I’m coming to think that classical music doesn’t have an education problem, an age problem, a money problem or a marketing problem. It has a knowledge problem. If we were any good at deciding what to believe, we wouldn’t be arguing about any of this stuff. We’d admit we didn’t know, we’d check, and we’d move on.
It’s tough to maintain a sense of perspective while working in the entertainment industry. The actual stuff gets made by a really small number of people. Everybody else works for a huge marketing machine that gets many of its ideas about the world from its own propaganda. We thirstily consume our own cool-aid, inflating things and then remarking on how big they are.
Newspapers, magazines, artist websites, brochures, programs, books and liner notes all tell us about the world that pays their bills. It can seem like we’re consulting a wide variety of sources, but we’re often not really exposing ourselves to any new ideas. Like an agnostic who asks fifteen different priests if he should believe in God, we’re getting a lot of points of view from within a single closed system of belief.
When we can’t find or understand hard facts about the level of interest in an artist’s work, it’s human nature to follow vague emotional clues about how important they are. This is where we get into trouble.
Once you give up on actual facts, it’s not easy to tell the difference between very large and very close, and that’s a problem when it’s part of your job to estimate how popular something is (or will be). In a world where, despite all appearances, all music is unpopular (last week about one in 1,600 Americans purchased the #1 album) we’re fools to believe that there’s any value in aiming a product at everybody. You don’t need most people to like your product – you just need a tiny proportion of them to like it enough to actually buy it.
Whether you work in programming, marketing, A&R, sales, PR, or Journalism, there’s an important lesson to be learned here. Father Ted tells it better than I can: