Tagged: New York

An Arts Marketing Civil War (and the South might just win!)

Metropolitan Opera (Lincoln Center), auditorium

Metropolitan Opera (Lincoln Center), auditorium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just got back from a trip to Kentucky and I’ve got to tell you,  I’m shocked at the amount of arts advocacy I saw in the mainstream public forum in this past week. It seems things are a bit different than when I left the Bluegrass State four years ago to study in New York City. It left me to wonder, how come the “leading” arts institutions in the Northeast aren’t as proactive about vying for the public’s awareness?

In my sister’s college graduation ceremony at the University of Kentucky (shout out to Sara-Elizabeth Bush, I’m so proud!), President Capilouto’s address to the graduating class of 2013 mentioned the importance of the performing arts multiple times. The pre-ceremony videos featured Reggie Smith Jr., a student graduating from the UK opera program and entering the world as an emerging artist with major performance engagements coming up in the near future.

The Lexington Airport featured ads for classical music events on well designed billboards throughout the airport. That wasn’t the only advertising I saw to support classical music either– the mall at Opry Mills in Nashville featured large artwork of orchestral instruments and I also ran across mainstream advertisements for classical music events in the Nashville airport.  The impact of these small awareness campaigns is much greater than the sum of their parts. Where is all this chatter and advertisement in the Northeast?

The one exception that immediately comes to mind is the Metropolitan Opera. Their photography and advertising campaign is, in my opinion, the best classical marketing effort I’ve seen in the past 5 years. New York’s WQXR radio station comes in at a close second place with their “Obey Beethoven” campaign that flooded subway ads for time in 2011.  But that’s two notable campaigns in the last 5 years— just two. Where are all the other “big” organizations? Or for that matter, where are advertisements for individual classical artists the way Gaga covered the 7 train with vinyl wrap ads?

Advertising is expensive– but what is the more costly: a long term decline in audience growth, an inability to be seen as relevant by the public, or worse— the public simply not knowing your organization exists at all? Advertising must be a centerpiece in sustainability plans for arts organizations. Even though online advertising may reach more views than traditional print, seeing traditional ads lends a credibility to branding and also helps bring your organization and its work into the general public’s eye. If you want to catch salmon, fish in a stream. If you want to catch everything possible, go fish in the ocean. That’s what traditional advertising does. It can help bring traffic to your (hopefully by now awesome) online presence where new audience members can acces lots of information about what you do and why you do it.

This is an opportunity to be innovative. Photography is not as off-limits as it was 10 years ago and you no longer have to hire a Don Draper marketing firm to handle your organization’s image. With some basic graphic design skills you can create the image yourself and focus on increased distribution rather than increased cost to produce it. When was the last time you saw a bill board alongside the interstate for an orchestra? A massive subway campaign that was hip and cool which featured the orchestras in a comical or memorable way? Or (OHMYGAWD) a TV commercial? The Met puts commercials in movie theaters. Why have so few caught onto this?

I can’t tell you how proud I was to see arts organizations in the South promoting themselves and raising the public’s awareness of their work. It was so refreshing because there was not a drop of elitism to be found anywhere, just a genuine southern invitation to come and see for yourself the great work these organizations did. The ads I saw came off like a warm southern smile, telling you to come spend time with them and experience the art they had to offer. That’s a great way to put it–they advertised experiences, not events. They put potential audience members at ease. They sparked interest, and they unobtrusively entered the public’s field of awareness. It was brilliant.

I want to know your thoughts on arts marketing. What ideas do you have to help performing arts organizations connect with the public?

I’ll stay tuned to hear from you,


5 Things We Can Learn From the Musicians of New Orleans

Me and my wife at the Riverboat Natchez

Hey everyone! Sorry for the hiatus last week, but I was on a much needed vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana. My wife and I decided to spend the week of Thanksgiving down there—we love to experience new places and cultures together. I took in my fair share of pralines and Bloody Mary’s and I managed to get the rest and relaxation I needed. But the blogger in me was gathering inspiration and taking notes.  On my flight back to NYC I realized there are a few things that the rest of us could learn from the musicians of the Big Easy.

