Industry Idols – Christopher Alder

Wednesday 10th November 2010

This week’s Industry Idols interviewee is Christopher Alder, the Grammy-award-winning freelance music producer and former executive producer of Deutsche Grammophon.

What are the first, most important steps a young artist needs to take when they embark on their career as a performer?

A musician needs to be brutally honest with themselves about identifying what they are good at and concentrating on that particular area. Too many artists play certain works for no other reason than they think they should be playing such-and-such a composer or the piece has to be part of a serious artist’s repertoire. Singers seem to be the most endangered – I am constantly meeting fine singers, even very famous ones, who are talking about performing a role which is obviously not 100% suitable for their voice! A young artist must find a way to perform their chosen repertoire, even if it is only at small venues, schools, provincial towns…. and if they are any good they will eventually find a management willing to take them on.

What was your first job in the music industry?

While a post-graduate student at the Hamburg music conservatory I helped arrange music for a small ensemble in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus for a theatre piece. I was there in various functions for 2 years. My first real job was as a tape editor at Deutsche Grammophon in Hannover, and they also taught me a lot about the engineering side of recording.

What skills do you think are needed to succeed in the music industry?

I am a great believer in Emerson’s comment  “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.”  To pragmatism and honesty I would add optimism. These three are the rarest attributes in our industry (as they are in all of the arts) and the combination of all of them is unbeatable. They can be learnt, even optimism. The first two require courage. Creativity is necessary, but there is no shortage of creative people in the arts (the artists for a start) and it is a skill you can ‘buy in’.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt during your career?

Don’t cut corners. People will normally pay for quality and on the rare occasions they won’t you still have had pleasure in your work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with great musicians and listening to great music in lovely places.

On a typical working day, what’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

If ‘on location’ the hall where we are recording and the control room are my office. I am there before the musicians arrive and I first go into the hall and greet the engineer,stage staff, the people who I depend on for things to run smoothly.
If at home for post-production, the first thing I do is write a list of who I need to phone and what I have to decide that day, then sit and edit whatever project I am working on. Listening to music in a concentrated way is much easier for me in the morning. After a couple of hours I need a break and that is when I address the things I wrote on my list.

Do you think there is anything in the classical music industry that needs to be changed? If yes, why?

We should always be thinking of how to change things… Life is change and the arts should reflect that. Our business shouldn’t be foreseeable.

Are there any young musicians, emerging venues, exciting companies, composers… etc that you are keeping your eye on?

No, my days of actively scouting for young talent are over. Many young artists contact me for advice or in conjunction with recording and I hear quite a few in concert. The ones I like I vaguely follow but I admit I pay much more attention to mature artists.

Where do you read about classical music?

I have google news alerts for many artists I work with or am interested in. I read the Süddeutsche Zeitung, arts pages online of the FAZ, Salzburger Nachrichten,  FT, Guardian, and NY Times and Gramophone magazine.

Where is your favourite place in the world for classical music?

For the whole aesthetic package it must be Vienna. Despite the lack of exciting new productions at the State Opera there is a single-mindedness in the serious enjoyment of quality performances that is unique there. The Musikvereinssaal, Brahmssaal, Mozartsaal and Konzerthaus, the Opera House and the Theater an der Wien – no other city has halls like these, nor such an informed and opinionated public.