An Interview with Klaus Heymann by Robert Hugill
Naxos has been celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Those 25 years have seen remarkable changes to the classical
music recording industry; changes, which Naxos and its founder
Klaus Heymann helped to bring about.
I interview Klaus Heymann on the day after the 25th
birthday celebrations in London, which included a party at which
Simon Callow spoke.
When asked if, when he founded Naxos, he had anticipated the
company being around for 25 years Heymannís answer is a definite
ĎNoí. He thought that the company would last three to five years
until it was killed by the majors. Later, when he became more
confident that Naxos would survive, he did not anticipate how
the venture would develop.
That the company survived in its early days was down partly
to the fact that the major record companies seriously underestimated
Naxos. I was curious as to what Heymann thought that the majors
should have done. He thinks that as soon as Naxos appeared,
the majors should have released their back catalogue at budget
In fact they were too busy selling back catalogue at full price
and at the time this seemed good business. When the majors realised
that Naxos was a threat, it was established and in any case
their response was feeble. They did not understand the Naxos
concept of issuing new digital recordings at budget price.
Heymann named three key moments as milestones in the history
of Naxos. The first, in 1994, was the release of Naxos Audiobooks.
This gave the company important publishing know-how, which has
come in useful with the rise of mixed media products such as
books with recordings or the on-line musical encyclopaedia.
The second milestone came in 1996 when the catalogue went on-line
for the first time and the third was the launch of the Naxos
Music Library. For Heymann, this is the most successful part
of classical music on the internet and it produces the second
largest digital income - after ITunes.
When asked what the secret is of running a successful classical
music business like Naxos, Heymann is clear that it is managing
to combine business sense with a passion for classical music.
As far as he is concerned, if the business is only about making
money then you wonít make it. He cites the examples of labels
like Hyperion, Chandos and Bis who were all started by people
with passions (Ted Perry, Brian Couzens and Robert von Bahr).
He warns that you do need business sense as well and that this
is rare; too many companies are set up by people with no business
Heymann points out that he was fortunate to have other profitable
businesses so that he could invest in new areas such as audio
books, the internet and DVDs. Naxos was a famously early adopter
of the internet when the technical infrastructure was still
very expensive; people thought Heymann crazy to invest so much
money in it. But he admits that there was never a grand plan.
The business simply developed naturally though he was always
looking a few steps ahead.
Heymann has often been ahead of the curve though he is candid
that he didnít get everything right (mini-disc, audio DVD) but
he got the most important things right. He foresaw the development
of the subscription model and Naxos were the first company with
it in 2002.
Nowadays his main activity is to monitor trends in digital distribution
of music. He adds that Naxos currently have 74 people in IT
and 10 in the record company, reflecting the importance of IT
and the internet to the company.
For Heymann, the future of digital content will be in the area
of searching. With so much content (Itunes for example has 28
million tracks), knowing where to find stuff will become paramount.
Heymann feels that you need three key things, superb metadata,
a good search engine and a good recommendation engine; all areas
where Naxos is strong and is devoting more development time;
all of interest to an IT nerd like me.
They have the biggest database in the industry with a very good
search engine complete with keywords and advanced search. Heymann
is clearly proud of the work that Naxos has done in this area,
and rightly so. He talks knowledgeably about the key factors
in the digital revolution.
The team at Naxos is currently working on an advanced search
engine which they can superimpose on other web sites, thus enable
customers to leverage the value of the metadata in the Naxos
database. For Heymann this is the future of the business.
Our talk also turned to the idea of curated content which I
likened to the old-fashioned record shop where everything was
chosen by the owner. Heymann confessed that when he retires
he has always thought that it would be pleasant to open his
own record shop.
Naxos is the market leader in digital distribution and online
musical education. They have developed a highly regarded classical
music app and Heymann also talks about ebooks with embedded
music. In development is an interactive music encyclopaedia
where you can read and listen, with links taking you to text
and to related musical content. They have just finished the
Heymann is bullish about the future of CDs and DVDs, saying
that they will be around for five years; currently their sales
of classical music CDs remain stable. But there are now hardly
any physical record shops left; Naxosís biggest customer is
Amazon. Heymann clearly regrets the passing of the record shop,
but the businessman in him points out that the new way of working
is in some ways to Naxosís advantage. After all, Amazon is unlikely
to go bust and payments from small independent shops could be
Heymannís wife, the violinist Takako Nishizaki, is still responsible
for the choice of Naxos artists and always has been. They usually
ask for a recording of a live concert and listen blind. Heymann
says that she is an infallible judge and certainly the strength
of the label in its earliest of days was the way they seemed
to be able to search out strong but lesser known artists.
From these earliest days Naxos has been consistent in paying
artists using a flat fee structure rather than royalties. Nowadays
many independents donít pay royalties, though for an orchestra,
some smaller companies just donít have the money for a flat
fee for the whole orchestra. Heymann adds that the flat fee
can work in an artistís favour because they only get royalties
once recording costs have been covered. Also, with the changes
in the recording industry many artists and orchestras pay for
their own recordings, so Naxosís flat fee can be a good deal.
The company has a conscious policy to record more and more unusual
repertoire. And this does seem to work, the day I checked the
companyís website their top 40 selling discs included music
by Jonathan Dove, Eugene Goossens, Peter Maxwell Davies and
William Alwyn. This month they have released their first recording
of an opera by Nicola Vaccai, a composer perhaps best known
for the fact that Malibran used to sing his setting of the final
scene instead of Belliniís when she performed I Capuletti
e I Montecchi.
Heymann says that they lose money on many projects, though every
recording must sell two to three thousand copies. The losses
are balanced by the money-making recordings, and even those
which do not make money will contribute to the development of
a complete encyclopaedia of music.
Heymann has had the luxury of being able to indulge in projects
which are expensive, such as JanŠcekís Glagolitic Mass
or Schumannís Scenes from Goetheís Faust. There are
some things that he will not be recording. Heymann would love
a cycle of the operas by JanŠcek but says that these do not
sell well enough and he has had to content himself with commissioning
suites from the operas.
For his 80th birthday, Klaus Heymann is planning
to give himself the present of a recording of the complete orchestral
music of Hans Pfitzner. He waxes most lyrical about the music
from Pfitznerís opera Palestrina.
He admits that he does not listen to music except for that necessary
for the company, he just doesnít have time. After all, with
some 20 to 30 new releases each month there is plenty for him
to hear, and he still enjoys it.
In person Klaus Heymann is impressively tall and disarmingly
charming. Though he mentioned retirement in our talk, he is
clearly still running Naxos and enjoying every minute of it.
11 May 2012