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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On Crossing Barriers and Finding Escapes

Reflecting on ten years of Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The office.
Tonight, Monday night. I was walking across Lincoln Center Plaza on route to the Metropolitan Opera to go see second performance of The Exterminating Angel, the new opera by Thomas Àdes.
This is the story of a group of wealthy individuals who find themselves trapped in a particular living space after a very strange dinner party. It got me thinking about the original purpose of this blog and how Superconductor started at now however ten years into existence where the blog maybe going.

It’s no secret that right now social media isn’t easy. The lot of the small, independent publisher (such as your humble servant) has been made more difficult by certain politicians. They scream that perfectly legitimate publications (such as this one) are “fake news”. Thus, establishing the legitimacy of Superconductor (and myself) as a reliable source of classical music information has been my goal. With that in mind, I've been asking myself: "Why did I embark on that goal in the first place."

As a great man once said: "Because I can't sing or dance."

Ten years ago my life was at a crossroads, I had some steady freelance writing work but was mostly occupied with  the settlement of the estate of my mother. Writing the blog was a welcome and necessary distraction, an entertainment for myself, and a means to perhaps justify the subscriptions to the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera that I had gifted myself in an effort to assuage my grief and shock. Also I simply had missed writing criticism.

I had a background in this. Admittedly, early attempts were awkward things of my twenties, written (sometimes in great haste) for the early online city guide, where  I was lucky to find myself in a position of associate editor. Over five years, I found my voice. I developed a fast-paced and breezy style partly because I was responsible for writing classical music content right alongside sports stories and feature articles. In those bold Silicon Alley days, it was shake n' bake: you had to be quick and accurate. I think we produced some really fine examples of online journalism, most of which were lost when the site underwent a conversion to so-called "user driven content" sometime in 2001. Most of the writers and editors, myself included, got shitcanned.

Superconductor started as an echo of the section pages that I maintained at Citysearch. Both the style and format are similar (as is the word count of the average review). If I may, I think the writing has gotten a bit better, especially as the blog has progressed. It’s always awkward to go back and read your own stuff (honestly I don't do it much) but sometimes it’s healthy. Sometimes I find myself astonished at what I’ve accomplished.

It was in the winter of 2010 that I made a resolution to try to take this blog seriously. I started writing almost every day. I began slowly, asking for press tickets using first my contacts with smaller opera companies like Gotham Chamber Opera (R.I.P.) and Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble.  I eventually progressed to the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. However the Metropolitan Opera (where I subscribed until Peter Gelb tripled my ticket prices) remained (and continues to be) stubborn about press tickets. In fact they are the only house I deal with at all that does not give this blog comps in order to do its job. (They get reviewed anyway.)

Starting in 2011, I started taking Superconductor "on the road." At the time, I could afford Amtrak and I visited Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland and Chicago, going to operas or symphonies in many of those wonderful cities. Fact is, I ran myself absolutely ragged and worked my fundament off but I had started building the blogs reputation and name. My writing also got better as I went from writing 26 posts in the year to writing over 300 on average. Like any muscle, writing gets better the more you do it.

In 2012 two things happened. Without really thinking about it I publish a story called "Mahler Interrupted" chronicling a memorable incident involving an errant iPhone well...interrupting a performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 9 at the New York Philharmonic. The offending gadget drew the ire of that music director Alan Gilbert, and the rest is history. That piece was the first of this blog to "go viral", attracting the kind of numbers I'd never seen before (or since.) It also led to this blog becoming a business: I sold my first ad six months later. (And yes, that is a part of the business that I continue to manage myself.) There of been more advertisers and regular advertisers in recent years. I want them to all know that I am most grateful for their support.

As I said at the start of this piece, 2017 is its own set of challenges. Google has changed the algorithm by which calculates stats (that is, readership) for blogs like this. The numbers did take a hit, a fact that depressed me and made it harder to motivate myself to write. However, a recent frenzy of blog activity in the last two months have had good results. Superconductor is once again posting healthy numbers: not the astronomical levels of January 2012 but a definite upward swing. There is reason to be optimistic, and reason to keep going as long as there continues to be support. 

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats