My wife and I recently ran into one of those summer “binge draughts” that everybody seems to stumble across now and then. You know what I’m talking about – you have a show coming up in a few weeks on Netflix that you really want to watch, but in the meantime you don’t want to make a commitment to another series that you’ll have to put aside. Usually it results in our family sort of poking around at the streaming services, trying out new shows that seem safe – if we like them we can watch, if we don’t we can stop and nobody will ever know.
That’s how we came across Mozart In The Jungle, a program on Amazon’s Prime Video Service. I had avoided it for years, mostly because I simply do not “get” classical music. For some reason I like metal, rock, jazz, ambient and even some rap, but I have no tolerance for classical, which I find either too safe or too dissonant.
It’s surprising, then, how much I liked this program. In particular, I enjoyed the talents of Gael Garcia Bernal, Bernadette Peters (can she really be 70?) and Malcolm “any second he’s going to snap like an insane supervillian” McDowell. The series is light and fun, and I fell in love. I even started to warm up to the classical music featured in each episode. That is, until the episode called “Not Yet Titled” (how droll…) in season 3. In this episode, the charismatic maestro takes the orchestra to Rikers Island prison to perform several pieces by French avant garde composer Olivier Messiaen, once a prisoner himself (in World War II).
Call me a Neanderthal, but I’m not sure you can really call Messiaen’s work “music.” While I am sure that it takes tremendous skill to play, even performed perfectly it comes off sounding like a preschool music class armed with croquet mallets and garbage can lids. Imagine that you took the most accomplished group of classical musicians on the planet, gave them the best instruments ever made, had them warm up for an hour, then asked them to play as loud as they could while you pushed them all down a flight of stairs at the same time. It made me want to smash my Roku into tiny little pieces. It was that bad.
Why should you care? Well, first of all, I still suggest you watch Mozart In The Jungle – just skip the “Not Yet Titled” episode completely. You won’t miss a thing except the most excruciatingly un-musical cacophony you’ve ever heard. But more importantly, I believe that Messiaen’s songs represent a prime example of an artist writing for himself instead of his audience. Each mess he put into music was probably deeply cathartic. But like that boor at the dinner party who only wants to prove how smart he is, very few people want to listen.
It stands to reason, then, that when you create your website, your social media posts and every other bit of branded communication on your calendar, you must put the users – your customers – first. They come before the writers and the programmers and even the people who are paying for everything. Create your symphony for the listeners, not for the musicians.
I think that maybe that is my issue with a lot of classical music: it is absorbed and self-indulgent. Nobody likes a know-it-all, let alone a narcissistic know-it-all. This is a lesson that takes a while to learn, but it really pays off on the web. For example, it’s helpful to view and read the content on your website via a mobile device because the lion’s share of users will be doing the same thing. A bit of jargon that is unique to your industry might be a valuable keyword, but it should probably come with an explanation for those who are less experienced.
If Mozart and Beethoven are the pop stars of the classical music world, then get me tickets to the concert. There is no shame in creating content that people – and, as a result, search engines – like. The more users who are singing along to the content on your website, the more likely they will be to share it.