Something to talk about

As a comment to my “Getting around” post (though really to the piece about composers that I wrote for Peabody Magazine and spoke about in the post)), Xavier Losada wrote this:

I totally agree with you! We need to find our audience day after day.

That’s the real tough part of our journey as composers. We need to practice, we need to listen, we need to record, we need to criticize us, we need to a lot of stuff, but to find our audience! How should we eat that?

I believe in our music evolution (composer’s evolution) as a main part of the strategy, sounds like a long ride home but I think it’s the most enduring one. We need to use facebook, twitter, buzz, a blog, torrents, the whole web, but in the meantime we need to evolve so when someone glance at us we are appealing enough to keep listening.

So thanks, Xavier, for your agreement. And I want to focus on one thing you said:

We need to use facebook, twitter, buzz, a blog, torrents, the whole web.

Yes! If composers are going to find their own audience, this is how they do it. But how do they use all these tools? How does anyone use them? The answer isn’t obvious. Big institutions seem especially baffled (though the London Symphony is an exception). They seem to feel that before they can jump into social media, they have to understand how to use them, and make them part of a larger strategy.

The truth, though, is that they’ll never learn about social media and never understand a larger strategy unless they jump in first! The changes social media have brought are so radical, that an understanding of those changes ought to change — maybe drastically change — your institutional strategy. So jump in now, preferably under the guidance of someone in their 20s. And see where it leads you.

But back to composers, and other individuals and small institutions. What do you actually do?

This is a discussion I’d love to feature here. I’ll try to start. People sometimes come to me — I’m thinking, for instance, of a publicist for a chamber music series somewhere in the midwest, and also of a publicist for an opera company — and they’ll say, “We’ve taken a step forward. We’ve put a video on our website.”

We should be gentle about how late this step might be. Videos on websites aren’t anything new. But everyone moves at their own pace. What matters more is something simpler: How will you get people to go to your site to look at the video? It’s fine if you only mean to appeal to people who go to the site already, but the minute you think that new media might help you reach a new audience, then you have to ask this question. How do you get people to the site?

Here’s the start of an answer. First, you have to keep putting videos and other kinds of sticky new content on your site. It takes a while for interest to build. And people won’t come back to your site if you’re not constantly putting new things on it.

So you can’t stop with one video. Even if no one looks at it! You have to persist.

Second, you have to interact with the people you want to attract. If you’re not talking with them, why will they pay attention to you? And you should involve them directly. So consider this as one possibility. If you’re going to put videos on your site, don’t make them yourself. Get your audience to make them, or else people you wish were in your audience. Have a social media day — invite bloggers, and not just bloggers, invite everyone, to do video interviews with people involved in your performances. Then put them on your website, even if they’re clearly not professional.

Why? First, because you’re showing that people are interested in what you do. Second, because putting these videos on your site will be news in itself, and will incite others to pay attention, especially if bloggers, tweeters, and even the old media start to talk about what you’ve done.

But the third reason is the most important. The people whose videos you put up on your site will spread the word themselves. They’ll blog that they’re on your site, they’ll tweet about it, and they’ll attract others. This is one way that viral marketing works. Don’t think you have to be the only one talking about what you do, you, and maybe a newspaper article, if you’re lucky enough to get one.
Get other people to spread the word. That’ll bring you far more attention than anything you do on your own.

You could also — as the BBC Proms did last summer, thanks to my friend Peter Gregson — do video interviews with people in your audience. Or with the people who come to your new media day, and make videos involving your artists. These will certainly get blogged and tweeted, and otherwise virally spread. Who’s not going to tell their friends, fans, family, and networks that they’re up on a website, in living color? (Well, at least if it’s a big institution’s website. This strategy will have to be tweaked for individuals and small institutions. And I should thank Peter, by the way, for giving me many of the ideas I’m spreading here.)

Next: stage promotional events to call attention to what you’re doing online. This is a crucial interface between online life and physical life. Do something notable. Give a piano concert in a storefront. Play your tuba in the street. Stage a guerrilla chamber music show. Think up better ideas than these, and act on them! And don’t do just one thing. The same principle applies here, as applies online. Doing something once might not get you noticed, but doing it repeatedly gives you a chance to build interest.

I’ll stop here. This is a start. Consider this yet another solutions post, and tell me your own stories. What have you done, to get people paying attention to your work? What ideas do you have?

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  1. a curious reader says

    i’ve got to say this. when an artist or institution makes say, a facebook page or twitter account, the worst thing that they can do is use it as a new way to send out a press releases. I hate nothing more than to log onto facebook and see “Orchestra XYZ’s new press release, read more here!”

    actually, here’s a real life one that was just published a few min ago from the Chicago Symphony. Here’s what it says:

    Chicago Symphony Orchestra Tune in to tomorrow’s Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast and hear CSO Music Director Designate Riccardo Muti conduct his highly-acclaimed Met debut, Verdi’s Attila. Chicagoans can hear the performance at noon on WFMT 98.7 FM. Check local listings for the date and time for your area. This is the only scheduled broadcast of this thrilling performance, and it’s not to be missed!

    after is an attached link to a review of their last performance.

