Saturday, July 02, 2011
Music Critics on Old vs. New Media
The Music Critics Association of North America held their annual meeting in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, and a few bloggers were invited to a panel discussion about the differences between "old" vs. "new" media in a basement rehearsal room of Davies Hall. It was fun seeing a number of famous faces, such as New York Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini above, but with a few exceptions the panel was remarkably ignorant about "new" media.
For example, Tommasini's presentation was about his online videos at the New York Times website where he plays musical examples and lectures on different topics, trying his best to be "Uncle Lenny [Bernstein]." He complained that New York Times readers didn't seem to know about his "multimedia" attempts, missing the point of why people go to the New York Times website in the first place. It's certainly not for Music Appreciation 101A with a lecturer at a piano featuring poorly compressed sound on a computer.
The second panelist was Chloe Veltman above, a British freelancer who writes for The Bay Citizen in San Francisco, and who has a blog that's featured on Arts Journal called "Lies Like Truth." Chloe's presentation was on her KALW radio show about singing called "Voice Box," which she has tried to monetize with foundation grants, fundraisers, and podcasts. Meanwhile, she has been using unpaid volunteers to do much of the actual labor for her, which hasn't worked out so well, so she finally decided to pay "a mere pittance" to Seth, "a tech-savvy, high-risk youth" at KALW to make life more beautiful.
Chloe is a minor figure of fun amongst Bay Area bloggers who find that no matter what the purported subject of an article or post might be, the eventual subject always turns out to be Chloe and how she's underappreciated or abused or just feeling contrary. She is mistreated by editors, by PR people, and choral directors. One of her true masterpieces of inane narcissism was after the San Bruno PG&E explosions where she asked the perfectly absurd question, "But what’s my role as a [cultural] journalist in all of this?"
Chloe was followed by the Washington Post's music critic, Anne Midgette above, who writes for the newspaper and also has a blog. She gave a smart, funny, off-the-cuff presentation about the differences between writing for print and online and how the latter's interactivity really is a new and interesting phenomenon. Later, when talking to San Francisco Symphony public relations staff, she was pointing out the unfairness of mainstream journalists having to abide by "embargo" dates for official information put out by cultural organizations, while bloggers like La Cieca (James Jorden) do not. This brings up the subject of the cozy relationships between official institutions and the mainstream press, something that never came up during the panel.
Following Anne was Lisa Hirsch above, who writes occasional reviews for the San Francisco Classical Voice and has her own blog, "Iron Tongue of Midnight." Working during the day at Google, Lisa definitely knows her tech stuff, and she gave a very practical lecture on the nuts-and-bolts of creating your own blog. She has posted an expanded version on her site (click here) that's full of useful information.
After a break, two more panelists arrived, starting with John Robinson (above), the newly hired Executive Director of San Francisco Classical Voice, which is financed by the billionaire composer Gordon Getty. Robinson's background is in arts administration, lately being in charge of the Santa Barbara Symphony which I didn't even know existed. From what I could gather from his presentation, he is completely clueless about both old and new media, which is not a particularly good sign for that online publication.
The final speaker was John Rockwell, who has had a fascinating career as a classical, rock, and dance critic for the New York Times and other publications. He brought up the subject of Money, as in how the hell was somebody supposed to make a living these days writing about the arts when it was being given away for free by so many people.
Rockwell didn't have any answers, but he did have an interesting lament, "There's no avenue now for people coming out of college to have careers as professional music critics anymore." This seemed a little strange, since there probably were never more than a hundred people in the United States making their living as music critics before the advent of the internet. Millions of people working in manufacturing in this country have seen their professions disappear over the last decades while arts critics are wringing their hands over a couple of dozen jobs.
In truth, the emergence of fresh, interested, intelligent voices in the world of self-publishing on the internet has been a boon for the arts. There's no longer an Official Opinion in One Newspaper, and nothing else. For examples of some of that intelligence, check out Axel Feldheim's description of this same panel and "The Reverberate Hills" by Patrick Vaz, where he will eventually get around to describing the panel when his genius has digested it.