Thursday, July 05, 2012
Classical music’s love affair with Twitter is misguided
Write about the exorbitant fees charges by leading musicians, and you generate little response. Write about classical music’s sponsorship by tobacco companies, and you generate little response. Write about music education’s links with a totalitarian regime, and you generate little response. But write about classical music’s love affair with Twitter and the defensive comments come flooding in.
My posts about Twitter are not, as one reader suggests, to draw attention to the fact that the medium is “full of lowest common denominator crap” – I do not need to do that because it is self-evident to anyone who spends even a few minutes in the twittersphere. No, my concerns about Twitter go deeper and are directed at its increasing commercial rather than personal use. These concerns revolve around three issues; namely that the classical industry’s love affair with Twitter is consuming increasingly scarce financial resources, is providing a particularly fruitful breeding ground for parasitic intermediaries, and, most importantly, is quite simply bad marketing.
Classical music has made an Olympic sport out of complaining about funding cuts, but does little complaining about where the dwindling funding goes. Some of the fees charged by top musicians are difficult to justify, while the fees paid to their agents are even harder to justify. But now we have another layer of agents providing “social networking strategic services” – for a fee. What a row there is about funding cuts. But where is the row about the top slice of downsized funding that is going to Lang Lang’s management agent CAMI and to Inverne Price Consultancy for social media strategy? And is it impolite to ask whether those fees have been downsized in response to current pressures?
Intermediaries in the music supply chain have been the subject of several critical posts here. My objection is that, and I quote an earlier post, intermediary layers present an obstacle to the essential transmission process, therefore hypermediation is a barrier to engaging new audiences. Now a whole new layer of intermediaries - social media strategists – is further distorting the symmetry of what Benjamin Britten termed the holy triangle of composer, performer and listener.
Of course a lot has happened in technology and commerce since Britten died in 1976. Which means classical music could justify diverting increasingly scarce resources and building a new layer of intermediaries if the use of social media represented good marketing. But it is not, in fact it is bad marketing. Social media was developed as a personal, not commercial, platform, and it is a powerful if flawed 'one to few' communication tool. But the new breed of social media strategists are using it for 'one to many' communication, and it is the wrong tool for that task. There is no evidence at all of a single homogeneous market for classical music, which means single message one-to-many marketing using social media is inappropriate. But there is clear evidence that the classical music market comprises a large number of small niches, each of which demands a separate marketing approach and message. Twitter is a lazy solution and its commercial use does little more than inflate the communication agency’s bottom line and the musician’s ego, at the expense of more important players (literally) in the music supply chain.
Classical music's love affair with Twitter is misguided because it lacks any pragmatic substance. It is relevant that one of the founders of the Twitter toting Inverne Price Consultancy was editor of the Gramophone for six years; a magazine, that, as documented here recently, saw its circulation collapse in a futile chase of the classical mass market, and which has subsequently failed to gain traction as a digital publication. One reader suggests in response to my recent post about Twitter that I “stop trying to pave the road with leather, and put on a pair of shoes!” Maybe so, but is it unreasonable to ask how much the shoes cost, who paid for them, and are they going to fall apart after a short distance?
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