This is an article I wrote for HelloStage, a social media platform which allows musicians, promoters, agents and other music professionals to connect.

social media

noun
noun: social media; plural noun: social medias 

1. websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. 

If you are reading this article, I can almost guarantee that you found it via a social media platform – a blog, a blog embedded in a website, a link shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, or via a “discovery engine” such as Stumbleupon or Reddit. Or indeed via any of the other myriad platforms that allow people to create and share content across the internet.

Social media offers musicians quick and easy ways to build and enhance one’s profile, and connect with one another, promoters and agents, venues and audiences, radio stations and recording companies across the web. It has created international stars and opened up the world of classical music to a broader audience and fan base. The barriers to entry are low, and costs minimal or non-existent, and a robust online presence will make you more attractive to presenters, managers and record companies who will look at the size of your fan base, the number of views, and how actively you engage with your fans.

Before social media, there was the personal website, the musician’s “shop-window” containing one’s biography, concert schedule, discography, media such as photographs and video clips, and perhaps some links to other people’s sites. Now, in addition to the website, most tech-savvy musicians will have a Facebook fan page (separate from one’s personal profile page), a YouTube channel, and a Twitter account – and that’s just for starters. Taken all together, these are powerful tools to create international connections and allow others to discover you and your music.

In a recent survey I conducted to explore how classical musicians use social media, the most popular and frequently-used platform was Facebook, with Twitter and YouTube following close behind. In terms of purpose, 87% of respondents said they use social media to connect with others in the profession, with 72% using it for self-promotion, and 66% for advertising concerts, CD launches and other events. The majority of respondents (77%) felt it was important to have a presence on social media as a musician in the 21st century, though, interestingly, only 41% felt social media had been “very useful” in their professional life.

In addition to networking, self-promotion and advertising, respondents to my survey also cited a number of other important uses for social media including: 

• Building community with like-minded professionals and developing a targeted client base 

• Speaking engagements, e-book promotion, increased blog traffic 

• Ticket sales, awareness of opportunities for training, meeting and contacting other musicians 

• Higher profile; creating relationships with journalists; creating relationships with other musicians 

• Greater recognition. Helps to establish an international presence. Helps to ignite/sustain/rekindle current relationships with fellow musicians & colleagues 

• Reconnecting with long lost colleagues to create new working relationships 

• Broader audience for concerts, connecting and sharing ideas with other musicians 

With these obvious benefits of using social media, it always surprises me when I come across active performing musicians who hardly use social media or claim not to know how to use it. If you’ve got a computer, it’s easy. If you have a smart phone, it’s even easier. 

Here are two examples of musicians making effective use of social media, from either end of the UK classical music spectrum. 

First, Emmanuel (Manny) Vass, a young concert pianist from Yorkshire whose active and engaged online presence has succeeded in quickly raising his profile. Manny comes across as down-to-earth, genuine and committed, and it is no surprise that his latest Kickstarter campaign, to fund his second CD (his first CD was also self-funded) has already exceeded its target. Manny uses no agent, promoter nor PR company to market himself. 

Secondly, Stephen Hough. Internationally-renowned pianist and musical polymath, Stephen’s Twitter feed is busy and varied, reflecting his many interests, including religion, food and hats, and offering insightful snapshots into the life of the busy touring musician. 

What both Manny and Stephen share in their online presence is a lack of ego: they don’t “big” themselves up – they come across as genuine and “normal”, and this is a crucial aspect of using social media. 

Some thoughts on using social media successfully. 

Twitter: Do interact with others. Observe good “Twitterquette” by thanking people if they say nice things about you, or post a favourable review. Don’t big yourself up too much in posts (because no one likes a boaster, do they?), but equally don’t sound too desperate (“Please please please come to my concert next Friday!”). Avoid capital letters – this is the Twitter equivalent of shouting – or too many exclamation marks (which just looks over-excited). Offer snapshots of your professional life – your audience are interested. Don’t get into arguments with people online, and don’t use Twitter to slag off colleagues, conductors, critics or others, or moan about the exigencies of your life. Twitter is a very powerful tool – use it intelligently and skillfully and it will reap rewards. 

