Guest post by Warren Mailley-Smith

It is a truly tumultuous time for musicians, and particularly classical musicians, during this lock-down period.   And for our particular profession, I personally suspect that things won’t be bouncing back ‘to how things were’ any time soon.

However, I believe there are genuine opportunities for all of us amidst the rubble and some cause for optimism as the pandemic crisis inadvertently provides a much-needed catalyst for the industry to explore new ways of monetisation, new formats and new audience development. I think the starting point is to utilise platforms, software and technologies that already exist and have been used extensively by other branches of the arts for some time.  Overnight, the traditional world of classical concert-going and music-making has been turned on its head and our only option currently is to explore new ideas, possibilities and solutions which can ultimately make us stronger when we reach the other side.

I believe that our biggest opportunity lies in overcoming the obstacles to online live performances (as opposed to pre-recorded) and enabling a reasonable/consistent degree of audio and video reproduction for the end user.  Sharing in the unfolding of a live performance on people’s screens still lends an edge of anticipation and audience engagement which a pre-recording can’t have. And this is crucial when it comes to monetising our efforts as it is the one bit of the few parts of added value we can offer to the trillions of existing free videos and recordings, which are only the click of a mouse away.

I am currently experimenting with one recital programme a week and performing it on multiple platforms on different days of the week. Crucially, different platforms lend themselves to different approaches for monetisation for us all – but the important thing is that multiple approaches are possible.

The following has been my starting point, but I believe this is the tip of the iceberg:

Instead of being limited by traditional concert-promoting methods to a geographical radius of a few miles around a venue, we are instead looking at potentially UNLIMITED audience reach thanks to a (mostly) reliable broadband connection.  As pianists, we are the lucky ones in that we have no artistic restraints other than the instruments on which we can play.  Our repertoire and music-making is potentially unlimited.  Not so, anything requiring more than one musician in the same room at the moment.

Hopefully things WILL return to normal as soon as possible.  But if they don’t, we at least have some possibility of finding an alternative path without artistic compromise, which can then run parallel to more traditional approaches (if we wish), once demand for traditional public performances return in force. It’s certainly a steep learning curve for us all (as if we didn’t have enough practical challenges to deal with already!), but if we are prepared to embrace the challenge, we will surely see the benefits, if not immediately, then in time.

Warren Mailley-Smith