This is an exciting week on Life’s a Pitch. We’re hosting a virtual panel on when and how artists, managers, journalists, presenters and publicists single out musicians for being “special” in their promotion and career-building efforts. I’ll be joined by a musician, pianist Jonathan Biss; a manager, James Egelhofer at IMG Artists; a critic, Matthew Guerrieri, who blogs at Soho the Dog and writes for the Boston Globe; and a presenter, Michael Kondziolka at University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And in case you really haven’t been paying attention, I’m a freelance classical music publicist.
Tomorrow, these four people will respond to the statement below. From there, we’ll all react to each other’s posts and reader comments. Each post will be tagged with “#specialblog” so the conversation can be followed.
Many thanks to Doug McLennan for pimping my blog with slammin’ new sidebars and advising us on how to keep this coherent.
Don’t forget to COMMENT.
Update 1/24/10: The virtual panel is now complete. To access the full discussion, go to http://www.artsjournal.com/lifesapitch/prdebate/.
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In pitching media coverage for my clients and projects, I’m often asked what the “hook” is. Having only been a freelance publicist for two and a half years, I don’t remember a time when an acceptable answer to this question was “because he or she is coming to your town.” With traditional journalism outlets shrinking, publicists have to be more creative with the stories they tell. Is there a piece that can be placed in a different section of the newspaper or website? On what topics can this artist speak that others cannot? On what topics do many artists speak but this one stands out? Is there a local tie to this community? What has happened/is happening in a client’s life that he or she can bring to a feature, that will help readers and hopefully future listeners understand his or her artistic perspective?
I’d like to be able to say that I take on clients just because they are excellent musicians. I don’t. I like working with people who are interesting in a world beyond music, who are smart, who are likeable. Frankly, this makes my day-to-day life better and my job easier. Would I work for an artist with an interesting story and perspective who wasn’t a top musician? No, because all the storytelling in the world isn’t a substitute for the music. But I wonder how much everyone in the industry is pressured by the need for artists to be special beyond their artistic abilities. Some musicians are more willing than others to share aspects of their lives outside music, just as some are more inclined to create or participate in artistic projects that are themselves a story. In 2010, should classical musicians be responsible for setting themselves apart in any way but their art, or are managers, publicists, journalists, and concert planners responsible for booking them, promoting them, writing about them and presenting them as they are, story or not?
Eric L says
“In 2010, should classical musicians be responsible for setting themselves apart in any way but their art, or are managers, publicists, journalists, and concert planners responsible for booking them, promoting them, writing about them and presenting them as they are, story or not?”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a ‘responsibility’ but it’s certainly a ‘practicality.’ Nobody HAS to do something or anything, but for me, any artist worth his/her salt should be able to tell a compelling story, and if they can’t, they’ll just be another failed performer in my opinion.
This is doubly true for the purely classical musician, because often what one plays is not one’s own creation. Furthermore, it’s also not usually a unique repertoire one can claim. When any and all capable pianists can learn the same piece you’re learning (as a pianist), simply being a remarkable interpreter just isn’t enough. I don’t care what your conservatory professor says, but most people, including some ardent fans can’t even tell the difference between awesome and merely very good performances.
Composers in theory should have it easier, since you are creating unique material. Nonetheless, the position of the composer in the classical landscape these days certainly hinders that, since composers are rarely at the forefront of performance (and even worse, cloistered in academia, which continues to be the case). My best bet for the next 10-15 years? The number of true classical superstars who are purely performers won’t grow in numbers very much, but a number of composer/performers who we’re seeing emerging today will be the superstars. The have unique material and they’re visible to potential audiences as personalities.
So two options: have unique material and be visible (but no major story needed) OR continue to play the traditional repertory but you better have a compelling and unique story to tell…you know people love to hear that story about the poor orphan who picked up the cello and is now a world class superstar.
Jeffrey Biegel says
This could be a very interesting blog. Each artist has a different story. Some questions I hope will be covered may include: why did they choose music–or did music choose them? How do they make a career in music? What do they have to contribute in the world of music which sets them apart–and, how will their legacy be remembered in the future? How do artists make their craft visible–via management, publicity, self-promotion? Do they work together with composers or other art forms?
Chris McGovern says
Maybe the promoters need to take a page out of Andre Rieu’s handbook and try to spruce things up by getting 6 white horses for the stage productions!
Just kidding, of course (I can’t stand Rieu), but I have to say that the extra-added promotional tie-in is a useful concept. CD release parties, radio interviews/performances, and of course, the internet, where the gamut ranges from blogs (Like this one) to video/music clips to recipe contests. There’s a lot of nuance in these personalized mediums, and if not every performer uses them, maybe they should start.
There’s also the crossovers, which, by the way, Hilary Hahn has done really well with a movie soundtrack, an indie-rock band and 3 singer-songwriters. I know she’s not the first to do this, but hopefully she’s not the last. I think it’s always exciting to hear those performances, and if anyone got into her simply from hearing Josh Ritter or Trail of Dead, then that’s some kind of progress.
And last, but definitely not the least, is the raw performance. Aside from listening to the way Ms. Hahn plays, the way she moves is extraordinary. It looks like she could have thought the moves out, but I believe it’s more instinct.
Then there’s the grunting or humming that I hear from people like Richard Goode, the Labeque Sisters, or Sir Colin Davis. It’s a bit distracting to unassuming listeners, but as a musician myself, I’m astounded, and I know I want to come back for more!
This virtual panel is great, but why the choice to use all male-artists?
Well, I’m a girl, so there’s that. This time around we were concerned with getting a diversity of industry perspectives (those of a manager, an artist, a publicist, a critic and a presenter) rather than a diversity of gender/age/part of the country opinions. Thanks for reading! -AA