Facebook: Facebook is a funny beast. At one time, it was the social platform of choice for young people, but now seems to have been taken over by their parents as youngsters move to other platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. Use Facebook wisely and think carefully about how much information about yourself you want to reveal to the public at large. (Remember, the privacy settings of all posts can customized.) Many musicians have an “artist page” which is separate from a personal profile and is the place to post reviews, information about upcoming concerts and other events, and share links which are relevant to one’s professional profile or career. Facebook also allows you to create events which can be useful in attracting people to a concert or CD launch. Again, the privacy settings can be customized. 

You Tube: It’s impossible to ignore the “Valentina effect” – how the pianist Valentina Lisitsa built a massive online following through her videos of her practise sessions and concerts. YouTube is useful for sharing samples of your work – but only if the recording is good quality. 

SoundCloud: This music-sharing platform has eclipsed YouTube in recent years, and now many artists (from all genres) use it as a place to share tracks and samples of their work. Your personal profile can be embedded on your website or blog, and tracks can be shared across other networks, or kept private and shared only via an emailable link. 

Blogging: This is more niche and requires much more commitment than the platforms above. I meet plenty of people who tell me they are going to start a blog: they get set up with an attractive template, write a handful of articles and then lose interest. A successful blog takes time and effort (see my earlier article on blogging for more detailed advice on how to get started). 

The exigencies of life as a musician in the 21st century mean that most people have to do their own promotion and PR. Very few musicians can afford the luxury of a PR company or powerful publicity machine, and you should not rely on venues to publicise your concerts – unless you are very famous. Social networking gives you powerful, and importantly, free tools to self-promote, and the more active you are online, the more your profile grows. The key to success with any social media platform is to build a distinct and compelling online profile. 

I recently contributed an interview to firstsiteguide.com, a web development collective which helps people to create their own websites and blogs, and offers helpful related resources. I was approached to comment on the whys and hows of getting online, specifically as a music blogger and more generally as an active member of the online community.

As I explain in my interview, I believe it is crucial to have an online presence, as a musician, teacher and writer. A website acts as one’s “shop window” and is the place where one can include useful information for promoters, agents, colleagues, students and potential audience, from a concert diary to biography, downloadable photographs and press coverage, to video and sound clips. As a teacher, it’s likely to be the first point of contact for a prospective student or parent of a student, and therefore should include clear information about your teaching philosophy, lesson fees, other services, testimonials and terms and conditions.

It is de rigeur to have a web presence these days, and yet I am continually astonished at the number of professional musicians and teachers I meet who either do not have any web presence, or have a very rudimentary or badly-designed website. On the back of a website, one can attract further attention to one’s activities by having a presence on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, which gives one other streams from which to promote oneself. The single most important reason why this blog has become well known is through my active online presence.

“I don’t like talking about myself”, “it seems really egotistical” people say to me when I express dismay at their lack of an online presence. Others worry about security, “trolling” and privacy. All these aspects can be managed, by you the user, if you use these platforms sensibly and control how much information you want to reveal.

As an ingenue concert promoter (I launched the South London Concert Series with a colleague last winter), I have seen how useful and powerful these networks can be. We use Twitter, Facebook and a website as our main forms of promotion and contact with our potential audience, and we operate a paperless ticketing system through WeGotTickets, which saves a degree of admin for us. We have not had to pay for any advertising, and the first two concerts of the series sold out weeks far ahead of the actual date.

As a writer and blogger, the internet is a huge and wonderful resource, and every day I come across articles and more which form the basis for articles or discussions amongst like-minded people around the world. Almost all of my Meet the Artist interviews are the result of an approach made via Twitter or Facebook, and the internet remains a potent means of promotion for me, and many of the musicians I have met in the course of my writing.

Setting up a website is so straightforward these days, with platforms like WordPress, Tumblr and Wix which offer attractive templates and clear guidance, that there really is no excuse not to have a web presence. And these platforms are so easy to use and manage that one really doesn’t need to spend a lot of money or time on web design. (Take a look at my recently redesigned personal website for an example of a “homemade” site, hosted by WordPress.)

For more about how I got online and how I manage my online presence, read my interview