WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: Figuring out what ends up in the repertoire is difficult. My most popular piece has had about 400 performances. Why? Maybe it’s the right length? The right tone? It’s a very personal piece for me and maybe people can tell. It’s also popular maybe because it’s not so difficult so lots of people can perform it. I’m not sure you can replicate qualities that make something popular. I’m not all that interesting to try to repeat “success”. Popularity doesn’t often happen for a contemporary piece, so I’m not really thinking about how to make something popular.
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: Textbook definition is more people than not embrace it. Popular and quality are not synonymous. If something is quality and not popular I blame pop culture on what they choose to sell. But consumer can find their own path and dive deeply into what they like. You can dive down rabbit holes and find the quality that works for you. That’s more possible now than ever. Talent wins the day. It might not be at the top of the mountain, but it finds its audience.
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: You know star quality when you hear it. But you can only tell when you’ve spent a lot of time around star quality. But it’s very very rare. The difference between popularity and quality is longevity. It’s difficult to stay popular for long without quality. You look to find places where an artist can communicate their vision in a powerful and meaningful way.
WHAT’S IN THIS VIDEO: PR people can’t make something popular. PR people take the energy of an artist and try to make the public aware of it and position what the artists is doing. Some of it is just plain dumb luck. There’s an inexplicable thing that an artist has that makes it take off. Take one artist and do exactly the same thing for that artist as you do for another and the result is entirely different.
ABOUT MARY LOU FALCONE
Public relations specialist in the area of classical music, owner of M.L. Falcone, Public Relations
Mary Lou is a classical music public relations specialist who created M.L. Falcone, Public Relations in 1974. From her office located in Manhattan’s cultural nucleus, she currently shares her expertise with such distinguished organizations as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti, Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden and Linz Opera/Dennis Russell Davies, along with Lucerne Festival, Carnegie Hall, Spring For Music, Birgit Nilsson Foundation and the Avery Fisher Artist Program.
Ms. Falcone attended The Curtis Institute of Music where she studied voice. Upon graduation, she sang professionally for eight years with such organizations as the WNET Opera Theatre and the St. Paul Opera Company and soloed with orchestras, sang oratorio, and appeared in recitals. Also during this period, Ms. Falcone was a member of the faculty at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where she taught voice and general music for six years before being asked to chair the Music Department, which she did for several years. Ms. Falcone is currently on the faculty of The Juilliard School, and has lectured at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Austria, and at the Curtis Institute of Music. She is a member of the Curtis Institute of Music Board of Overseers and a founding director of Spring For Music. Mary Lou Falcone resides in Manhattan.
The chart to the left is the top-selling classical recordings chart on iTunes as of Sunday night April 14, 2013. Is this a good measure of current popularity? This may be what people are buying right now, but it doesn’t necessarily measure what people are really listening to. Nor does it measure the music being played live in concert halls all over the country.
Yet it does suggest what people are willing to pay for. The question is why are they willing to pay for it? What makes the sale? We know lists sell (every journalist knows the power of lists to drive traffic and build clicks). They’re a way of ranking, of choosing the few from the many and organizing them in a way that make a case for them.
Then there are personalities – Katherine Jenkins, Bocelli, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Dawn Upshaw…
There’s the “self-help” music – Mozart for Brain Power, no less. And a recording of music that has tied itself to the most popular book of last year. There are two (!) recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and another set of Beethoven’s nine symphonies.
It would be very easy to note the shallowness of this list and lament the lack of contemporary music, the “safeness” of the choices and the narrowness of the range of performers. But how did buyers make their choices? I’d wager that critics didn’t review most of these recordings, so buyers weren’t being directed to these recordings by “experts.” And this looks like a list measuring the choices of classical music novices, buyers who are looking for a comfort level born of familiarity.
So two things. We know sales of classical music are small. This list suggests that sophisticated fans aren’t buying in numbers, since their choices aren’t reflected in this list. Is that because they already have all their music or that they get their music delivered in different ways? Or are they so small in numbers that their consumption of music isn’t enough to have their choices show up on the charts?
Second: What is it about what is selling that attracts buyers?
Seven years ago in Slate, Marc Geelhoed surveyed the iTunes chart and and tried to grapple with what was popular then. Interestingly, the artists he wrote about then are some of the same artists on the list today. Geelhoed ends his piece with a swipe at one of the choices:
“With its warhorses and canon of great works, classical music is insulated from a lot of fads. Beethoven’s Fifth will probably always be popular, and so will “Carmina Burana.” But it’s not so far from popular culture that a tenor whose calling card is his biography and who is backed by an effective PR machine can grab the spotlight. Beethoven raged at the heavens for letting him lose his hearing, but then, he never heard Andrea Bocelli.”
For another look at ranking music, there’s the annual ClassicFM UK poll of most popular music, as voted by listeners to the station. There’s actually little movement on the chart from year to year. Which is to say that a fairly conservative list of choices make it every year.
But rather than lament the choices contained in these two lists, what are the larger lessons to be learned here by what is chosen? What would your Top Ten List look like?