A couple of years ago, I touched off a full-blown shitstorm in these pages by asking what I thought was a fairly innocent question, which was:  Is Nico overrated?   I had not listened to much of his music at the time and the little I had heard was pleasant enough but not, to my taste, particularly interesting or distinctive.  It was competent, but not something I would bother to listen to again.  I was aware, however, that  young Nico was much beloved in some quarters of our small and incestuous little new music demimonde and not so much in others.  It seemed to that this would be a fun topic to get people who (unlike me) actually know what they’re talking about to explain the Nico phenomenon.  I mean, most young composers can’t get arrested and  we’re talking Vegas level fame here–Frank.  Sammy.  Wayne.  Nico.   How did he do it?

I was prepared for some people to say he gets a lot of attention because he a fantastic composer who is really good and here’s why. I was prepared for others to say it’s just one of those who-knows-who things that you get in a nasty competitive little world.   Man, was I naive.  Almost immediately, I was  set upon by a screeching horde of Nico acolytes accusing me–moi!–of being a heretic, a non-believer, the Charlie Manson of new music.  The mere fact that I had dared to raise the question at all meant that I was a doubter and troublemaker and probably a serial abuser of kittens.   It was like the time Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of the Pope on national television.

I was so shaken by the experience that ever since I have not been able to spell Nico’s last name right which is why I keeping calling him Nico. I’ve never personally laid eyes on the lad.  I have waded through his first three big-label CD releases and still have no better explanation for his success than I started with, but, hey,  different strokes and all that.   Arvo Part, Eric Whitacre, Morton Lauridsen, he is not, IMHO.   That’s only my opinion.  It is not the opinion of Sequenza21.  I’m sure some of the writers who contribute here love his stuff.

Ok, so now Nico has written a post accusing Sequenza21 of spamming him by promoting his latest CD which, of course, falls into the no good deed goes unpunished category. If I had a new CD,  I would be happy if somebody regularly told 30,000 people about it.   But, I have to admit that  it wasn’t really a good deed.  As some of you who pay attention know,  I am a marketer by trade and I have a number of Twitter accounts that I use for what is delicately called “demand generation.”  I don’t use them to sell products and they don’t go to anybody who doesn’t “follow” the particular account; they are usually pointers to articles on web sites I manage.  When a record company, buys a display ad on Sequenza21 to promote a “hot” young composer, one of the little pieces of lagniappe that I sometimes throw in is a few weeks of scheduled  Tweets.  (Let me also add that I do the same for free for any composer who has a concert coming up and asks me nicely.)  As a direct result of the Tweets from my business accounts–not Sequenza21– that Nico identifies as spam, nearly 30,000 people went to his profile and the link to his music on NPR.

But, since Nico’s sensibilities were offended, I’ll promise to never do that again.

14 Responses to “Dear Nico: Let’s Give Peace a Chance.”
  1. Liz says:

    Dude, if someone heavily promoted my album and spelled my name wrong, I’d be pretty pissed, too. I’ve stopped following all the sequenza21 twitter feeds because of the automated tweets. No thanks.

  2. wbiro says:

    The media needs darlings, the audience needs darlings, we need darlings, and he is a darling. Since it is all about attention, he’ll have to balance his music with his attention. When he gets older he may fill other social needs, such as having someone to revere, (whether he rates it as a musician or as a celebrity) which usually means it will be less and less about his music and more about his celebrity, and to look on the bright side, if his music is not that special, then we will not be losing any substantial music, we will be gaining (yet another) celebrity… after all, this has become a glossy-photo business…

  3. Jerry Bowles says:

    You are absolutely right, Amy. Staying active on a Twitter account requires a commitment of time and effort that I can’t afford right now because I have more serious personal concerns. Sequenza21 has been run for the past 12 years by a small group of volunteers and does pretty well considering it has never had an editorial plan or calendar, never had a budget, never had an editorial meeting. Many of its editors have never met face to face. People write and post something when they feel that have something to say. For me, a non-musician who loves new music, it is a hobby that became something good. I am more surprised than anyone that it has enjoyed a certain kind of popularity, especially among composers (not much thanks to me). I would love it if somebody volunteered to take over the Twitter account and make it something “quite marvellous.” Send me a note if you’d like to be that person. sequenza21@gmail.com (And, if you really want to have a conversation with me, I’m pretty responsive on Google+ +Jerry Bowles which I find much, much easier to use and keep up with.)

