Since last November Sinfini has been trying to establish itself as a brand in classical music. Despite the loss of the ex boss of Classic FM magazine (itself extinct like the dinosaurs) John Evans, who quit to join the Sunday Times’ new online motoring project titled Driving.
The general manager of Sinfini Tina Poyser gave some great voxpops at the time of launch:
‘It will be completely editorially independent but funded by Universal,’
‘Our key target audience is newcomers to classical music – we are not targeting the expert market – and a slightly younger demographic than the typical classical demographic…extensive use would be made of animation to attract viewers, and other ‘tools’ would gradually be introduced.’
(quotes gleaned from Classical Music Magazine)
One of the most dire aspects of the site as launched where the Shrigleyesque portrait caricatures of composers and even the previous editor’s portrait (see below) did not escape that fate. They initially were all over the place but since have prudently been buried a few clicks away. Making it both an expensive mistake by Universal’s PR people and an indicator that they fundamentally misunderstood their audience.
It seems the launch of the site was part of the strategy of the new boss of Universal to popularise the experience and ‘join the digital revolution’…or in plain English to add a bit of rock’n’roll gleam to in his view lacklustre presentation of classical music. He has made similar statements since, whenever a microphone is available in the vicinity. Giving the distinct impression that he doesn’t appreciate the fundamental differences between classical/opera and the pop world and why the differences serve the experience better. But then a record company boss that is out of touch with his customers and their needs is not quite a new phenomenon. The article was published in The Independent in January
Another way they tried to subvert criticism of their funding model or the way the present themselves was to invite Norman Lebrecht, Opera Chic and Chris Gillett to write for them (presumably for no fee). By adding their names to the roster, in the process obviously silencing them if they had any misgivings about the ownership particulars or content (their domain is indeed owned by the record company and registered by the mega lawyer and financial services firm CSC). In essence giving the impression that their site is hosting bona fide blogs without an agenda. They seem to be happy to balance the expensive design of the site paid by record company hard cash, accompanied by professional videos and then to invite pre-existing bloggers to add a veneer of blogging credibility.
Most importantly the funding status or for that any mention to Universal has been removed from the About section on the site. A new visitor to it would possibly mistake it for an independent voice “cutting through classical” but I am afraid that fig leaf can’t quite hide the fact that Universal bankroll them at the tune of millions. Being uncritical and accepting of Sinfini is not an option as it erodes the blogging landscape and will eventually drown the genuine, independent voices. See the graphic below for a comparison of blurb pre and post-launch.
When challenged on Twitter both Messers Lebrecht and Gillett thought the ownership of the site did not pose a fundamental fault over its much vaunted independence. Conveniently they have both blocked me since we had the exchanges.
We can’t oversee the ownership status of the site and its funding basis when it can potentially be there to push merchandise for a company that near enough is monopolising the field of classical record labels. After the recent acquisition of EMI/Virgin they have also Decca, DG, ECM, Verve and Philips/Universal. Having the crack dealer in charge of an anti drugs website would seem contradictory, we need to challenge Sinfini on why it deems it acceptable to have a record company funding it in a non transparent manner and without the slightest declaration.
A feature on the advertising for Sinfini on the Creative Review magazine is less shy about the ownership of the site clearly quoting:
Owned by Universal, Sinfini describes itself as a site where readers can explore classical music whether they are “new to the genre or already something of an expert”. As well as articles, reviews and downloads, the site provides glossaries, timelines and guides explaining instruments, musical styles and the history of classical.
I am making a stand because there should be a firewall between musical criticism/appreciation and the source of the music biz’s mindless PR…the record companies. Until Sinfini comes clean and drops the over-familiar nonsense about being put together by music fans and becomes more transparent about its ownership status and funding base, it should be treated as a merchant selling goods on the sly, burning money that a record company has put aside as PR spend. In my eyes it is a blatant experiment in perverting and subverting the well established blogging community in order to sell more merchandise and to perpetuate PR as matter of fact.
For further entertainment value don’t miss out on reading the blog post by Norman Lebrecht on the launch back in November it is unintentionally hilarious and the comments below the line are an absolute hoot!
Also I would recommend two polemical articles on the Blog On an Overgrown Path which are challenging Sinfini’s self promotion, content and marketing links and strategy with the Universal mothership.
PS For those that find the above a personal attack on individuals, I will reiterate that my main concern is the dishonesty of this particular site. When papers like The Independent on Sunday stop arts coverage and fire their critics websites become even more important for dissemination of news, reviews and listening suggestions. Thus allowing Universal to be unquestioned on the subject seems like a very silly idea.