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But I already have a doo-dad!

May 17, 2011

Yesterday my inbox contained a wonderful present, Meredith Monk’s new album Songs of Ascension. A normal person would find this to be exciting on the level of rainbows and obedient puppies, but my first reaction was pretty sour. I decided to do the mature thing, and post in all caps on twitter demanding that ECM take the album back because I had enough music to listen to. The conversation actually took a mature turn, bringing up the problems of information overload and curation. I decided I should collect my thoughts before rattling off a bunch of insignificant tweets.

We’re talking about how to get people to buy into the newest doo-dad (new releases, live concerts) instead of just playing with the old doo-dad someone already convinced them to buy.

A few weeks back, On An Overgrown Path discussed the big problem with Twitter as a tool to expand the reach of art music: it’s pretty much an echo chamber. This can also be said for basically any part of a person’s Internet habits: they generally follow like minded people on social media sites and stick to websites they previously enjoyed. To make matters worse, it is much easier for the most well meaning music evangelists to be ignored by people who don’t care on the Internet than in real life.

I’m not sure if the Internet has a solution for this sort of information avoidance since it is human problem rather than a technology problem. Worse still, Google has become the behemoth it is for being extremely skilled at feeding things you already want, as opposed to new things that might be interesting. I’ve been told that Pandora is valuable for finding new artists, but my experience is mostly watching my uncle use it, and I recall the last time he plugged in Bruce Springsteen and the furthest we seemed to get from the Boss was some recently released Bob Dylan bootleg.

A byproduct of this is that people will stop clicking on the links you deliver them if you even somewhat regularly hand them junk. You’re much better off personalizing the Internet things you send people than just broadcasting everything to everyone. This creates nearly immediate listener fatigue.

Sometimes I think of my radio show as a land mine hidden on peoples car radios. They’re running away from the fifteenth time they’ve heard that Rebecca Black song in one day, and all of a sudden they’re listening to Newspeak performing Pat Muchmore’s Brennschluß followed by some early Debussy and Daft Punk. I fully realize that some people are going to run directly back to Rebecca Black, and I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to convert the entire world, but I am trying to expose people who just haven’t had a chance to hear it yet. When I’m on road trips in unchartered waters I tend to throw my radio onto scan and see what someone else thinks I should be listening to. It’s mentally stimulating experience, and I recommend everyone try it.

Similarly, one of my past times is taking people hostage in my car and forcing them to listen to music they’ve never heard before. My car. My rules. Of course, I attempt to tailor the music to something they would like, but have never heard of. A setback to this policy occurred this Winter when I somehow created a small army of Sqwonk fans, all punks and metal heads, who could not get enough of black. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album, but it is also only thirty minutes of bass clarinet mind melting. The set back is something I often call a ‘good problem.’ I can safely say the next time they play NYC, the crowd will be a little crustier than the time before, and that is a good thing.

Ian David Moss talks in this TEDx Talk about the information overload on a global scale, and how it impacts funding. It is literally impossible for the gatekeepers to evaluate every possible work of art deserving of consideration. One of the possible answers to this problem seems to be kickstarter/indiegogo, but even these activities seem to rely on the echo chamber and family/friends.

A personal favorite idea of mine: offer perks for funders that ‘stick’ them with an additional ticket to an event. Encourage the funders to give that ticket to someone who wouldn’t otherwise know about the event.

The point is that everyone needs to get out of their bubble, including arts people. Arts people especially need to get out of their bubble because we don’t need everyone to come to every play. All we need are 10% more than the ones who already do. Besides, no one is going to listen to you about your exciting concert if you’re unwilling to click on their tumblr with a lolcat making a Justin Bieber joke.

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