Dilettante Press

Here’s my interview with Jessica Duchen, classical blogger extraordinaire, for her blog on Standpoint.

Juliana Farha, founder and MD of Dilettante Music, was one of only two women from the classical music world to be picked for the new Cultural Leadership Programme’s Women to Watch list of 50 movers and shakers. We’ve featured Dilettante here before – it’s a lot more than just another website. You may remember their composition competition to find a composer in residence, and in my round-up of the most exciting classical music sites on the web in the Jan/Feb edition of Standpoint it came out basically tops. So I decided to ask Juliana a few questions – and got back, amongst other things, some home truths about the British music business and national priorities…

JD: What do you think it is about Dilettante Music that stands out from the crowd and has helped to bring you to such attention?

JF: There are several elements that make the Dilettante site unique. First, there’s the tone: the design, the editorial ‘voice’, and even the name make it clear that we’re challenging some of the stereotypes about classical music, while also communicating our own love of the music and support for the people who make it.

Second, the point of Dilettante is to bring musicians and listeners together, and it’s the only site that has set out to provide compelling features for both. Musicians can upload their concerts and their newest recordings, which listeners can discover on the site. Listeners can post reviews, debate concert hall acoustics in our forums, and buy music and concert tickets. We’re also committed to broadening the audience and supporting young musicians and new work, and our Composer-in-Residence competition, which we launched last year to provide a year-long platform for a young composer on our site, is a good example of that.
Third, there’s our revenue model: Dilettante is a business that presumes a somewhat altruistic motivation – namely, that registered members and casual visitors will choose to support our community of musicians and composers by using Dilettante to buy music and concert tickets from our retail partners. Of course, we’ve added value through our price comparison tool, for instance, but the altruistic element is still there.

And finally: we’re still here. I suspect that when I first started telling people about our plans for the site, they figured it was a dot-com fantasy that would disappear as fast as it had arrived. If so, they vastly underestimated our stubbornness.

JD: There are so few women in classical music on the list of 50 that one wonders why…do you have any theories about why the classical music world is still so male-dominated?

JF: Let’s face it: we live in a male-dominated world, and I certainly think that classical music remains the most traditional art form so it stands to reason that it would be slower to change than some other industries. While music-making is often very collaborative, of course, there’s a strong sense of hierarchy within the structures of classical music and I think certain kinds of masculine behaviour signify ‘leadership’ in that sort environment. Also, a lot of the classical music media is aimed at hardcore audiophiles because they’re the people who spend money ‘cultivating their collections’, as we say in one of our adverts. The profile of your average audiophile is older and male, of course, so much of the dialogue consists of those people talking to each other.

JD: What does it mean to you to be on the list?

JF: I was utterly delighted to be on the list. I’ve been at this for several years now and it’s often been tough, so the acknowledgment of what we’re trying to achieve and what it’s taken to get this far was really welcome.

While I certainly never expected anyone to embrace Dilettante as the saviour of classical music, I admit that I probably underestimated how resistant some people would be to anyone presuming to think they had anything new to offer. This sector is a pretty closed shop, and in order to stay true to your vision you really do have to make up your own rules, if you’ll forgive the cliche. I think that’s doubly true if you’re a woman. I’ve seen some other businesses launch in our industry – backed by big investment, and lots of swagger – that were received a lot more warmly than Dilettante has been, and yet those businesses certainly haven’t proved to be more viable or visionary than Dilettante. Still, I gave up banging my head against the gatekeepers’ wall a long time ago, because it sucks up enormous energy and gives nothing back except a bad headache. Instead I’ve focused on people and organisations that are genuinely open to collaborating with us and to understanding what we’re about, and fortunately there are lots of them. That’s what’s kept me going.

The other reason I was so pleased is because I imagined the list would mostly be populated by women from charitable arts organisations, and I was right. Interestingly, I have it on good authority that there was a robust debate among the judges about whether being a private sector entrepreneur disqualifies me from being a ‘cultural leader’. I find that shocking on the face of it, but of course many people in the arts are squeamish about money ‘polluting’ culture. Still, I’m struck by the irony that conceiving of how to support music and music-making, and then assuming significant risk to realise that conception, might disqualify a person from being recognised as a ‘leader’.
JD: Where do you hope to go from here?
JF: Well, there’s lots still to do with Dilettante, both in terms of reaching new audiences and offering more to our users, so that will keep me busy for some time. In terms of a ‘job’, whatever I do will be driven by my conviction that we express and experience our humanity through culture, so it’s vital that we support cultural output at every level. Recently, Simon Jenkins alleged that the arts need to make a better case for themselves. Perhaps he’s right, but I’m astonished at the bottomless pit of money that’s apparently available to fight wars on whatever flimsy pretext, while funding for culture and even education are axed with relative ease. I call it ‘bombs not circuses’ – and I’ll take the circuses, thanks.
(March 10, 2010)

Dilettante is pleased to announce that our Founder and Managing Director Juliana Farha has been named one of the 50 ‘Women to Watch’ in the UK creative and cultural sectors. Juliana is the only woman from the classical music world to be featured on the list, and one of a tiny minority from the private sector.

