Isaac Schankler
The Medium

The Medium

Over at The New York Times, Alina Simone blogs about the wearying grind of the self-promoting musician. After her record label went bust, she spent a year tirelessly promoting her new album by herself–“a year during which I wrote no new music,” she says. While Simone comes from the world of popular music, this grind is all too familiar to many musicians in the concert music world, where the infrastructure is even more skeletal. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the currently celebrated DIY ethos was born out of necessity, not principle.

Simone laments the loss of a time when labels insulated musicians from the need to self-promote. Musicians could be “quiet” and focus largely on their craft instead. This resonates with the old cliché of the composer toiling away in his studio, far from the cares of the world. (This cliché has a male pronoun.) I used to think of this endangered entity as Composer 1.0. Meanwhile, Composer 2.0 was social, gregarious, more interested in collaboration than isolation. Composer 2.0 seemed to be doing pretty well, at least in comparison.

I have had mixed feelings about this. There was always something a little obnoxious about Composer 2.0, the way they could seem to elevate cult of personality over musical substance. Something about the entitled way they truly believed they deserved their success, as they surpassed other composers who offered deep craft but more understated charms. But then, there was a kind of passive entitlement about Composer 1.0 too, how he expected the world to come to his door and recognize his genius, and how he devolved into a bitter shell when, for some reason, that didn’t happen.

These are straw people for sure! But I see a bit of myself in both, and maybe you do, too. Both seem like symptoms of the same thing, an inevitable consequence of what happens when there’s no buffer between artist and audience.

Simone concludes her article by suggesting that educational, cultural, and governmental institutions ought to be more open to supporting popular music as an art form. As a solution, I’m more than a little skeptical of this. For one thing, as genre distinctions get messier and messier, in some ways this has already happened. For another, Simone doesn’t seem to realize quite how stretched thin these resources already are, especially in the United States. Finally, she neglects to mention that the skills involved in securing this kind of funding–grant writing, legal wrangling, donor schmoozing, etc.–are just as specialized and time-consuming as entrepreneurial ones.

Instead, Simone’s article suggested to me that it might be a good idea to imagine a new middle ground between artist and audience, a new medium. But it’s hard to imagine who will occupy that role. Who will advocate for our music, if not us?

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2 thoughts on “The Medium

  1. Paul H. Muller

    “…to imagine a new middle ground between artist and audience, a new medium.”

    The closest thing I have witnessed to what you suggest are the outdoor performances of the music of John Luther Adams. ‘songbirdsongs’ was given at the Ojai Festival this year, in a park high up on a ridge above town. The integration of natural sounds, the view and the music was an impressive combination – unlike anything you would experience in the concert hall. Similarly ‘Inuksuit’ the year before allowed the listeners to walk around the park and hear the piece from various vantage points – and the last 10 minutes of ‘Inuksuit’ are magic. Both of these works provide a more engaging and more powerful experience than the typical concert. The combination of music with the ambient environment is, perhaps, one way forward.

  2. Alvaro Gallegos

    I am a person that at least try to be some sort of ‘medium’ between active composers and the audiences and institutions.

    I write reviews of new music concerts when nobody else does it,; I do interviews with composers to show the rest of the people the thoughts and opinions of these artists; I’m constantly talking to people who are interested in music, or work at related institutions, about the active composers; I talk to conductors and chamber groups about these composers, and I have actually been succesful in getting comissions for young composers; and I’m always giving and sending CDs and DVDs of these composers to promote them, both in my country and abroad.

    What I mean, is that I think I’m not the only one. That there are some ‘non-composers’ that are working as uninterested ‘mediums’. Just for helping the big cause of new music. Music as a living art form and not a museum.


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