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Tuesday
Mar092010

Learning to love the niche

Contemporary classical music. Surely there is no tougher sell than this. With classical music already a niche market, its contemporary version is a niche of that niche.

But there are upsides. The audience for modern composition may be small, and hard to grow, but it is fiercely dedicated. Those who cross the rubicon and bring new music into their lives are incredibly committed: they'll attend dozens of concerts a year, travel long distances for the best festivals, read and listen extensively around their passion and, perhaps most importantly, talk about it with one another. New music is a community activity. That community depends on a spirit of intelligent discourse, within which 'their' music participates, to a much greater and deeper extent than most other arts. There is, therefore, an audience-driven demand for intelligent and provocative writing on new music, a demand that seems to me greater in intensity than that for more mainstream music.

It's also a demand that is only partly met in the current market of UK publications. A few online review sites tackle new music reasonably well and there are a couple of specialist magazines and journals. But the popular press barely goes near new music, and even those journals that exist offer only a limited range of material, most of it focusing closely on the UK scene.

So what is the sell? The audience for contemporary classical music is difficult to identify because it doesn't fit any of the usual demographic models. It is identified instead by an inquisitive spirit and an attraction to that community sense. What it wants is intelligent writing that provokes and challenges – in just the same spirit as the music. Writing that is geared towards traditional marketing models won't play well: this readership is by definition attracted to the alternative, marginal and non-commercial. What is needed are editors who are prepared to trust that readership's intelligence and commitment and encourage richer, more critical outlets for new musical discourse.

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