Beyond media

A friend of mine in the marketing game — in the performing arts, but not in classical music — got called into a meeting. “What’s your media strategy?” his bosses asked. And he tells me he answered: “What media?”

What he meant ought to be clear enough. Traditional media are fading. Newspapers are slipping away, and also covering the performing arts less, a decline that includes notable cuts in classical music coverage. Network TV has a shrinking audience. And, maybe most important, old media might not do very much for performing arts attendance. Asked how they decide what events they might want to go to, people now largely answer, “Word of mouth.” That’s especially true of younger people, but from one study I’ve seen, it’s true of older people, too, though not as strongly

That same study (a private one I don’t think I’m free to name) also shows people relying on user comments on websites. Newspapers rank very low. Just over 10% of people say that newspapers help them decide what to do at night, compared to more than 60% who cite word of mouth.

So what should marketers do? I know I’m not the first to address this question, but I’ll try to give some answers specific to classical music.

Obviously, marketers now have to address their audience — and their potential audience — directly. I asked my friend how he planned to do it, and he said, “Direct mail,” which I know has worked very well for him before, at other jobs. But then direct mail is also, in its own way, old media, and can seem very impersonal, compared to what’s possible online. Besides, we all know what we think of junk mail in our mailboxes, not to mention e-mail spam.

(What especially worked for my friend, on one occasion in the past, was direct mail to people who’d never been approached by the organization my friend worked for, one they would have heard of, but maybe thought they’d never have contact with. The response was surprisingly warm, but you can’t repeat the same surprise year after year.)

One classical music publicity firm has an answer, or so I’ve heard. They realize their traditional outlets are drying up So many newspapers now don’t cover classical music that, if you’re trying to publicize an American tour by one of your artists, placing stories in local papers — which is traditionally what classical music publicity firms have done — just isn’t much of a strategy.

So what has this company decided to do? Social networking. And that might really be the start of an answer. Social networking lets you contact people directly. You can develop a list of names of people who really do care about you (your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends). Because these people might talk about you to their online friends and followers, you start to go viral. You’re gettring word of mouth.

Or at least that possibility exists. But how do you cultivate it? How do you keep people interested, keep them talking about you? Here, I think, is where many classical music organizations — maybe most of them — don’t quite get it. They use social networking to send more or less the same messages they send to newspapers. They send, in effect, tiny press releases (on Twitter, really tiny ones). They’re giving a concert. They’re playing Rachmaninoff. Their soloist this weekend is really good. They’re selling cheap tickets. They’re having a contest.

All of which is fine — for people who already care what the institution does, know Rachmaninoff, and — in the case of the soloist — are credulous enough (sorry) to believe anything the institution tells them.

But social media don’t really work like that. What makes my Facebook and Twitter time worthwhile is that I make personal connections. People who might have been just names to me now get faces, profiles, tastes. I learn what books they read, how much they love birds, what they noticed on the street today, how frustrated they are (this is an oboist, of course) making reeds. And I find out what they care most deeply about in their work.

All of this can make me more interested in any performance they might give. It’s a familiar phenomenon — we all know, in classical music, how effective it is to have a composer get up before a performance to tell the audience about his or her work. It puts the audience on the composer’s side (assuming that the composer seems at all sympathetic). Now they want to like the piece. Social networking works like that, except that it’s online — and, best of all, you can keep doing it seven days a week, and even reach people who haven’t heard of you yet.

But you have to be personal. How do you do that? Probably in as many ways as there are people. On Twitter, for instance, the BBC Music Magazine (@BBCMusicMag) makes jokes about how messy some of the desks in its office are. Hilary Hahn (@violincase) sends out messages from her violin case (though she doesn’t do it often enough to make much effect). The Museum of Modern Art (@MusuemModernArt) talks about art, not just about its own shows, sometimes mentioning things happening in other places.

So that’s the challenge classical music now faces. The publicity firm that wants to embrace social networking — how many people do they have working on that? How many people are maintaining the Facebook and MySpace pages, and (I hope) the Twitter streams of all the firm’s clients? I’m guessing the staff is too small. To do the work well, they need, ideally, one person working full time on social networking for each client.

