Cameron Parkins, November 30th, 2007
In continuing our Featured Commoner series, we caught up with Alessandro Simonetto, founder of OnClassical, an audio label for classical music that uses CC licensing integrally in its business plan.
What’s OnClassical all about?
OnClassical is an online label for refined music. The name means both ON(line)CLASSICAL(music) and ON[about]CLASSICAL[music]. I define “classical” in the same way that Wiktionary does, “of or relating to the first class, especially in literature or art” or, “that which designates a kind and forms a base.”. Of course we concern ourselves only with music, not with the other arts. Our aim is to publish music that is deeply rooted in the culture of music at its truest level, including music that is innovative or the fruit of improvisation.
The philosophy of OnClassical brings together not only quality compositions and performances, but also quality recordings that we either produce ourselves or carefully select from the submissions we receive. We recently chose to define onclassical.com as the “online label for audiophiles,” in large part due to a review by premier piano manufacturer Boesendorfer, in which a recording of ours was defined as “very excellent” (PDF available here).
The label proposes “a new way to think about music.” This means music with no packaging that is distributed via the Internet. OnClassical shares profits 50/50 with artists, and requests no fees or exclusive agreements to join. Besides this, the level of quality in its published performances and recordings is very high and for this reason it is not easy to become one of OnClassical’s featured artists.
What’s is OnClassical’s background?
OnClassical was born in 2002 with the name OnFugues (the onclassical.com domain was acquired after April 30, 2003). Not long before I had given birth to kunstderfuge.com, a free MIDI website that also provided a database for MP3s with pages dedicated to musicians. I began by sending out invitations to musicians who were winners of international competitions. This resulted in me receiving various discs from which I extracted pieces to publish online. I immediately began to experience the problem tied to artistic and technical selection. I thus decided to be fairly “clement,” which meant publishing one disc every two or three received. I wondered, however, how useful it was to give space to just about everything when the rest of the web was already doing the same thing (for example, with MySpace).
Starting from what I viewed as the second version of the site, beginning on the 14th February 2005 (coincidentally, on St. Valentines Day of 2007 I also launched CLASSICA(land)), I applied a further degree of selection to the material. The idea for increased selection came primarily from wanting to feature albums over single audio files.
Still not happy, in January 2007 I decided to begin cataloging again from zero. This final selection left me with just 4 discs out of the nearly 200 I had been sent by artists — about 2%! The rest was made up by my own recordings. This brings us to the renewed launching of onclassical.com, dated July 2007.
How or why did you begin?
Through buying discs from various recording houses, I began to see a low degree of selection in both an artistic and technical sense. As a rather meticulous sound technician I understood that the “little recording houses” often went hand in hand with “poor quality.” In fact, in Italy – and in the world – there is an abundance of recording houses, many of which are very small, often with catalogs which seem put together by chance. Similarly, the artists released by these recording houses were not always top talents, and were willing to pay for the publicity. Clearly, there are recording houses that are willing enough to take advantage of the situation.
With OnClassical I wanted to avoid all this, and concentrate on absolute quality in both performance and recording. Each recording is listened to carefully at least 50 times before it is published in an effort towards high recording standards. For this, OnClassical can be compared to a little shop of a craftsman in an era of standardization.
Can you talk about any interesting instances of reuse that have arisen from your choice of CC licensing? What benefits have you seen from using CC licenses?The advantages of using Creative Commons, united to the logic of quality music, became immediately noticeable. At the end of October, for example, OnClassical was officially invited by Dr. Flavia Marzano of QuiFree and the Region of Tuscany to participate in the International Festival of Creativity alongside Wikipedia, Ubuntu, and other important names. Amidst the 350,000+ visitors at the Festival I must say we were received very well. Despite the many distractions (lights, colors, and shows of all sorts) people were truly interested and stopped to hear our music (as well as to inquire about Creative Commons).
We were also contacted by a London-based label on the look-out for a catalog of classical music, who was interested in our artists. However, I preferred to decline, explaining that with OnClassical, the hope is to present the musicians only within a frame that is in keeping with their style. In the end, I believe that if onclassical.com is given worthy recognition on the web, and hopefully even outside the web, it will be due to the care we take in selecting out artists, music, and recordings.
Do you have anything else under CC licenses?
Graphics, images, texts and the new sleeves are covered by CC. It should be noted that all our sleeves can be downloaded even without having bought the relevant discs in high fidelity sound.
What’s next for OnClassical? What about new artists?
So far we have been dedicated entirely to classical music, but in the near future we will be devoting space to other types of refined music, such as electronic music, jazz, and cross-over.
Furthermore, we will soon be adding the historical group Don Kosaken Chor, a famous American choir with Orthodox origins that began in Greece in the early 1920s, to our catalog. The choir had sang in almost all the big concert halls of the world until its dissolution in 1979, accumulating about 10,000 performances and various recordings, including some with Deutsche Grammophone. The Don Kosaken soloists made a comeback in 1991, and are now directed by one of their former singers, Wanja Hlibka. The recording at onclassical.com will be their only disc with this new formation.
We will also be featuring artists who have recorded with labels such as Decca, EMI, and Deutsche Grammophone. I think that speaks for itself. We hope the public and the critics will grant us recognition for our professionalism.
My effort is now spent spreading news of onclassical.com so that as many people as possible can learn about us. I’m doing this through opening up relations with other companies and music magazines (that are usually more interested in the CD package). What I hope to help them to understand is that it is absurd to keep on thinking about music packaged only on a CD. In the 21st century, we need to realize the limited use of CDs, which can be produced easily at home, and to realize that the Internet is offering us amazing possibilities to easily distribute high-fidelity music in a manner that we define as “a new way of thinking about music.”