On Jan. 14, the violinist Hilary Hahn scored a rare gig for a classical music performer: She appeared on "The Tonight Show." And not just any "Tonight Show," but the "Tonight Show" during the final days of Conan O'Brien's brief tenure as host. Everybody was watching. So it came as no surprise that Hahn's new album, "Bach: Violin and Voice," debuted that week at No. 1 on the Billboard classical charts.
No. 1 on the charts: It doesn't get any better than that. Or does it?
The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.
It's not exactly news that album sales in all genres have been declining for years. Nor is it news that classical recordings are not top sellers. "The classical charts have always been looked at as in the 3-percenter club," says Alex Miller, general manager of Sony Masterworks. "Three percent of total music sales are in classical music."