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Classical music website gets taken down

Dilettante.com, a ground-breaking enterprise in classical music and social networking, has been taken down. Founder Juliana Farha said the site was not generating enough revenue in the present climate to make it viable.

Launched in January 2008, Dilettante was an edgy, innovative offering, pitched at under-40 culture vultures who would not be seen dead in a stuffed-shirt subscription concert. With its own composer in residence and a range of social concerts at offbeat venues, Dilettante’s editorial supporters included composers Nico Muhly and Jennifer Higdon, conductor Charles Hazlewood and the London Sinfonietta.
Based in central London, it had more than 5,000 members, its own radio outlet and a virbant ideal, dedicated to breaking down barriers between classical musicians and young audiences. In 2009, it was shortlisted in the Good Web Guide for website of the year.
‘The most exciting aspect for me,’ said Farha at launch, ‘is that people from all over the world are using the site to form relationships through a mutual love of classical music.’
But the enterprising Farha was thwarted by a tough economic climate, corporate record label self-interest and the timidity of classical institutions that declined to move out of pre-digital positions. The decision to close was taken in the past few days and members are presently being informed. This may not be the end of the party – there are talks afoot to explore a Dilettante revival – but it will be a sad New Year for many who hoped that classical music might be persuaded to drag itself out of the dark ages.
 
Juliana Farha, in pensive mood. Photo: Kevin Baxter, The Times.
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Comments

  1. Jo Johnson says:

    If I may offer the view of a classical music institution that did “drag itself out of a pre-digital position” and try Dilettante?
    Whilst I am sad for Juliana and the Dilettante folk – no one likes to see things fail – the problem with it was its USP itself: a classical music social networking site. Classical music is already something of a ghetto, somewhere that ‘outsiders’ decline to even enter – a social site dedicated to classical music was always going to have too small an audience. The kind of young audience that Dilettante hoped to attract also, as you say, “wouldn’t be seen dead in a subscription concert” so why would they be seen dead in a classical music subscription website? As an industry, our problem is that we still carry this air of a smug club that’s ‘not for you’ and a social networking site solely for classical music does nothing to dispel this. No matter that if people gave Dilettante a try they’d see that it wasn’t like that, after all classical concerts are the same – people just will not try it.
    Yes, 5000 people did, but that’s nowhere near enough to create the critical mass required to make the site a buzzy and interesting place to be.
    The success of Facebook is that everyone is on it. This is where the audience Dilettante wanted to attract hangs out, so surely it makes sense for orchestras and ensembles to place themselves here? Where they are in the news feeds alongside all the other things that these younger audiences are interested in; where they are relevant; where they are getting their message across in an unobtrusive way. The impression created is that classical music is part of your life, not something special to be cordoned off.
    Also, Dilettante entered a very crowded market. In 2008 Facebook was exploding and Twitter was on the verge; Bebo was the choice of the pre-Facebook crowd. For both the audience and admin staff in charge of the profiles Dilettante was one too many to maintain. The LSO, for whom I am the Digital Marketing Manager, created a profile, hooked in our blog and tried out some direct offers for LSO Live CDs – not one sale or message came forth. Faced with this sort of lethargy in a job where there’s a million and one things to try out and only one person in the job (and remember, for some orchestras a role that only deals with digital is a luxury and usually an impossibility) the only option is to stop doing it and direct energies to activities that create more successful outcomes.
    In conclusion then, there are many reasons why Dilettante has failed (I also have issues with the name – way too many overtones of upper class tradition), but I don’t believe that it is down to classical music not dragging itself out of the dark ages. A quick look at Facebook and Twitter would show you that.

  2. Facebook is not the answer. Its structure is very bad, deliberately created and maintained to foster triviality and to make real discussion difficult or impossible. It’s fine for advertising and next to useless for most everything else beyond the superficial.

  3. 500 million people would disagree Paul! Now MySpace – there’s one that’s only good for advertising and bad at discussion. Personally I’d say none of these sites are the answer – they won’t be around forever. But while they’re so popular classical music has to ride the wave. And search for the next big thing NOW so that we are not behind the curve as per usual.

  4. I’m not that surprised. I tried Dilettante as a means of advertising my teaching studio, but found it cumbersome to use. I also agree with others that it still smacks of the “smug club” of classical music.
    I prefer Musbook.com, which is organised like Facebook, is user-friendly and open to musicians of all types (both pro and amateur), teachers, writers, and music enthusiasts. There is a core of regular contributors (myself included!) who offer lively discussion threads. I have found it a very useful forum for exchanging ideas. One of its founders is the young violinist Simon Hewitt-Jones, who seems a very energetic fellow and his youthful, get-up-and-go attitude has, I am sure, contributed to the popularity of Musbook.

