Friday, August 30, 2013

How thoroughly modern maestros fail to wow the public

Analysis of internet search volumes shows that the new generation of thoroughly modern maestros is failing to wow the public. In the diagram above worldwide Google searches for the terms Gustavo Dudamel, Herbert von Karajan, Valery Gergiev and Georg Solti are plotted over the past eight years - left click to enlarge. This Google Trends analysis shows that current public interest in Dudamel is very similar both in volume and trend to that for Karajan, despite the latter being dead for twenty-four years. Similarly the trends for Gergiev and Solti are remarkably similar, despite sixteen years having passed since Sir Georg's death. If we accept that Google Trends has a degree of authority this data raises yet more questions about the success of classical music's current celebrity based promotional strategies. The PR agency that sold Newsweek the How Maestro Dudamel Is Saving Classical Music story must be rather concerned about Gustavo's bell-shaped curve. While conversely Warner Classics must be rather pleased that evidence of enduring interest in great maestros of the past supports their unfashionable strategy of exploiting EMI's rich back-catalogue. Google Trends may be a fallible tool and if anyone has a better measure of public interest in conductors please share it. Until better sources become available I suggest we accept Google Trends as being more reliable than the hunches of the classical music establishment. As with my recent posts on digital music formats I am raising questions rather than proposing answers. A few months ago I asked Is classical music asking the right questions? Let's now rephrase that - Is classical music asking any questions at all?


* Update: On reflection there are probably more searches omitting the conductor's Christian names as all four surnames are reasonably unique. So I have added the graph above for the search terms Dudamel, Karajan, Gergiev Solti. As can be seen the results reinforce my thesis that thoroughly modern maestros are failing to wow the public, with searches for Dudamel dropping behind those for Karajan in 2013 and Solti running consistently ahead of Gergiev.

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3 comments:

Philip Amos said...

I think classical music is asking questions -- they are just not questions about classical music. And the reason is that those asking the questions from within the industry, and who control the discourse, know nothing about classical music and its audience, which is to say, market.

This relates to a more widespread disease, which we might call 'The MBA Syndrome'. Almost all charities, for example, suffer from this. Everything now is a business, most organized as a corporation, and the disastrous notion set in some years back that businesses should be run by businesspeople, hence the ubiquitous MBA. What has never been a requirement during these years is that the CEO and the rest know anything about the specific activities of the businesses they run. Today, to assume that the CEO of the Heart and Lung Foundation gives a damn about your health or that the CEO of the RSPCA loves animals is truly naive. What they give a damn about is bottom lines.

The assumption underlying all this was and is that the tricks of the trade of making businesses successful, learnt in business school, apply to all businesses, so you don't need to know about the service or 'product'. And what a pile of disasters that's led to. There have been cases where the managements of charities have come up with the idea that the best way to improve the bottom line is to stop doing what the charity was formed to do. Reductio ad absurdum.

Such I think is one major problem, and I've had the impression for a long time that the people in control of the classical music industry are either just floundering or pompously announcing their latest ideas, none of them new and none of them applicable to classical music. It was not always so, and I'm quite old enough to remember the days of such as Rudolf Bing, Walter Legge, et al., who had complete mastery of their 'products'.

Joanna Mrowka said...

A Google trend definitely cannot be an indicator whether a conductor is popular or not. Some research works show that Google trends’ reliability is only 30%. First, Google trends do not catch all searches (check Google trends limitations). Second, public may get a lot of information on conductors through their social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook etc.). Third, one may access a conductor’s website directly (not using Google search). Fourth, people may use other search engines. Finally, information can be received through other sources (e.g. TV, newspapers, magazines, concert programmes etc.).
In my opinion, the best way to check their popularity is to examine how many concerts each of them gives each year (Gergiev will be a winner) and how many tickets their concerts sell, which will be an indicator of demand (Gergiev will probably be a winner again).

Pliable said...

Joanna, thanks for that but I am afraid you have missed the point, or rather missed several points.

I am not attempting to measure the popularity of conductors, I am trying to measure public interest. They are two very different things: right now Google Trends shows a very high level of interest in the UK in Rolf Harris, but he is not exactly the most popular entertainer.

Number of concert performances is a very poor measure of public interest as it reflects the preconceptions of the music establishment and the influence of agents among other things. If Gergiev is a double winner as you claim how come there is such a low level of public interest in him? And, sadly, measuring the number of concerts given and tickets sold by Karajan and Solti in 2013 compared with Dudamel and Gergiev is not too productive.

I have repeatedly stressed that Google Trends is fallible and there is little point in reiterating its perceived flaws. If it is only 30% reliable as you claim that means it is 30 times more reliable than the hunches and received wisdom that currently passes for strategy in the classical music industry.

I have also repeatedly said that if there are better objective measures of public interest let's share them. But I am afraid concerts given and tickets sold - even if the latter was publicly available - just don't cut it.

The answer may not be outside the box, but there is no harm in looking there.