The world as we know it has been changed forever.
Especially during the beginning of the pandemic, the world was in a collective state of shock, being required to throw out our old lives and adapt to an ever-changing situation. And today, even though everything is beginning to open up again, the shift towards the consumption of more online content is ever more present in every aspect of our lives.
With this change inevitably comes a shift in our roles and responsibilities as artists.
So let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember what it was like being a classical musician, comparing it to today’s harsh reality.
STANDARDS OF PLAYING WERE LOWER
For decades, the concert classical musician had been a glamorous and rare position to hold. Musicians were mysterious elites, revered masters of their craft. Few could match their skill and passion.
In the old world, passion and musicality were a musician’s most valued assets - listening back to recordings of Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz, you can’t help but hear that their performances, though not exceedingly technically clean, were overflowing with the utmost musical expression and feeling.
As time passed and music education became more available to the masses, more and more classical performers were born.
The market became more saturated, and naturally, the standard of technical playing increased. Pieces started being performed at faster tempos, and with fewer mistakes. It seemed that musicality and expression took a back seat, and the sheer number of hours put into one’s craft trumped all.
Allow me to paint you a picture.
Fifty years ago, it might have been enough to win one of the few international competitions that existed to “get noticed.” Today you could win four of the hundreds out there and still not stand out. The scarcity and mystique of musicians began to decrease - but so did their connection with the audience.
With so many opportunities and competitors, it became exceedingly easy to lose the passion for your art and simply fall into the rat race of trying to win more competitions, having more repertoire under your belt, and playing faster and cleaner than everyone else.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it?
You see, an audience member who goes to a concert or watches an online video isn’t looking for the fastest player (not most, anyway). On our journey to self fulfillment and self-creation, we forgot what’s most important...
WHAT DOES THE AUDIENCE WANT?
When was the last time you spoke to an audience member? Like, actually spoke to them - and I don’t mean just thanking them for coming to your concert.
Do you go out of your way to build relationships and give value to your audience members? What was the last meaningful conversation you had with one of them?
Even though we are connected all over the world, we are lonelier than ever. In the age of digitization, rates of depression and loneliness are spiking. It goes without saying that this pours into the musical world, as well.
Today’s classical music audiences want to form personal relationships with the artists they listen to. They want to be heard, noticed and appreciated.
STANDING OUT IN A NOISY WORLD
What are your next steps, then?
Here are just a few things you could do to form a closer connection to your audience.
- Give them the inside scoop.
Unlike what you were told, a musician’s talent is not hidden in their secrets. Showing your audience how you practice, or what your day-to-day life looks like will not make them value you any less. Quite the opposite - it will garner their interest and ultimately a deeper connection.
If you’re primarily a performer, show them what you look like when you’re off-duty. If you’re a teacher, give them tips on how to improve their playing. A little love and care goes a long way.
The simple truth is this: the most value you give, the more your audience will appreciate you. Be generous with your knowledge - it’s fulfilling to you as well as to your audience.
- Don’t spend so much time in the practice room
I once asked my professor for the single best piece of advice he would give a young musician.
You know what his answer was?
He told me that I should spend less time in the practice room, and more time talking and socializing with my peers.
And while that was a difficult concept to grasp for me at the time - I couldn’t understand how one’s level of playing did not directly affect your success as a musician - I took his word for it.
Several years later, I understood what he meant. Those who spend too much time in a practice room are missing out on creating valuable connections with their peers and future colleagues.
Later on in life, if an opportunity ever comes up, you will have those relationships to fall back on and help you build your career. It’s an “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” type situation.
This translates directly into your relationship with your audience. If you are always there for your audience, and sharing your time, knowledge and expertise, they will be there for you when you need. If you focus on giving, giving, and more giving, your career will benefit from it, in the form of more concerts, more opportunities, and ultimately more income.
That’s not to say that the only reason to be generous with your supporters is because you are expecting something in return. Quite the opposite - give generously without expecting so much as a thank you, and you will not only live a fulfilling life, but will make the world a better place in the process.
- Engage with your audience
Okay, so you took my advice and started a social media page to share your life as a musician.
You may only be getting a few likes and comments on your posts. You may begin to feel discouraged, but don’t worry - this is exactly where you need to be.
You see, you need to work out that listening and engaging muscle, and in order to do that, you need to practice learning more about your audience.
The reason starting small is so useful is that it takes time to build up the stamina and knowledge to answer all the comments and requests you receive (and nobody is perfect, believe me). But one step at a time, you will see the life-changing effects of talking to your audience.
You see, the more you ask and listen, the more you learn, in turn giving you a chance to be even more helpful to them, and ever so invaluable. In return, you gain their trust and support. So when the time comes to start working on a new project or performance, you can know that they have your back.
Life is a game of give and take (mostly give). The key to happiness is to be generous without expecting anything in return - this is a great rule to live by, and is certainly applicable to the journey of being a successful musician.