Different challenges faced by consumers of rock, jazz, or classical music recordings

I’ve noticed some practical differences in the challenges and conveniences faced by consumers of rock, jazz, and (“Western”) classical music recordings.

General notes:

  • Overall, I think it’s easiest and most convenient to be a consumer of rock recordings, somewhat harder to be a consumer of jazz recordings, and much harder to be a consumer of classical recordings.
  • By “classical” I mean to include contemporary classical.
  • Pop and hip-hop and (rock-descended) electronic music mostly follow the rock model. I’m less familiar with the markets for recordings of folk musics and “non-Western classical” musics.

Covers

  • Rock: Cover songs are fairly rare, especially on studio albums (as compared to live recordings).
  • Jazz: Cover tracks are common, including on studio albums. Many of the most popular and/or well-regarded jazz albums consist largely or mostly of covers.
  • Classical: Almost all tracks are cover tracks, especially if weighting by sales.

Performers/composers

  • Rock: One or more of the performers are typically also the composers, though this is less true at the big-label pop end of the spectrum.
  • Jazz: Except for the covers, one of the performers is usually the composer, though the composer plays a smaller role than in rock because improvisation is a major aspect.
  • Classical: Composers rarely perform their own work on recordings.

Labeling/attribution

  • Rock: Simple artist + album/track labeling, because the composer(s) and performer(s) are often entirely or partly the same, and tracks composed by a single member of the band are just attributed to the band (e.g. “The Beatles” instead of “John Lennon” or “Paul McCartney”).
  • Jazz:¬†Albums and tracks are usually labeled according to the performer, even when the composer is someone else. (E.g.¬†Closer is attributed to Paul Bley even though Carla Bley composed most of it.)
  • Classical: Album titles might be a list of all pieces on the album, or the title of just one of several pieces on the album, or something else. As for the “artist,” on the cover art and/or in online stores/services/databases, sometimes the composer(s) will be emphasized, sometimes the performer(s) will be emphasized, and sometimes the conductor will be emphasized. For any given album, it might be listed under the composer in one store/service/database, listed under the composer in another store/service/database, and listed under the performer(s) under a third store/service/database.

Canonical recordings

  • Rock: Most pieces (identified by artist+song) have one canonical recording, usually the version from first studio album it appeared on. So when people refer to a piece by artist+song, everyone is talking about the same thing.
  • Jazz: Many pieces (identified by performer+piece or composer+piece) lack a canonical recording, because different versions of it often appear on multiple recordings by the same performer, sometimes the earliest version is not the most popular version, and consumers and critics disagree on which version is best.
  • Classical: For the most part, only less-popular contemporary pieces (identified by composer+piece) have a canonical recording. Everything else typically lacks a canonical recording because the earliest recording is rarely the most popular version, and consumers and critics disagree on which recording of a piece is best.

Genre tags

  • Rock: Hundreds of narrow and informative genre tags are in wide use, e.g. not just “metal” but “death metal” and even “technical death metal.”
  • Jazz: Only a couple dozen genre tags are in wide use, so it can be very hard to know from genre tags what an album will sound like. Different albums labeled simply “avant-garde jazz” or “post-bop” or “jazz fusion” can sound extremely different from each other.
  • Classical: Only a couple dozen genre tags are in wide use, so it can be very hard to know from genre tags what a piece will sound like. Moreover, classical music after ~1910 is far more unique on average (per piece) than rock or jazz, because the incentives for innovation are higher, so classical music after ~1910 “needs” more genre tags than rock or jazz.

Ratings

  • Rock: Reviewers often provide a quick-take rating, e.g. “3 out of 5 stars” or “8.5/10,” which makes it easier for you to filter for music you might like.
  • Jazz: Quick-take ratings from reviewers are uncommon but not rare.
  • Classical: Quick-take ratings from reviewers are fairly rare.

Availability

  • Rock: Most tracks are recorded and released within a few years of being composed.
  • Jazz: Most tracks are recorded and released within a few years of being composed.
  • Classical: Even after the invention of cheap recording equipment and cheap release methods, very few pieces are recorded and released within 5 years of being composed.

(I’ve now re-organized this post by feature rather than by super-genre.)

Comments

  1. says

    True. It is hard to browse for classical music on services like Spotify if you’re seeking canonical performances that are collectively agreed to be of a high quality because on the composers’ pages there is a constant influx of new recordings. I’ve gone to finding performers’ catalogues, such as operatic singers, or orchestras who are renowned for their musical direction, like the Netherlands Bach Society, as a starting point. Otherwise I search for reddit threads or articles collecting people’s favorite recordings.

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