The ‘Women to Watch’ judging panel was led by the BBC’s Jenni Murray, and included Dame Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England; Wayne MacGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet; and Rita Clifton, Chief Executive of Interbrand, the global branding consultancy.

The ‘Women to Watch’ list was created by the UK’s Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP) to ‘celebrate the achievements of some of the most ambitious and talented women in the cultural and creative industries’. The CLP is an initiative of Arts Council England, Creative & Cultural Skills, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

‘I’m really delighted to be included on the first Women to Watch list because it confirms that we’re achieving what we set out to do – namely, to lead classical music in a new direction,’ says Juliana. ‘After all, this is a sector that has a massive impact on the economy, and brings people tremendous pleasure.’

Find out more about ‘Women to Watch’ by clicking here.

This interview appeared on The Music Void on 16 February 2010.

The Music Void’s Chris McLellan spoke recently with Juliana Farha, Managing Director of London-based classical website Dilettante, which launched in 2008.

A trained journalist, Juliana Farha worked at Canada’s CBC Radio and Watch magazine in Toronto before joining the family business in the musical instruments sector.

After obtaining her Masters degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Juliana identified the Internet and social media as the ideal tools to support classical music and grow the audience for the genre. Dilettante is the embodiment of those ideas.

Hi Juliana. Thanks for meeting with The Music Void today. Can you provide our readers with a brief overview of Dilettante?

Certainly.  Dilettante is a classical music hub with a community of musicians and listeners at its heart. On Dilettante you can buy music and concert tickets, read news and reviews, post your own concerts, join discussions and more. The site was conceived with two goals: first, to support musicians and music-making by providing a platform for their work and for the classical genre; and second, to grow the audience for classical music. Obviously, those goals are related since you support music-making by engaging new audiences.

The site was designed and built with these goals in mind. We’re not aiming to make classical music ‘cool’ or dumbing it down, but Dilettante’s fresh, lively tone is aimed at bringing a different sensibility – and even a different vocabulary – to classical music. At the same time, we felt that we wouldn’t be doing musicians much of a service by simply providing them with a new set of social media tools to profile themselves. We needed to create practical reasons why listeners would come to the site, hence value-adds such as our price comparison tool. On Dilettante you can check prices across four retailers, learn about works and artists, read user reviews and ‘expert’ comments, and so on.

What is the nature of the Dilettante business model?

The Dilettante business model leverages multiple revenue streams to support our community of musicians and listeners.

We generate income from three main sources:

1/ Advertising revenue; 2/ commissions from music sales across two specialist and two mass-market retailers, supported by reviews, discussions, celebrity playlists and other guidance; and 3/ from commissions from ticket sales in partnership with classical ticketing vendors

Dilettante is a micro-economy sustained by transactions that are a natural part of site activity. For instance, Facebook might not feel like an obvious place to buy a t-shirt, but a classical music community is an obvious place to buy a CD or concert tickets.

As Dilettante has grown the site has become established as a credible and trusted brand for classical music, but one that is also refreshing, unstuffy and modern. And as a niche site, we offer advertisers access to a highly-targeted and well-educated audience. That’s one reason why we’ve secured advertising in a really tough market from record labels such as Chandos, EMI and Sony Classical.

In your opinion, is the classical genre fairly represented on the major online music stores?

Tough question! As I’ve said, we offer music through affiliate partnerships with four retailers, including two mass-market and two specialist shops. Music sales is a volume game, and digital content makes the long-tail model more viable since you’re no longer talking about shelf-space. In that sense, major music store sites have an advantage over high street shops.

Where the major retailers stumble, I think, is around practical issues such as metadata, and the lack of consistency from the labels themselves is a problem. You can find a needle in a haystack on Amazon, for instance, but you really need to know what you’re looking for. In fact, I buy a lot of discs through Amazon, but their classical search is appalling, and not made to handle the fact that a single work is recorded multiple times by different artists, so it’s not just Animal Collective playing Animal Collective.

Similarly, the major retailers can’t offer meaningful editorial context that a lot of new or casual classical listeners would find useful. Why buy this performance of The Nutcracker Suite and not that one? I love Bolero, but what else did Ravel write? Those holes provide a huge opportunity for value-adds such as a strong search function supported by editorial guidance. That’s the opportunity we’ve seized at Dilettante.

What is your social media strategy? Are you working with or through Facebook or Twitter, for example?

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are vital elements of our social media strategy. In fact, it’s difficult to operate in the digital space without using them in a meaningful and sustained way.

While Dilettante has significant social networking functionality, we consider ourselves to be part of the classical music community, not simply an interface for it. As such we have a distinct voice in the digital environment, and the way we communicate on Twitter is as much a part of our identity as the way we communicate on the Dilettante site.

