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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7 comments:

Tim said...

"write about (xyz..) and you generate little response."

usually, in my case, because I agree with you.

"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?"

Not at all. I find this one of the most credible, noteworthy, & defining lines of enquiry that is explored on this blog.

Along with all the interesting non-mainstream music, explorations of links to spiritual traditions, cross - cultural collaborations etc.

But then, that's also basically what I use my twitter account for... to network with people such as yourself, & not be forced to get my content from corporate monsters or marketing strategists.

I agree, the "commercial" use of twitter is trite, & i applaud you for highlighting the deeper issues.

But i don't see that twitter, as a medium, is the problem. On the contrary, my use of twitter sees it as potentially a great "democratizer" & a great leveller. But one needs to apply discretion & judgement to achieve this outcome. But it is an option.

i.e. "Hypermediation" is exactly what I use twitter to try & combat, as an (informal) generator of content, but also as a consumer of one.

Various "spin merchants" might be using it to try & force feed me guff that they think appeals to me because they feel i am some sort of "untapped market", but i'm not listening. I'm listening to people such as yourself. & I obtain links to that information via my twitter feed.

& unlike more traditional medias, there is an option to side step all the "marketed mediation" altogether.

They have failed to realise that i'm "meta-aware" of their "hypermediation", & as such, am unlikely to buy into any of it.

Twitter is a not "a lazy solution". it is in fact potentially a very good solution. & in this article, you yourself identify areas that i too believe are its strengths - not least amongst them "cutting out the middle man" (...person..)

The problems you highlight aren't problems with "twitter" per se.

I certainly hope you weren't offended by my comments. But I simply wished to highlight that there are positives to be gleaned from the twitter experience.

Pliable said...

Tim, we do not disagree. My problem is not with Twitter per se. My problem is with the commercial use it is being put to - hence my posts.

Pliable said...

Hugo Romero via Facebook -

'Thank you! A truly insightful text on a problem of which Twitter misuse is the latest (or probably almost the latest) example.'

http://www.facebook.com/ugoromero

Thomasina said...

Glad for your added emphasis in the comments above, because that wasn’t the impression given by the original post.

Like Tim, I often neglect to comment here because I agree with the posts. Like Tim, I find Twitter an intelligent and engaging medium with excellent networking potential. In fact, one of its beauties is that there is no need to follow an uninteresting or irrelevant feed. The denominator is only as low or as common as you want it to be. Sadly, when you say that its crappiness "is self-evident to anyone who spends even a few minutes in the twittersphere" you give the impression that this is all the time you've spent there, which diminishes a little the authority of what you go on to say.

Regardless, I agree on two points. First, social networking strategic services are a scam for no other reason than the sheer impossibility of effectively outsourcing something that is a powerful and personal communication tool and which has no value to organisation or follower unless it represents direct and genuine communication. Second, and related, it's foolish (and a missed opportunity) for an organisation to regard Twitter as a "broadcast" or one-to-many medium.

But while you say Twitter is "bad marketing" I would go further and say that Twitter isn't marketing at all. (Nor is it PR in any standard sense of that occupation.)

To end I'd like to describe another scenario, which I believe is more amongst musical organisations, at least in my neck of the woods:
Twitter (and Facebook) is used primarily as an additional means of communication, a way of allowing our audiences to talk to us and for us to talk to our audiences in informal and spontaneous ways, and as a way of sharing information and nurturing enthusiasm for our art form. The custodians of these accounts are usually knowledgeable people who are deeply engaged with their organisations (whether as staff or performers) and the emphasis is on authenticity and responsiveness. So not "the intern" and not the outsourced social media specialist.

This morning, for my orchestra, I answered on Facebook a question about the conductor's antiphonal arrangement of the strings for Tchaik 6 the night before. The concertgoer received a prompt and thoughtful answer, and the conversation could be seen and contributed to by others in the community. The night before, on Twitter, there was a mini-discussion about applause in response to something I tweeted from the pre-concert talk (Tchaik 6 again…). That was a discussion and an interaction that would not have happened without the Twitter medium.

