Monday, January 14, 2008
Found - thousands of happy new ears
In only six weeks more than a thousand people have visited the Overgrown Path podcast page on iTunes, and this week James Weeks talking about the music of Elisabeth Lutyens has been added to my David Munrow and Alvin Curran podcasts. Doesn't that level of interest in music from the long tail tell us something?
Elsewhere there has been some good humoured discussion of Angela Hewitt world Bach tour T-shirts, with one defender of the Bach world tour marketing machine writing - 'I think you are missing the point here, which is trying to get new people interested in her, giving her profile in the press and recognition ... every interview, every talk show appearance is promotion.'
Every talk show appearance may be promotion. But all promotion is not good promotion. And promoting serious music to mass markets is a risky business. There are very few examples of large, and loyal, new audiences being created by mass marketing. But there are numerous examples that ended in tears, where mass marketing failed to attract a new audiences, but instead drove away the core audience. The most obvious example is BBC Radio 3, where going mass market has failed to attract Classic FM listeners, but has instead, literally, switched-off the network's core audience and resulted in a net loss of listeners.
New audiences are essential for the health of serious music, but so is being realistic. We live in an age of instant gratification, and today's arts administrators and broadcasters want immediate access to new mass audiences. This is not only unrealistic, it also often achieves the opposite result to that intended. New audiences can be reached, but we need to be less greedy and more adventurous to reach them.
As always on this blog these are my personal views. But they are based on real world experience. Yes, the sample size may be small, but, as I have pointed out before, the samples are larger than the focus groups used by the BBC and others. And before the cynics sniff at a few thousand listeners for David Munrow and Alvin Curran they should remember that it was revealed recently that Rupert Murdoch's new satellite Fox Business Network is attracting an average of only 6,000 daytime viewers.
The new audience for serious music is in the receptive long tail, not in the mass market short head. The long tail of classical music has received much attention recently. But there are many other long tails - for literature, for the visual arts, for the cinema, for techno and electronic music, and others. There is overlap, but there is also a sizeable new audience for serious music waiting in those other long tails. These are people who have been driven away from classical music by BBC TV's Classical Star and Classic FM's music for dinner parties. They see serious music today as being unexciting. They don't want to be talked down to by chummy radio presenters. They want the adventurousness of Boulez in the 1970s at the Round House and Proms in London, and at the Rug Concerts in New York. But, with a few notable exceptions, we are not giving them what they want.
I have talked to some of the new audience that my internet radio programmes and blog have reached. They told me they bought CDs and downloads of music by Guillaume Connesson, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow and others after discovering them On An Overgrown Path. These new listeners are well educated, have disposable incomes, are interested in the media, travel extensively, have expensive stereo systems, watch art films, and read contemporary fiction. But they listen to non-classical music because they find it more exciting and challenging. They are the long-tail dwellers, they are a receptive new audience for serious classical music, but we need to be a lot more adventurous to reach them.
Sir Brian McMaster arrives at the same conclusion in his controversial and brave report on funding in the UK arts which was published last week. In the report he recommends 'that cultural organisations stop exploiting the tendency of many audiences to accept a superficial experience and foster a relationship founded on innovative, exciting and challenging work'. Or, as that great arts administrator and BBC Radio 3 controller John Drummond wrote "the arts are as much about controversy as about achievement".
We need to be more adventurous and controversial. We already have the exciting music. We should stop apologising for it.
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