Does that sound extreme? I don’t think it is. Because, ideally, you need to do more than just be personal. You need to be responsive. You need to talk to your fans. You need to know who they are, where they live, what they like. So when your artist goes to Kansas City, you know who the fans in that area are, who came to performances before, who lives nearby, and who needs to travel a bit, so maybe needs more encouragement to come to the concert.

And maybe you can set up events beyond the performance. Visits to schools, visits with community people, private sessions (within reason) with music students. One publicist and I once thought a noted soloist might like to give short masterclasses to students on her instrument, when she went somewhere to play. These could be put on video, and circulated, thus making friends for the artist, and — very important in the dawning age of word of mouth marketing — creating buzz.

And yes, this is much more work for everyone, the artist included. But how else does anyone think they’re going to get people interested, in the emerging new era? Besides, the possibilities are tremendous, far beyond anything the old kind of media strategy ever offered. Which sounds better, getting an article about your artist in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (while it’s still in business), and hope people read it, or build up a lively list of people in the St. Louis area whom you know follow your artist?

And of course these people have something to talk about, when they talk about your artist, because they don’t just know that she’s coming into town to sing Schubert. They know what she feels about Schubert, which songs she loves most, which are the hardest to sing, and which passage, in particular, is the most difficult, the one that poses the strongest challenge when she’s out on stage singing? Not to mention which Schubert song strikes a particular chord with her personal life. And all the trouble she’s had this month, training her new puppy.

So the work pays off. And, increasingly, you’ll simply have to do it. One issue here is whether artists themselves do the work, writing their tweets, and answering messages from their fans on Facebook. Some artists like to do that. Others don’t. Really famous artists will find it impossible. They can’t possibly answer everyone. So then maybe an assistant does the work. But is that impersonal? Or else fake, if the assistant pretends online to be the artist?

These are serious questions, which we’ll all have to work out. For now, maybe what works is for the assistant (or maybe assistants, plural) to do much of the online communication, but in their own voices, showing their own personalities, speaking about and for the artist, but also for themselves. And then the artist shows up periodically, to say something direct from the source.

Enough for now. This is a challenge for the future. Are we up to it? Should music schools be teaching about it? Already they’re concerned that old-style career opportunities are shrinking, so musicians will now have to make their own careers. This — everything I’ve talked about here — is one way you do it.

And those who don’t catch on may end up like Kodak, which underestimated (to put it mildly) the impact of digital photography, and found itself elbowed aside by companies that understood.

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  1. says


    You make some excellent points/suggestions.

    My experience with and personal contacts gained through MLBlogs make me think that Major League Baseball–or perhaps sports in general–might be at least one model from which arts organizations could glean marketing ideas.

    Although I have had a blog through MLB for several years, I have watched how, over the past year, they have expanded the “Blogosphere” in numerous ways. A staff person is now employed–sort of as a paternal guide for this group of often inexperienced but enthusiastic writers. He “talks up” individual blogs through Twitter, the MLBlogs homepage, and has even begun weekly rankings based on page hits and contests as well.

    Just recently, it has become obvious that a concerted effort has been made to get ballplayers themselves to start blogging as well.

    Not only has MLB tapped into some heretofore hidden writing talent–media, the posts, it would seem, go a long way toward personalizing those athletes to their fans.

    Of course, MLB and other sports also have the entire auxiliary business of fantasy teams. Although they are separate from the business itself, because the players’ stats are used directly in the fantasy leagues, attention is still being drawn to the “product” itself.

    I think it might be kind of fun assembling a “fantasy orchestra”, comprised of my favorite instrumentalists from my favorite ensembles.

    Another sports tradition that has been going on for years that I’ve long thought arts organizations could tap into in some way is the “sports card” angle.

    My daughter–an avid opera buff–has created her own “opera cards” on her computer. She’s given them to some of her favorite singers and conductors who have been delighted. Often the recipients have wondered aloud why something like this couldn’t be sold in the MET Opera shop.

