A piece of news is rapidly circulating among classical musicians, and particularly, choral conductors and composers. Eric Whitacre, a favorite composer of choral music, has signed with Storm Models, just as he is entering a new phase in his career that includes his YouTube virtual choir and collaborations with film composer Hans Zimmer for the music for Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Classical composers are likely to have one of two reactions: some will declare that Whitacre has abandoned all claims to becoming a serious composer; and others will admire his understanding of the current dominance of social media.
The established polarity between high art and popular taste emerges here. However, there has been a constant increase in the glossy marketing of classical musicians. Observe the youth and beauty of Classical violinists with substantial presence in recording labels and music magazines. Notwithstanding the desire to enhance the impact of classical music, this phenomenon appears antagonistic to the long-term arch of an artist’s career. Will the potential career of a young musician be tied to his or her physical appearance? An artist usually gains power and depth of expression with age, but age can potentially negate a certain kind of marketing strategy through the print media. Perhaps the intent is to capture a young audience, who hopefully will develop a loyalty with the artist as he or she progresses through life. Or it is rather a play on the expectations of an older audience that, evoking musical figures of the 19th century, feels that great art is observed in precocious and romantic young performers.
Print media, however, is obviously different from the social media. By contrast, a savvy use of the social media promises to liberate artists from corporate concerns, create a new business model, and eventually, generate an alternative career path. Furthermore, it also promises to establish a direct relationship with the audience, one that is more interactive. New art forms and music genres will emerge out of the new relationship with the audience. Will we see the social media genres convey complexity and depth? Does it matter? Will Eric Whitacre be seen to revert to a more conventional artistic image after having explored successfully the innovative path of social media?