How good ideas happen

I’m sure we’ve all read about this — the YouTube initiative, which big-time orchestras have joined, to allow musicians anywhere to audition for orchestra projects online. ArtsJournal linked to the New York Times story, though you’ll forgive me if I think my wife’s piece in the Washington Post was more incisive.

Now, I think this is a good thing, maybe a wonderful thing. But someone highly placed in the biz gave me a critique this morning — the project didn’t do anything to help orchestras or other classical music institutions develop an online community, meaning a community of people interested in their concerts.

And my friend is right. This project doesn’t address that at all. But I think, paradoxically, that this is one of the project’s great virtues. My friend thinks, as he has every right to, that building an online community is the highest online priority for classical music institutions. And as my friend points out, I’ve also said this matters a lot.

But the project doesn’t address any priorities at all. Here’s how it happened, as Anne says in her piece. Two guys at Google came up with the idea (Google owns YouTube), and pitched it to the rest of the company. The rest of the company liked it, so Google went ahead, and found classical music partners to join in the fun.

In other words, the sole reason for the project was that people at Google loved the idea. And that, if you ask me, is how change is coming to classical music. Not because anyone (least of all me) figures out what classical music needs, and then goes out and does exactly that. No, we’re making progress because people all over the map are getting ideas of their own, and putting them in action. That’s what’s transforming classical music world (slowly at first, but I’m sure we’ll see it pick up speed). It’s also how we find out what works.

So this YouTube thing, big as it is, is at bottom just another one of those ideas. And the ideas succeed because somebody loves them. Contrast this with a foundation project I was part of, where classical music institutions were enlisted — with funding as the carrot — in a long-term program designed to get them to innovate. Some of the innovations weren’t bad, but many were dutiful, cooked up in response to someone else’s urgency. From this I learned that “innovation” is a suspicious word. Truly innovative people don’t innovate, or at least not as any kind of conscious project. Instead, they embrace new ideas — either because the ideas solve a problem, or else just because the people involved love them — and make those ideas happen.

And online communities? The models for creating those are already out there — check out, for instance, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which has the least grandiose, least hype-filled, and most appealing website of any orchestra I know, and does the most with social networking. Not to mention all kinds of things outside classical music. Anyone who wants to start a large-scale initiative to foster this inside the classical music world only has to fall in love with the idea.

Footnote: my wife raised what I think is the most important question about the YouTube project: “It remains to be seen, though, whether the spontaneous combustion of the most viral YouTube videos can be replicated or steered through means that are essentially artificial.” But I’m optimistic about that.

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  1. Yvonne says

    You’ve made a good point. Online communities won’t happen necessarily because it’s felt they should be created or nurtured. They’ll emerge when there’s a critical mass of interesting stuff happening online that we can connect to. [And I’m including myself in that “we”, because – strangely enough – the first thing that came to mind when this news was circulated around my orchestra yesterday was the thought that I might get out my flute, practise, practise, and enter.]

    In other words orchestras might have a goal of an online community, but – like sailors – we’ll have to tack our way towards it, including embracing and developing projects that don’t lead directly to the goal, but which will, in their way, make a contribution.

  2. says

    Anne is correct. It will all be trial run for new ideas. The You Tube idea might work–time will tell. I did this in 1997 with the first internet recital in both audio/video fashion in New York and Amsterdam. What I’d hope to see in the future are concert halls fixed up with internet feeds to enable orchestras and solo artists, chamber music, what have you, sell online subscriptions to their concerts and events for people around the world to enjoy on their PCs, Macs, home theaters, hand held devices etc. Say you live in Prague and you want an online ticket to see the Boston Symphony premiere or opening night, or a concert with a specific composition ‘live’ or for one-time download? Voila! Produced in their hall and available to you, worldly audience, with some of the proceeds allocated to the orchestra to boost revenue. Why be limited to the concert hall when there are so many other potential worldwide viewers out there?

  3. says

    Anne is correct. Time will tell if these new ideas will make it. I did the same in 1997 by creating the first live audi/video internet concerts from New York and Amsterdam. What I would like to see is a future where concert halls are internet fixed with internet feeds. This way, they can make their concerts and some events available online for single sales or subscriptions to people worldwide who would like to purchase a virtual ticket for ‘live’ or one-time only download for their PCs, Macs, home theaters, hand-delds, what have you. This way, some proceeds can boost their revenue from worldwide online sales, and open up the doors to classical music appreciation throughout the world. Can you imagine schools also buying into this by purchasing concerts and events for the students to watch and do reports on for their musical courses? If you live in Oklahoma and can’t go to Prague, or to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert, you can, via the internet. Perhaps some day.

  4. Yvonne says

    Not just some day. Already. Visit:

    It’s not all the concerts, just 10 a year, but they’re streamed live and the performances are then available “on demand” thereafter.

    It’s true the SSO doesn’t sell subscriptions or “access” to them or using them as a way to boost revenue – instead they’re free to all. Or I should say they’re free to all Windows users, since the company behind the venture doesn’t support the Mac OS at all, much to my own frustration.

    Also in Australia, the WASO will be offering concerts live and on demand. So far only their launch is available, here:

    (Again free, and a bit more compatible!)

    And I believe the London Symphony Orchestra’s education team has been involved in all sorts of streamed and “teleconference” style activity.

  5. Yvonne says

    A postscript: a colleague of mine has just now purchased a 5 euro “ticket” to an online performance (from archive, I believe) of the Berlin Philharmonic.

  6. says

    Just a quick note from me as one who’s been involved all the way through the YTSO project on the LSO end – the LSO sees it not as a way to get bums on seats immediately or to sell a ton of CDs (although our website visits have shot up 125% since Monday and people are buying…), but as an extension of our LSO Discovery (education) department’s work and long-term mission – collaboration (in this case online), and getting our work out there to a broad range of people, helping them to discover orchestras and classical music. If it inspires people to pick up a long forgotten instrument and play again, then we have succeeded, whether they then immediately rush out to buy a ticket or not. And just maybe they might come to the LSO one day, or CSO, NY Phil, Sydney Symphony or wherever they are in the world.

    Yvonne is right when she says that we’ve done video conferencing already – mostly in the form of masterclasses or conversations with artists appearing in the season via the JANET network to universities and schools in the UK and US. And this another step along the road. Coming soon will be an LSO online area where collaboration, learning and enjoyment of music online can take place permanently. Will we try and monetise it? Maybe. I personally feel this model is still a little way off.

    By the way, you might also want to check out the Philharmonia Orchestra here in the UK. They too have experimented, quite some years ago even, with concerts live online. Their portal is called Sound Exchange.