What Classical Musicians Can Learn From Celebrities

I may be a classical musician, but one of my guilty pleasures is pop culture. We don’t tend to think celebrities and classical musicians have much in common. Classical musicians are trained from a young age, spend years earning their education, and make a minimal salary. Celebrities, on the other hand, are ridiculed for being talentless, rich, and “lucky.” Personally, I think that classical musicians could learn a thing or two from our famous friends.

Celebrities are rarely successful without a “look” or a brand. Take the Kardashians. They are not artists, they don’t perform, and they don’t have a particularly interesting story. However, they found their angle and they stick to it. The Kardashians showcase sisterhood, a glamorous lifestyle, and curvaceous bodies. Whatever their current business venture—reality TV, clothing lines, perfume—it represents what the Kardashians are all about.

What does that mean for classical musicians? Finding an angle. What do you offer as a musician that is truly unique to you? Do you have an expertise, a unique perspective, or a creative approach to your music? Do you specialize in a certain repertory? What makes you different from your colleagues and how can you convey that to your audience?

Fan Interaction
Celebrities are nothing without their fans. They know this. They make a point of reaching out to them and thanking them whenever they can. Most celebrities are active on Facebook and Twitter and actually communicate with fans directly. This builds loyalty, trust, and investment.

Classical musicians, on the other hand, seem to run from their fans. It could be that many of us are introverted or, to put it less sensitively, socially awkward. We have a hard time honestly communicating with our audience during performances (many musicians don’t like to talk in between pieces), and we don’t often stay around to greet our audience after we perform. Shouldn’t we be fostering the relationship with our fans as much as celebrities do?

Most celebrities have a stylist, a publicist, and maybe a few other staff members who protect their image. These people make sure the celebrity doesn’t say something brash or stupid on a radio interview or isn’t caught in a cheap, tacky dress on the red carpet. Classical musicians may not have exactly the same concerns, but we can apply these principles.

Classical musicians seem to think that if we practice hard enough, we’ll get hired. That some sort of magical opportunity will come knocking on our door. It almost seems undignified to have to “sell” yourself. But why not? In a perfect world we’d only be evaluated for our art and skill, but in reality, presentation is half the battle. How we represent ourselves outside of our craft is equally as important as how well we play. Audiences are sensitive to the vibes we give off. Often times they’ll notice our attitude sooner than they’ll notice a missed note or two.

What do you think? As a musician, do you find these topics relevant or unnecessary? As a classical music fan, would you like to see more of these things from performers, or does it not matter to you? Let me know in the comments.

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3 responses to “What Classical Musicians Can Learn From Celebrities

  1. Great column. I guess *I* like classical musicians to be traditional, aloof, “elitist” — but then, I’m a musician. To reach audiences these days, you need to talk to the audience about the pieces you’re playing, let them in on what you’re up to, have a Facebook page, and all that. Maria Schneider (although primarily a jazz composer) is a great example — she posts videos for her fans, showing the compositional process she goes through, including how “messy” the process of composing music can be, and that the artist can sometimes be indecisive or even a little insecure about what they’re doing. Ben Zander is another favorite — his pre-concert talks are great, and they really draw the lay listener into the world of great music. I like Joshua Bell — he dresses more informally, ventures outside his idiom a lot, and otherwise broadens the audience.

  2. Pingback: Why don’t you play something “cool”? | Historically Incorrect·

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