Who is writing about classical music? In recent years, the coverage of high art in (predominately but not exclusively American) newspapers and other print media has decreased precipitously. Like print media, classical music's death has often been prophesied, or even announced, and its increasing absence from mainstream media is often cited as a sign of its ostensible decline.
But what if the coverage just moved? The internet—a giant and rapidly changing place that means radically different things to different people—is host to an enormous variety of people writing about music. If you look at the classical music blogosphere, you don’t see a dead culture (hell, for habitues of Parterre, Maria Callas isn’t even dead). It’s a weird and wonderful place full of writing similar to newspaper coverage but also very specific subcultures and rants. Some the writing is fantastic and some is awful—just like the rest of the internet, in other words.
A problem remains: with established print media, the institutional credibility of the publication backs up the critic, which if it’s a good paper should serve as some kind of guarantee of quality. On the internet, anyone can write anything according to any standards of ethics, knowledge, etc., and while some are associated with one of those old-fashioned print media most are not. Some people think this is a Very Bad Thing. But I think it's great. Bloggers are judged solely by the quality of their work. Sometimes artists and performing groups have no idea what to do with us. Sometimes, though, they have no idea what to do with print journalists either, as has been abundantly clear in recent days. The amount of independence and objectivity in print is hardly black and white. And bloggers, for all of our variability, aren't going to be shut up like that.
But I was curious: who are these people writing stuff? What have been their (our) experiences? During the first two weeks of May, I conducted a survey of all the classical music bloggers I could convince to complete one. Here are the results.
Due to my network, the respondents were mostly American, and many were opera bloggers. These two groups may have been overrepresented, but it’s also true that there are a lot of Americans and a lot of opera bloggers out there. Thanks to Colin Eatock's Big List of Classical Music Blogs and some help on the Twitter, I found some people new to me too. It's not quite scientific, but I tried to be as accurate and scrupulous as possible.
A few highlights:
- 57 bloggers participated. (At the bottom of this post there is a list of those who chose to be credited.)
- 65% were male, 32% were female. This is actually not as male-dominated as I thought it would be.
- Geographically, the San Francisco Bay area was most represented with seven bloggers. Several of them reported excellent camaraderie between each other, print critics, and presenting organizations, suggesting strength in numbers. Also that Californians might be more internet-savvy than the rest of the world.
- 82% of bloggers began to study music as children. While their expertise varied, it’s clear that early education is very important in keeping people involved in music. (Parents, this is aimed at you!) Many also had studied music in college.
- Many bloggers have real writing experience. 57% had written at some point for a news or arts website other than their own blog. 47% had also written for print, and 21% had written books.
- Criticism of live performances was considered by the most people to be the most important topic, while interviews were the least (suggesting that bloggers either aren't interested but also possibly do not always enjoy easy access to interview subjects). Opera was the genre of music covered most often while popular music was covered the least.
- Around half of bloggers have received free tickets for performances, and many reported contact from presenting organizations and artists over what they've written, suggesting that the Power of the Internet is great. Some reported friendly thanks or offers of photos and information, and some also reported rants or hate mail.
You can download a full report with all the statistics and selected comments from the long form questions here. (Go to File, then Download.) Please credit me if you’re going to write about it.
Here are the detailed results. Click on any of the charts below to enlarge. Thanks to Lisa for her advice on putting together the questions and to all the bloggers who participated!
- Female: 18 (32%)
- Male: 37 (65%)
- under 21: 4 (7%)
- 21-35: 20 (35%)
- 36-50: 20 (35%)
- 51-65: 9 (16%)
- over 65: 4 (7%)
Country of residence
- USA: 34 (60%)
- UK: 9 (16%)
- Germany: 4 (7%)
- Canada: 2 (3%)
- France: 2 (3%)
- Other: 5 (9%) (Austria, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, The Netherlands)
- San Francisco Bay area: 7
- NYC: 6
- London: 6
- Washington, D.C.: 3
- Los Angeles: 2
- Other: 30
- None: 7 (12%)
- Orchestral instrument (classical): 25 (48%)
- Piano (classical): 35 (61%)
- Voice (classical): 15 (26%)
- Instrument (non-classical): 6 (11%)
- Voice (non-classical): 3 (5%)
- Other: early winds (2), organ (1), guitar (1)
Performing level on primary instrument:
- None: 7 (12%)
- Beginner: 3 (5%)
- Intermediate: 11 (20%)
- Advanced: 14 (25%)
- Professional: 11 (19%)
- Lapsed: 11 (19%)
Other areas of musical study:
- Studied as a child: 47 (82%)
- Began as an adult: 3 (5%)
- Professional performance experience: 21 (37%)
- Amateur or school performance experience: 29 (51%)
- College/university degree in music : 15 (26%)
- Studied music history: 33 (58%)
- Studied music theory: 34 (60%)
- Studied composition: 13 (23%)
See PDF for additional comments on musical education, mostly including a wide range of academic degrees.