Yes, we occasionally post about a special offer or a pre-sale or some other thing that might loosely be considered "marketing", but we also realise that this is not where the strength of the medium lies. We know that Twitter etc. are relationship-building tools not marketing tools. We might well have a love affair with Twitter, but not for the reasons you decry.

mrG said...

"write about (xyz..) and you generate little response."

ah yes, I had that problem once upon a time, and so I tried a small experiment. First, though, I came into some insight about being a Futurist, which is really what you and I do, we imagine a future and then see that the current world does not fit that future and so we seek to steer the world toward a better place. Correct me if I'm off base here ;)

Anyway, the insight: "The purpose of a Futurist is not to illuminate how far we are from The Future, but to plot a believable path from the present into that Future" That hit me like a ton of bricks. If we merely point out where everyone is wrong, the people who agree will grumble "yeah, that's it" and those who are doing the wrong, well, nobody seriously believes they are the one's doing the wrong! So they tune it out. Ergo, it became my strategy not to lambaste the present, but to plot toward the Future, and I experimented.

My first thought was to ask what separated my writing from other Futurists, and the answer I came up with was that they successful futurists don't write non-fiction, they write fiction, they write as if the world was already corrected, they paint a picture, they compose a score that lays out a field of beauty ready-made. It is only then that they ask us to look back.

So I started writing in the present tense about a fantasy world where what I was proposing -- in those days it was what I called a One Track universe where recordings were considered worthless artifacts rendered obsolete by the artists' next utterance, but useful as a media and thus should not be crafted like sculture, but spread far and wide like a twitter pic ;) So I started to describe that world and to my surprise, I did get the response, my old blog (now largely gone) was cited, and all the metrics went up.

So now, I'm not saying this method is for everyone or that it will even work in your context, but I'm just throwing it out as an idea given your expressed frustration at not getting the traction that you (and I) think your ideas deserve :)

Tim said...

i can only second Thomasina's remarks.

especially with regard to the orchestra she is affiliated with, whom i do follow on twitter - one of the few organisations i do, as i always feel they use twitter as a tool of engagement & information (tweeting pre-concert talk content for example always catches my eye & sparks my interest..) especially i can't actually get to any of their concerts.

but certainly, this is possibly a minority case. i compare this organisations usage to orchestras & organisations closer to my home, & the latter seem a lot more 'desperate', & a lot more inclined to trot out superficial 'marketing strategies' as if we, the audience, aren't aware enough to appreciate we are being treated like uninformed, unaware nitwits, the hapless victims of any sort of underhanded 'consumer manipulation strategy' they want to wave at us.

i should finally, possibly mention that i absolutely loathe facebook, & never go near it.

i have said previously i consider twitter to be about following interesting people i don't know, facebook is generally about boring people i do...

Chip Michael said...

Tim -

You are mistaken on several points:
"Some of the fees charged by top musicians are difficult to justify" – classical musicians make considerably less than their ‘pop’ counterparts.
"...now we have another layer of agents providing “social networking strategic services”" - VERY few classical music organizations leverage social media to the extent of their ‘pop’ counterparts. Those that do pay very little for 'social media' as they just don't understand it. Some artists do use to great effect - Joyce Didonatto, Thomas Hampson & Deborah Voigt are very popular on Twitter, have a solid following and are engaging a variety of different niche markets.

Perhaps we’re looking at it wrong – maybe, just maybe, a broader social media outreach is just what classical music needs

"…single message one-to-many marketing using social media is inappropriate" – It is much easier to find those niche players when you’re communicating to a broad audience. If you want to find someone who like XYZ, it's much easier to locate them shouting from the roof top than it is asking people one-to-one on the street.

Classical music organizations are multifaceted, so showing we can communicate on several niche topics is good business.