The biggest problem faced by classical music? The people who actually like it are all dying, and the only time The Kids are exposed to moving orchestral symphonies is if they hit the wrong button and accidentally tune into Double Clef FM in Grand Theft Auto III.
How to attract new audiences? One method is to hire a wind machine, a piano and get Myleene Klass in for another album session. Another option is *shudder* G4. And the third method is to turn your entire orchestra into avatars and have them play a concert in Second Life.
That’s what the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is doing, anyway. On 14th September, they’ll be playing a mixture of classics and contemporary compositions, and then retiring to the virtual bar afterwards to chat to attendees. Cutting-edge innovation or misguided waste of money? Well…
What I don’t understand is what, exactly, the Orchestra expects to get out of this apart from a few column inches. It’s an announcement that begs several pointed questions:
1. How much is it costing to build a replica of the RLPO’s concert hall in Second Life, and couldn’t that money have been spent on other forms of marketing? The biggest Second Life installations can run into six-figure sums to set up.
2. For anyone attending the virtual concert, will the audio quality be up to the task? This isn’t noisy distorted rawk music, don’t forget. It’s a proper big-league classical music performance, with timpanis and stuff (probably). Even classical novices won’t put up with substandard sound or dodgy streaming.
3. How many people will be able to attend the concert, given the restrictions on numbers within Second Life at such events? Wouldn’t it have been more effective to hold a free concert in the middle of Liverpool and sell CDs on the sidelines?
4. Talking of selling CDs, how will this Second Life concert actually make money? Will there be direct links to buy digital copies of RLPO performances? Or links out to buy physical CDs? Assuming people attend and enjoy the concert, how can they then do something that will actually turn into money for the orchestra’s coffers?
5. Will the conductor’s avatar be kitted out with a giant furry green penis?
Okay, that last one’s a bit silly (but don’t rule out disgruntled Second Lifers storming the event to make it happen). But the point is, how will Second Life really expand the audience for classical music, and specifically deliver a return for the RLPO?
This isn’t knocking Linden Labs’ virtual world as such: just questioning the assumption that because you can put on a massive classical concert there, you should. Trying imaginative new things and bringing something different to Second Life is all well and good, but if this is about attracting new people to the joys of classical music, it’s all a bit silly.
Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest. He can play the triangle. A bit.
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