Been used before, I know, meaning my title. But should I say “solutions” every time? Anyhow (for those who remember the elder Bush) I’ll offer only three of these, not a thousand. Anyone have more names I could slot in, in place of “solutions”?
But any way you slice it, these are good ideas.
Call it “sound art”
Here’s a communication from Margaret Crites, a composer who’s getting her master’s degree at Baylor University. (And do visit her website! A classy job, she did, putting it together, full of personality, and everything exactly the right length. Her music is just right, too.)
I’m quoting what follows with her permission:
I worked as an artistic productions intern for the Ojai Music Festival in the summer of 2009. Every year the festival puts on a series of contemporary music concerts by the most outstanding musicians (last year, the main guests were eighth blackbird; Pierre Boulez has conducted at the festival multipe times). At any rate, the festival takes place in a small town called Ojai in rural south-central California. Part of my job as an intern was to advertise the festival to Ojai residents and get people excited about contemporary music. I was able to talk to various shop owners, families and friends about classical music and share with them why attending the concerts at the Festival would be worth their time. Some people could not gain interest, but many of my conversations proved worthwhile. It seems that when I described music as “sound art”, people could get a better grasp on what the intent was, rather than utilizing the stigmatized term of “classical music”. It was a very cool experience!
To which I’ll add: Even big classical music institutions promote themselves without any research on whether their promotions — slogans, graphics, approaches — are likely to work. So Margaret’s discovery looms larger than you’d think. It’s something big orchestras and major new music groups may well not know. Others, of course, should find out if they get the same results.
And if anyone has other promotion ideas that worked, let me know!
Added later: Forgot to say that “sound art” is a term already used for…well, sound art, art pieces conceived not as music but as art, and created from sound. But I think this makes Margaret’s idea even stronger. For those outside the classical music world who know about sound art, new classical works now have a context they didn’t have before. Though not all new classical pieces really would be sound art. Anything that sounds the way music normally sounds would strike art-world sophisticates as, simply (and not very interestingly) music. But the term still might help people rooted in pre-20th century music understand something new that they’re hearing (Thanks to Todd Reynolds, for reminding me of all this.)
“Covered in Chills”
Added later: When I wrote this, I forgot the most basic point. We in classical music are very, very, very bad at saying why anyone should care, why anyone should come to our concerts, why anyone should love classical music even half as much as we do.
We just can’t find the words. This shows up very clearly in classical music marketing and PR, as I’ve often said before. But it also comes up in conversation with musicians, and especially in planning their careers, if you try to do it strategically. And especially if they might want to reach a new audience!
“Why should anyone come to hear you play?” That’s a question that, in my experience, few classical musicians can answer. It’s not that there can’t be any reason, but most musicians haven’t thought out what the reason might be. They tend to say, “Well, I’m very good,” or “I’m playing great music.” But many musicians are very good, and all classical musicians play great music. What makes you different?
There’s always something, and often it emerges in conversation with musicians. It always emerges in the final assignment I give in my Juilliard course on the future of classical music. And some time ago I posted some answers to the question, gleaned from many sources. Worth a read, I think.
What follows should be read in the light of what I’ve just said.
I get all kinds of promotional email, from classical music institutions and classical music publicists. Much of it, to be honest, makes my eyes glaze. Almost always, what’s missing is any reason why I should hear the concert/music/recording/artist in question. Yes, they’re acclaimed/virtuosic/rising/whatever, and yes, here’s the repertoire, and here are some quotes from reviews.
But so what? All these promotions, in the end, say the same thing, the only difference being the different names slotted in. This is useless. Give me promotions that say something different. That tell me something that might matter. Something that might jerk my eyes wide open.
One company that does that is Schwalbe and Partners. They send promotional email with arresting subject lines. “Covered in Chills.” “Sheer Strangeness.” “Gorgeous But Shocking.” And what about this one, both arresting and quirky: “Furious Winter and Quivering Hymen.”
And yes, maybe some of this — for some people — goes over the top. But I also get promotional email blankly titled “Press Release.” What’re the odds I’ll rush to click on that? And for all the fine publicists, including friends of mine, who’ll title their promotions with just-the-facts-m’am bluntness — “Present Music at Turner Hall Ballroom March 27” — I think a little headline-writing panache wouldn’t hurt, so I’ll have at least a glimmer of the fascinating stuff that Present Music (a long-established, very good, and quite successful Milwaukee new music group) is offering.
Schwalbe backs their headlines up. “Covered in Chills”? Someone said that happened to them when they heard bass-baritone Douglas Williams. “Sheer Strangeness”? That’s from a Gramophone review of Jacob Lindberg, lutenist, describing something he brought out in a piece by Silvius Weiss. “Gorgeous But Shocking”? A reviewer’s reaction to soprano Sindia Seiden’s low notes in a Handel aria. “Furious Winter,” etc.? Someone’s take on characters bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams impersonates in Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.
You still think this is over the top? You think it might backfire? You think these artists might not be that good? You think — if you’re a publicist — that your artists are just as chilling, just as gorgeous but shocking, or maybe even more so? Make me believe it! Your artists might be the most sheerly strange I’ll ever hear, but still you’re not giving me a reason, in the middle of a busy day, to read your press releases. While I’ll very likely click on Schwalbe’s.
- As for backfiring: Yes, they’re giving their artists quite a lot to live up to. But suppose the artists really do live up to it? If I heard their people, and agreed with the headlines, then you’d better believe I’d read everything they send me.
- I’d better work on my own headlines!
- I can’t recommend a visit to Schwalbe’s blah website. They can do much better.