    Good thoughts, Susan. I think the classical music world should be trying everything it can think of. And, as you say, notice what others are doing, and try some of it ourselves. Such a simple thing — but how many classical music organizations actually do that?

  2. says

    Greg, you hit the nail on its head here.

    First, I thought your anecdote about the direct mail to people who’d never been approached was interesting. There are several orchestras who have studied “churn” in attendance by newcomers. The League has a presentation on it.

    Second, I can back up the word of mouth story with some real stats. When I was at the Chicago Symphony, Facebook started popping up as one of the lead referrers to And I assumed this wasn’t just from the fan page, but perhaps mostly from people updating their statuses, posting links on their profiles etc.

    After I left, Facebook started allowing fan pages’ updates to appear in their fans’ activity feeds. That is great news for organizations and can really inspire some great reactions/conversations.

    Search engines were also top referrers. And a good standing in search engines comes from links to your site (also a form of word of mouth).

    I had just started the Twitter account (which is now unfortunately sporadically updated) and was getting some real good “retweets” (a very pure, simple form of word of mouth). One particularly good bunch of retweets came when I linked to the Concertgebouw’s free downloads. Sure, it’s technically a competitor, but it’s priceless content for any classical music fan. Another good retweet stemmed from posting a free community concert (again, valuable content for fans).

    But the most fun tweets on Twitter were responses to fans’ questions, people’s reactions to concerts they had just seen etc. It’s almost a great informal focus group.

    With a sustained (and thought-out) Twitter campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter could also break into the top referrers to orchestras’ web sites.

    I think the LSO is doing an excellent job, especially in their mix of administrators and musicians providing content for their tweets.

    Lastly, here is an e-book I finished some weeks ago: Orchestras and New Media. A shameless plug, only because I think it touches on many of the same concepts you described above.

    Thanks, Marc. Terrific thoughts and info. I’ve known about your e-book for a while — you e-mailed me about it, right? And I’d heard of it elsewhere. I’d better read it! Glad to have my attention jogged. None of us should hesitate to promote our stuff (within reason).

  3. Maura says

    Spot on. Thanks for a great read & for articulating what’s been in my head for a while.

    Thanks, Maura. There’s a lot more to be said about this. I’ll follow up in a couple of days with a post about how to get things we do in social networking noticed. Not an irrelevant question — I was asked exactly that today over coffee with the head of a really good classical music organization.

  4. says

    Greg, as usual, you have a lot of wonderful things to say and I hope people read this and listen! We need to be more flexible and in touch with new ways to find fans to grow this thing we love.

    I agree with you 100%. I remember reading a piece in the Wash Post (you’re familiar with that rag, no? :) about a company based here in DC called New Media Strategies – they were talking about how to be one with the tweens in their social marketing world, and not get caught being a 35 year old mom. You can’t go into their chats or on their boards and “promote” something or ask a direct question about a product, you need to live in that world, be trusted and then find clever “tween-like” ways to find answers to your questions – who are they listening to, what type of gum do they chew, who makes their favorite jeans, etc…?

    This is merely to say, that you are on point when you talk about NOT creating mini press releases about your artists on twitter or FB but instead finding a new way to communicate about them.

    I was in the midst of almost landing a great NPR WeSun piece on a client of mine when it all fell through the cracks, but something cool happened the NPR producer sent out a tweet about the client and how much he really liked his music. When one door closes…

    Anyway, thanks Greg for calling people out – you are always there to provide an honest opinion and a well thought out one and I appreciate it.

    Amanda Sweet

    Thanks, Amanda. Great story about your client, and the tweet that took the place of a story.

    And good thoughts you passed on about entering the world of the people you’re trying to reach. In our case — in classical music — we don’t have to stretch ourselves to reach tweens. We’re trying to reach people in their thirties and forties, who differ from us only because they’re not part of our classical music culture. So why do we do so badly, most of the time, in entering their world? Or even remembering that we need to do that?

  5. Steve Birchall says

    Excellent ideas. The world has changed dramatically.