    Is there anything wrong with this? Yes, and no imo. 1- it’s longer than the facebook status update allows me to see without having to click “view more” (which hardly anybody is going to do). 2- it just seems incredibly impersonal and doesnt interest me in the least bit. when i click on their facebook page i see several updates incredibly similar..another reads “Tomorrow, February 25, at 1:30pm CST, Music Director Designate Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association President Deborah F. Rutter will be announcing our 2010/11 season! This special event will be streamed LIVE from, or you can watch at the attached link.” once again, not bad, but it still reads like a press release. 3- Id love to listen, but im in georgia and im not real sure how im going to be able to hear it, unless this radio station in chicago has a web stream (which it does, but i had to google the site to find it, a link would have been awesome!).

    so, imo — those are pretty good examples of what is not as effective. For some good examples, the LSO is a head above everything else imo. Some of their updates read: “Rehearsing with John Adams for his Doctor Atomic Symphony on Sunday night. If there’s something you’d like to Ask Adams, click on that tab above (on our page!) and leave a message, then watch on Sunday at 1pm GMT.”

    this works. it’s personal, invites me to do something interactive and interesting, and gets the event across easily without sounding like a press release.

    another, “Music style gear change! Rehearsing this morning for Nitin Sawhney’s new score to a 1933 Japanese silent film; and this evening for James MacMillan’s St John Passion. Two living composers in one day though – not bad!”

    one of my favorite composers is Eric Whitacre, and he has a great blog up at and i think he does it right as well. It’s not just a personal press release venue, but he posts anything that is on his mind. It makes people interested, and he usually has some really good discussions on the blog.

    One of the things I’ve been telling my mom lately is to not be afraid of technology, you’re not going to break it, just experiment with it. She finally gave it a try and made a movie on windows movie maker. i think that applies to what we’re talking about here as well. Just TRY it.

  2. says

    man, I so agree with you, Curious Reader. Although, I do think the youtube/facebook link is brilliant. I blow by all the press releases posted on facebook but I will click on interesting looking youtube embedded stuff.

    I’m a dinosaur, and if even I can manage to learn to use an edirol recorder and windodows movie maker to regularly post youtube vids which automatically shoot over to FaceBook, anyone can. I always add a cute line at the bottom of the youtube description to get them to my website and most important, like you said about Whitaker, post what’s on your/my mind. don’t be a wimp about it, and know your stuff. shoot from the heart/hip. We are first and foremost in the entertainment business.

  3. says

    The number one thing that “composers” or music creators miss is that you need to have recorded music to get anywhere these days. With home recording having become as cheap as it is, there’s just no excuse not to be on top of the recording trend.

    Even better is to have a website and own your own domain name as a composer. If the musically horrific Ke$ha has her own website, every composer in his own right should immediately build a personal web shrine if only as an attempt to outnumber her.

    Also, there is this tendency among composers to take ourselves and our music WAY too seriously. Classical music is dying/dead because composers relegate themselves to audiences that consist of their friends, families, and fellow university students. Where’s the creativity? The spunk? If Lady Gaga is more fun and takes more risks with her image than you do, you should well expect her music to reach more people, even if it is “inferior” to your own.

  4. says

    Good points from Greg and the responders. For me, Facebook has proven to be a wonderful way to get the ‘news’ out and connect on a daily and sometimes minute-to-minute basis. For soloists and chamber groups (my new Trio21 included), getting new works composed for you is a wonderful thing. It takes tremendous labor to raise the composer’s fee, but it is well wroth the time and effort. And, it will distinguish you and/or your ensemble, and you have helped add to the repertoire. Overall, word-of-mouth is the key that opens many doors.

  5. says

    The amazing thing about all the tools listed above is that they’re **free** (or, in the case of promotional videos or new websites, can be done on the cheap) and completely in the artist’s or the presenters’ hands. It’s an amazing amount of control that we all have now: there’s no worrying about pitching and securing the feature, about being quoted correctly, about whether the piece will run in time to promote the big show. I realize that, being a publicist, it’s not in my best interest to say this, but I can’t think of a better time to be self-promoting.

    Nobly — and self-effacingly — said. Very important, too.

    Though I’d also say that this is a terrific time to hire a publicist, because she’ll (to use Amanda’s gender) know how to use these tools, which might be free, but are also time-consuming. Plus, to state the obvious, not everyone will know how to use them. So, yes, you can do it all yourself, but with opportunities exploding, it’s also a great time to get some strategic help.

  6. says

    Thanks Greg for consider my comment. That’s a great example of what you are trying to say in this post.

    I try to involve new and more people in my creative process so they can own and sell part of the story. Designers, editors, writers, painters, etc.

    My first two CD’s “Escritorio” and “acantilado” were overwhelmed with my name in almost every activity: design, mixing, recording, almost everything. Now, I don’t design, I don’t do final mix, I’m asking people to write about my next work and I’m asking the designer to quote them on it.

    My point is that we should do it on web, yes. But we can do it from the start of the composition process too. Get inspiration on a living writer and tell him about it. Look for a painter that transform your work into colors and do the same for him.

    On my last show I used a looper and asked the whole audience to play a note on the piano so I can start an improvisation over their music…

    I don’t know the real impact of it but I believe it’s going to be a nicer one than continue by myself without involving anyone. I believe those people involved in the process are the strongest part of your audience and the strongest replicators too.

    Wonderful! Thanks so much. Such good things to be doing. I’m happy to know about them.