The Naxos Secret
Klaus Heymann now decided that Naxos would become a fully-fledged classical label committed to offering both beginners and more established collectors a full range of classical music—in state-of-the-art digital recordings and CD-length playing times—with performances at least comparable to the best that the major record companies had to offer, yet at budget price. Of course, there was always the concern that the major record companies could launch competing labels, yet Naxos pushed ahead with its mission nevertheless.
Part of Naxos’ success must also be attributed to the many qualified producers and engineers the label was able to engage in the actual locations where it recorded. Initially, teams were sent from Western Europe to the East to assure technical and artistic quality of international standard but, subsequently, local producers and engineers were trained on the spot. Today they produce most of the recordings Naxos makes in Eastern Europe.
It was also decided that all releases should have generous, informative, well-written music notes initially only in English but, later on, also in German and French. This commitment continues to the present day and Naxos is frequently complimented by the critics and the purchasing public for the accuracy and vividness of its sleeve notes.
Another very important decision was made right from the outset. There would be little or no duplication of repertoire. Once a recording of the highest artistic and technical quality was in the catalogue, it would not be replaced by another, merely to satisfy an artist’s desire to record the same repertoire.
After production had been organised, distribution became the next important priority for Naxos. It was deemed imperative that the label should have more or less the same retail price all around the world and that it should be as widely available as possible. Building up a world-wide distribution network took many years and only in 1994 could Naxos claim to have succeeded in establishing itself in every important music market in the world.
Once Naxos had proven its credibility as a quality label as well as a budget label, it became possible to record in the West, and from 1996, more than 75% of all Naxos recordings were produced in Western Europe and North America. Even as sales grew and the label started to make substantial profits, the artistic policy remained unchanged: Naxos would continue to record new artists and orchestras. Aided by competent advisors world-wide, Naxos established an impressive track record in discovering new talent in all fields of music, from opera to early music.
Increasingly, entire cycles of works have been recorded or are in the process of being recorded such as the complete works of Chopin, the complete symphonies or orchestral works of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Dvořák, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Sibelius, Nielsen, Elgar, Lutosławski, Penderecki, Glazunov and many others.
In the field of chamber music, Naxos is now perhaps the leading classical label regardless of price. The complete string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Dvořák have been produced and other complete chamber-music cycles already are scheduled.
A startling departure for Naxos was the inception of its opera series, met by critical acclaim and judged to be at least on a par with the great productions of more established labels. To this can be added Nostalgia, Jazz and the fascinating Historical series.
Naxos’s numerous catalogue lines now include American Classics, Japanese Classics, Spanish Classics, the Early Music Collection, the Guitar Collection, Opera Classics, the Organ Collection, Naxos 21st Century Classics, Naxos Historical, Jazz Legends, Nostalgia and Naxos World. In terms of sales, the opera, 20th-century repertoire, chamber music and the Guitar Collection are frequently top performers.
Naxos is also active in the DVD business and now distributes Arthaus and BBC/Opus Arte DVDs worldwide as well as TDK in most major markets, making the company the market leader in this expanding field. It also has begun releasing recordings in the DVD-Audio format.
In all genres, Naxos continues to retail more or less at the prices at which it originally was introduced into the world market. Inflation-related increases in production and overhead costs were balanced by the drop in the manufacturing costs of CDs.
Furthermore, Naxos continues to record as economically today as it did when the label first started. Overheads and staff costs are kept to the absolute minimum when compared with the major record companies. No money is wasted on unnecessary expenses such as large delegations of hangers-on at recording sessions and expensive artist promotions.
Naxos artists do not become famous through glossy brochures and full-colour advertisements in the international press but by producing first-class recordings which sell in large quantities throughout the world. Also, the policy of not duplicating repertoire represents a tremendous saving for Naxos as it enables the label to expand its catalogue rather than wasting money on different, or not-so-different, versions of the same standard repertoire.
Nevertheless, Naxos artists have risen to prominence through the quality of their recordings and the very breadth of their following throughout the world. Thus the label can now boast its own “stable of stars” and is increasingly attractive to rising performers and ensembles who quite rightly see Naxos as the label of the future, promising an exposure and stability which the mainstream labels of the past can no longer guarantee.
Naxos-recorded orchestras now include the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Orchestre de Paris, Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Munich Radio Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra., and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.
By the end of 2002, the catalogue listed almost 2,500 largely unduplicated recordings, offering music lovers a veritable encyclopaedia of music all at an affordable price.