    I wish symphony orchestras would end the stuffy concert protocols and atmosphere. For example, stop wearing the penguin suits, which are a relic of the 19th century. People living in the 21st century just don’t relate to that. Broaden the repertoire beyond the same handful of warhorses written from Beethoven to Brahms and stop pretending that only dead European composers could write even what is lamely described as contemporary music.

    The notion that people come only to hear piano and violin concertos played by famous soloists must end. If they think the rest of the program is just “filler” they’ll respond accordingly. Orchestra managements are teaching their audiences that symphonic music is not important; only “star soloists” matter. Thus, they are destroying their own audiences, in much the same way the ballet companies have destroyed their audiences by teaching their audiences that “The Nutcracker” is the only worthwhile piece in the entire repertoire. Increasingly, I see several people in the audience go nuts over the “star soloist” and then leave because they’ve heard the only important part of the concert. How sad that management has failed to understand that the product they have to sell is music!

  6. says

    Exactly! I’m involved with a lot of new media, and we use these same principals when tweeting, blogging, etc.

    People don’t want news/press releases “shouting” at them, but rather personal interaction and a knowledgeable expert in the field. (I think you and Christopher O’Riley do a great job of this on Facebook and Twitter.)

    A non-musical example: Yesterday, I blogged about local bars/restaurants closing in Des Moines, and one of the bar owners left a comment on my post explaining why the bar closed. This is the sort of interaction we pray for!

  7. says

    Glad you touched on this matter. Of course, it is slowly becoming a method with which people of all walks of life connect. Rather than go into a sermon about why and how musical artists should be (not should, but could actually) cultivating and maintaining their friendships on Facebook (I don’t have Twitter–truly not enough time for both), here is an AP story which gives credence to your blog’s theme:

    If you follow the link, you’ll learn how Jeffrey himself got a gig, thanks to Facebook. Good to know.

  8. says


    Great analysis!

    You are spot on with the idea that artists and arts groups need to engage their audience and get personally connected with them.

    A group that I recently had the pleasure of performing with, The London Symphony, utilized their Twitter account the best I’ve seen any arts group. I made a comment on my Twitter page that I was about to do a rehearsal with the @londonsymphony conductor, Daniel Harding. The person working their twitter account not only ReTweeted my Tweet, but also sent me a personal message thanking me and saying they were looking forward to our performance. I maintained a back and forth with them for the remainder of the week leading up to the concert, and it only made me more excited to perform with them.

    Even though my situation is a little different as I was not necessarily an audience member, but a performer, the experience made me want to know what the LSO is doing in the future. The experience made me want to follow their updates even more than just any other orchestra.

    In addition to communicating with me, I noticed that they Retweeted many other peoples tweets related to them. They also posted pictures and videos of rehearsals periodically throughout the 17 days they were here performing in Florida.

    Bottom line: for those other symphony PR managers looking for how to best utilize their twitter and/or facebook profiles…look to the LSO.

    Thanks for sharing this, Zack. These online relationships develop in so many ways. I’ve gotten friendly with people at the London Symphony, too, thanks to Facebook and Twitter.

  9. says

    “And those who don’t catch on may end up like Kodak, which underestimated (to put it mildly) the impact of digital photography, and found itself elbowed aside by companies that understood.”

    I think that is a bit presumptuous. I know incredible artists with very healthy creative careers who will have nothing to do with Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace.

    That said I think this is a very relevant and helpful post. I’ve produced several concert events in Ohio, New Orleans, and here in NYC. I have a website, a blog, and a myspace page. But I don’t mistake them as tools that build solid creative collaborations. That comes from actually working face to face with another human being. At least, that’s how I get to work that is of quality I can live with.

    Maybe I’m speaking of a healthy conflict I have being both a composer and my own PR person?

    I am unclear as to how effective these tools are to promote oneself and get people to gigs. My own work crosses so many boundaries – some of it is prerecorded, some is improvised with film, I work with dancers, visual artists, etc, etc – it’s really hard to package it into a neet little tweet. My audiences seem to be as varied, and they are often there as a result of my sharing the stage with other unique artists.

    And what about the value of solitude? Of mystery? Of a hermetic period to nurture a work of art? I don’t compose in a store front window. And I will not share with you or anyone out there on the Internet the conversations I have with my musicians when we’re working out a piece of music.

