What if Classical Music actually functioned as a business?

I am struck by a dichotomy this morning. Like many “classical” musicians of my generation I have a really strong interest in Rock, Jazz, World music, just about anything that strikes my fancy. You could call me part of the iPod generation that way. So I also study the business of the Other Side of Music. In today’s NYTimes is this very interesting article on 360 deals for rising bands. Suddenly my brain drifts into a fantasy —–

If Classical Music functioned more the way Rock/Pop music does maybe the huge management concerns would have to do something besides extort money out of orchestras for the appearance of their clients.

If….. maybe we would actually be encouraging living composers to write interesting musics instead of relegating said composers to the “overture” slot of a symphony concert.

If…… maybe our audiences would encompass more young folk interested in an experience rather than another concert of Overture (yawn!)/Concerto (yawn!!!)/Symphony (Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……………..).

If…….. maybe young musicians who don’t neatly fit into the management poster boy/girl mode would have a chance of finding new audiences through good promotion and the use of modern technology.

If……. maybe the classical recording industry would be at the forefront of digital entertainment (I know, this one’s a stretch!).

I could go on but you get the idea. Now I do not consider this an easy way to simply reinvent the classical music world. There are many inherent problems with the idea of the classical world modeling the pop world. Do keep in mind that most of the bands in the pop world are trying to push their own music rather than, say, a new interpretation of the 4th quartet of Bela Bartok. The structure of classical music, with the conservatories, orchestras, management, and competitions that form 95% of how this business works, does not lend itself to change or dynamism. There are also a lot of people who have a vested interest in keeping this completely fakachta system the way it is, either for power, money, or sheer ego.

But perhaps it is time for us to reconsider how the entire business is run. Should there not be an integrated system, similar to these 360 deals, where performers receive more extensive support for their careers? This would necessitate a complete rethinking of what a career in classical music is, as well as how to reach a much larger audience. Everything would be on the table – radio, TV, internet, CDs, etc. It would be about creating product and developing audiences, something this business is not very good at doing.

Could this happen in my lifetime? Possibly, but I doubt it. The Vested Interests would fight this idea like the very plague. Goodness, the business would have to change. Horrors! But I am encouraged by ensembles like Alarm Will Sound and eighthblackbird. Notice please that AWS refers to their performances as “events.” This shows an understanding of the world we live in today that is far and away beyond most of classical music. If the beautiful music we play is going to survive as more than an obscure niche in this increasingly digitalized world then we must embrace new models of how we do business. It would be a revolution in thinking but…..

Long Live the Revolution!

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