The ten best ideas in classical music online

A little over a year ago, I wrote about R.E.M.’s ventures into social media, allowing fans listen to their new album before its release and encouraging fans to mash up raw video footage.

Where does classical music stand in this environment? Here below follows a top 10 list of what I believe are the best ideas in classical music online. This list is not meant to be a definitive ranking (and is definitely not in any particular order); it is merely a list of ten ideas I have come across in the past two years or so. If you don’t agree or have any ideas to add, please leave a comment or sent me an e-mail at dutchperspective (at) Here is the list:

While the Liverpool Philharmonic was not the first classical presenter to perform in Second Life, it was the orchestra that put the possibilities on the map. The concert cost $16,000 to produce, including building the virtual hall, which is still available to visit. Seeing the publicity and branding returns on the initial investment, the idea was well worth the price.

The BSO enthusiastically proclaims “Imagine leaving a concert and wanting to go right home and hear your favorite parts of the music again and again…Well now you can!” on its Web site. And rightly so. This is a perfect example of a smart collaboration that adds value to the orchestra experience.

There’s a lot to be said about the YouTube Symphony project, but watch the videos, just as more than a million people have done so far, and judge for yourself. Sure, it hasn’t packed the viral power of some notorious YouTube videos, but it has highlighted classical music in a serious manner and put the spotlight on young musicians and music education. Not to mention the worldwide coverage in mainstream media.

Celebrating its 120th anniversary, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra offered 10 free downloads of symphonies by Mahler, Beethoven and Brahms among others. In just a short few weeks, more than 600,000 people downloaded the music. Perhaps in similar fashion, a Mediterranean restaurant gave me some free Baklava recently. Now, every time I return, I make sure to buy some tasty Baklava for dessert.

The Metropolitan Opera boldly brings their operas to theaters all over the country. Berlin brings their concerts to homes all over the world. In a March 2009 Financial Times article, I learned that around 10,000 people registered for the Berlin site. Judging from that number, it might be a while before the initiative will be able to support itself. And I hope that we might see a free concert some time (remember the Baklava).

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes, as is very apparent in the following selection. If I had to give a cross-section of classical music’s best blogs, here are the three I would suggest: 1) Alex Ross’ blog offers insight into the journalistic mind and snippets of what to expect in his book “The Rest is Noise.” As mentioned earlier, Ross’ blog was my main motivator for buying his book. 2) With a trademark sassiness, Opera Chic reports on the latest gossip, breaking and general news of the opera world. Quoted in papers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Chicago Tribune, this blog is a force to be reckoned with. 3) Sequenza21 shows what a dedicated community can do with a blog. A must-follow for any contemporary classical music fan. Institutional blogs haven’t come as far yet, but there are some good efforts such as Brian Dickie’s blog (Chicago Opera Theater), the Metropolitan Opera blog and the London Symphony Orchestra’s tour blog.

Although they have distinct differences, I would put the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score programs and the Chicago Symphony’s Beyond the Score programs in the same category of innovation. If it wasn’t for the negative connotations, I would be tempted to use the term “infotainment” to describe the presentations. Check them out and see how you would describe them.

A very successful event to reach out to local bloggers by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The best part of the experiment: the bloggers received the same treatment that traditional press receives. The League of American Orchestras (link above) has a short case study. The orchestra has collected all responses and coverage at a account.

Radio broadcasts have been part of the orchestral landscape since the beginnings of radio. The advent of the Internet has opened up exciting new possibilities. Orchestras, like the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, have capitalized on these possibilities by bringing additional content to its listeners. There are some real prospects of drawing listeners in. New York follows Amazon’s example and suggests “concerts you may enjoy.” Chicago regularly links to its CSO Resound catalog.

I don’t know what orchestra was the first orchestra on Twitter. It doesn’t really matter; it’s how they use it that matters. The links above reflect some of the orchestras I believe are doing a good job. Twitter can be an amazing customer service tool (companies such as Comcast and Starbucks monitor any issues and respond accordingly). Think of Twitter as the concert concierge of the 21st century. Here’s a case study on the Chicago Symphony and Twitter.

4 thoughts on “The ten best ideas in classical music online”

  1. Thanks for the NML (Naxos Music Library) mention. now streams several albums a month in full from a pop-up player on the home page, and we joined the Twitter and Facebook communities (as has NaxosRecords and NaxosMusicLib) recently, as well. P.S. I found this post through Aspen Music Festival’s retweet. Gottalove the power of Twitter to get the word out.

  2. This is the first time I’ve been to your site, which I discovered through Adaptistration’s post that featured your list of classical music twitterers. I think it’s great that you’ve included this list, because it’s undeniable that classical music must play a larger role in what you call “social media.” More importantly, it’s difficult to find information about the realm of classical music among the other subjects in the media, and your site is an excellent resource for musicians seeking news related to their field. Thanks for the great information, and I look forward to future posts.

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