Classical music needs to be more open in order to ensure its future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean jumping at every new fad or crossover project. If we want to make real progress, there are a few important questions musicians need to ask themselves, writes Paul Bräuer
1. Is this trend or innovation something that’s really going to work for my music?
Not every classical musician needs to take their concerts to a trendy club or disused factory, and fill it with strobe lights and lasers. But for some artists, using a combination of visuals and music in performances can really enhance the concert. That could take the form of notation, graphics or abstract lighting. When it comes to interdisciplinary projects, the classical music industry can learn a lot from theatre and dance shows.
2. Have I thought this through?
In order to answer to this, research and strategy is everything. You should be asking difficult questions from the outset, such as: which part of my festival programme should address younger audiences and what innovation, in turn, would scare off the crowd I already have? Do I have enough time to regularly update that smartphone app I think I need, just because everybody has one? Before I launch my own label as an artist or orchestra, should I consult an independent expert? If in doubt, just pick up the phone: contact your audience and industry peers when you’re not sure.
3. Is this shiny pilot project a realistic role model for me?
Is a live-streaming service, such as those offered by the Met, the Berlin Philharmonic or Vienna State Opera, really a viable option for my little orchestra? Will the project fail because my small concert hall does not have a million followers? Is a top-class media package necessary, or can I have a professional image and web presence with lean and simple tools? For music professionals, the details are important: it’s about small steps towards realistic strategies that you can use in your day-to-day work.
4. Who else out there does something similar or complementary?
You won’t find the answers to these questions on your own – and happily you don’t have to. Digital communication tools, networks and resources have certainly boosted subscenes and their exchange. Twitter is a great B2B information tool with an incredibly rich pool of classical music professionals among its users. But in some cases, the old-fashioned methods trump modernity. A face-to-face meeting is still the most powerful tool for establishing and building lasting relationships between professionals.
Musicologist and journalist Paul Bräuer is head of communications at Classical:NEXT, which takes place in Vienna from 14-17 May.