1. Leave “Pretentious” at Home.

I was amazed at the humbleness, and down-to-earth personalities of the musicians I encountered. From the (stellar) band I heard on the Riverboat Natchez, to the jazzers in the clubs, to the street musicians on the Rue Bourbon, you’d think everyone was your long lost best friend.

2. One More Time—With Feeling!

I bet I heard “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “Red River Valley” a dozen times in the Crescent City. But you know what? Each musician had a different interpretation, a different version—each one said something completely different with those simple melodies. I found the variety captivating. Who says repetition of favorites has to be boring or the same?

3. People Playing for People.

The musicians I heard had a peculiar quality that I rarely find in large arts centers like New York or DC—the immediate impression I got was that these were real people. Maybe it was the laid back music they played, relaxed postures, warm smiles, or simple clothes. I’m still not really sure what defines this quality, but I am sure that when we stood on the street corner with 30+ others and listened to one guy play, you were watching a really talented person, not an exotic creature performing in a glass box.

4. Anything Goes…

Sure, a lot of familiar tunes were repeated: “When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Yellow Rose of Texas”, “Autumn Leaves” to name but a few. But don’t be fooled, there was plenty of original and spontaneous improvisation going on too. With my (trained) ears, I heard some funky harmonies and complex melodies—but that didn’t stop these guys.  No matter how familiar or how funky, these folks sold it to their audiences. As long as you believe in the art you are making, you can convey your passion to an audience. This proves that you can grab your audience’s attention if they catch the same fever for your music that you have

5. New Orleans is Music is New Orleans.

Music and New Orleans are inseparable and the musicians who perform there know it. They know that it’s their responsibility to keep the music at the heart of the city’s culture. They know the tradition that they belong to. They also clearly understand that culture is people too, and that for music to stay integral to the culture—they have to connect the music to people. It’s that willingness to reach out to citizens, tourists, and each other through music, to make real connections and experiences for their listeners—that’s what keeps their place (and value) in the cultural life of one of the greatest cities in the South.


One World Symphony Makes Music for Humanity.

As I sat in the Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and 60th Street at Columbus Circle and was writing this review, I looked out into the milieu of people running around on an autumn New York evening.  I was comforted by what was confirmed through the concert by One World Symphony I had just heard. I felt sure in my conviction that no matter what skin color, what faith or what culture you might claim, music can serve to bring people together and to promote harmony amongst us all.

One never really knows just what to expect at a One World Symphony concert.  There may be Can-Can dancers, blood-covered divas, or a world premiere of a new piece of contemporary music. When I was invited to a One World concert last Sunday, November 11 at the French Institute Alliance Française; I knew it would be anything but business as usual.

The concert, entitled The Planets and Poems of Ecstasy, was sponsored by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York for the commemoration of the 150th birthday of  the great spiritual leader and Indian Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda.  The mission of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, and subsequently the mission of this concert as well, was to promote “the spiritual unity of humankind and the harmony of all religions.” — For any artist, or group of artists, this is tall order to fill. Before the lights ever dimmed, I knew that this performance would test the mettle of the musicians and the maestro.

How exactly do you (effectively) promote spiritual unity of humankind and all religions while simultaneously honoring an epic religious figure? Repertoire is a good place to start, and Maestro Sung Jin Hong did an excellent job of selecting works that both provided immediate and visceral emotions, alongside more temporal gestures. The featuring of Gustav Holst’s Planets connected the music of the orchestra to the Hindu culture through Holst’s own interests in Sanskrit and Hindu texts.

But, have no fear, the connection wasn’t purely academic, Maestro Hong literally invited the audience to stand and sing along with the orchestra to the melody from the movement of Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. Many did not know the words, many sang only on la’s or da’s, but the effect was fully realized. In an instant, a packed concert hall stood together and sang with one voice on one melody. Is this not essentially a metaphor for universal unity for all mankind?

