How to do it

And so — resuming my October theme, of building our own audience — how, exactly, can we do it?

(Well, it’s November. But of course my schedule was upended by our lovely baby: here and here.] 

Let me start with some optimism. If you have any audience at all, you can make it bigger. If you believe in yourself, that is, and (of course) if other people want to hear your music. But don’t assume they won’t! You never know how big an audience you can have until you try to build one. And if you don’t believe that anyone wants to hear you, why are you playing music, singing, composing  presenting performances! Even if what you do appeals to just a few people, you can find a few more. And inflame their passion for what you do.

How can you network with your audience?

So if you’re a student, and four friends come to your recital, along with your teacher and your family, maybe you can get eight friends to come. Or get your friends to bring their friends

If you’re a composer, and you’ve sold 20 copies of your last CD (or 20 downloads), why can’t you sell 35?

But let’s aim higher! Why can’t at least a few Juilliard students find fans all over New York, so they can sell recordings, and get 200 people showing up when they give concerts? (George Nickson, who took my Classical Music in an Age of Pop course at Juilliard last spring, told me he got 400 people at his recital the year before, when he was in Boston, graduating from NEC.)

Why shouldn’t the young musicians in the Academy — Juilliard’s project with Carnegie Hall — have eager fans their own age, showing up when they give concerts?

And why shouldn’t at least a few alt-classical musicians — Maya Beiser, say — sell 10,000, 20,000, or even 50,000 copies of their tremendously appealing albums, crossing over from the art market (very limited) into the pop arena, without changing anything they do? (Bands that don’t sound all that different from these people are, I’m sure, already selling in those numbers.)

Crazy thinking? No. To me it’s crazy not to think this way.

So how do you start? More on that in posts to come. What you need to do depends on what your goals are. But 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 number.

[George Nickson, by the way, invited some bands to share the bill with him. And played with them. So you might think it was easy for him to fill the hall. The bands had fans of their own. Which is true, but he also promoted extensively. And he had to devise a program that would be coherent — not, for instance, some music by the bands, and then, unrelated, some classical pieces. I’ve seen that done, and it’s not convincing. Especially if you want to get some of the bands’ fans to come to your future events!

[Which then is another key point about blended classical-pop programming. For a classical musician, that might just be a first step. You might later want to do fully classical concerts, but draw in some of the pop fans that came to your blended event. Which might not be easy. And which tells us that blended pop-classical programming isn’t the simple no-brainer some people might think it is.]

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  1. says

    Your points are valid, and with the internet providing extra opportunities to build young audiences through fans, friends and colleagues of the younger musicians, they are able to reach a wider audience simply through networking online. Of course, I chime in with your last statement, because I’ve been doing the classical-pops programming since the middle 1980s. Many presenters who were working back then would remember my concerts of Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) and Liszt (Concerto #1), or Keith Emerson (Concerto #1) with Chopin (Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise). Now, I have added Neil Sedaka’s “Manhattan Intermezzo” to the mix and the Leroy Anderson Piano Concerto, which can pair with a shorter work (the Cesar Franck “Symphonic Variations” is a favorite, although I haven’t seen it pop up on recent symphony programs). These are just a few examples of blending styles, and there are many performers doing similar. You are correct, Greg, that it is not the simple no-brainer and can only work if you have conductors interested to attract both sides of their listening audience. Another aspect concerns the composer. If today’s composers write in a style which blends the two worlds, the new composition can be billed as such. [For one, as I have mentioned in previous comments, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is good at this, by adding a trap set and other interesting percussion instruments to the standard orchestral instrumentation.]

    Another angle in promoting a concert with a presenter, if it involves a new work, is to invite the composer to attend. It depends on the budget of the organization, but can add a remarkable energy to the event. Yes, Neil Sedaka has attended a performance of his new piano concerto, and Keith Emerson has (and will do so in the future) as well. This is, of course, the icing on the cake, as audiences have the opportunity to not only listen to symphonic music by these illustrious and celebrated musicians, but to have the chance to mingle with them. They cannot always attend, naturally, but it has been done.

    The examples above are only a few, and the young musicians of our time are very savvy and experienced with technology. One thought they might employ is to hook up their performances to an internet service and stream the event online, which might gain a wider audience for them over time. Or, perhaps the local radio station can record their performance and stream it at a later date. They might also search for local interest groups through the social network they are signed to. A simple posting of a performance at one of these local groups might attract ‘x’ number of new listeners to the event.

  2. Paul Lindemeyer says

    I can’t see Juilliard students building their own audiences. That kind of independence goes against the master tradition, and that kind of concern with worldly matters goes against the supposed total dedication to Art.

    If NEC is a different scene, and it evidently is, it might be because it has some distance from New York _and_ Carnegie Hall.

    • says

      Hi, Paul,

      I think many of the students would build their audiences, if they could. And would appreciate help in doing it. The school as a whole is just beginning to enter this territory. As are most music schools. The obstacle, I think, isn’t the physical Carnegie Hall, or closeness to it. It’s what I might call the Carnegie Hall within. And that we’ll find at most music schools, I think. NEC might be different because its president, Tony Woodcock, forcefully takes a new path. But I’m sure we can all name music schools far from New York that have just as much Carnegie Hall inside them as any NYC school might.