Monday, October 21, 2013

Classical Music and Social Media: A Changing Landscape Within a Changing Landscape

Lonely PianoI've been reading some interesting thoughts on utilizing social media to build careers from press and blogosphere in the last few days.

Valentina Lisitsa built a huge following on her YouTube channel, and connected with new fans in a way that established artists didn't, or couldn't, writes Elizabeth Boyle in the Washington Post:
Lisitsa is sometimes surprised that her videos resonated so much with audiences. She’s an impeccable pianist who has been heralded by critics, but even the most famous musicians haven’t developed her large digital fan base. Pianist Lang Lang has fewer than 10,000 subscribers listed on his YouTube channel. Yo-Yo Ma has fewer than 2 million views. Itzhak Perlman? Fewer than 1 million view on his official channel, even though he joined YouTube a year before Lisitsa. Her dominance on the site is unparalleled.

“I think maybe people are very attached to the simple style,” she says. “I’m not dressing up for the videos. I’m not about fashion and don’t care about impressing people with elaborate productions.”
In other words, her genuineness of style connected more with YouTube audiences than the so-called greatest performers of the age, whose hired social media professionals couldn't gain anywhere near the same traction with this audience.

The most popular cellist in the world on Twitter: Zoe Keating. Norman Lebrecht mentions recent research by Nancy Baym on how Keating and other musicians utilize social media metrics to identify and connect with specific audiences. It turns out that Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and mailing lists are completely different segments of the community. But even the most elegant social media dashboard setups can't do the impossible: create the language and content that will help one connect with a specific audience. With the internet, the traditional gatekeepers (eek - I'm now one of them) don't have the influence that they once did. That's why it's possible that a so-called lightweight pianist can leapfrog the supposed greatest pianists of the age to become the world's most popular pianist on YouTube. (For the record, I adore Valentina's playing, and introduce her work to my students all the time).

Back in late 2005, there were a few weeks where I, having recently moved to Toronto to look for freelance work, had no gigs and was trying not to get depressed. So I started this blog, which started out slow, but over the ensuing years resulted in opportunity after opportunity presenting itself. It laid the groundwork for both much of the work that I have now, and helped me to realize that path that I felt I should follow, non-traditional as it was.

Back in 2005, there were only a few dozen classical music blogs around. Now there are hundreds, perhaps thousands. The challenging part about today's social media landscape is that platforms are reaching maturity, but the ground never stopped shifting. Classical music blogs might not have the impact that they did 5-7 years ago. Twitter may have peaked. Facebook is still an important vehicle, but it's saturated. Those involved in the arts know that their timelines are filled with endless Event and Page invites.

Being the first on board utilizing a certain technology or platform isn't as easy as it used to be. Nevertheless, there will be upcoming success stories, and some enterprising musicians will continue to bypass the gatekeepers and leapfrog their way into the profession in new and interesting ways.


  1. It's interesting to see how many artists with a pinch of entrepreneurial spirit attain great success in the online environment. They prove many times that they have an understanding of human psychology, if they recognize it or not, that's another subject. Evolution is something that we cannot stop. Today, the rules of popularity have changed. It's not enough to be proficient in your industry, but you have to understand how to relate to audiences as well.

    1. Agreed. And you need to know where to find that audience.

  2. When almost everyone all over the world is going online, it is a bit of a stretch for musicians to try their luck posting their music in the web. But with determination and ingenuity I do believe they will get their captured audience.