Every few days I get an email announcement about another new concert series, or venue, or ensemble. Each new entity has a website, designated directors or players, well-targeted email blasts, and at least some kind of collateral materials. They also seem to have taken a crash course in Post-Classical Marketing, which means a certain kind of imagery (all in black, few smiles = new music, glamorous young things = traditional repertoire), a Facebook page, good use of social networks. And it’s not just in LA that all these things are springing up, though at first I thought it was. LA, after all, doesn’t necessarily have a new music audience, or a single chamber music audience; the people I see when I go to concerts in Santa Monica aren’t the same people I see in Pasadena. Part of it’s geography, obviously, but it also has to do with the differing aesthetics of each group or series, which may be at least partly related to the aesthetics of the city’s music schools.
But again, it’s not just Los Angeles. A cursory glance at just those events that make the New Yorker listings reveals more concerts than one could keep up with, hot young composers starting their own ensembles, musicians taking advantage of various venues and an abundance of talent and energy.* I think some of this can be traced to groups like eighth blackbird and ICE, and venues like (Le) Poisson Rouge – I’d be surprised if behind some of this surge wasn’t the hope of becoming the Next Big Thing. (And why not?)
It’s an echo of what’s happened in pop music over the last ten years: breakdown of dominance and hierarchy (musicians no longer need management or access to big presenters), easy access to technology, new models of promotion and distribution. And I’ll admit that while I keep up with new music – I know a lot of the names and some of the music, anyway – I’ve been utterly daunted by the prospect of trying to keep up with pop. I don’t have the time and inclination to go browsing for days on end, not knowing what I’ll come up with, and besides that, I wouldn’t necessarily know where to look. I rely on friends to direct me. The sheer amount of music is overwhelming, and I can’t get far enough ahead of it to see how or if it’s organized in any way that would make it more approachable. Has this democratization been “good” for pop music? Is it “bad”? (Those in quotes because I know they’re ludicrous shorthand for the real questions)
So here, in the post-classical realm, there are more concerts – of music that interests me – than I can go to, though that’s always been the case. But the same principals of post-corporate pop: the self-marketing, the use of technology, the self-directed image consciousness, the leveling of the playing field – apply to this industry as well. Almost every musician I know – certainly every musician on the upcoming In Frequency concert - is involved in multiple ensembles/concert series, though none of them as a sole means of making a living. Are there any risks? Can the quality be as high as we’d all hope,? Is there such a thing as a saturation point, even in a city this big? Will having constant access to certain music through multiple channels – YouTube, Facebook, websites, Instant Encore, iTunes – increase or decrease demand for the live experience?
My instinct says an open musical culture is a good thing, that mediocrity will weed itself out, that there’s an adequate audience for all of it and what can’t be sustained will fade away – a shockingly free-market stance for such a tax-and-spend bleeding heart arts funding advocate. But while I’m all for regulation of certain industries (hi BP!!), in this industry I’m curious to see how it will all play out, what will survive, what will leave a mark on its city’s culture, what will be a one-time spectacular.**
*this is the part where I want to rant – just a little! – about how many new groups are promising to “reinvent” something, or “break down barriers”, but I think I’ve already done that (see March 9). So consider it said.
**this also raises the question of what new values might go along with this flourishing culture. Will founders strain quite as hard for permanence? Will we judge the success or failure of a project by its longevity, its level of fundraising? What criteria will we use?