12 May, 2010

Classical Music, Social Media and Jazz

An orchestra, in many ways, mirrors the enterprise structure and corporate communication that was popular in the latter half of last century. The conductor is the CEO, dictating exactly how things should be played. The individual violinists and trumpeters are given no discretion to interpret. The conductor seeks consistency – exactly the same notes played in exactly the same way each and every time they perform.

An Orchestra's layout – as Corporate structure diagram

As such it's a prime example of a “command and control” hierarchy – decisions and innovation come only from the top. And it's best enjoyed sitting down, quietly, hands folded on your lap, no talking, drinking or dancing.

Jazz, on the other hand, has a different heritage and a different ethic. Originally jazz was played by musicians who couldn’t read music. What they’d do is listen to a riff or motif, then play it back, interpreting it, adding flourishes, in a “call and response pattern”, sort of like a conversation, adding layers. The music and notes were not dictated or even written down, so each performance was different.

'Structureless' Jazz band, hamming it up, circa 1921

Usually each musician had an opportunity to ‘go it alone’, to blow or strum or drum or tinkle their own improvised variations of the theme whilst the rest of the band followed. They were not under the steely, controlling gaze of a conductor, thus the music was a product of interaction and collaboration.

And there’d be dancing. The band could tell how well they were doing by how much people enjoyed themselves – in a sort of continuous feedback loop. It wasn't completely free-form though, there were rules. You couldn’t ‘go it alone’ for too long – you had to share with your band members, and you couldn’t stray too far from the theme or motif. Being able to play the instrument helped too.

Social media is more like Jazz than Classical music. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Corporations would come into your house via TV, do a well-rehearsed and orchestrated piece in front of you, and then leave. They’d do it over and over again. There was no opportunity for interaction. There was no call and response, no conversation. No dancing. They controlled – dictated – the tune.

Social media isn't like that. It doesn’t seek sameness, consistency or control. It seeks diversity, interaction and collaboration. The notes aren’t dictated. In fact, it’d be pretty un-cool to parrot back the same notes played to you, as if suffering from musical echolalia. Like Jazz, Social Media celebrates the interpretation – the response.

But Jazz does rely on musicianship. A Jazz band has usually practiced together and knows each others’ mettle. And the audience doesn’t join in, other than by dancing or with applause.

Here Social Media is not so much like Jazz. Why? Because the Social Media audience arrives with their own various instruments and varying skill. There you are, up on stage with your band of well practiced corporate groovers(!), and the audience has come armed with their own noise makers – guitars, kazoos, an oboe and a clarinet, a bagpipe, a banjo, a Farfisa organ and some kids have even brought pots, pans and wooden spoons.

It’s going to be a little messy. And chaotic. It’s going to sound pretty weird in parts, especially seeing as that guy with the Farfisa only knows one tune – and it’s called Chopsticks.

But that’s the gig, man. You don’t have to like Jazz to get it. You and your band up on stage with (hopefully) hundreds of people playing and plinky-plonking along…and thousands listening.

There's always going be a guy playing Chopsticks. For him, and the thousands listening, do a ‘set’ with variations on the Chopsticks theme. Blow it slow, blow it fast, syncopate it – jazz it up – add some sass … they’ll love it.

Remember it’s call and response, so you respond to their call too.

Picture credits:
Orchestral diagram: http://blog.fluidcreativity.co.uk/
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, 1921: http://www.artknowledgenews.com/


Jye Smith said...

I really enjoyed this! Thanks for posting :)

DavidL said...

A good read and funny. I think I hear a cacophony.
But tell me Marc - what's with the video upload panel on the right?

marc said...

Hi David. Thanks.
yes - it's a video upload panel - I'm test driving a video product called MVP from Resorts-Interactive.
It's a video transcoding, management + distribution system.
Try it out - send me a short video ...

RockNRoll said...

What you've written is all very well and good, but does it help anyone? How, for instance, does it help us understand the recent Nestle debacle?

marc said...

Hmmm. OK.
The big backlash occurred on a Nestle run forum on FaceBook.
This "Jazz" forum was filling up with "bad-ass" musicians because Nestle had successfully requested YouTube to take down a gruesome Greenpeace video, which was part of a campaign they were waging against Nestle due to their use of Palm Oil. New Palm Oil plantations threaten Orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra by destroying their natural habitat.

The forum was getting chaotic as the bad ass musicians were blowing and tinkling unfavourable riffs with tales of woe about Orangutans and deforestation.

The Nestle moderator, obviously stressed, posted:
"To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don't post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic - they will be deleted."
thus acting like the old command and control hierarchy of a Classical Orchestra. "I speak, you listen".

The response was immediate, with posts like:
"To repeat: we welcome your product, but please don't put rainforest destruction on our shopping list. It will be deleted."
"I'll make you a deal, Nestle. I won't post using 'your logo' if you stop using unsustainable palm oil sources in your products."
"Wow... this comment section became a case study in my social media seminar..."

In a Jazz Forum, Nestle wasn't in a position to dictate. By threatening to eject members of the audience they weren't sharing or being collaborative. The audience retaliated almost unanimously with some harsh and dark grooves.

Since then, of course, Nestle has decided to play along to the audiences' Chopsticks. In mid May they announced that they would "ban the use of palm oil that comes from high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation." They finally listened to the audience. Call and response. Perhaps a little dancing?

marc said...

Mashable's take on the story.
Plus the Greenpeace video.
Thanks @melindavenable

Diana Neutze said...

This old biddy finds it interesting but it's almost out of her depth!