Role of the Musician in the 21st Century
By Daniel Wnukowski
The internet has revolutionized the speed in which people can communicate their thoughts, beliefs and artistic values. Are online classical musicians ready to jump on the bandwagon and explore its myriad possibilities, or should they withdraw from its rampant growth and continue to perform in a way that worked for our ancestors hundreds of years ago? This essay will attempt to examine the advantages and disadvantages of using the internet as a means of distributing online classical music to a wide, global audience and offers suggestions to young artists as to how they can utilize its full potential.
There is no longer a need to travel for hours by horse-carriage in order to hear a concert artist live in performance as would have been commonplace in the late 19th century. The internet has enabled millions of viewers from anywhere in the world to tune in simultaneously to any given performance at any time from the convenience of their own home. An audience can now instantly access an artist’s biography, photos, and sound clips at any time of day without having to wait for days or even weeks at a time.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one example of such an orchestra which has been using online classical music videos to directly reach local members and fans, as well as the growing global audience interested in staying connected to BSO content and activities. Visitors can also access archived recordings such as award-winning performances by renowned composers, behind-the-scenes footage, conductor lessons and other web only content. (“Boston Symphony Orchestra”) Even music competitions such as the Piano E-Competition in Minnesota, USA now have live streaming performances of each competitor. (“Minnesota International Piano-e-Competition”)
The internet has also revolutionized the ways in which young artists can promote their careers. A young artist can now sell their recordings over the internet at a cheap price and still generate a profit margin nearly twice as high than they would by selling a CD version of their music through traditional retail shops. (Mewton 122) Although the marketing of an artist’s name and brand can still be an expensive and arduous process involving the use of specialist magazines and radio coverage, the low maintenance costs of producing and distributing an electronic press kit consisting of downloadable audio clips are still a considerable advantage for any budding young artist operating on a limited budget. (Mewton 123)
Modern classical musicians can now easily create a basic website with relative ease and simplicity. With the evolution of custom-made templates, knowledge of HTML, or the language used to create websites is no longer an essential requirement. Web hosting and domain name fees have become significantly reduced due to more competition from third party providers. Ambitious internet entrepreneurs can even set-up their own virtual ‘store’ in minutes allowing them to accept credit card orders through their website eliminating the need for large bank deposits which were once required for setting up merchant accounts.
However, the immediately apparent benefits of such a rapid, global system of communication can sometimes leave the ingenuous amateur startled and disappointed. Many young artists create a homemade website with the hope that their debut online classical music recordings will start magically selling like hot pancakes on a Sunday morning in Camden market. When this does not become a reality, they give up on the system only to believe that their time building the website could have been better spent on developing artistic pursuits. I was also a victim of this when I had my first website several years ago with the intention of promoting my newest album. For many months, it seemed like only my friends and family made up the bulk of the visitors to my site and usually with no intention of purchasing anything from my site.
However, the website owner can learn how to develop a direct relationship with his online visitors in a relatively short time with a little effort. He must discover new ways of standing out of the overwhelming crowd of online classical musicians who unanimously send out the same message. How many times have we stumbled upon a classical pianist’s or violinist’s website and found a deluge of superlative compliments about the artist’s accomplishments? Due to the internet’s overload of information, buyers of online classical music on the internet have become more and more scrupulous and sceptical of a website’s claims. Website owners must now learn to avoid the overuse of superlative language and instead learn to instil trust and security into the minds of their potential customers.
Aside from the general look & feel of a website in terms of its professional appearance, style of language and authoritative tone, there are a few other ways to boost a website’s integrity. One way is to try and find an official, legal or properly regulated authority such as a university, government agency or library to endorse the site. Another way is to find a reputable national or international agency or institution that could provide outgoing links to the artist’s site from their own sites. (Herbert 51-52)
Another method of standing out of the crowd in the profuse online classical music world is to provide genuinely interesting and unique content about one’s experiences as a performer. It has been more and more customary to begin a live concert with a short lecture or presentation on the pieces one will be performing before in an attempt to ‘warm-up’ an audience as to what they are about to hear. Why can’t the same hold true for online performances?
Since the majority of our targeted visitors browse the internet solely for the purpose of finding information, why not give them precisely the information they are looking for so that they become our virtual friends and fans? This could provide a win-win situation for both the artist and the performer as the visitor becomes pre-sold about what the artist is offering rather than just visiting a website that blatantly attempts to sell them a product. For example, I noticed a large surge of traffic stemming from the major search engines to my website when I installed a diary section which outlined my experiences as a classical concert pianist. This was far more effective than merely offering a web page with superlative quotes about why they should buy my recording.
One disadvantage of the internet is in how our society can become too dependent on it as its sole provider of music thereby causing hours of lost time spent with researching and sifting rather than attending live concerts. A quick search using Google’s ‘Keyword Suggestion Tool’ reveals that the keyword online ‘classical music’ is very much in demand with over 1,000,000 queries a month. (“Keyword Tool”) This signifies that young people are genuinely curious about online classical music but are too afraid to step outside the door and attend a live concert. Perhaps they find the live concert environment too austere and unforgiving; the online classical music concert environment is far more convenient and attractive for them.
A major challenge remains with such an approach as many performers don’t feel comfortable playing solely in front of a machine and believe that music is far more effective and spiritual when it is performed directly in contact with the human ear. Naturally, we don’t have to return to the use of horse carriages to bring back the intense anticipation of hearing a live performer on stage, but we can find a better equilibrium between downloading online classical music as an introduction to certain repertoire while still attending live concerts for the full emotional experience.
To make matters worse, the most common method of distributing files on the internet is the ‘mp3’ which is a compressed file format roughly one twelfth the size of a normal audio CD file. Although the average listener suffers only a relatively small loss of audio-quality, a well-trained ear or bona fide concert-goer will certainly feel a substantial difference meaning that online audiophiles never really hear the highest quality of sound available to them. (Mewton 25) However, this problem may be ameliorated in the future as ISPs (internet service providers) discover new ways of economically bringing faster internet speeds into the homes of their subscribers allowing them to download high quality, uncompressed sound files.
All disadvantages aside, the internet is and will remain to be a powerful medium for reaching people of all far corners of the earth. Before the advent of the internet, Leonard Bernstein was able to reach ten million people a week through his television broadcasts on topics related to online classical music which were loved by children and adults alike. (Lebrecht 180) Let’s just imagine how many more people we could reach with the internet if we could tap into a similar system with online classical music?
It may be extremely difficult and not even worth the effort to try and convert the average listener who is simply not interested in understanding the inherent complexities of online classical music into a fervent connoisseur. A far more efficient strategy would be to gently sensitize them with an appreciation for the delicate nuances a classical piece of music can offer so that they may become entranced upon hearing a musical excerpt the second time around. The internet can easily provide anyone with the ability to listen to an excerpt again and again; however, it is still up to the experienced musicians to try and sensitize the listener whether it be through the use of persuasive words or through the musical notes themselves.
Boston Symphony Orchestra. Home page. 15 November 2008 Link.
Evoy, K., Make Your Site Sell (Hudson Heights, Quebec: Sitesell Inc., 2001). 15 November 2008 Link.
Herbert, T., Music in Words (London: The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, 2001).
Keyword Tool. Google AdWords: Keyword Tool. 15 November 2008 Link.
Lebrecht, N., The Maestro Myth (London: Simon & Schuster, 1991).
Mewton, C., Music and the Internet Revolution (London: Sanctuary Publishing, 2001).
Minnesota International Piano-e-Competition. Home page. 15 November 2008 Link.