“Accessible to All”

So an ad for a new Dublin-based music festival called MusicTown[1] popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday. Here’s some of their advertising copy:

The symphonic sounds of the city will reverberate in a celebration of the Capital’s music and music-makers this April in the inaugural ten day MusicTown festival. Tapping into our lyrical, musical and storytelling culture, this eclectic programme, brought to you by Dublin City Council, will host over 50 musical events for all ages and all tastes in a diverse, entertaining and compelling production inspired by the Capital’s musical heritage and vibrant music scene. Everything from Handel’s Messiah to Public Enemy’s Hank Shocklee and all the genres in between will feature in a packed programme that makes the music of Dublin accessible to all.

I can’t think of anything more condescending than the phrase “accessible to all.” Who wants to go to a gig with “accessible” music? Who wants to be a member of “all”? Things that are for everybody are, by necessity, of broad, simple appeal: to appeal to everybody in general, you can’t appeal to anybody in particular. The phrase “accessible to all” implies music that’s been watered down and made friendly and easy. That’s not what any festival-goer wants. The phrase’s inclusion is a blatant attempt to avoid scaring off “regular” listeners. Instead it scares off the people who would enjoy it most.

Accessible to all means interesting to none.

The festival programme itself is all over the place, but it has some pretty good stuff. The failure is one of marketing: the opening copy, full of bland adjectives, clichés, and pandering, shows that Dublin City Council hasn’t thought about who the audience might be. The music that’s being performed—whether it’s hip hop or contemporary classical—is highly specific to its audiences, and while it’s certainly true that those audiences could and should grow, that’s not likely to happen by drawing in a host of the half-interested.

It’s sad that, when this festival is over, and the organisers wonder why it wasn’t that successful, they’ll decide that it was because people aren’t interested in contemporary music. And they’ll be wrong. Plenty of people are, but they want to be taken seriously. No matter how good the music, loyal fans won’t come if it looks bad.

A music festival that takes over Dublin for ten days is great news, but the marketing message needs to be “Come to the festival,[2] because we have something for you,” not “We’ll make contemporary music simple enough for everybody.”

  1. They really called it MusicTown. How long was that meeting?  ↩
  2. I’m not writing the name again.  ↩