In a recent post, I argued that classical music is addicted to subsidies. As the season for indulgence is upon us, I sometimes wonder if what our industry needs is a twelve step program and an altogether different kind of sponsor. Here’s the sort of thing I have in mind…
1) Admitted that we were powerless – that our lives had become unmanageable
The hardest part is admitting that you have a problem, but aren’t we already there? Our audience is slowly dying out, our market is shrinking, and we’re increasingly dependent on subsidy and sponsorship.
Either this is ok (and we should stop complaining about having no money), or it’s time to do something about it.
2) Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
The higher power I have in mind here is that of the free market. For about three hundred years, we got the Church to pay for everything. Then it was the aristocracy’s turn. Now the 20th century is over, perhaps it’s time we caught up with it, and tried selling things that people actually want to buy.
3) Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of that higher power
For as long as even the oldest of us can remember, we’ve insulated ourselves from the popular tastes, allowing the ruling class to dictate what the public ought to hear. This might work out quite well if these few knew what the many wanted to (or even should) hear, but our dwindling audience says they don’t. Comon sense tells us that there’s no reason why money and taste should go together. I’m sorry to say that this is doubly true for the America, where huge budgets frequently yield mediocre results.
4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
I quite like dressing up for a fancy night out with well-behaved rich people. It’s ok to admit that. Once we do, we’ll be a lot clearer about what exactly it is that we’re selling here.
We might also want to own up to some of the mediocre things we’ve tried to foist on the ticket-buying public with the lie that they’d appreciate it if they were smart enough.
5) Admitted to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
We were ripping off our fans and making them feel bad about themselves into the bargain. It’s a lot easier to pass off a bad record as a good one than it is to make a good record in the first place, but who loses in the long run? We can’t start to fix things until we’re honest about what’s wrong.
6) Were entirely ready to lose our defects of character
This will either take a lot of planning or a lot of balls, or possibly both – we need to be prepared to live without any funding that comes with creative strings attached to it. That includes the Rolex ads in the program – they’re paying to keep the poor people out.
7) Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
…and by God here, I really mean our audience, who will be surprisingly communicative when they’re not scared and ashamed. If Andre Rieu is filling houses and we’re not, then perhaps there’s something to be learned from his showmanship?
8) Made a list of people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them
We might include everybody that has been to one concert and decided not to come back.
9) Became willing to make direct amends to them
We can’t really sit the public down and apologize to them, but if we concentrate on doing the next right thing instead of justifying the last wrong one, people will notice that we’ve changed.
10) Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it
That means embracing negative reviews. There’s an element of risk to any creative endeavor. That’s what makes it fun. When did we forget that?
11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only or knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out
If God is our audience, then market research will be our salvation, but we need to ask the right questions. We could do worse than to look for people who have what we want, and try to behave as they do. Bocelli puts on a show. We should probably do the same.
12) Carried this message to others, and practiced these principles in all our affairs
Concert halls and record reviews today are like London restaurants were in the 80s – Snooty, pretentious, and not actually very good. Britain saw a good food revolution in the 90s, when a new generation of TV chefs like Jamie Oliver demystified classical cuisine, focussing on simple recipes and good quality ingredients. Perhaps a new generation young conductors like Gustavo Dudamel and Daniel Harding can do the same for our world, but they won’t succeed without the support of the institutions that surround them. That’s where we come in. If we’re nice to people and do our jobs better, the idea will quickly become infectious, and in time we’ll have the industry most of us would actually like to be working in.