  4. Amy says:

    +1 re Dan Johnson’s comment.

    The retweeting, the automation and the overwhelming repetitiveness are among the reasons* I soon stopped following @sequenza21 and a couple of other similar feeds I’d naively begun to follow. It was disappointing, because I actually expected more/better of a feed directly associated with a site and community such as this. However “delicately” you want to characterise them, they are no better than spam, and to that end I’d be in sympathy with Mr Muhly.

    *Other reasons would be an absence of actual original posts/commentary and never responding to followers’ “@ mentions”. Together all this amounts to a misuse of the twitter medium. And yes, I know, no one is obliged to follow these accounts (and I no longer do) so don’t jump on me. I still say it’s a great pity, since a real twitter account attached to this site could be something quite marvellous.

  5. kirkmc says:

    I find Muhly’s music to be trite and overrated. I review CDs for MusicWeb, and I had no qualms about saying:

    “This is classical music for those who don’t listen to classical music,” and I pointed out how it simply doesn’t grab me.

    http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2010/DEC10/Muhly_I-Drink_4782570.htm#ixzz1XXI9K4PT

    I think Muhly is highly overrated, but he’s in an arena where anyone that can get a bit of attention stands out.

  6. Jerry Bowles says:

    Well, I will confess to leaving the Nico download tweet up too long and I have greatly curtailed the use of automated tweets precisely because I am old and sometimes forget about them. I should have cut him off at about 10,000 views.

  7. Jerry, I don’t think it’s wrong for you to have an opinion about any artist. I barely know Muhly’s stuff (It’s “hl”, btw :)) myself, but do you think his appeal might be based on the fact that he also works with indie rock and pop acts too, and gets support from a crossover fanbase? That could be the explanation. That Swedish group’s track he had streaming on there (which he said he worked on, btw), is nice, but it doesn’t necessarily sound any heavier than music on an iPhone commercial, imho, but what was the whole spamming thing about?

  8. Dan Johnson says:

    I think much of the problem is the automated nature of the retweeting, so that you’ve got the same stories coming up over and over again in multiple feeds. In this case, that piece about Nico’s record is STILL being retweeted, with his name misspelled, after THREE MONTHS, even though the audio widget it’s advertising has long been removed. This is actually why I unfollowed the @sequenza21 Twitter—I wished that more care were taken with what was tweeted, rather than going with this scattershot, mechanical approach.

  9. I am absolutely no musicologist or critic. But what I see in Nico M-U-H-L-Y is that he is a great “front man” for the current New Music scene. He draws people in which allows exposure for other composers and musicians. A Metropolitan opera commission is not exactly chopped liver. He is successful, his Bedroom Community cohorts are successful.

    I do own several albums and I like them.

    If I would compare him to anyone, it would not be to a musician or composer, but to the physicist Brian Cox, O.B.E. of LHC and TV fame. He is also criticized, in his case for the expense of travel for the fantastic TV videos in the ‘Wonders of…” series. But Brian is the face, the “front man”of scientific research the world over.

    If nothing else, in that roll of “front man” they are peers.

    I keep tweeting them both that Nico should write the music for Brian’s next series.

  10. John Tavener says:

    Jerrier Bowels (see what I did there? Hint: it’s a French thing), I never said I was mad. I’m just jealous of Morty’s island.

  11. Jerry Bowles says:

    John T., you’re just mad because I didn’t mention you. Sorry for the Morten mispelling…I often err on the side of the Swedes. If I had a dime for every time I’ve gotten the Jerry Bowels treatment, I would be extremely wealthy. Most people do it as a legitimate mistake, though, but those who do it deliberately are generally considered very witty.

  12. John Tavener says:

    … Why add fuel to the flame? Do we really have to be sarcastic about it? Would you really want your name proliferated in such a way? E.g. “RT Listen to Jerry’s Bowels”. Oh, internet.

  13. Richard Hertz says:

    I dare you to be more passive-aggressive.

    By the way – at least I’ve heard of Nico through his music and collaborations with other musicians. The only time I have ever run across your name has been in the posts you have against him.

  14. Stephen Llewellyn says:

    I don’t know Mr Muhly’s music either but he seems a nice enough chap on Twitter and has a refreshing way of expression. Perhaps some of your readers could tell me what I should listen to in order to get a grasp on his musical accomplishments. Ny the way, it is Morten Lauridsen (with an e in his first name). But, never mind – he answers to ‘Skip’ and he is both a wonderful composer and a delightful man.

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