How Classical and Pop Music are Best Friends in Today’s Music Industry

Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland

Content Specialist
440 Industries

Introduction

The world of music can be a tricky place — filled to the brim with aspiring artists, various genres, and a complex history spanning centuries that defines the industry as it is today. There are many, many different types of music; some more well-known in the mainstream media and others lesser known to the young, “hip” majority of radio listeners. Societal notions dictate that in order to be a successful musician, one must go down the road of hip-hop, pop, or EDM to make significant funds and make their mark on the map of relevant artists. I am here to tell you that this is not the case. There is more to today’s music industry than meets the eye.

From jazz to blues to classical, the possibilities of musical endeavours are endless.  I speak from personal experience: I am an opera singer holding a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance. But beyond my connections to the classical music realm, I sing musical theatre, jazz, and most notably, pop music. Beyond just myself, I know many musicians who are in the same boat — they love both classical music and pop genres. If you are someone who likes more than just mainstream music, then there’s no stopping your versatility. Who says you can’t sing both Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”  and the Queen of the Night aria by Mozart? Who says you can’t play piano top hits and Chopin, or a Bach guitar suite and an Ed Sheeran ballad? Although it isn’t particularly mainstream, classical to pop crossover is more common, and important to the progression of both genres, than you’d think.

In this post we’re going to break up the topic in these sections:

 1. What is Classical to Pop Crossover?
2. Relevance of Classical Music Today.
3. How You Can Crossover and Be Business-Savvy.
4. Conclusions.

1. What is Classical to Pop Crossover?

Have you ever heard of both classical and other forms of music melded together or treated the same in the industry? It is not well-known in today’s day-in-age, but its history is quite prolific.

Relevant sources within the music industry define the term crossover as “a practice in music when a composer or sound engineer incorporates musical elements into a performance or composition that are not specific to his or her genre.” This can be from using the classical violin in the background of a pop piece or having chamber-style choir voices utilized in a rock band’s sets. All styles of music can incorporate these musical style collaborations — as has been happening since the concept of modern music was formed. 

Historically, classical music was separated from popular music at the beginning of the 20th century. Jazz, musical theater, and ballads became all the rage starting in the 1920s. These genres and the relevant artists who helped to formulate them, such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, had such a heavy influence on the malleable world of music that they laid the groundwork for what popular music would become. It was during this time that classical music fragmented off from these genres and became a genre of its own — though it would not be for decades that it faded to the background of cultural relevance.

Mass audiences filled with young people still attended and were invested in new music within the classical scene until about the 1960s. During this time of the cultural revolution, the young listeners’ ears tuned into the Beatles and Elvis Presley instead of Stravinsky and Mahler. Along with revolting from the older generation’s ideals and traditional values, the youth of the 1960s also turned away from their parent’s classical music towards genres that they felt represented their fresh perspective. It was then that classical music started to build the reputation in pop culture as outdated and unrelatable.

2. Relevance of Classical Music Today

But classical music has not been forgotten — it still has a thriving fan base and workers within its industry all over the world. Major opera houses in virtually every first-world country boast large audiences, thrilling sets, gorgeous costumes, and virtuosic performers with 100-piece orchestras. Conductors make their mark, and a six-figure or more salary, by leading orchestras and choirs at some of the finest art centres in the country. And yes, classical music does translate into the virtual, recorded world as well — it is not all just live concerts. Some of the top-selling classical albums had over 3 million copies sold worldwide in 2019. There is a vibrant scene of classical musicians recording their own personal albums or guest-starring on another artist’s recording.  I personally own Renée Fleming’s, one of the most in-demand opera singers in the world today, 2014 Christmas album and her own personal crossover album filled with Broadway and jazz tunes.

Stars like Fleming are venturing more and more into the classical to pop crossover scene. This tradition has been around since the beginning of the divide between classical and popular music. Some examples are as follows. 

Julie Andrews, the virtuosic star of “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins”, started her career at the ripe age of 12 singing operatic arias for the Queen of England. Paul McCartney of The Beatles also writes classical music.  A viral video of Freddie Mercury, rock star lead of Queen, singing with Montserrat Caballé, a powerhouse operatic soprano, shows Mercury performing both operatically and in his typical rock fashion. Elton John himself was a classically trained pianist-turned-pop aficionado. Even Lady Gaga is known to whip out an operatic tune or two. As you can see, so many pop idols have dipped their toes into the classical music scene!

3. How You Can Cross-over and Be Business-Savvy.

Do you have what it takes to be in both the pop and classical music worlds? You’ll need to focus on a couple of things.

  1. Train Hard. Classical musicians spend years and thousands of dollars in universities honing their technique. Practice, practice, and more practice is the name of the game. Focus on how you can get valuable skills out of choir, orchestra, and/or your solo training. Spend time practising alone and strengthening your skill. And then, when you and your teacher think you are ready, apply away! Send audition tapes into programs around the world that are focused on your speciality within the classical music world. I personally did an Opera program in Italy — and there are hundreds of training programs for whatever your speciality is.

    At the same time, spend your free time pouring your heart and soul into pop, jazz, or other genres of modern music. Write some songs, record them, and share them with friends. Work on your runs, belting, and manipulating into different octaves. Hone that piano technique. Or if you’re an instrumentalist, research how your specific instrument can be used in pop music. If there’s a will, there’s a way!

  2. Apply Your Knowledge to A Career. After you’ve finished your studies, invest in learning about how your knowledge of both pop and classical can be converted into your own personalized career. If you’re a composer, you most definitely could have a thriving business life in composing for film scores. Or you could be in an orchestra for said film scores. Even still, you could be in a choir that records for film and TV. If you have dreams of making it on the Broadway stage, get that classical voice in check and round out your sound with some belting and chest voice technique. 

  3. Be Creative! The music industry is anything but linear — our path is what we make of it. You are the greatest judge of your own abilities. No one can tell you what you can do more than you can, or can motivate you to learn more than you. Be your critic and your cheerleader, and know that there is a place for you in the world of music! If you are skilled in both classical and pop, the world is your oyster — your assets will be able to be used in a variety of settings.

4. Conclusions

Although there is still a market for it, the classical music world is diminishing in relevance and popularity. That is why there is more and more of a need to have classical to pop collaborations and “hip” young people to take an interest in all that classical music has to offer. If you open up your ears and heart to it, classical is full of passion, history, culture, love and loss. It is intensely relatable and beauty incarnate. Classical music offers the listener and performer so much to learn from lest we simply listen and train in it. So if you have an inclination towards both classical and pop, I encourage you to take the step into becoming both a fan and a practitioner — the future of music as we know it depends on it.

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How Classical and Pop Music are Best Friends in Today’s Music Industry Pop music and classical music are not such distinct genres anymore, actually, they are blending into new music styles, let's find out how.
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Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland

Brenna McFarland is a senior Communications Studies and Vocal Performance, concentration in Opera Major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. She is both a professional opera singer with over five years of experience travelling around the United States and Europe to work with teachers and coaches from across the globe, and a future businesswoman looking to enter into the PR and Marketing sector of the arts and business world. Academically, she serves as the Vice President of the JMU Opera Guild, where she coordinates meetings, facilitates mentorships between teachers and students, and plans events with over 100 students who are looking for more opportunities in classical music. She is also a member of the JMU Speech Team and has been on the Dean's List for her academic accomplishments for the past two years. Brenna is passionate, driven, and a hard-worker who understands how to manuever the complexities of connect with others in a unique and sensitive manner.

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