What is your "day job"?
- Writer (including music): 8 (14%)
- Writer (not music): 5 (9%)
- Music (not writing): 10 (18%)
- Music professor: 1 (2%)
- Not music or writing: 18 (32%)
- Student: 11 (19%)
- Retired: 2 (3%)
Have you written...
- For another news or arts website: 24 (57%)
- For a performing organization's website or blog: 10 (18%)
- For a print publication: 27 (47%)
- For radio or TV: 5 (9%)
- Program or CD notes: 21 (37%)
- A book: 12 (21%)
How important are the following kinds of posts for your blog? (click to enlarge)
Other topics (write-in): Criticism of other art forms (art, books, film, theater, dance, etc.), aesthetics, career and industry issues, satire and humor, historical topics, politics, calendar posts.
How often do you write about the following genres of music? (click to enlarge)
How long have you been writing your blog?
- under a year 13 (23%)
- 1-2 years: 9 (16%)
- 2-4 years: 11 (19%)
- 4-5 years: 5 (9%)
- over 5 years: 19 (33%)
Do you write under your own name?
- Own name: 35 (61%)
- Pseudonym: 20 (35%)
- No answer: 2 (4%)
Is your blog affiliated with an institution?
- Independent: 53 (93%)
- Performing organization: 2 (3%)
- Print and web media organization: 2 (4%)
Has another blogger ever contacted you regarding the content of something you've written on your blog?
- Yes: 34 (60%)
- Only in comments/rarely: 6 (11%)
- No: 3 (5%)
- No response: 14 (25%)
Comments reported mostly friendly conversation with other bloggers but some animosity, see PDF.
Have you been quoted in any publicity materials?
- Not aware/no answer: 21 (36%)
- Only internet: 18 (32%)
- Print and internet: 18 (32%)
Have you accepted any free stuff from publicists/performing organizations/artists/etc.?
- Nothing: 17 (30%)
- Tickets: 31 (54%)
- CDs or DVDs: 30 (53%)
- PR email: 31 (54%)
Has a performing organization or performer ever contacted you regarding the content of something you've written on your blog?
- Yes: 33 (58%)
- No: 12 (21%)
- No answer: 12 (21%)
Comments included both friendly and helpful interactions and some hostile ones, including rants and hate mail.
Additional comments included warm words for the blogosphere and the options it offers, and a certain disinterest in print critics.
- Anonymous (13)
- John Marcher, A Beast in a Jungle
- Renée, A Young Persons' Guide to Classical Music
- Robert Gable, aworks
- Michael Miller, Berkshire Review/New York Arts
- Mark Berry, Boulezian
- SFMike, Civic Center
- Melanie Spanswick, ClassicalMel
- William, DesignerBlog
- Andrew, Devil's Trill
- Andrew Lindemann Malone, DMV Classical
- Elena Saavedra Buckley, Neo Antennae
- Gert, Gertsamtkunstwerk
- Caitlin Cashin, Goodbye, Florence
- Mei, GTL Torn T (in Spanish)
- RML, I Hear Voices
- Lisa Hirsch, Iron Tongue of Midnight
- King Ouf's Blog
- Arlene and Larry Dunn
- Zerbinetta, Likely Impossibilities
- Michael Monroe, MMmusing
- Scott Spiegelberg, Musical Perceptions
- Axel Feldheim, Not for Fun Only
- Opera Cake
- Lucy, Opera Obsession
- Alcina, Opera Diaries
- John Gilks, Operaramblings
- Glenn Winters, Operation Opera
- Gale Martin, Operatoonity
- Brian, Out West Arts
- Pamina's Opera House
- Will Robin, Seated Ovation
- Paul Pelkonen, Superconductor
- Charlise Tiee, The Opera Tattler
- Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise
- David Allen, Unpredictable Inevitability
- Zwölftöner, Von heute auf morgen
- Lev Bratischenko, Yesyesyes