A few months ago, I wrote a blog titled “The Future of American Orchestras.” The post was in response to some comments on Tony Woodcock‘s blog post (“American Orchestras: Yes, it’s a crisis (part IV)“) that really irked me. One of the points I made was in regards to a comment about the control musicians have over the orchestra. I talked about how, if musicians feel they have very little control over anything in an orchestra, should force the issue by volunteering to help with development efforts, going into the community to help sell tickets to an upcoming performance, or going to schools to talk with students about what they’ll be hearing on Friday night or what they heard this past weekend? As I see it, “There are so many ways to give yourself more control; it just requires giving of yourself as well as expecting compensation.”
I was happy to come across a new blog post in the ArtsJournal free weekly newsletter this past week that talks about doing just this — taking control of one’s own classical music career. Written by Greg Sandow and titled “Who’s your audience,” this great post lays out a framework for changing “how it usually works in classical music: You (a soloist or member of an ensemble) don’t have direct contact with the people who come to hear you. The groups that present you find your audience.” Instead, Mr. Sandow suggests, classical musicians need to “find — and build — your audience yourself. Or play a big part in doing that. Then you’ll have an audience that’s really your audience — fans who’ll reliably come to your concerts, donate money, and buy your recordings.”
I love it.
For years, I’ve been annoyed by the thought process that “If I win competitions, I’ll get solo gigs and audiences will pay to hear me play.” Well, sure, winning competitions will help; however, it’s not enough. Unless you’re Itzhak Perlman, Josh Bell, Hilary Hahn, etc (yes, I’m a violinist), just being an outstanding musician isn’t enough. In fact, even for those musicians, simply being a ridiculously great musician isn’t enough:
Itzhak Perlman has appeared in countless publicity stunts throughout his career, including spots on TV shows such as Sesame Street.
Hilary Hahn has a YouTube page where she keeps in contact with her fans through fun videos such as her interview with a fish.
But back to the point of this post: It is not enough to be just an amazing musician or to play amazing music. To really succeed, to really “make it,” classical musicians, rock bands, jazz artists, R&B crooners—all artists—must take their careers into their own hands. And that means playing a primary role in building one’s own fan base. Mr. Sandow is right:
Something to think about. Classical musicians, ensembles, composers, orchestras, opera companies — we have audiences. A nice, anonymous word. But out in the pop world, bands have fans. Who take a much more active interest in the music they love than our audiences do.
Look on FaceBook, look on Twitter, look on YouTube. The most popular artists out today (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum) all have direct social media interaction with their fans, and it works. Compare that to most classical musicians/groups, even theatrical performance groups, and the contrast is striking. One “crossover” group that is doing, IMHO, an amazing job of connecting with their fans is Straight No Chaser. In addition to interactive Twitter sessions, YouTube videos, the most innovative (and coolest) thing is that they take pictures from the stage at each of their performances, post them to their FaceBook page, and then ask their fans to come tag themselves in the pictures. Talk about connecting personally with your audience and turning them into fans!!
In the end, classical musicians, theatrical performers, and visual artists all need to take responsibility for their careers, and being directly involved in building their fan bases is a great way to start. Mr. Sandow, please close out my post the same way you closed out your own post:
“This is a lot of work. I won’t deny that. But it pays off. You’ll have your fans, and — if they’re really your fans — they’ll follow you anywhere. And tell their own friends, family, colleagues, and online networks about you.”