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Sun Cheon Kwon

Sexist Marketing in the Classical Music Industry

Have you ever noticed the way sex appeal is used in the classical music

advertisements? The easiest way to see images of the musicians is on the jackets of CDs. If

people look at the male musicians’ advertisements including CDs, they will notice them as

musicians. However, if people see the female musicians on the CD covers and

advertisements, they will notice them as women. Female musicians have double product:

their music and themselves, but male musicians have just music. This phenomenon affects

female musicians negatively in different ways. Classical music industry has been using the

marketing strategy of selling music with sexism, like the pop music industry does, but it is

not easily noticeable because classical music is used as a symbol of pure.

In Classical music industry, record companies are using two different marketing

strategies when they promote female musicians and male musicians. They show male

musicians are marketed as musicians but female musicians are marketed as attractive women.

Typical images of male musicians show them as actively playing or conducting music.

The images of female musicians show them not playing but presenting the

instrument, or holding it as decoration. They are usually wearing lots of make-up and form-
fitting and revealing dresses. The pictures of female musicians emphasize their appearance

rather than focusing on their music. The camera lenses focus on female musicians’ faces if

they have attractive or pretty features. If they have great shape of body, female musicians’

body is emphasized by the images. Female musicians, who have high quality of talent but not

enough to be compared with legendary female musicians, are considered on as the same level

of singers who are divas or famed musicians, if they are pretty. Even moderate looks can be

enhanced by make-up artists, body-shaping garments and rudimentary training in how to look

seductive, to conform with conventional ‘good looks’ and the belief that one looks sexy, one

is sexy. A composer and flutist, Elizabeth Brown points out that “Classical music marketing

photos still show women predominantly in sexy outfits with lots of skin, and men in serious,

somber clothing.”

Sometimes, record companies intentionally put the sexual meaning or directly use the images

of sexism on the advertisement or CD jackets when they are marketing female musicians.
It looks like Vanessa-Mae is feeling an orgasm.

These covers obviously have sexual meaning.

One of the examples of this phenomenon is Anna Netrebko. She is an opera singer

who was born in Russia. She is not just beautiful, but also has a great skill of singing.

However, the production company uses her beauty too much in the marketing as well, and

some critics said that Netrebko’s ability is overestimated because of her pretty face. Most

media showers Netrebko with high praise, rave reviews for her performances, and her looks.

At the same time she has suffered from the criticism. The English news media such as, The

Guardian states, “Anna Netrebko is the ultimate modern incarnation of operatic divadom. She

plays the part of the fantasy-soprano to perfection, with her combination of devastating good

looks, world-conquering vocal and personal charisma, and a suite of luxury-lifestyle

This is not just happening for adult female musicians but also, it affects young girl

musicians. As a result, a young generation of potentially superior classical performers receive

the messages that if they are not beautiful, they can have only limited opportunities. In 2007,

BBC broadcasted TV series called ‘Classical Star’ and nine young people selected to compete

each other. They are all good looking but judges discussed who was marketable and who was

not. They rejected talented young people if they were not gifted in their appearance. It takes

away from practicing and confidence of talented female musicians.

The Classical music industry is dominated and created by men. The interesting thing

is that people in the classical music industry still regard composing and conducting as men’s

territory. Even though there are more than there used to be, female conductors and composers

dress like men. It is because men do not want to see that women cross the line where they

should not do it. Female musicians are trying to make themselves look as men want to see


The cause of these problems is that entering the well-known music college is the only

way people, who want to become professional musicians, can get into the classical music

industry. It indicates why female musicians are using sexism unconsciously or intentionally.

The gender ratio of male and female students who enter the music colleges shows that the

proportion of female students is higher, and they are competitive is getting the opportunities

after graduating the schools than male students are. That is why female musicians are trying
to loss weight and get a plastic surgery, which is unnecessary for making good music, and

they do not mind if they are marketed with their beauty.

Male Female Total

The Juilliard School
Number of Applicants 913 1,225 2,138
Number Granted Admission (%) 88 (10%) 74 (6%) 162 (8%)
Number Admitted Who Enrolled (%) 62 (70%) 60 (81%) 122 (75%)

Manhattan School of Music Male Female Total

Number of Applicants 1,271 1,480 2,751
Number Granted Admission (%) 492 (39%) 574 (39%) 1,066 (39%)
Number Admitted Who Enrolled (%) 196 (40%) 243 (42%) 439 (41%)

The New School Mannes Music Male Female Total

Number of Applicants 1,588 4,104 5,692
Number Granted Admission (%) 840 (53%) 2,077 (51%) 2,917 (51%)
Number Admitted Who Enrolled (%) 319 (38%) 766 (37%) 1,085 (37%)

Boston Conservatory Male Female Total

Number of Applicants 569 1,097 1,666
Number Granted Admission (%) 265 (47%) 376 (34%) 641 (38%)
Number Admitted Who Enrolled (%) 69 (26%) 89 (24%) 158 (25%

New York Conservatory Male Female Total

Number of Applicants 155 182 337
Number Granted Admission (%) 66 (43%) 82 (45%) 148 (44%)
Number Admitted Who Enrolled (%) 58 (88%) 60 (73%) 118 (80%)

The trend of the classical music industry has been changing a bit in recent years. As

much as other entertainment industries do, this marketing strategy applies to the male

musicians as much or more and young conductors and good-looking solo performers such as

Joshua Bell (Violinist), Gustavo Dudamel (Conductor), and Nicolas Altstaedt (Cellist). Once

record companies know that using the sexual marketing sells everything, the same pattern can

be found in marketing the male musicians.

(Joshua Bell)

(Gustavo Dudamel)

(Nicolas Altstaedt)

The physical appeal has always been a significant factor for entertainment marketing,

and young female musicians need to be attractive for becoming successful in the classical

music industry these days. Even if it is wrong, the great pictures of the artists on the CD

covers or concert advertisements will actively encourage people to buy it. For the young

generations, if they are worrying about their appearance, they have less time for practicing

music, which is discouraging for their dream. This is also sad that it is not happening just for

female musicians but also starting to happen for male musicians. Since the Industrial
Revolution, the popularity of the classical music has declined. Record companies struggle to

make a profit and to get more audiences. Sexism in the classical music has been relatively

less concerning than other cultural industries because a small numbers of people listen to

classical music. If record companies keep selling the sexism, it will bring a decline to the

quality of classical music. To discover unknown talented female musicians, these problems

have to be questioned or publicized by a group of people, and musicians must realize that

showing their ability that make them real artists not expressing their sexual images.