be seen to align itself with a common cause.

And that raises ethical questions for me about the way in which artists in development who could themselves be struggling to come to terms with the attention they now receive, at a point in their lives when they’re still developing their practise.  

Jess Gillam wins BBC Young Musician Woodwind Category Final

Seventeen-year-old Jess Gillam has won the woodwind category final of BBC Young Musician 2016 and a place in the semi-final of the competition. She will compete against last week’s keyboard category winner, Jackie Campbell.

Jess beat other category finalists Polly Bartlett, Lucy Driver, Jess Gillam, Joanne Lee and Marie Sato.

The five Category Finals were staged at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. The Semi-Final of BBC Young Musician will be broadcast on Saturday 7 May on BBC Four followed by the Final on Sunday 15 May from the Barbican, London and will be broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3.

The remaining category finals are on Friday 22 April (percussion),  Friday 29 April (brass), Friday 6 May (strings). You can watch every performance in full on the BBC Young Musician 2016 website.