Social Media and Classical Music

September 18, 2009

sociall media II I used to work for a powerful executive in the record industry who maintained that many people were reluctant to buy classical recordings because they got embarrassed in the stores. They were uncertain about pronunciations, and therefore shied away from exposing themselves to the disdain of record-store clerks. If you’re old enough to remember record stores, you may have encountered some clerks that would in fact laugh someone to scorn for having learned in French class that final letters are usually silent and thus leaving off the final S in an exception like Saint-Saëns — or the final Z in Boulez or Berlioz. Such shibboleths can constitute a real self-esteem minefield for the timid. But one doesn’t have to be a wimp to want to avoid the company of snobs.

The playing field is now quite different. But while record-store clerks are no longer the factor they used to be, people still like what they know about. How do we achieve (at least relative) confidence in what can seem fenced-off areas? Overwhelmingly, we get it from our friends. How do we learn most cultural details? Bette Midler claims that she pronounces her first name as she does because her mother thought that’s how Bette Davis said hers. (How any woman in post-World War II society could have made that mistake defies belief, of course.) In turn, we know how to pronounce La Midler’s name only because we’ve heard it before. The same with sports. We weren’t born knowing what strikes, balls, and bunts were, and we didn’t learn about them by reading a book. We heard about them from our friends. We’re always lamenting declines in music education, as well we might. But the most effective communication is from friend to friend (which of course also means that effective music education of a person can also produce music education for the friends of that person).

The always-brilliant Jonah Lehrer put a short piece on his blog yesterday about social networks and economic and cultural choices.

After all, the best way to figure out what kind of music you like, or whether or not you’ll enjoy Napoleon Dynamite, is to study your friends. If they’re looking forward to the new Monsters of Folk album, then so are you; if they enjoy old kung-fu movies, then you probably do as well.

Even someone whose musical tastes are far-developed, unusually broad, and constantly expanding — like, say, me — is much influenced in certain cultural choices, and in chances he is willing to take, by his daily social contacts. Hearing enthusiasm expressed about a new string quartet or composer or recording at the dinner table is marketing gold, of course. But the invasion of Facebook into a person’s life, if he or she uses the Friends feature intelligently and not just as a race for numbers, can actually be a valuable extension of this process, as well as being a highly efficient one in terms of scale. I find that I attend many a good event because a Facebook Friend references it, usually leading me directly to information and purchase facilities. (By the same token, when I arrive at the event, I am likely to see friends — and Friends — all around me.)

This is simply human nature exercising itself by other means and on a different scale. We remain social beings under all circumstances and through all filters.

Classical music marketing in many ways remains in its infancy. But, as has been asserted here before in other connections, new technologies offer us more effective means — and far less costly ones — than we dreamed of only a few years ago. Some of us are spending a lot of time thinking how to use these better. I have experienced good results from using such conduits of communication to share with others what I find rewarding. I’m finding that the best way of employing them is to consult my own experience of what has worked on me and to follow the most direct routes to people — most commonly to friends and thus to their friends. While there is what was recently a futuristic side to the technology involved, the actual fundament is simply organic. It’s social. It reveals that buying a full-page ad in the Times is a far more artificial measure.

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One Response to “Social Media and Classical Music”

  1. […] Musicians who improvise know this on some level. But Jonah Lehrer (whose valuable writing has been referred to here before) referrs in a new article to some studies of damaged frontal lobes that put improvisation in […]

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