Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Social media ate my music


For some time I have been contemplating writing about the future of music blogging, but a post by Kenneth Woods spares me that onerous task. Although a year old his post 'Facebook ate my blog' tells it exactly as it is, and it isn't a very rosy picture:
Nowadays, what I publish here does little to help other bloggers and instead drives more people through Facebook, Twitter and Google. If I want to promote a new post, the best way to do it is to buy an ad... on Facebook. The game is rigged- the house always wins. All of this has happened without debate, discussion or strife. There has been no resistance because resistance is futile. A revolutionary tool for empowering humanity has been gobbled up by the Borg.
Ken laments how Facebook ate his blog. But that is only part of the problem, and I will add to his eloquent critique a lament for how social media ate my music. In his post Ken describes with total accuracy how "Blogging these days is NOTHING without Facebook and Twitter. Nothing". But again that is only the tip of the iceberg: because these days a classical music concert or recording is NOTHING without Facebook and Twitter. Nothing.

Of course classical music has always needed publicity. But Marshal McLuhan told of the danger of the medium becoming the message. And today the medium - social media - has usurped the message - the power of the music. In the past the publicity machine served the music, now the music serves the social media machine. Social media's micro-mindset rules everywhere. To give just one recent example; for more than one hundred years audiences have listened in awe to the magnificent fifty five minute musical arch that is Elgar's Second Symphony. But no longer: in recognition of the shortened attention span of the Twitter generation, BBC Four TV's delayed relay of the symphony from this year's Proms broke the work's flawless structure into four parts, with each bleeding chunk prefaced by a totally superfluous explanations by conductor Mark Elder of the 'meaning' of the movement. Presumably the BBC's next foray into making artistic masterpieces accessible will be to cut Chartes Cathedral into four pieces and reassemble them a quarter of a mile apart, thereby making the vision of the medieval architects more digestible for 21st century audiences.

Social media is eating classical music in many different ways, with gimmicking down fast replacing dumbing down as the promotional tool of choice. Easily spun gimmicks are the lifeblood of social media. So 2015 is the year of the gimmick Proms, with the complete works in one evening - Prokofiev Piano Concertos and Bach Cello Suites - leading the charge. I fully expect next year's Proms to bring Valery Gergiev conducting all nine extant Mahler symphonies in one evening, complete with Gergiev prefacing each of the symphonies' thirty-nine movements with a five minute talk explaining the movement's 'significance'.

Those who think I exaggerate the pervasive power of social media are referred to the recently published Terms of Service by Jacob Silverman. One of the many chilling fact in it is that most British babies appear on social media within an hour of being born. Yes, the BBC Proms are an easy target - Ibiza dance anthems arranged for the Heritage Orchestra anyone? But the disease of first finding a social media hook, then finding the music to hang on it is everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Spotify and Amazon run the classical casino, and as Ken Woods explains the house always wins; which means the music always loses. The death of music blogging at the hands of social media is sad, but it is not the end of the world. But the death of classical music as we know it at the hands of the technology corporations is indeed the end of the world. We were promised that digital technology would lead us to the promised land of creative plenitude. But as Steely Dan tells us in King of the World.
No marigolds in the promised land
There's a hole in the ground
Where they used to grow
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1 comment:

JMW said...

Perhaps a positive aspect is that when a trenchant article (and so, so many of yours are such) is written and posted, interested parties may share it via social media, thereby vastly increasing consumption of and hits upon said article and expanding awareness of its author. This is something I routinely do, at least with OAOP. It may be an uphill battle, but it's still a good thing.