Friday, 1 July 2016

A problem with classical music publicists

I've said these things before, for instance. But they need to be said again, following up on my last post, about a quick way to improve almost any publicity pitch.

What's in today's post:

  • Classical music publicists don't know how to say why we should care about the music they publicize.
  • This problem afflicts the entire field of classical music. We don't know how to say why anyone should care about the music we love.

I can help with this problem. I deal with it in my consulting work.

BadPhoto blog

An old-school, really bad classical music photo

A big problem with classical music publicists, captured in a single anecdote:

Some years ago, when I was still an active journalist, an estimable pianist recorded all the Beethoven sonatas. "Estimable" means respected, known (at least to musicians), but not someone who'd set your heart or mind on fire.

Someone who worked for a veteran classical music publicist phoned me, to ask if I'd review this multi-CD boxed set.

I asked if there was anything about the recording that might interest me. "What's his approach to the sonatas? What does he do with them?"

No answer. The caller didn't know. I'm going to guess that her boss didn't know, either, and that no one in the company had thought of what the recording was really like. Certainly there was nothing about that in their press release for the album.

And that's the problem

Classical music publicists — for the most part — don't tell us what makes the music they rep worth hearing. That goes for a small publicity office, trying to help smaller clients, and just as much for the leading publicity firms, representing major orchestras and opera companies.

What's compelling? They can't say.

Go here to see a press release from a major classical music publicist, announcing the new season at one of our top orchestras. It's 12 pages long, a sea of words, nearly unreadable, nothing but names (of performers and pieces) and dates. Nowhere in it is there a spark of humanity, or anything to show that the people mentioned truly love the music they play. [This link is now fixed. Sorry for any bother my mistake caused.]

This is a problem that in fact afflicts our whole field. To some extent, we're on automatic pilot, performing the same music over and over. So even when we sincerely love it — as many musicians, people in the audience, and administrative people (including publicists) do — we don't know how to say why others should love it as well.

Try an experiment

watercello blog

A new style classical music PR photo, meant to be lively, but really meaningless. What can we expect from this guy's cello playing? Silly stunts?

Ask a classical musician why anyone should come hear them play. Or, if you're a musician, ask yourself. Very likely, you won't be able to say.

Often I hear, "Well, I'm playing great music." But so is everyone else! Or else, "I'm really good." (Usually put, especially in press releases, in fancier words.) But others, too, are good.

What's distinctive about you? What can you offer that no one else can?

It doesn't have to be something earthshaking. It can be something modest, as long as it's truthful, and comes from your heart.

If you can't answer this question, then why should anyone come to hear you?

And if we as a field can't answer it — if we can't say why anyone should care about classical music — we're doomed. How will we ever build a new audience?

And no, it doesn't help to say we offer timeless masterworks. Those are empty words. What do they mean? What, exactly, about this music is timeless? And what, exactly, would someone get from hearing it?

Original Content: A problem with classical music publicists

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