This morning a friend of mine shared a link to an article in The Telegraph. The headline reads ‘Mitsuko Uchida: Give me music, not marketing – The recent Grammy winner Mitsuko Uchida tells Adam Sweeting why standards matter more than PR.’
Have a read if you haven’t seen it already. As someone who spends their life marketing and promoting the arts, including classical music, I have to raise one or two objections to both the headline and content of this article. I don’t understand why music and marketing have to be in opposition.
“She says that these days, she only works with people with whom she can say it is a privilege.”
How did she come to see these people in such a way? If they had just stood on a podium at the age of 18 and waved a conducting baton they may well have been demonstrating passion and musical integrity but no-one, not even Uchida, would have heard of them. They needed marketing, self-promotion and, yes, PR in order to become top names in the business, to be written about in industry magazines and for her to find out who they are.
She too requires PR. How did she come to win a Grammy? Promotion from the record company. How did she get an interview in The Telegraph? Extensive relationship-building and Press work by her agent.
The other angle on which she criticises arts PR is this:
“Uchida is at the opposite pole from those who believe the future of classical music lies in getting people who look like supermodels to play it in “chill-out” clubs. “Maybe these people who think it is so easy are more talented than I am,” she says. “For me it is difficult, and I don’t mind admitting it. But today people want things to happen fast and earn a lot of money, and therefore it is even more important to go to concerts.”
Again, this is somewhat of a misconception. People who are employed in the PR and Marketing of classical music certainly do not feel that performers should be supermodels and the setting should be a club. (I personally believe that bringing classical and crossover music into new spaces from time to time is something worth consideration, and could break down barriers, but that is for another blog post). When my colleagues and I promote a classical performance our selling points are based around a world-class acoustic, high-quality concerts, respect for the performers’ talent and a unique musical experience.
There is an audience for very traditional classical music but there is also an audience for change. Classical music lovers are now part of a modern world. There is more choice of entertainment than ever before and we need to keep people’s attention in order to maintain any future for live classical performance. This does mean, as Uchida says, that it is vital to present the highest quality of musical interpretation possible but there is more to it.
“I say [PR] is the least important issue if you have something musical to say! If you have something to say, the world will come to you.”
I’m afraid this is simply not true. If the PR department don’t tell anyone about the concert then no-one will know to come. It’s easier for us if the performer has something really musical to say, of course, but we still need to invite the audience. That is, after all, what we actually do.