I’ve been reading a lot of business books lately, and one of them—Seth Godin’s All Marketers are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World (the “liars” part of this title is partly ironic, by the way)—makes a striking point. Grodin says that marketing must be authentic. It has to tell a story that the product being marketed really does fulfill. If you run an airline, and you want people to believe that your flights are truly special, then they have to be. And not just the flights. Also the way you advertise, the way your printed matter looks, the way your flight attendants dress, the way you give customer service. All these things have to work together, to tell a single, consistent story—the story that you want your customers to believe.
This has profound implications for classical music. We don’t do anything like this. We’re incoherent. Our marketing is often empty glitz (“immortal,” “joyful,” “masterpiece,” “acclaimed”). Our program notes are scholarly. Our appearance on the concert stage is…what? A sacred ritual? What does all this add up to? Glitz, scholarship, and ritual. That’s contradictory, to say the least. Mixed messages. No wonder people aren’t coming.
And the Caramoor press release I’ve been discussing here is wildly inauthentic. It talks about a joyful celebration. But do the people who wrote the press release really believe the concert will be joyful? Did they feel joyful writing what they wrote? Do the people who run Caramoor, the people in the orchestra, the conductor, the stagehands—do they all really think the audience will joyfully celebrate? Is this their actual, stated goal? Are they moving mountains to attain it, to make sure the audience will feel that way?
I doubt it. I especially doubt that the people who wrote the press release feel anything even remotely like what they described. I’m not saying they’re lying, like people writing copy for a junky catalogue, pretending that trashy products are better than they are. But I do think that classical music has gotten disconnected from any actual experience, so that we don’t often ask whether the words we use to describe it in publicity and marketing are really true.