New Year, new mission
I’ve long since given up New Year resolutions, in the sad certainty of their failure, and I’ve certainly never shared any publicly. But I must reveal this one, as it involves classical music, and I may need my friends and colleagues around the world to bear witness – and maybe even help me.
I have an undoubtedly idealistic, admittedly crazy, but maybe possibly even an opportune plan. In 2019, I intend to start a new classical music magazine – in print. Yes, you read correctly: unrechargeable, static, turnable, inky pages, filled with articles both long and short, thought-provoking and light-hearted, accompanied by beautiful images – all about classical music and the joys and challenges of listening and performing.
I know it seems anachronistic in this age of record stores closing, attention spans shrinking and clickbait prevailing, but I have my reasons:
So much to say, so few places to say it
There are so many good stories and important issues in the classical music world at the moment, and there are so few places to read about them. There are a few specialist and membership magazines, if the subject fits; shrinking space (and affection) in the broadsheets; and some good blogs, of quite singular focus. There are myriad commercial websites with interesting content, but this is usually marketing driven (not that I have a problem with that – I think the classical music world should be doing much more of it, and much better – to quote Woody Allen, ‘the food is awful, and such small portions.’) But currently, there isn’t a magazine that I want to read about classical music, and I find the online space frustrating.
There is an audience for compelling classical music content
Digital producers such as Classic FM and TwoSet have proved that there is a massive audience for original geeky classical music content. One of the key things they get right is their tone. I’m pretty fed up with the whole narrative of classical music being posh, elitist etc. Yes, there are fundamental education issues we need to tackle, but I also believe there are ways of talking about classical music that don’t make it sound boring, intellectual and difficult, putting off people who would otherwise love listening to it. I’m not talking about dumbing anything down – quite the opposite: it’s about finding compelling stories and fascinating details and discussing them with passion, knowledge and sometimes humour. I believe the best people to do this are always going to be the performers themselves and their voices will be at the heart of the magazine and will speak both to music performers and lovers alike.
I have faith in magazines and good writing
Amid the general doom and gloom, independent magazines are actually doing quite well, and I’ve spoken to editors of music magazines from other genres that are thriving. It’s not going to make me rich, but it might make me happy.
On a personal note, I’m currently trying to wean myself off my social media addiction by reading magazines again. I’ve started revelling in chunks of time spent absorbed in good writing and unexpected angles of magazines such as the New Yorker and Songlines, rather than scrolling mindlessly until my eyeballs sting.
I know that video is predominant at the moment, for obvious reasons (it is music, after all), but editorial has many advantages, and I’m optimistic that as we face more of the fallout of fake news, clickbait, algorithms and free content, more people might turn back to the integrity, mindfulness, slow pace and sheer aesthetic pleasure of print. Maybe it’s my own yearning to go back to more simple, intelligent times, but I can’t be the only one, can I?
If you have questions, the likelihood is that I can’t yet answer them:
My audience is anyone whose life revolves around playing or listening to classical music. It will recognise that the classical music world is one great big community, whether top star, great teacher, passionate amateur, parent whose kid is starting out or someone who just likes listening. Our standards and levels of knowledge might differ, but we have so much in common, and a good story is a good story.
Editorial will be broad, going both deep but also lightly, and, I hope, quite random and lateral, but never generic. It will include long-form features on interesting and important musicians, although not always players who have a CD out. Indeed it might feature someone who hasn’t had a CD out for decades, if they’re interesting and unique. Much of it will be written by artists themselves (where necessary through my interviewing them), bringing their passion and expertise to remarkable subjects. It won’t include academic-style studies (although if someone wants to write about how a note in a Bach Sonata changed their life, and can make it sound interesting, I’d gladly publish it.) I won’t chase news stories, although might include properly researched analysis of topical issues. Nor will there be reviews (although it might include an opinion piece questioning their value). There might also be features on wellbeing and health, ethics, art, historical perspectives, pedagogy, instrument craftsmanship, and anything else that piques my interest. At The Strad, some of my proudest moments were featuring Charlie Chaplin, Vermeer, dentistry, boxing and other random connections – I want it to be surprising and diverse.
My current plan is to produce a first issue on a shoestring, writing much of it myself, and using my own money to get it designed and printed. I’m going to look at a variety of business models – free distribution, Patreon, sponsorship, advertising, and anything else that comes up. (I’d be very interested to hear about any of your experience with Patreon.) It may or may not be available online – my priority is that there’s a print version that looks beautiful. I might also investigate podcasts and events.
I don’t know what it will be called – I might keep the Elbow Music brand, although that was originally for string music, or I might invent another.
So, you might think I’m barmy, but I hope you will wish me luck, anyway, and please do contact me here if you have any commercial ideas or advice, or are interested in advertising or sponsoring it. Also – what would make you read (and pay for) a classical music magazine?
My timeline is that my current interim contract at Guildhall School of Music finishes at the end of January, after which I will work part time there for a while, but also gear into action with the magazine. I hope for it to be ready to print in April.
From February I will also be taking on freelance work, so please do contact me with any commissions or if you need any communications and marketing support. Here’s my portfolio, so you can see what I’ve been up to recently.
Until then, all the best for a happy, music-filled, resolution-fulfilling 2019!
Here’s an apposite reminder from IKEA – my magazinemagazine will come fully charged, with no cable, and content fully loaded.