Music, marketing, and weddings

I’m not a big fan of weddings. They always seem like such a massive commitment on the part of the hosts and, depending on the location chosen by the central characters, usually a costly affair for the guests too.

I’m not complaining about the weddings I’ve attended in the past, of course. They’ve always been rather special affairs. Poignant. But as a rule, my heart usually stops beating for a second when an invitation is extended. When it came to my own, me and the OH opted for something low-key and practical. There were papers to sign and a meal to be had and a very limited budget. 

Yesterday’s wedding was, naturally, a different experience. A TV spectacle featuring people I’ve never met, never will meet and who, depending on who you speak to, have a dubious entitlement to money this country would probably be better spending on critical run-down services.

Here’s the thing. I thoroughly enjoyed that TV spectacle though. I looked forward to it more than that  Song Contest last weekend. Gracious. What an admission.

An insistent smile

There is something about Meghan Markle’s smile that insists you smile back at her. Harry stands there in his military uniform and acts as a lightning rod for all of us who remember the death of his mother and the unprecedented national outpouring of grief that followed. And, I admit to going ‘aww’ when Charles offered a hand to Meghan Markle’s mother.

This event helped seek a happy ending to a piece of fairy-tale theatre because we’re all of us decent human beings who, on a fundamental level, do not want to deny the couple their happiness.

Collective memories of tragedy in the past fuel our desire to see the young prince, like that of his brother, happy. We look for it in his eyes and that of Meghan Markle’s. We found it. Unequivocal justification for this collective celebration. In watching him take hold of that happiness we ourselves feel a sense of closure. We’re reconnected with the good bits of our personality as we do so. As bread and circuses go, this was good for the soul.

Music and theatre

The service was a beautiful sculptured piece of theatre too. Subject, development, tension, redemption, denouement, resolution, and a coda. All this punctuated by carefully selected, deftly-juxtaposed cultural contrasts, annotated with unorthodox visual asides courtesy of members of the Royal family and cutaways to some of the other guests.

Music played an integral part of the presentation.  A sophisticated melding of the unusual with the familiar, the unorthodox and the popular. All were combined to create a polished, distinctive, engaging narrative about a young couple who sought to make a positive statement about themselves and the world they see themselves living in in the future.

Marketing commodities

But it was also highly marketable. Television pictures were edited in places to appeal to a global audience – this was an international affair. Record companies sought to position their artists front and centre, not just to build on the recent successes in the classical music world to increase representation and inclusivity, but also to generate revenue.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing at the Royal Wedding, May 2018

Yes, this was a touching national occasion, but there were many with a vested interest which went beyond the Royal Wedding as an event where two people exchanged vows.

This was reflected online too. Social media commentary played host to some shameless opportunism, sometimes unwittingly veering into mawkish hyperbole. In a few cases this revealed the extent to which some artists have become valuable commodities. Many of those vested interests saw their opportunity to reinforce their brand, in the guise of ‘gaining reputational credit’ – the digital demonstration of inexperienced and short-sighted practitioners unable to see beyond their own organisation’s outdated and clunky strategies.

These things matter to me because I think that the platform musicians are fighting for needs to be represented in both an authentic way and one that pays due deference. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet on both of those points.

That’s damaging to audiences because the line between marketing, PR and audience commentary is considerably more blurred than many professionals realise.

The guiding principle surely remains: it’s social media – be social. Imagine yourself at a party. Would you as a brand insist on saying the same things you do online, at that party? Not unless you were happy to spend your time alone on the balcony with a warm glass of fizz and no company to speak of.

Unfamiliar music, ravishing arrangements, and light miniatures

In terms of material, we turned our back on the usual pomp and circumstance music. That’s a good thing. I cried when I heard the utterly ravishing arrangement of Stand By Me, obtaining a strange sense of reassurance when I heard John Rutter’s hymn, so too the Thomas Tallis.

Conversely, it was the much-advertised appearance of Sheku-Kanneh Mason had a whiff of contrivance about it – light music which will have been seen by the majority as the summing up of all classical music – serving less the important messaging which still needs to be made, but more those organisations who profit from his talent.

What this combination of words and music achieved, helped shape an event that provided closure on a story many in this country have lived through over the past thirty years. At one level that story consists of our ever-more discombobulated understanding of the role we play in our increasingly manipulative media landscape.

This wedding – the Royal Family – is part of that media landscape too. Its content sought to serve a narrative which has been repositioned slightly, one that reacts to the hideousness incomprehensibility of recent years. But the same media ecosystem remains, something we all participate in knowingly or unwittingly.

And while exploiting the opportunity for inclusion, representation and legitimisation of the classical music genre is something which are good and necessary aspirations for an event like this, we should be ever more wary of how easily marketing that aspiration can distort an industry.

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