Last week, in my Juilliard course on the future of classical music, one of my students asked about art and commerce.
Where do they fit in classical music’s future? What roles will they play?
Questions like that often come up in my work. They’re often asked — though not, I think, by this student — with some suspicion. Art is good, commerce is bad. Art is pure, commerce is, well;, commercial.
Which of course is true. Though it’s also true that wonderful music can just as often go nowhere — meaning that hardly anyone hears it — because it’s not marketed well.
Taking this question seriously, as it deserves to be taken, I said we could picture art and commerce as a circle. Art on the top, commerce below.
You start with art. You’ve got wonderful music you want to make.
But no one knows about it! Nobody knows who you are. How do you get people to hear what you do, to come to your performances? How can your art make some income for you, so you can start to make a living from it?
That’s where commerce comes in. That’s where you (of someone working with you) needs business skills. That’s how you generate interest in your work. If you’re giving performances, that’s how you sell tickets. That’s how you generate income. So that, cross your fingers, someday you can make a living from music.
But now we go back to the top of the circle. Let’s say you’ve got great business skills. You’re getting known. People are paying attention.
So now your art has to be good! You can’t let people down. Entice them to hear what you do, then disappoint them.
If they’re disappointed, they’ll come once, but never again. And maybe they’ll take about you, tell others that you do bad work.
Back to art
And so now — now that you’ve got an audience — you work even harder on your art. Keeping it good. Making it better.
And then back down to commerce. While your art stays strong, your commerce has to stay strong, too, You want your fans to keep coming back. You want new fans. So it’s commerce again. You can’t slack off.
And now, again…
…back up to art. You’ve got new ideas. You want to do new kinds of music. Or you want to expand. Do more performances. Perform in more cities. Collaborate with other musicians, with people in other arts.
You want to do things that you’ve never done.
So back down to commerce!
Now, even more, you need business chops. To do more things — do new things, bigger things — means doing more business work. Selling more tickets, raising more money.
Which is especially true if you move into new areas, do things you’re not known for. You’re a performer, but now you compose. Your string quartet gives concerts, but now you want to do multimedia.
You’ll need to attract new attention. Get your fans to try your new stuff. Find new fans, people who might like the new things, even if what you did before didn’t interest them.
And your new projects might be expensive. Another reason for working harder on business.
Around and around
And that’s how it works. Art needs commerce, commerce feeds art. You keep them both going, to keep your music alive.