Why do classical musicians suck at promoting themselves?
This week received a press release from a world class arts organisation about their leading training scheme (not naming them… but it was a good press release). In it, it listed the 6 lucky musicians who will now get this life changing experience, as well as probably receiving the most coverage they’ve ever had.
So, I start pulling things together for my own post and do a quick internet search for each of the musicians looking to tag them on social media etc. Here’s what I found…
Out of the 6 musicians, only 1 had a website and none had a social media account (so no Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram). Before I go on, this is in no way a criticism of them, but totally highlights something that I’ve been thinking about for a while…
Classical musicians totally suck at promoting themselves.
Bit of a dramatic statement, but I really do believe it. Whenever I’ve visited institutions to do talks, or do little bits of consultancy, there seems to be a totally unawareness of not only how to promote yourself… but why should you?
Those 6 musicians are far from on their own. Time and time again I’ll either meet a musician who doesn’t have a website, or I’ve tried searching for someone on Twitter to find that they don’t exist on social media.
So is this just a classical music thing, or is it all of us arty musician types? You know what, it’s pretty much a classical music thing.
Just ask yourself about those singer songwriters who’ve had a guitar for 2 months and have learnt 3 chords, or start up bands made up of people having a mid-life crisis.
Are they at the beginning of their journey? Yes.
Are they a bit naff? Probably.
Are they going to start walking the walk and promoting the hell out of themselves as if they’re about to make it next week… you’re damn right they are!
Within days of performing for the first time, they’ll have made a Facebook fan page, started tweeting about their gigs, put a recording on SoundCloud, created a YouTube channel of live performances and even started designing a brand so their name is in the same font on all their posters and social.
And here’s the thing… I LOVE that they do this. Why wouldn’t you want to promote the art and music that you create? Whether it’s to perform to the full Royal Albert Hall, or to 3 nuns, a man and a dog outside in the middle of nowhere (an actually concert I’ve done), to a certain extent you create music connect to other people. And in order to do that, you have to tell people you’re doing it.
So why do we suck at it in the classical music world? The good news is that we’re not inherently bad at it. The issue lies with how we teach classical musicians and the tiny bubble and narrative that we have created round the industry.
The basic narrative we tell singers and instrumentalists is this:
You go to music college, you learn how to play your instrument, you get as good as you can, you win a competition, you get an agent who does all the work for you, you continually get booked for gigs, people magically turn up to your concerts and you’re set for life.
We instil this sense of entitlement into our musicians. We tell that the world will miraculously give them everything when it comes to their career. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, especially in today’s day and age.
Venues and orchestras are looking to book people who will do one thing… sell tickets. They’re coming under increasing commercial pressure, which isn’t necessarily a bad things. But it does mean that if you’re the world’s best violinist but no one has heard of you, no one will buy tickets to see you and you won’t be booked for gigs.
Yes you can sit back and wait for a big break to happen and win an international competition etc, but why would you want to? Not only that, why would you put everything down to chance when you can take the bull by the horns and decide your future for yourself?
The narrative has slowly started to change at music colleges when it comes to 21stcentury appropriate music careers skills, but it’s still miles off the pace. I left music college in 2013, and during my time there no one ever told me I should have a website, or use social media to promote myself and my music. To put that in context, at the end of 2013 Facebook had 1.23 billion monthly active users… pretty big potential audience there. I know that lectures on basic marketing would have been a lot more useful that the ones I had on improvising ornamentation.
Ultimately, changing the narrative that classical musicians have to promote themselves and empowering them to do so can only be a good thing. I truly believe that classical music is incredible and at its most powerful has the ability to change lives. We just have to get used to the idea that we have to roll up ourselves and learn about how we can tell everyone we can about it.
So if you’re reading this and you’re a classical musician, why not have a think about how you promote yourself? Honestly, it’s not so bad! You don’t have to become a total expert on Google SEO ranking (actually please don’t, it is as bad as it sounds). But maybe try actively putting yourself and your projects out there. If you need help, there are a ton of free resources all over the internet to answer any questions you can think of. Go on, give it a go and take your future into your own hands and see what happens.