Soloist Courtenay Symonds presented an intriguing acoustic performance of Bjork’s Big Time Sensuality andMezzo-soprano Adrienne Metzinger beautifully sang an arrangement of Clara Schumann’s Liebst du um Schönheit. But of all the soloists in the vocal medley, soprano Sonya Headlam entranced the audience. Through beautiful phrasing and a heartfelt authenticity, she was able to transcend the simple lyrics of Amy Beach’s Ecstasy and present us with music made in the heart.

The concert also included the world premiere of Maestro Sung Jin Hong’s composition, The Architect. It was an enigmatic piece, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s great works for the screen. I was especially reminded of Herrmann by the epic figures and main motives played by the horn section. The Architect definitely took the audience on a complex emotional, and perhaps, spiritual journey as the piece was received with a standing ovation.

The great centerpiece of the concert was Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2. The wind section was a tour de force in every sense of the term and played with bright bursts of light and with broad strokes of color.

Perhaps the best thing about One World Symphony is that while other orchestras may always begin with good intentions to relate to their audiences, One World Symphony always makes good on its promise.  Through innovative concert programming, to in-concert discussions about what makes the music relate to the concert’s theme, to the intimate spaces in which the orchestra typically performs—make no mistake, One World Symphony is one of New York City’s most liquid, adaptive, and creative orchestras.

Let go of practicality… who said music is practical?

In a recent blog post on the Savvy Musicianwebsite, David Cutler talks about the importance of having big dreams for your career and your life in general. He also makes another great point– that our big dreams are often educated out of us.I have spent my whole life trying to outdream everyone else. Maybe it is my natural tendency to favor dissent, but I always tend to reject being made to conform, or someone else’s practicality. I think you should try it.

Without being too esoteric, ask yourself the following question: why do we let other people set the parameters of what we are capable of achieving as artists? Think about that. The performing arts seem to be rife with people who seemingly think that they have the authority to grant “permission” for someone to be successful. I don’t think that the other fine arts are quite as afflicted as we are.

It seems to me that the visual arts have more opportunity to break past these sentinels of opportunity than any other form of art. Perhaps the respect for the visual artist’s creation as a direct extension of his or her imagination often overrides concerns about technical ability, or thought process. Even in my atelier style watercolor classes at the Student Art League of New York, there is a respect for everyone’s work, even my humble beginning pieces.  Art is considered to be so diverse and divergent that we are educated to keep our minds open and accepting of new art we may encounter– regardless of how “practical” we may deem it to be.

In the performing arts, open minds and varied viewpoints often come few and far between.
There are our colleagues, professors, teachers, and often ourselves who keep us from taking the creative high-road because we have been educated that risk taking is well— too risky for us.

Somewhere in a studio in a city, there is a musician studying with an amazing teacher who will encourage the student to take extraordinary risks with music. Odd and unconventional repertoire choices, traditional and improvisational training, encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit, re-imagining where and how music can be performed— the teacher coaches the student with a spirit of creativity and imagination. But sadly, this is not often the case.

We are often told that unless we only choose to play “good” music, or in the “right” venues, we won’t have a “successful” and “fulfilling” career and that “our audience” won’t “like” us. Did I use enough“ quotations” for you? Don’t worry, I’m not grammatically inept! I wanted to show you that each of these words may have an entirely different meaning depending on who is saying it.

I encourage you to never take just one definition of these words as gospel. You are the one who decides what is good, what successful means to you, what fulfills your wildest dreams, and who your audience is.  It doesn’t have to be practical to be awesome.

You have the power to define your life and your career on your own terms. Sometimes what is the practical and well-beaten path is not always what is right for you– and that is okay. Embrace your rebellious nature. For me, when I have that little nagging voice on the inside that says NO!, that usually means I am on the trail of something worth following.

Keep up the good work! I want to hear about when you have revolted against convention and practicality!