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Issues: Classical musicians and presenters ignore YouTube at their own peril

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Nielsen and Billboard are now counting views of official YouTube videos in their pop sales charts.

Since we’re unlikely to see Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s conductorly gyrations go viral online anytime soon, classical music is not part of the calculation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention.

(In fact, all of the current Top 10 albums in the Classical category this week have a crossover component, which is another issue altogether.)

It’s fascinating to see what’s going on in the world of popular culture, where for a whole generation YouTube is replacing traditional entertainment and even educational programming.

It is a medium classical musicians and presenters ignore at their peril — and I write this knowing that the cost and time of adding video to a performing arts to-do list seems like an impossibly daunting challenge.

But look at it this way: We, the art music aficionados, feel like we were collectively shortchanged by CBC when it cut back on classical programming. If people aren’t exposed to classical music, how are they ever to consider it as viable listening, goes the argument.

Now that YouTube gets far more attention from viewers and listeners than CBC ever did, it’s time to ask the same thing of YouTube.

Look at these stats released by Billboard this week:

The most notable YouTube-influenced title this week is viral sensation “Harlem Shake” by producer Baauer, which debuts at No. 1 on both the Hot 100 and Streaming Songs charts and jumps 12-1 on Dance/Electronic Songs with 103 million views, according to YouTube. According to Nielsen, the “Harlem Shake” arrival also benefits from viral video-influenced sales of 262,000 downloads. That sales sum alone, good for a No. 3 ranking on Hot Digital Songs, would have placed the track within the top 15 on the Hot 100 without the inclusion of YouTube streams into the calculation.

Other YouTube-influenced highlights on the Hot 100 include Rihanna’s “Stay” which jumps 57-3 and Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” which soars 63-10. Videos for both songs were posted on YouTube during the tracking week, with Rihanna’s title garnering 3.8 million views in the U.S. and Drake’s “Started” earning 5.1 million.  In addition, perennial YouTube favorite PSY rebounds 48-26 on the Hot 100 with “Gangnam Style” which adds another 3.7 million streams this week to its already impressive streaming total.

No one in the art music world would be deluded enough to think that classical music can compete with this.

But a full-length recording of Book I of J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier by Glenn Gould posted here had, as of today, received 488,368 views (for some reason, Book II has only attracted 68,115 views) from a non-label source and without any sort of promotion on the part of the person who posted it on his or her YouTube channel.

With a bit of focused Facebooking and Tweeting, it is entirely conceivable that several thousand people who would otherwise not give a damn might see a piece of classical music performed by or written by Canadians — and fall in love with it.

The No. 5 most popular classical music video on YouTube is of John Williams in a striped sweater and jeans playing “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz seated on a plain chair in a large, resonant room, in front of two microphones. There are no visual or aural trick here, just the performer and the music.

This video had, as of today, garnered 5,435,572 views since being posted six years ago:

John Terauds

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