On a purely practical level, both Twitter and Facebook have proved to be an invaluable way of creating buzz about what’s new on Dilettante, and projects we’re involved with. Of course, Twitter is a social space too, so we’ve developed Twitter relationships with lots of people and organisations in the classical world.

Needless to say, our next step is to implement an OpenID system, and that’s something we’re working on with our developers. We’re aiming to be fully connected.

In what ways does Dilletante support live classic concerts and sales?

First, it’s important to be clear that we don’t regard the Internet as some sort of parallel universe to the offline world, and we don’t want or expect classical music activity to move online. Classical music is all about the live experience, not just an activity musicians undertake to support a CD. Thanks to digital piracy and the decline in music purchasing, that’s becoming increasingly true in the pop world, but it’s always been true in classical.

We support live performance in a variety of ways.  First – at its most basic – any Dilettante member can post their events on our events calendar, including links to tickets. Members can invite their Dilettante connections, and link their event back to their member profile so people can find out more about them – very useful if you’re a young ensemble, just starting out. That means a concert by an unknown chamber group can sit right next to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, so the two get equal billing.

We do our utmost to support our members’ concerts, so we can feature their events on the site and in our monthly Music & Events newsletter. Of course, there are number of editorial options, too. If there’s a really innovative programme or a group doing really interesting work, we offer feature interviews or profiles on the site, along with celebrity playlists and other kinds of editorial promotion.

Also, we’re looking at ways we can support live performance more actively. For instance, in 2008 we co-produced a concert in a club in Brick Lane in East London. Last year, we launched our Digital Composer-in-Residence competition, which culminated in a live performance of the finalists’ submissions by the London Sinfonietta at Wilton’s Music Hall. And one element of the winner’s prize is a live concert next Autumn featuring a work that was composed during the year-long residency.

With an aging population in the West, one might expect a rise in the popularity of the classical genre. Is that true in your experience?

I think there are a few factors affecting the popularity of the classical genre. You’re right that an aging population might listen to more classical music. There’s also the success of stations like ClassicFM in the UK. Some people claim they dumb-down classical music, but they also demystify it and bring it to a wider audience. I don’t see a reason to be snobbish about that.

At the same time, we’ve seen the rise of a lot of young composers and musicians who don’t talk or think about ‘genre’ in such narrow terms, from someone like Nico Muhly, who seems to come out of the classical world but works across genres, to a classically trained musician like Jonny Greenwood who came to prominence as an alt-pop musician and now performs alongside John Adams in New York.

We see that in the UK, too. Look at Mira Calix or Anna Meredith. Is it electronica or classical? There’s lots of jargon floating around that reflects this shift – ‘music without borders’ from New Amsterdam records in Brooklyn, ‘alt-classical’ from Greg Sandow at Arts Journal, ‘post-classical’ from I don’t remember who! I think this phenomenon gives younger listeners a different point of access that might lead them to more ‘traditional’ classical music, some of which is pretty out there. I mean, the Goldberg Variations are a real trip (see 8 below).

Is the rising popularity of so-called ‘cross over’ artists like Andrea Bocelli and Kathryn Jenkins good news for the classical genre?

I’m not sure it’s good or bad news. To the extent that these artists’ CDs sell, I suppose they help sustain the business. Do they introduce new audiences to classical music, and will those audiences go on to buy more classical music? I don’t think there’s any evidence to support that view.

What recordings would you recommend to classical music novices to give them a sample of best from the genre?

There are many of course, but here are a few of my favourites

Quatuor Ebene
– Debussy, Faure, Ravel String Quartets
This disc picked up Gramophone’s Recording of the Year prize last year, and it’s a wonderful introduction to three great French composers and four dynamic young performers.

Daniel Hope – Air: A Baroque Journey
I’ve seen Daniel Hope live several times, including with the now-defunct Beaux Arts Trio, and he’s a wonderful player. This disc is exactly what it sounds like – an engaging primer that’s a delight to listen to.

Simone Dinnerstein – Bach, Goldberg Variations
Per above, the Goldberg Variations are a real trip, and Simone Dinnerstein’s performance is brilliant. Wear headphones, and listen loud.

Alfred Brendel – Schubert Complete Impromptus D.899 & D.935 and Others
As always, Brendel gets every note right and captures Schubert’s grace and majesty.

Nigel Kennedy – Bruch & Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
Two brilliant works that are a must for any novice listener. I’m never sure which concerto I prefer, but I always go back to Nigel Kennedy’s performance.

Beaux Arts Trio – Piano Trio No 4 in E Minor ‘Dumky’
I love Dvorak and this is one of my all time favourites – if it doesn’t break your heart there’s something wrong with you.

Miguel del Aguila – Salon Buenos Aires
I discovered this through a review by Frank Oteri at New Music Box. On the strength of one track, I bought it instantly, and can’t stop listening to it.

Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
I heard this live at the Royal Festival Hall last October – performed by the London Sinfonietta – and was totally blown away.

That’s a great list Juliana. Thanks for sharing that and all your thoughts on classical music and Dilettante today.

It’s been my pleasure.