Thursday, June 12, 2014

"failure to communicate"

An article in New Statesman about classical music's communication problem reminds me of that famous quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke. The basic point of the article is this:
What opera needs is a new audience intake, people who aren’t on the mailing list and don’t have the CDs at home. These are the people to whom mass-media advertising should be attuned – the eight million in London who won’t think “ah yes, Terry Gilliam directing Berlioz’s outlandish and traditionally maligned Benvenuto Cellini, that’s bound to be interesting” because they don’t know who Berlioz or even Terry Gilliam are. But that’s what too much opera advertising does. It follows the industry’s favourite communicative norm: conceived by people who already love the art form for people who already love the art form.
 Do you see the real irony here? The author points out many examples of really bad, obscure promotion for classical music and I'm sure we can think of more. That ad for the iPad featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen is very much the exception. The irony is that the promotion of such a highly-creative art form as opera or classical music generally, should be so plagued by uncreative marketing. Are there no Don Drapers working in the promotion of classical music?

I speak as someone who was hopeless at promoting his own career, so I certainly don't have the answers. My vocation is not the promotion of classical music, but the creation of it. Often it seems as if the advertising is created by people who have no actual knowledge of the music, so their efforts seem off-kilter. Can't we find people who have some knowledge of classical music, but who are creative artists in the field of promotion and marketing?

Here are some examples chosen at random that make some kind of point:

Here's one that is bound to attract...absolutely no-one under the age of 70:

This is a bit better, but isn't this kind of image already some kind of cliché?

And this certainly is:

This image, of Zoe Keating, is much better:

But there are a thousand examples of this out there, and they just don't work:

You know what I think the fundamental problem is: photos of musicians playing are not much more interesting than audio recordings of painters painting: swish, swish, squeeze, squeeze, mutter, mutter...

And in order to make them more interesting, there is always the temptation to do something like this:

or, even worse, this:

Shall we end with some music? I'm stumped as to what might be appropriate. How about this? The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Bartók with the Concertgebouw conducted by Bernard Haitinck, Géza Anda, soloist:


Rickard Dahl said...

Hmm, good point. Classical music advertisement is in general pretty bad indeed. The first one could be useful if it would be a more known artist. Mos Def isn't too bad of a choice per se, just not so well known. Better if a classical music composer could be connected with a rock star or something like that. Maybe "The Original Led Zeppelin". Also, maybe a "cool" picture with a composer dressed like a rock star (for better or for worse I can see a picture of Vivaldi in a rockstar suite in my head). Anyways, Esa-Pekka Salonen's ad is certainly great. It's well done, clean and to the point. As for the Lang Lang CD, well, at least it looks funny or ironic. What would help to market classical music is if celebrities (lets say well-known movie stars) would go out and state that they enjoy classical music and promote it, not by necessity (i.e. commercials) but because they actually think so. Well, we are not there yet.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think Alec Baldwin did some promoting for classical music in New York. Was it for the symphony? Don't recall. But on the other hand, maybe he isn't the ideal patron!