    It is very possible that the reason the work we artists do is powerful is because it is created without being concerned with what other people are doing or thinking.


    Nobody ever said you have to use Facebook or Twitter. But if you ever hire a publicist, and he/she doesn’t use these tools, you picked the wrong person. Note also that I was talking about big mainstream publicity firms. If you’re working in a small enough world that you can have face to face contact with many or most of the people you need to reach, good for you.

    If you want to see someone who does profound work use Twitter to give us little tastes of it, follow @rfink1913. Robert Fink, a musicologist at UCLA. But of course you’re an artist, so you (or someone working with you) would do it differently.

  10. says

    My son is an avid sports fan and he claims that one of the best things to come along are the Major League baseball games broadcast over the Internet. It allows him to follow teams wherever he is for nominal monthly cost. Thing is, he still actually attends a game whenever he can, just a before.

    I wonder if something like that would work for concert music? The acoustics for a broadcast will likely not be up to actually sitting in the concert hall, but then that is part of the reason to go in the first place – just as going to a baseball game is an experience that is more than just watching the play on the field.

    Internet broadcasting could become another revenue stream – or given away to season subscribers – and I don’t think it would affect overall attendance much. It would also be a way to keep the organization in the front of people’s minds if they listen in on a regular basis.

    Good thought. The Metropolitan Opera has streamed performances over the Web, and they’re not alone. What gets tricky are some of the rights questions. Would the musicians in an orchestra allow every concert to be streamed?

    There have been video streams, as well. Some European institutions — Bayreuth, Verbier (if I’m remembering correctly) — have charged for this. I’m sure they’re not alone.

    Probably a subscription model would work best, following the sports analogy. For $9.99, I bought the MLB At Bat app for my iPhone. With it, I can stream the radio broadcasts of every major league game — from both teams’ broadcasters — right on my iPhone. In 1965 terms, it’s like having a little transistor radio that gets every game.

    To match that, each orchestra would have its own app. The purchase price would in effect be a subscription fee, and you could listen to streams of every concert the orchestra gives.

  11. says

    “If you’re working in a small enough world that you can have face to face contact with many or most of the people you need to reach, good for you.”

    Thanks! But aren’t you in this statement inadvertently referring to the majority of people who read this blog?

    We (artists) in the “small” world are encouraged by music writers, non-profit “advocacy” groups like the AMC, and ASCAP or BMI to model our creative lives as if we were in the business of selling breakfast cereal. I feel it is important for me to express just a wee bit of ambivalence regarding these tools (Facebook, twitter) that you describe. I think they may actually waste the time of a lot of creative folks who do want to take responsibility for promoting their work.

    Or, perhaps it still remains to be seen? Again, I use this stuff although I still don’t see the point of twittering.

    Many people who read this blog work for major mainstream classical music institutions, which reach (or try to reach) a really wide public. These people may not post comments, but I hear from them privately.
    And as an artist, Chris, you of course should do the things that speak from your heart. Actually, we all should do that. But even if a lot of marketing we see is full of empty glitz, we shouldn’t think it all has to be. It’s perfectly possible to market yourself with complete honesty to the people who’ll respond to you. I believe I do that for myself, at least in a small way.

  12. says

    I aree had both an Android based device, and I have an iPhone 3GS 16GB sitting on my desk now. The Present device that I am using, however is a 9630 that has been unlocked and is running on the AT&T network. I aree noticed that since I got my first BlackBerry, I keep returning to the platform, mainly because out of all of the smart phones that I aree had, it seems to manage to run longer on it’s battery than the others. My iPhone will die about half way through the day and I am not always in a position where I can charge it. I aree seen where others have said that the main reason for using the iPhone (or the Android based phones) is the full HTML web browser, not the mixed breed WAP/HTML browser on the BlackBerry; I aree only had a few sites that I aree tried to go to that didn’t work, but if Iam doing any ?browsing, it’s being done on a computer?While I also feel that Apple has the virtual keyboard right, I am both faster and more accurate with the thumb board on my 9630 than I am on the iPhone鈥?