Building interest

As I wrote yesterday: There’s one thing that everyone should do. Look at who your fans are now, and find ways to bind them to you very tightly, and to increase their numbers.

(The photo– on the main blog page — isn’t my baby, by the way. You’ll find it at the end of this post, where it shows how one of my students loved one piece of music. And how she thought she might find an image to communicate that love.)

So — continuing from where my last post left off — how can you do this?

Well, you’re going to start with whatever fans you have now, even if it’s just a handful. Though for many people it’ll be more, maybe more fans than you realize you have.

So here’s the first question you’ll want to ask. Who are my fans? Ideally you’ll have a list of names. complete with email addresses. On this list are people who’ve come to performances involving you, and liked them. Or just people who’ve come. Or people who’ve expressed interest in other ways, maybe by telling you they’d like to come  or that they heard something good about your concerts.

If you make a list like this, you’ll know (mostly) who your hardcore fans are, who deeply loves you, vs. others who are merely curious, or interested. Or whom you don’t know well enough to classify.

And you may want — should want — to give the hardcore fans special attention. They’re the ones most likely to come to your performances, buy recordings, fund you, get their friends to be involved with you. (Special attention could mean more communication from you. Or a different kind of communication. More on this later.)

But there’s nothing wrong with also keeping one big list, and letting people on it sort themselves out. If you give them ways to be involved, their responses will often tell you who they are, responses ranging from “please take me off your list” to “I’d love to give a party for you, raise some money, have you play for some of my friends. They’re going to love you!”

Don’t forget your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and anyone else you know online, to whom talking about your music might feel appropriate.

But let me take a step backwards here, and say that to have the list I’m talking about, you have to get the names. And email addresses. You have to ask people at your performances to sign up for your list. If someone, in a conversation, sounds as if they’re interested, ask if you can have their name and contact info. Or at least if they’d like to take your card. Something!

You need to make and keep contact with individuals who like you. It takes work. And guts. You have to risk rejection. But if people like the music that you make, then of course they’ll want to be in touch with you! You must believe in that! Or else what’s the point? If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else believe in you? If you don’t think your music is worth hearing…

And here’s something else, something that might seem obvious. but needs to be said. If you want people to care about you, you have to do something that they care about. And they have to know that you do it. In the old way of building up an audience, this wasn’t your concern. You played or sang or wrote wonderful music, and then got performances through people or institutions that presented the kind of music that you did. They found your audience. Your manager and publicist helped with that.

But when you’re finding your audience yourself — which is what all this is all about — you need to sell yourself. Forgive the vulgar word (or a word that some people in the arts think is vulgar), but even classical musicians have to make themselves known. Have to give people reasons to be interested. Just playing the great classics won’t be enough. So many people play them!

So what makes you different? What makes you you? Mst likely it’s some combination of the music that you make, the way you make it, the way you talk about it, and the way that you present your performances, the way they look and feel.

Of course these things will vary, depending on who and what you are. A violinist — who (we hope) can control her solo concerts — will present herself differently from a composer, whose work might be heard on concerts with other people’s music. And differently from an operatic baritone, who appears in staged productions controlled by other people.

But still there’s some essence of yourself that you can talk about. Look at the first post I did in this series, about selling who you most deeply are — learning how to tell other people what’s in your deepest core, finding words and images to express that.

And I’ll continue with these thoughts next week.

An example: 

One of my Juilliard students, some years ago, told our class why she loved the Beethoven Op. 74 string quartet. This was an assignment I give all my students, in my course on the future of classical music. Choose a piece you love — preferably something you play or sing, or wrote — and tell why you love it, in a very personal way.

My student loved this music the way a mother loves her baby.

This student, a violist, said she’d been assigned to a string quartet one summer in Tanglewood, and told to play the Op. 74 quartet. The members of the quartet, she said, didn’t like each other, and especially didn’t like the first violinist. 

But when they rehearsed the slow movement, somehow the beauty of the music brought them all together. As well it might, if you feel it deeply enough. When this student told her story, I got goosebumps, and I think others in the class did, too. From some people, the story might have been too sentimental to believe. But not from this woman. 

The question we explored next was how to find a simple phrase — just a few words — or an image, something to catch the power of what this student had said. She suggested something showing someone cradling a baby. (An image, you can guess, that resonates deeply with me right now!) 

Whether or not that’s the answer, you can get from this at least an idea of how you yourself might proceed. Once you have your core story, your phrase, and your image, you can start to use all that when you communicate with your fans. 


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    For me there are two really important statements in this post: how you treat your close fans/supporters/friends and what is unique about you yourself?

    I have spoken to close friends on the telephone and the then two days later received a blanket email from them, the same email sent to close friends and just an email address they got from someone else. Is it too much effort to proceed it with “HI —, good to speak to you this week, thought you might be interested in this concert”?

    Everyone has something special about themselves, however I think musicians read other musicians’ publicity and take that as a template. My wife pointed out that the musicians’ biographies in programmes are so boring that it is difficult getting past the first sentence. Everything is included! For instance they will mention a performance in a major European concert hall and then a performance in the foyer of the local arts centre. We are not their biographers, we don’t need everything!

  2. says

    Great points, Greg! You are talking about the essence of a brand: the message about how you are unique and memorable to the target audience who needs you. Every musician needs to have a brand not only to stand out from the competition but also to create a compelling emotional connection with the audience so that the audience will show up and support their man or woman. A lot of musicians avoid thinking about who their target audience is on the theory that they have to convince EVERYONE to love classical music. That’s a huge, if not impossible task. How much easier to focus on the people with whom you resonate. How much more fulfilling and doable to identify the crowd with whom you most resonate ( or even to connect your audience with your mission (
    Once musicians start to think more strategically about their target audiences, they have a much easier time attracting the right people to their concerts because it feels right and it feels doable.