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With Its New Classical Streaming Service, Deutsche Grammophon Aims to Build a Better Model for the Genre

Bach to the Future: Stage+ will offer music from DG's own archive and sibling label Decca Records, along with video programming and live performances.

BERLIN – Subscription streaming services have ushered in a recorded music business boom, but the medium’s focus on hit singles has boosted genres like hip-hop and Latin more than some others. Starting today, Universal Music Group’s Deutsche Grammophon is offering its own service, Stage+, which will offer music from its own archive and that of sibling label Decca Records, plus video programming and a new live performance every week — at a cost of $14.90, or €14.90, a month. 

Universal Music has no plans to remove its classical recordings from mainstream music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Rather, the idea is to offer a specialist service that can appeal to classical music fans and create a more favorable business structure for a genre that hasn’t been well-served by mainstream services. Since many artists and orchestras record some of the same compositions, it can be difficult for aficionados to find the recording they’re looking for — and the mainstream streaming services tend to curate music for a general audience. 

“There’s the urge of consumers and artists to have everything in one place, with all the right data,” says Deutsche Grammophon president Dr. Clemens Trautmann. “You can punch in a work or a recording or an artist and you’ll see the next livestream, the archive, the albums, and if there’s a documentary, behind-the-scenes footage or interviews.” 

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So far, no big label has managed to build its own streaming service, and it’s hard to know how many consumers will be interested in one that only offers certain recordings. But Deutsche Grammophon, with its iconic yellow logo, has culturally significant repertoire going back more than a century, as well as significant stars like Lang Lang, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Max Richter. It also has enough brand equity to get streaming rights to major live events, and its first streamed performance will be Víkingur Ólafsson’s presentation of his album From Afar in the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík, Iceland. (Some of the live performances featured on Stage+ will be time-delayed for various reasons.) 

For Universal Music, Stage+ also offers business advantages. The price is higher than the current cost of mainstream services, although it includes high-fidelity audio as well as livestreamed events. The core classical repertoire is in the public domain, which means it will not have to pay publishing royalties on about three-quarters of the music it streams. The service can also operate in a way that makes sense for the genre, and it plans to divide up the royalty pool according to the time consumers spend listening to certain recordings, rather than paying a royalty on each track, which advantages shorter songs in a way that’s arguably unfair to genres with varied or longer track lengths, like jazz and classical music. 

Stage+ faces competition — from livestreaming video services like Medici TV and Carnegie Hall+ on one hand and specialist streaming services like Berlin-based classical-focused Idagio on the other. And since so many households in the U.S. and Europe now subscribe to a mainstream streaming service, in many cases Stage+ will need to have enough appeal to succeed as a second service. Apple also seems to have plans that involve a classical music service; last summer it purchased the streaming service Primephonic, whose website says, “We are working on an amazing new classical music experience from Apple for next year.” (Apple did not respond to a request to comment.)  

Trautmann says that Stage+ grew out of DG Stage, which was established during the pandemic and offered ticketed livestreams of performances by Deutsche Grammophon artists. A little over a year and a half ago, he started working to develop the service with Deutsche Grammophon vp of consumer business, Robert Zimmermann, under Frank Briegmann, Universal Music chairman and CEO, Central Europe, who also serves as chairman of Deutsche Grammophon.  

“DG Stage is simple and very effective, but we realized that the artist community and consumers were looking for a service where everything our artists create can be presented holistically in one place and audiences can follow their journey,” says Trautmann, who is himself a Julliard-trained musician who plays classical clarinet.  

It’s hard to imagine that Stage+ will ever have enough subscribers to rival the mainstream players, but its premium price could potentially allow it to make money with a number of subscribers in the low six figures. It also offers an interesting model for genres that don’t fare as well in the streaming world as pop music — especially if they have fans who can afford a premium price.  

And although no major label currently runs a streaming service, there’s no reason that Stage+ couldn’t also offer music from other labels or rightsholders — and it could potentially offer them better deal terms as a more appealing cultural and commercial environment than Spotify and Apple Music. “We’d be open to enlarge the content offering, provided it’s the right match for our curated approach,” Trautmann says, although there are no immediate plans to do so. “It might be better coming from potential partners instead of us.”