The Internet allows *anyone* to distribute and get paid for their work far more easily than any point in the past.
And find the time and money to do all the promotion necessary? When you spend most of your time preparing yourself to perform...not a good idea.
Forget labels, forget buyers from chain stores, forget having to pay for and manage inventory.
I agree with the chain store part of the equation, but why not have local music stores burn disks on demand and not carry expensive inventory? The only reason this has not happened is the jerks at the MPAA have prevented it because they would lose their hold on the industry if music distribution where to catch up with todays technology.
Artists can record whatever they want and submit to iTunes (or Amazon, or eMusic, or...) for less than fifty bucks (if they need help). Or they can bypass these "handful of companies" and do the distribution independently
Classical artists who have tried this route have failed because the target demographic of Itunes is the half deaf background music listener that wants to drive down the road in a Honda with a 2000 watt subwoofer hooked into an Ipod impressing the chicks...not exactly what a concert hall recording requires of the listener.
Even Microsoft tried to get in the action and failed with their Zune and non existent music distribution system using their proprietary audio formats...they are still smarting from that series of blunders! But you will notice that they have teamed up with Ford to create an auto music system based on their failed products and formats.
Also notice that home stereo equipment is getting more and more locked down against the analogue hole
which the MPAA /RIAA is getting really anxious to eliminate. So the music consumer is getting fewer and fewer choices in regards to how they listen or back up copy their music.
Also, what DRM lock in are you referring to? Not sure if you have the accurate facts when you're referring to AAC and MP3.
So the classical artist just needs to go out buy a mac, and record a midi mix down with "Garage Band" artificial drums and strings and make millions....At least then the format will be correct for an Itunes hit.
In the real world of recording a performer needs to go out and spend 5-6 grand on studio mics and another 4-5 grand the right recording equipment. Then record in a hall with great acoustics, do the performance tours necessary to promote the recording and then consider spending the money to release their work. But where, on Itunes?...not a great way to succeed in the business of recording without major backing!
Apple claims to be a door for artists but does nothing to promote great art. And the default format for the Ipod and Itunes though perhaps not locked down might as well be.
I am sure that a 10 year old tone deaf kid using Garage Band and a "Guitar Hero" has a greater chance of financial success in the music industry today than an up and coming great violinist or other classically trained instrumental soloist! Because of the RIAA/MPAA and the Ipod fad.