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How Decca Records Came to Dominate U.S. Classical Streaming

"We need to make sure artists and their music are present where fans are and that means a lot of content both premium and casual," says Joseph Oerke.

Classical music has been in the news this month, with the launch of Apple Music’s new classical-specific streaming app and Universal Music Group’s purchase of classical label Hyperion Records. But under the hood, another notable classical music story was brewing: for the first time in its history, Decca Records has nine of the top 10 songs on the classical U.S. on-demand audio streaming songs chart, according to Luminate.

The achievement is the fruit of several different strategies to help boost those artists, including Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter, Cody Fry, Chad Lawson and Lang Lang, across streaming services, from reworks, playlisting and, of course, TikTok. And it helps earn Decca Records U.S. senior vp of marketing and artist strategy Joseph Oerke the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.


Here, Oerke tells Billboard about several of those strategies, which go beyond boosting individual artists and songs but also includes growing the genre’s footprint at streaming — which will be helped by Apple Music Classical, but also Deutsche Grammophon’s own streaming service, Stage+, that it launched last November to showcase DG and Decca’s roster of artists. And the growth of classical streaming is becoming apparent in the numbers: on-demand audio streaming of classical music has grown by double-digit percentages in each of the past three years, and outpaced the growth of the on-demand audio streaming business at large in 2022, according to Luminate.

“There is a massive population of people who listen to instrumental and classical music during activities like meditation, yoga, cooking dinner, studying and so much more,” Oerke says. “We’ve intensely focused on these spaces and created opportunities to highlight the genre.”

This week, Decca has nine of the top 10 on-demand streaming audio songs in the U.S., according to Luminate, the first time in the label’s history it has achieved that feat. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

It is quite an exciting week for us. There is an amazing team here at Decca Records US and across the larger Verve Label Group, led by President/CEO Dickon Stainer. This is a tribute to each department. While we always study the charts, our focus remains on artist development and bringing classical music to the widest audience possible. Each track had its own journey to the chart including TikTok virality, the undeniable talent of the artist, the perfect alignment of music and function and so much more. There is no one plan that works for every track, so we constantly analyze audience and streaming data to inform how we tailor each approach. For example, prolific pianist-composer Chad Lawson embraces the healing power of music and writes works that are not only beautiful to listen to but also can inspire mindful moments. We’ve worked with Chad to not only position his music as classical but also as music that can serve a purpose.

Additionally, we’ve released alternate versions of key tracks including sleep re-works that have helped expand the audience. Working with such a collaborative and flexible artist as Chad has increased the opportunities we have for success. We’ve also fully embraced a global outlook and these nine tracks represent artists from the U.S., Iceland, U.K., Italy and China which gives us even more music to work with and broaden our overall appeal. We have the honor to represent classical labels including Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, ECM New Series and Mercury KX as well as working with artists locally signed around the world. This industry-leading wealth of artists and music is a key to our success.


With streaming’s dominance, many people have lamented the struggles that genres like classical and jazz have had in breaking through such a crowded and pop-heavy marketplace structure. How have you guys positioned yourselves to succeed at streaming in particular?

Rather than lament I’ve always chosen to fully embrace how listening habits have evolved over the years and find every possible outlet and platform for classical music. With instrumental music we work with both artist-forward listening as well as more passive forms of consumption. It’s this combination of listening styles that has helped us to grow our market share consistently over the last few years. One approach is to create moments or events that draw attention to our artists and music, with one example being World Sleep Day. We partnered with the World Sleep Society and curated a selection of new music from a range of artists around the world. We then worked with our commercial partners to drive overall awareness for the genre, which many people consume as part of their daily lives, which then drives increased consumption. There is a massive population of people who listen to instrumental and classical music during activities like meditation, yoga, cooking dinner, studying and so much more. We’ve intensely focused on these spaces and created opportunities to highlight the genre.

Deutsche Grammophon also launched its new streaming service, Stage+, in November. How has that service fared so far and what has it allowed you to do with the catalog?

