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July 25, 2006

Simulcasting the concert and podcasting the review

by Janelle Gelfand

In many ways, as Barbara and Doug have noted, the classical music business is experiencing the same kind of transformation - I hesitate to say crisis - as the newspaper industry. I would wager that our audiences are quite similar, given that the 18-34-year-olds don't seem to be reading newspapers or attending concerts for whatever reasons. We are being told at our paper that we are a niche publication for people over age 40. The days of long, thoughtful or even investigative pieces are gone at most papers. Everything is designed for the quick read for busy people, and stories that were once counted in inches are now counted in lines.

Technology is taking both industries to realms unknown. The classical music industry, slow to catch on at first, has now figured out how to sell tickets online, create useful Web sites, present simulcasts of live concerts on giant screens and make recordings for downloading. But no one really knows where all this will end, and how orchestras, opera companies and string quartets can harness it all to secure their future.

It's the same with newspapers. As we speak, our paper is expanding its online division. New emphasis is planned online for arts and entertainment - which is a good thing. We are all girding for big changes that will include podcasting and video-reporting. We are hearing lots of new terms, like "reverse publishing" (writing it first in your blog, and reprinting it in the paper edition) and "self-publishing." Self-publishing is becoming more and more important, partly, I suppose, because of all those blogging opinion-writers on the Web. Perhaps paid critics will become dinosaurs. People want to personalize what they watch on TV (one of our local news shows delivers the news that you vote to see), pull up on their personalized home pages, listen to their own mix of music on their iPods and write their own reviews.

It may not necessarily be a bad thing. But we as writers and arts groups will have to learn to evolve along with the media that is changing at warp speed.

I agree with everything stated here by Peter and the others, that the public hungers for more knowledge about the arts, given the exposure and opportunity to participate. We as arts writers must be diligent in encouraging the exploration of new repertoire, lest the art form languish. Musicians unions may have to rethink how they structure their contracts - perhaps actually teaching music on a regular basis as part of their agreements, if that is what a community needs. One of the wisest comments I ever received was from Catherine French, former executive director of ASOL, who said to me in 1995, the bottom line for a bright future is whether or not an orchestra is "doing what is necessary to make itself indispensable to its community."

Posted by jgelfand at July 25, 2006 01:30 AM


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