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The Crisis of Classical Music 17

img  Tobias

There are two kinds of artist and agencies: Those that have understood the pivotal importance of the Internet for the future of Classical music and those that haven’t. Sadly, the latter still clearly outnumber the former. While Classical blogs are shooting from the fertile grounds of the Web like fungi and iTunes is regularly breaking sales records thanks to Janine Jansen or Simone Dinnerstein, all too many artist representatives are still not looking beyond the horizon of a world which served them so well up until the 80s. When sending back the link to an interview I conducted with one of their artists, I am, for example, regularly asked: “How long will this interview remain on the site?”

Well, forever, of course - or until we run out of money to pay our server costs. While the pop and rock scene has long come to appreciate the long-term effects the internet can have in building a musician’s career, it is still very much virgin soil in the classical business. Artist biographies are plastered with quotes from the most outlandish local newspapers, but devoid of a single, well-phrased point of appraisal from a digital source.

Which is strange to say the least, because the internet offers immediate and obvious advantages for artist agencies:
•    The dissamination of infirmation is virtually free
•    The Internet offers unique chances to market as yet unfamilar artists or musicians uncomfortable with the traditional media landscape
•    The Internet is capable of creating more lively and fast-moving communities than Print ever has.

Still, there are reasons, why the web has been neglected by public relations. For starters, there are not all too many webzines on classical music to be found. Right now, there may actually be less than ten worldwide, discounting the online reprinting of newspaper articles and blogs. Only recently, this seems to have picked up just a slight little bit, but the situation is still dire. Which means that promoters do not have all that many partners to work with. And noone operating in the business of online journalism should have any illusions about the impact of their work. With just a handful of exceoptions, even a typical, four-line review in a national newspaper will have a stronger promotional effect than a deep, intelligently written online feature.

Things are starting to change, however and the fact that all too many instrumentalists and their management have not grasped this is enough to have even the most optmistic worried. While more and more of classical music’s sales cake is moving towards the internet in the wake of Naxos’ bold first moves (see the recent launch of Deutsche Gramophone’s digital download store), its media representation is stagnating.

While the arrival of the bloggosphere has presented us with several noteworthy and interesting hot spots for debate and information, most of it has been devoted to simply linking snippeted specks of information. This is down to a fundamental issue: The task of a blogger is to present his personal position in the world, while a journalist wants to determine the position of the artist and his work. If this journalistic position is lost, then the cultural discussion turns into a mere exchange of subjective preferences. It also implies that, as printmagazines are destined to see their relevance sized down ever more, Classical music – which needs emotional and intellectual conflict probably more than any other genre – will loose one of its fundamental pillars.

It would be unfair, even wrong, to blame artist agencies for all of this. But sure enough, they have not done enough to reverse this development, which will prove detrimental to them as well, unless stopped. Even some of the biggest companies in this line of work are still not sending out a newsletter, forcing interested journalists to visit many different sites in regular intervals. Others are publishing newsletters containing information for a two-month period, which is either too far ahead in the future or already out of date. Hardly anone ever actively searches for suitable online sources to offer including them in their mailings. Interviews, articles or reviews are hardly ever linked back.

The results are of a diverse and saddening nature:
a)    Artists are turning into islands, without a further integration into (media) communities.
b)    The Internet is a desert in terms of web-specific comprehensive classical music media coverage – and still lightyears from making use of its full potential.
c)    A unique chance of improving on the situation in the physical world is being wasted. The drastic differences between stars, which everybody wants to write about and artists noone cares about, persists.

The situation may actually currently only be half as bad as it sounds here. Almost all of the agencies we have worked with have been fantastic in terms of quick responses, a generally friendly and helpful attitude and respect. Their focus on Print and the physical world – possibly also dictated by the necessities of creating income for their artists – has however definitely diverted their attention from the longterm perspective. If they can change that and direct just a little more of their focus and support to the Internet, the classical music scene will benefit from this as a whole.

"The Crisis of Classical Music" by Tobias Fischer

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