Laura and the Koreans

(Another of my occasional posts about classical music publicity and promotion. It’s so often done badly, with flyers, posters, and press releases that don’t say a thing. How can we do it better?)

I don’t know Laura Seay. But I admire her a lot. She’s a viola student at Juilliard, and gave a recital a month or so ago, joined by three other musicians, all Korean or Korean-American. (Not hard to do at Juilliard, with its heavy Asian enrollment.)

And so she put up flyers for the concert, advertising the show as “Laura and the Koreans.” As if they were a band! There weren’t any other words. But there were pictures. The first poster I saw had, very simply, a fork and three pairs of chopsticks. The next had a photo of Laura holding chopsticks, and the Koreans holding forks. There were more posters, though I’ve forgotten what they showed. But I think this was a triumph. I know that advertising isn’t really needed for a Juilliard recital. Your friends will come, your family will come, a scattering of people from the neighborhood will come (attracted by the free admission). But some students do promotion anyway, sometimes tongue in cheek, and this was the best I’ve seen.

Why? Because it made me want to hear the concert. Laura Seay is clearly smart, fun, and imaginative. Maybe she plays as well as she advertises! Or maybe she doesn’t, but at least I know she’s got some spunk. And what do I know about other Juilliard students, who have barebones flyers, or scholarly ones? Nothing at all. So Laura wins.

Boring footnote: Of course she violated classical music rule 31-B, which says: “The music is what matters, not the performers.” And she also broke rule 6-J: “You have to be serious.”

Believe me, I’m horrified.

By chance, next to one of her posters was another one, which obeyed rule 31-B. It listed (if I remember correctly) the composers the student was going to play, with one highlight in big type: “Including the Kägelstadt Trio!!” Or words to that effect. (And maybe there were more exclamation points.) !! violates the serious rule, I guess, but at least the flyer focused on the music.

But who really cares? (With apologies to the student, who might be well worth hearing.) The Kägelstadt Trio is a Mozart piece for the dusky sound of viola, clarinet, and piano, and sure, you might not run into it every day. But were you dying to run out and hear it right now? I didn’t think so. (And since the flyer didn’t explain what it was, only people who already know the piece would have been likely to respond.) And not many people, surely, care enough about that piece to justify the exclamation points?

But people always care about brains, imagination, and a good sense of fun, no matter what music you play.

(Assignment for anyone who still disapproves: Design a poster that obeys the rules, and still draw people to the concert. Then send it to me. I’m serious. I’d love to see a poster like that.)

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  1. says

    What? You loved the poster but you still didn’t go to the concert? So the poster still failed, at least with you.

    How many more people did go because of the poster? There are lots of commercials that are clever, but do you buy the product? Or is the poster/commercial the point in itself?


    I was out of town, and couldn’t go. I should have said that.

    Though as I did say, concert flyers at Juilliard may not be seriously meant to attract a crowd. There are student recitals just about every day, and who’s going to go to any one of them is pretty much a given. I doubt many people at Juilliard even have the time to go to a student concert, just because a flyer seems promising. We’re talking about students who might be rehearsing 11 hours a day (in one case I know).

    As for whether a flyer like this, in a different situation, would attract anyone, we don’t know. That’s why serious marketers do surveys and focus groups. And because the classical music business, generally speaking, doesn’t use these tools, we also don’t know whether traditional classical advertising attracts anyone. And especially whether it attracts anyone outside the existing core audience.

    My point was a little different. I simply said that this poster at least gave people a reason to think the concert might be worth going to. As opposed to (at the very least) most of the other concert advertising at Juilliard, which doesn’t do that.

  2. Andrew says

    i liked the idea, generally, but I also get annoyed when concert posters and listings don’t tell me what’s being played. Not because of some vague rule or anything, but because I want to know, dammit! Makes a huge difference w.r.t how likely I am to go….

    Yep, this is a big question. People who know classical music want to know what’s being played. That’s why the typical classical music advertisement — certainly from major orchestras over the past 30 years or so — just lists the repertoire and the names of the conductor and soloists. They’re aiming those ads at people who are already members of the club. Fifty years ago, the Metropolitan Opera had ads in the NY Times that were nothing but a listing in fine print of the operas being put on that week, and the last names (only the last names) of the singers in the cast. They didn’t have to worry about selling tickets, and they knew that was all the information operagoers needed.

    Now we’re in a different era, and have to find ways to interest people who don’t normally go. Around Juilliard, with numerous concerts each day, anything that makes you stick out from the pack is a plus. Very few people are going to concerts because some particular piece is being played.

    But of course there are ways to list the pieces and also do something striking and cool. We’ll probably see a lot of that in the future.

  3. says

    My first-year seminar class at DePauw was given the assignment to create an event that would bring non-music students in to a concert in which they would hear SOME clasical music. They actually did informal market research and came up with a creative format and some great-looking posters. and then scroll down to Dec. 8 to see them and read about their project.

    Meanwhile, it’s very true that marketing for a traditional “classical” audience is different than marketing for an non-traditional audience.

    Follow Eric’s link. It’s good stuff.

  4. Andrew says

    You might like the ads that the Toronto Symphony has made for their tsoundcheck program ($12 tickets for any concert for those between 15 and 29). One of them features a rather dour-looking photo of a rather dour-looking composer (I think it was Mahler), with the caption “12$ for symphony tickets? I could almost smile”. (or something like that)

    Thanks, Andrew. Those ads sound like fun, and I’ve certainly seen others that do the same sort of thing. Laura Seay isn’t alone.

    One thing that makes me smile, though, is that concert tickets in Mahler’s time may well have cost a lot less (adjusted for inflation) than they do now. There’s been a huge price increase (again adjusted for inflation) in the past 20 years.