Christian Morris talks to Till Janczukowicz, the CEO and founder of Idagio, a new music-streaming app dedicated to classical music that has some intriguing possibilities for composers.
What is Idagio?
It is a reaction to more than 20 years of pain. I have been lucky and privileged to always do what I wanted to do. I managed great musicians – conductors such as Seiji Ozawa and Christian Thielemann – I helped young talents start their career – like Arcadi Volodos and Juraj Valcuha – and produced concerts and recordings in all parts of the world. What I learnt is: every musician, every composer, young and unknown, famous and established – every musician has relevance for a certain public. The question is not ‘is it relevant?’ but ‘for whom it is relevant?’ It comes down to how can music be made available, when is the right moment to make it available, what is the right channel to make it available and to whom can it be made available?
Look at what technology does in other areas of our daily life, look at Airbnb, look at Uber: technology helps connect supply and demand in a new way. More direct. This is exactly what classical music needs. A platform that manages processes in a smarter, faster and more efficient way than we used to manage them before. Or, to put it simply: the best streaming service for classical music. A service that understands the difference between composers, their works, conductors, orchestras, soloists and so on and that connects music directly to any smartphone and streaming device in the world. Idagio is a streaming service that helps musicians, composers and labels on one side and audiences on the other better reach out to each other. We have built our own technology as a base for what many already call “the best search in classical music.”
Tell us a little bit more about the model. I believe it began as a classical radio platform but has developed into something akin to Apple Music or Spotify…
Three core areas in the music market changed over the last years: production, marketing and distribution. A production monopoly doesn’t exist any more – anyone can produce today. Marketing happens where musicians perform. A performer or a conductor is the best marketer because when he performs concerts in front of 1,000 or more people, the public is interested in what they hear and they are potentially interested in more after the performance. And distribution? Search for classical music does not work on Spotify or on Apple Music and, therefore, distribution doesn’t work in this new world. This is where Idagio comes in.
All-genre services are pop-driven. They know artist, song, album. Period. But in classical, we have the composer, we have his composition, we have conductors , orchestras, instrumentalists, singers and so on. The non-classical share of the music industry is at least 95%. All-genre-services are currently facing challenges that are more important than making classical music a great experience. There is no passionate interest in improving classical.
Are you working with labels now? Or is this all about trying to connect audiences and musicians directly?
Of course we work with labels. The supply side consists of labels, broadcasters, musicians or any rights owners. Audiences represent the demand side. We have signed with more than 600 labels already, also with radio stations. All labels say a good interface for classical music is needed. From a listener’s point of view, on Spotify you don’t find the recordings because search doesn’t work. On Idagio, we have a great search but so far, you don’t find everything because we have not yet licensed everything. The result for the user is the same. But I prefer our problem because it is easy to solve. We aim at being content-complete this fall. In addition: for any rights owner, for any musician, for any composer, for anyone who has his own recordings and who wishes to distribute them on a global scale, Idagio is the perfect distribution and marketing platform.
So say I’m a composer and I want to get my music onto your platform, that’s possible?
Absolutely. That’s what is intended. Idagio is a tool that empowers professionals – composers, orchestras, festivals, musicians – to distribute their music directly. Our licence terms are easy and the Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic called Idagio “Fair Trade Streaming.” Why? Because we track by second and per user. The result is a pro rata share that reflects the reality: if a user is a fan of your music and he spends 20% of his listening time with your music, we make sure you get 20% of what the user is paying.
And that financial model is also much better than other platforms…
Exactly. Other platforms pay per track. After 45 seconds or so, a track counts as listened – irrespective of its length – it doesn’t matter if it lasts another 2 or 20 minutes. This is simply not right for classical music.
And there are advantages to Idagio, such as higher quality lossless recordings, not available on other streaming services.
Yes. It is obvious that we have to deliver music in the best available sound quality. Definitely, yes. I think a mix of 3 differentiators matters for audiences: best convenience, best content, best sound quality.
How easy is it to get music onto the platform?
There are two easy steps. No. 1: Sign a simple licensing contract that gives musicians and rights owners full control and autonomy over their music. Step 2: Upload sound files. That’s it. Once content is ingested, every performer has his own channel, every composer has his own channel and every rights owner has the possibility to easily promote his music: link it to his website, connect it with interviews, social media etc. If you have a concert or you tour with certain repertoire, there is nothing that would prevent you any more from telling the public that your concert repertoire is available or other recordings are available on your Idagio channel. This leads to what I said at the beginning: recordings must be made available where they are relevant. And a recording is relevant when a public listens to a musician and gets emotionalised, interested and leaves the hall and wants more. Immediacy is important. People are decreasingly enthusiastic about going to stores seven days after a concert to search for plastic boxes containing CDs.
How do the channels work within the app?
If, for example, you go to Idagio and look up Mariss Jansons, you get a clean channel with all of his recordings. You then can filter at your liking and listen to all of his recordings with the Royal Concertgebouw, all of his recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, or all of his recordings with the Oslo Philharmonic and so on.
For me one of the pain points over the years has been that the information that we get on streaming services is non-existent. I miss the sleeve note. Is there any chance that Idagio will be able to bring this back?
We will make booklets and liner notes available at latest early 2018. Currently, we are working on other priorities like additional platforms (Android, SONOS), exposing compositions the way they ought to be etc..
Are there any other ways you see the service developing in the future? For example, would you ever consider broadening the service out to include other genres of music?
We first want to build the best streaming service for classical music. This is target no. 1. Once we feel we have achieved that, I wouldn’t exclude we expand to other genres. But what I have learnt is: only go for the next viable step. We cannot plan step 10 before having properly executed steps 2–9.
And it’s anyway sometimes difficult to categorise some works. We live in a world of genre crossing.
I once founded a big band with legendary trombone player Bob Brookmeyer who was with Gerry Mulligan fundamental in creating West Coast Jazz. I commissioned a piece and it was impossible to categorize what Bob wrote. Jazz, contemporary music? Musical styles are always emerging and genre borders crumbling.
Anything else you would like to let our readers know about Idagio?
What I would like to highlight is what I said initially: Musicians, Composers, Labels – get in touch and use Idagio to publish your music! We are running a platform that is supposed to help you all. We are interested in your needs and your ideas – let us know! It has become so easy to distribute content in the digital age. Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, was very instrumental when starting to think about Idagio. It simply says that many small markets, addressed via digital technology add to a meaningful market from a suppliers’ perspective. Classical music is competing with so much irrelevant noise – computer games, superficial digital stuff and so on. I can only say: use technology the same way as our competition. We want Idagio be the ideal tool for classical music. We built it for musicians, composers, labels. Use it!
Idagio is available for iOS, on the web and will be coming to Android in the near future.