Stage+ is a beautiful platform where you can enjoy some of the greatest musical performances from around the world. I’ve always been a fan of classical music and I attend operas and concerts in New York weekly, but I almost never get to see the Vienna Philharmonic at home, and I’ve only been to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam once in my life. There is so much amazing work being done in concert halls around the world and now classical audience members everywhere can enjoy performances that we might only ever hear about. We are working hand in hand with Deutsche Grammophon to continue growing the audience for Stage+ and look forward to bringing these performances to many more fans in the years to come.


There seems to be more and more interest in classical-specific streaming lately, not only with Stage+ but with the official launch this week of Apple Music Classical. How do you leverage these types of platforms, and how does that help you break through with your fan base?

There has been, wrongly, a stigma that most streaming platforms only carry pop music but not classical or not all of classical music. That’s incorrect, but the perception remains. These classical-specific platforms highlight just how vast the available catalog is and can present recording information in a clean and easily understandable format. Personally, it makes me as a listener feel seen and heard which is not something classical music fans who grew up digging around CD bins in the back of a music store have enjoyed. I think part of our job now is to educate listeners that you can have the entire music store with one tap and find both popular and obscure recordings quickly and easily.

Several streaming services also have added additional data, such as performer, composer and conductor data. What else would you like to see added to better reflect the classical space?

One thing that was missing but now is less of a problem is improved sound quality. The dynamic range of classical music is so vast that higher quality audio was an issue in the past, but now most services offer it which is a huge benefit. While metadata display is an on-going conversation, I’d like to see more contextual information offered to listeners, such as a booklet or liner notes. Classical music has traditionally been about numerous artists recording the same piece — just imagine how many recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony there are — and so each artist’s individual interpretation is the key and listeners are keen to know the back story and the artist’s thoughts on the repertoire. With opera, which is really a challenge at streaming, there is a need for a libretto to understand what is being sung. This extra material helps with a richer listening experience deepening a listener’s connection to the genre.


You guys have also had success leveraging TikTok, particularly with Ludovico Einaudi’s 2013 track “Experience,” which went viral on the platform last year and is still the No. 1 on-demand streaming audio track in the U.S. this week. What was the story there and how have you been able to utilize platforms like that to benefit your artists?

In November 2020 our vp of digital analytics and advertising spotted the increasing uses of “Experience” on TikTok and that it was driving more streaming. We quickly identified the video where the trend started, which was of a student listening to “Experience” which dramatically helped increase his focus while writing a paper. It clearly resonated with a large audience and we could see the potential. From there we quickly delivered the official audio to Einaudi’s TikTok profile, ran influencer campaigns to boost engagement, drove awareness for Einaudi’s own channels, and then encouraged him to deliver an alternate solo piano version of the song. We had already been planning a YouTube livestream for December and decided that a performance of “Experience” needed to be added ASAP. I think most importantly, we looked at how people were engaging with his music and the cultural conversation around it to tailor our approach at broadening and consistently growing the audience.

In general, we are constantly monitoring trends and daily activity on social platforms like TikTok, Reels and Shorts and with our deep understanding of fan behavior we can double down on our consumer-led marketing. Elevating UGC with initiatives like influencer campaigns and plugging our artists and music into relevant cultural trends are just a few ways we work to position our artists at the forefront of online culture to give their music a chance to stand out amongst the thousands of tracks released every day.

How do you keep growing the genre moving forward?

We need to make sure artists and their music are present where fans are and that means a lot of content both premium and casual. The decline of classical music has and always will be lamented but despite that it is still here, both in the concert hall and coming through our speakers. I attended the opera earlier this week and soprano Lise Davidsen gave one of the most thrilling performances I’ve heard and now my job is to make sure others know about her and excite their curiosity to seek her out. She’s but one example of the countless performing and recording artists today who are giving phenomenal performances night after night, and they are the catalyst for moving the genre forward while we are here to amplify their art.

Previous Executive of the Week: Mike G of UTA