Heather Martin-Bixler, veteran violinist of the New York Philharmonic said the most difficult part of being a classical musician is “bringing your own interpretation and something personal to music that has been played thousands of times by the greatest musicians throughout history.” While, up and coming composer, Ben Beckman, soon to be featured on BBC Proms, stated that his biggest fear of being a classical musician is “definitely just the lack of a source of regular, stable income once [he] graduates grad school. As a composer, unless you get a tenured professorship, you’re always living commission to commission, which is a little scary…”
As the daughter of professional performers, I see how this industry has evolved from one where agents and managers did all the promoting, to the marketing falling in the hands of the performers themselves, in large part due to the explosion of social media. When interviewing multiple pre-professional and professional musicians on what their biggest concern was going into the classical music industry, none of them cited marketing as their primary concern. However, this often proves to be the largest stumbling block.
The human experience is comprised of emotion. This concept is what makes the music industry so complicated. The audition process is unnatural. One is expected to walk into a room of strangers, perform at their best, and even if they do not, walk out with a smile. If you get the job, you will be notified, if you do not, all further contact will cease. The self-promoting tool belt of a classical musician consists of headshots, resumes, and audio/video clips of your best performances. While they may tell a story, they do not tell YOUR complete story.
This is why the key to social media marketing for classical musicians is personal branding; the utilization of logos, ethos, and pathos, in everything you post. As of late, content marketing is the buzz concept in which most people have invested their time and money. Content marketing has its roots in creation without the immediate goal of sales. Instead, it emphasizes continued interest that will eventually amount to sales. Because humans are emotional, it means they crave learning, thus content marketing is effective because its goal is to educate.
According to the LA Philharmonic Content Model, personal videos and posts that showcase personality and personal anecdotes/facts are more likely to catch a viewer's eye. Not only does it allow the viewer to learn about you as a musician, but it allows them to project their dreams onto your model that you are showcasing. It reveals that their dreams may not be so outlandish if you are on the road to achieving yours.
The major challenge found when marketing classical music is that the “black tie affair” is seen as “elitist” and exclusive, rather than special and exciting. There is a fine line between marketing something for complete audience understanding and appealing to the correct target market. That’s where the classical music industry struggles to find its audience. While a majority of the concert goers do tend to be wealthier, the promotion found by appealing to solely wealthy customers results in a loss of consumers and poor image. Recently, many orchestras have attempted to reach a broader demographic by comparing symphonies to “desserts and rodeos,” facing backlash that they are “dumbing down” the classical music experience. I believe that “dumbing down” classical music is almost as bad as not advertising for it at all. Advertisers must put faith in their prospective audience members. Just as you would treat any person, audiences must be treated with courtesy.
A common misconception with the image of an audience is that millennials do not like classical music. This is completely false. According to various studies, have never been as many enrollments in music schools as there are today. While this fact may intimidate the pre-professional musician hoping to rise up through the ranks, this should be seen as evolution, rather than competition. If more people are participating in classical music, it will create a larger audience, generating more of a demand for musicians, thus stacking the odds in your favor.
To simplify, education is how the classical music industry will stay alive and the only way to make yourself “stand out from the crowd” is to be you.
I know this sounds cliche, but in the context of marketing yourself as an artist, personality is key.
Author: Hannah Mikita, soprano (intern)