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A look at some record company websites

I've often been struck by the variety of quality in online information provided by the classical record labels, large and small, and thought that this week we might visit some of them. If anyone from these companies happens across this, I hope you'll take my mischievous comments in the generally positive and constructive manner in which they're meant!


Judging by the addresses printed on the latest Naxos discs, this famous budget label now seems to be promoting the address below in favour of the more obscure address used until recently. Not one of the most glossy looking sites, but many interesting and extensive areas to explore, and refreshingly outward-facing, with e.g. links to other sites. (Try finding any links to other sites from!)


Warner Classics International's website (representing Erato, Finlandia, Nonesuch, NVC Arts and Teldec labels) has a clean professional look, but it's only a set of links into separate sites for the different labels, each with a different style, and unfortunately none quite as cohesive as the first page that we see. The Nonesuch site looks promising, but isn't available yet.


I've heard good things about the customer service provided by Cala Records, the company run by Australian conductor Geoffrey Simon. Site-wise, the design is reasonable. Some pages are a bit slow to load -- notably the catalogue, which is quite varied, and possibly a little out of date -- why not change your 1998 copyright dates, Geoffrey? As you might expect, Mr Simon features as conductor on many of Cala's orchestral discs.


As this next site downloaded, something about the arrangement of the blank boxes on my empty screen told me that I was going to like this site. fleurs de lys is nicely and ecomically designed, but the information (although in French and English) is a bit scanty, and -- horror of horrors -- that dreadful phrase 'under construction' has the 'about us' page to itself. What a shame!


A similar name to the above, but a very different style -- chunkier, more workmanlike web design, and a bit too crowded with styles and colours for my taste. Fast loading, and reasonable information. Fleur De Son Classics, based in New York, was founded by guitarists Joanne Castellani and Michael Andriaccio.


I expected great things from the Swedish company BIS. The entry page is simple and effective, but once I selected 'new releases', the style changed to something a little messier. Lots of information here, stretching back to 1996 releases, and back still further if you're prepared to trawl the composer or artist indexes. See if you can find the picture containing the company mascot, Sibelius!


The Swiss label Claves Records has a smart home page, and keeps a reasonable look whilst traversing the other pages, but the site navigation's a little bit messy. Headings like 'CDs' but then 'other CDs' leave me scratching my head a little as to which link to select. Lots of information here, and it's interesting.


Nimbus has a simple looking site. Easy to navigate, although a little plain, and the pages are all quite big, making them slow to download. A big collection of real audio sound extracts will give you a rather jumpy (if high quality) experience if you're on a slow dial-up connection, because the extracts are encoded at rates needing a faster connection.


You might not think of the London Symphony Orchestra as a record company, but this forward thinking organisation is recording its concerts and selling them online under its own label LSO Live. Nice design, reasonable information, and some real audio links to longish files which will play uninterrupted unless you have a slow dial-up modem connection. Watch out for those tasty buttons with '3D' drop-shadow effect, though -- they don't work so well on a non-white background.


Chandos Records' site certainly has a memorable style, with red and white writing on a black background. Whether or not this is elegant is a matter of personal preference. Try printing a page and see what happens! An easy to navigate site, though, and the search facility works well.


Czech company Supraphon has a nice looking website, enhanced with good photos, and it manages to keep its style as one explores this dual language site. The pop-up advertising windows are a bit annoying though, and site navigation could be improved -- it's a shame that there are no links from the artist pages into the catalogue.


CPO has a solid bright and well-thought-out German design, and it seems easy to navigate as well. No evidence of anything in English here though, which is a shame.


Hyperion's site is bursting with detailed information about each CD in the extensive Ted Perry collection, allowing you to read the liner notes and listen to samples before making your purchase. There's a nicely distinctive design here too, with the unmistakeable Hyperion logo and subtle colouring. Only the blue underlined text links look slightly out of place, to my eye.


harmonia mundi (like e e cummings) has a successful set of sites here -- a different language and style depending on which country you select. sound extracts are available in real audio and mp3 flavours. the style of the single home page works better for me than that of either the american or european sites' styles, but everything works well.


If I had an award for 'cohesiveness of style', then it would go jointly to Hyperion and this next site, Deux-Elles, because the styles of both sites spread successfully throughout their pages.

Deux-Elles is an independent label, distributed by Nimbus, and using minimal path recording techniques and simple microphone configurations. Until I met Deux-Elles' managing director at a recent informal concert by one of his recording artists, flautist Kathryn Thomas, I imagined the company run by two young latin women in the south of France. Reality places the company in Reading, in the UK. And my last mischievous comment of the day ... what a shame this professional looking site and domain address redirects to (presumably to keep the cost down).


Finally, although we visited Sony Classical's fun site just recently, it gets a place in this list because of its extensive and clever use of the tricks of the web design trade -- automatically-playing sound clips, pop-up windows, java script, animation, newsletters, and an online radio show. The home page looks and feels very expensive, although the gloss doesn't spread in quite the same depth to the other pages.


So which are your favourite record label websites? Why not Let us know?


Copyright © 13 March 2001 Keith Bramich, London, UK


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