Getting To Know You
Learning about the people who make the music.
by Drew McManus
September 26, 2005
During the week of September 19th, 2005, I published my 2005 Orchestra Website Review at Adaptistration. The review is an extensive examination of 80 professional orchestra websites but I wanted to take some time here at Neo Classical to discuss one of the issues in further detail; specifically, I wanted to examine how well orchestras promote their own musicians.
The advent of the internet has opened up an entirely new contact point between orchestras and their public. Unfortunately, most organizations are only beginning to realize the tremendous amount of potential the internet has in creating a new wave of interest and involvement among their audience. For the most part, the average orchestra website is nothing more than a digital copy of their printed promotional material. It's static, unimaginative, and short on information beyond concert schedules and guest artists.
Surprisingly, the majority of orchestra websites only offer a simple list of the musicians by section. There's no biographical information, no pictures, and no way patrons to interact. Sure, you can usually find a few hundred boring words and a picture or two abut the music director, but that's usually it.
Sadly, this is a tremendous waste of time and resources sine the musicians are the key element of any orchestra. Regardless of which conductor is on the podium, they are there concert after concert, creating the music you enjoy. Furthermore, they have spent hundreds of thousands of hours in private practice, and their instruments cost several times more than the cars driven by board executives. They are the single largest expense for any orchestra so why would an organization not want to promote these individuals as much as possible?
…because it's always been done that way
There are a number of answers to that question, one of which has to do with history. Up until the 1960's orchestras traded musicians from one ensemble to the next like kids trade baseball cards. With the exception of a few "star players" they were interchangeable cogs in a wheel and the focus was all about who led the ensemble, the conductor. As such, ensemble musicians were rarely featured in promotional material or publicized as the heart of the organization.
Even with the advent of a strong musicians' union, this attitude has prevailed right up to the 21st century. Orchestras only began to reexamine that historical pattern a few years ago. Last year, the Oregon Symphony Orchestra became the first ensemble to promote their musicians via the orchestra's website in a manner similar to how a soloist's manager promotes their client.
They feature a unique series of pages highlighting their musicians. Not only will you find a standard biography, but there's also Musician Moments (a Q&A) page, Player Portraits (extended biography), and Musical Legacy (feature information about family connections to professional music making) page for many of the players. The vast majority of the pages have a series of professionally produced photographs that go beyond the standard head shot. Overall, it's the only good example of how an orchestra website should promote the musicians within their community.
From a business perspective, it makes complete sense. Soloists, chamber musicians, and conductors are represented by private mangers that employ the services of professional PR firm and they realize that their income is a direct result of how well they hawk their artists. As such, they understand the importance of promoting every facet there is to know about them.
Some people may be surprised to learn that there's very little difference in the amount of education, training, and professional experience between soloists/chamber musicians/conductors and orchestra musicians; the only real divergence is the amount of limelight they enjoy. But you'd never know that based on how many orchestras present their musicians.
For example, take a look at how the Cleveland Orchestra, a deserving member of the "Big 5" American orchestras, presents their players. You find a tiny head shot and a brief sentence about when they joined the orchestra, but that's it. A few of the players have links to personal websites, like principal flute Joshua Smith, but those are not created by or in conjunction with the orchestra.
You Say "tomato" and I say "tomatah"
The core product for any orchestra is the music they produce, which is the same for soloists and chamber musicians. So how can the former do such a better job of promoting the musician as opposed to orchestras? You can't say that an organization like the Cleveland Orchestra with a budget in the tens of millions of dollars can't afford to promote their musicians better, so it's not a matter of money. Instead, it's a matter of defining priorities.
In the case of private artists, they realize that the musical connection they make with their audience is just as strong as the personal connection. As such, it doesn't take much to figure out that the better they promote the musician, the better equipped they are to make the musical connection. People go to hear soloists because they want to experience how that individual will perform a particular piece.
The same situation exists for orchestras; The Cleveland Orchestra sounds very different from the Philadelphia Orchestra. As a result, the more orchestras promote their unique attributes the more they'll increase their actual value among listeners.
Here's a sampling of the stark differences between how orchestras promote their artists as compared to how individual artists promote themselves:
In the end, orchestras will need to learn how to make a grater impact on the cultural consciousness of the future by enacting a long term PR campaign promoting their musicians through their websites. They can start off by following the examples from the PR professionals who manage some of the more effective solo artist websites. In a short period of time, I'm confident that they'll begin to develop their own unique voice in promoting their most valuable of internal resources; the musicians.
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