  5. Jo, I disagree with you and to be honest it highlights your narrow- mindedness and a very one dimensional thinking.
    I think 5000 members for a classical music targeted social media site is huge and it focusses on your ideal audience far more than a general site will ever do. In numbers even the LSO doesnt capture a huge audience on any of the big sites: Only having 20,000 likes on a Facebook page in relation to how many people are on facebook is quite a sad result and took two years to achieve.
    And thats for one of the biggest orchestras in the world.
    If I recapture rightly the LSO didnt join twitter until 2009 and it equally took time to develop into something worthwhile for yourselves as well. Facebook equally took the classical music world over 2 years to really find a purpose for it and let’s face it neither of those sites really fit for our purpose. But to invest similar time into Dilettante didnt occur to you? And you know yourself, without actively engaging and just putting links to your label for example is not the best way to foster a relationship.
    Of course I think Dilettante wasn’t perfect but to knock down a site that was clearly ahead of its time and its market, seems odd coming from a new media manager from one of the biggest orchestras. Surely the value of a site like that (people who bother enough to sign up to a classical music site rather than Twitter/ facebook/ Bebo where you are catching a very unspecific demographic) should be interesting enough for you.
    Especially your point, ‘classical music has to ride the wave’, sticks with me!
    Surely we shouldnt to a certain degree! We should make our own waves and surely that is what Dilettante, Passionato, Bachtrack and the rest are all about, if we dont support them and criticise when it can be of valuable to them (not when they are shutting down) then we are just riding a wave made for a different industry and not ours.
    I applaud Dilettante for being bold, trying to build a new community in hard economic times, being innovative, creating new residencies and always being open for discussions and ideas. I hope they make it back onto the web soon.

  6. How gracious of Jo Johnson to point out the flaws in someone else’s endeavour. I assume that if Dilettante Music had received the same hefty slug of taxpayers’ money that pays Johnson’s wages, the site might still be with us. The fact that the LSO cannot attract a big enough audience or charge them enough means it should by rights go to the wall. This alone should mean members of that organisation are wary about trying to sound too clever when someone else finds themselves in the same position.
    The site was good and useful and deserved to succeed. That it didn’t says something about classical music in the same way as the LSO needing over £2 million annual subsidy to stay afloat.

  7. Jo is absolutely right. The social networking element of Dilettante was superfluous in a world where Facebook has (for better or worse) a monopoly. Facebook might not be ideal, but it is ‘good enough’ a platform for content sharing, discussion and social networking. Most of the UK’s leading classical music institutions are active on the principal social networking platforms (and not at all ‘timid’ about digital as Norman implies).
    Although I share reservations about the Dilettante brand, I hope the company finds a way forward. As a young person (27) highly engaged with classical music and the arts more generally, I find myself frustrated at the continued absence of a hub – either in print or digital form – that reflects the interests and outlook of eclectic music lovers under the age of 65. BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone are fine if you’re obsessed with collecting records or anecdotes about Thomas Beecham, but they almost completely ignore contemporary music and the live experience – the things that most excite me. Muso Magazine is much better than it used to be, but retains a heavy focus on its core conservatoire student market.
    I want something that keeps me up to date with the most exciting and innovative projects that LSO and ENO are doing (for example), that treats contemporary classical music both seriously and irreverently, that sees classical music as something worth talking about (cf. the dismal Newsnight Review), that reviews live events as well as recordings, that links to great content elsewhere on the internet, etc. If Dilettante can find the right business model, develop good partnerships, and create a sharp and contemporary brand, design and tone, I’m pretty sure there’s a significant audience out there.

  8. There are a couple of big questions here. One concerns the demand for (and viability of) classical music-focused online social networks. The other concerns the development of new/younger audiences for classical music.
    The point about Facebook and Twitter is not that organisations such as LSO are spewing marketing material at an ‘unspecific demographic’. On the contrary, these platforms, if used with sophistication, offer the opportunity to build an engaged and loyal following. And because individuals can share or ‘retweet’ information and multimedia content, it can reach an audience beyond the originating organisation’s core followers. If I’m excited about a concert or other event I’m due to attend, I’ll often post a link to it on my Facebook wall or on Twitter, which can expose that content to several hundred other people. It makes perfect pragmatic sense for organisations to focus their marketing efforts on the dominant platforms, and increases the likelihood of reaching new audiences.
    That said, I think there is a place for sites such as Dilettante, MusBook and the like, provided their primary function isn’t to be yet another social networking platform in the Facebook mould. Content is key. If the content is strong enough, people will come, and the interaction/networking will follow as a community of interest grows organically. There are only so many platforms I wish to subscribe to (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and LinkedIn is as far as I’ll stretch at the moment). But there’s no limit to the number of websites I’ll visit and interact with.

  9. Dilletante would have worked just fine if the administrators had not EXPECTED to keep it financially viable. What classical music project or organization can be successful without some sort of serious patronage??? Not the Berlin Philharmonic, not the London, not the Vienna, not the New York, not the L.A., not the Metropolitan Opera, not La Scala, not anybody. Dilletante needed a patron – that is all.

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