Classical Musicians and Social Media

social media
noun: social media; plural noun: social medias

1. websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.

If you are reading this article, I can almost guarantee that you found it via a social media platform – a blog, a blog embedded in a website, a link shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, or via a “discovery engine” such as Stumbleupon or Reddit. Or indeed via any of the other myriad platforms that allow people to create and share content across the internet.

Social media offers musicians quick and easy ways to build and enhance one’s profile, and connect with one another, promoters and agents, venues and audiences, radio stations and recording companies across the web. It has created international stars and opened up the world of classical music to a broader audience and fan base. The barriers to entry are low, and costs minimal or non-existent, and a robust online presence will make you more attractive to presenters, managers and record companies who will look at the size of your fan base, the number of views, and how actively you engage with your fans.

Before social media, there was the personal website, the musician’s “shop-window” containing one’s biography, concert schedule, discography, media such as photographs and video clips, and perhaps some links to other people’s sites. Now, in addition to the website, most tech-savvy musicians will have a Facebook fan page (separate from one’s personal profile page), a YouTube channel, and a Twitter account – and that’s just for starters. Taken all together, these are powerful tools to create international connections and allow others to discover you and your music.

In a recent survey I conducted to explore how classical musicians use social media, the most popular and frequently-used platform was Facebook, with Twitter and YouTube following close behind. In terms of purpose, 87% of respondents said they use social media to connect with others in the profession, with 72% using it for self-promotion, and 66% for advertising concerts, CD launches and other events. The majority of respondents (77%) felt it was important to have a presence on social media as a musician in the 21st century, though, interestingly, only 41% felt social media had been “very useful” in their professional life.

In addition to networking, self-promotion and advertising, respondents to my survey also cited a number of other important uses for social media including:

• Building community with like-minded professionals and developing a targeted client base

• Speaking engagements, e-book promotion, increased blog traffic

• Ticket sales, awareness of opportunities for training, meeting and contacting other musicians

• Higher profile; creating relationships with journalists; creating relationships with other musicians

• Greater recognition. Helps to establish an international presence. Helps to ignite/sustain/rekindle current relationships with fellow musicians & colleagues

• Reconnecting with long lost colleagues to create new working relationships

• Broader audience for concerts, connecting and sharing ideas with other musicians

With these obvious benefits of using social media, it always surprises me when I come across active performing musicians who hardly use social media or claim not to know how to use it. If you’ve got a computer, it’s easy. If you have a smart phone, it’s even easier.

Here are two examples of musicians making effective use of social media, from either end of the UK classical music spectrum.

First, Emmanuel (Manny) Vass, a young concert pianist from Yorkshire whose active and engaged online presence has succeeded in quickly raising his profile. Manny comes across as down-to-earth, genuine and committed, and it is no surprise that his latest Kickstarter campaign, to fund his second CD (his first CD was also self-funded) has already exceeded its target. Manny uses no agent, promoter nor PR company to market himself.

Secondly, Stephen Hough. Internationally-renowned pianist and musical polymath, Stephen’s Twitter feed is busy and varied, reflecting his many interests, including religion, food and hats, and offering insightful snapshots into the life of the busy touring musician.

What both Manny and Stephen share in their online presence is a lack of ego: they don’t “big” themselves up – they come across as genuine and “normal”, and this is a crucial aspect of using social media.

Some thoughts on using social media successfully.

Twitter: Do interact with others. Observe good “Twitterquette” by thanking people if they say nice things about you, or post a favourable review. Don’t big yourself up too much in posts (because no one likes a boaster, do they?), but equally don’t sound too desperate (“Please please please come to my concert next Friday!”). Avoid capital letters – this is the Twitter equivalent of shouting – or too many exclamation marks (which just looks over-excited). Offer snapshots of your professional life – your audience are interested. Don’t get into arguments with people online, and don’t use Twitter to slag off colleagues, conductors, critics or others, or moan about the exigencies of your life. Twitter is a very powerful tool – use it intelligently and skillfully and it will reap rewards.

Facebook: Facebook is a funny beast. At one time, it was the social platform of choice for young people, but now seems to have been taken over by their parents as youngsters move to other platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. Use Facebook wisely and think carefully about how much information about yourself you want to reveal to the public at large. (Remember, the privacy settings of all posts can customized.) Many musicians have an “artist page” which is separate from a personal profile and is the place to post reviews, information about upcoming concerts and other events, and share links which are relevant to one’s professional profile or career. Facebook also allows you to create events which can be useful in attracting people to a concert or CD launch. Again, the privacy settings can be customized.

You Tube: It’s impossible to ignore the “Valentina effect” – how the pianist Valentina Lisitsa built a massive online following through her videos of her practise sessions and concerts. YouTube is useful for sharing samples of your work – but only if the recording is good quality.

SoundCloud: This music-sharing platform has eclipsed YouTube in recent years, and now many artists (from all genres) use it as a place to share tracks and samples of their work. Your personal profile can be embedded on your website or blog, and tracks can be shared across other networks, or kept private and shared only via an emailable link.

Blogging: This is more niche and requires much more commitment than the platforms above. I meet plenty of people who tell me they are going to start a blog: they get set up with an attractive template, write a handful of articles and then lose interest. A successful blog takes time and effort (see my earlier article on blogging for more detailed advice on how to get started).

The exigencies of life as a musician in the 21st century mean that most people have to do their own promotion and PR. Very few musicians can afford the luxury of a PR company or powerful publicity machine, and you should not rely on venues to publicise your concerts – unless you are very famous. Social networking gives you powerful, and importantly, free tools to self-promote, and the more active you are online, the more your profile grows. The key to success with any social media platform is to build a distinct and compelling online profile.

Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. She is a reviewer for international concert and opera listings and review site Bachtrack.com, and contributes art and exhibition reviews to US-based culture and art site CultureVulture. She writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for ‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content, and contributes guest articles to a number of classical music and music education websites around the world, including Clavier Companion and The Sampler, the blog of SoundandMusic.org, the UK charity for new music. Frances is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series, an innovative concert concept which gives talented amateur musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and emerging professional and semi-professional artists in the same formal concert setting. Read more on her blog: www.crosseyedpianist.com.

Author: Frances Wilson / edited by Nina HELLO STAGE
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