Tag: publicity

How to Promote Your Album

Welcome to The Basics of Publicity: Part 4, the gripping conclusion to my four-part series on promotion and marketing for musicians! In my previous posts, I’ve talked about how to consider your public-facing brand and the key points to hiring a publicist, the ten most important things to know about social media marketing, and the core media assets you need and how to get them on any budget. For this final post, I’m going to talk specifically about recordings and how to promote them. This will incorporate many of the practices and concepts from my earlier posts, and hopefully it’ll give you a sense for how those ideas translate into real-world action. To further drive the points home, I’ll offer some case studies from my more than ten years promoting recordings for EMI and Warner Classics.


For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to go into the actual recording process—that’s something I’ll leave to the many extraordinary producers, engineers, studio technicians, and others who specialize in translating the glorious sounds of your music into a true-to-life, impactful recording. What I’m going to focus on is how to take that lovely digital file/CD/LP/cassette tape/wax cylinder, and give it the best potential shot at being heard by the most people possible. Because there’s nothing worse than pouring your soul, time, and money into an album and then having no one hear it.


Also for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume we’re talking about a traditional “album” that features 40-70 minutes of audio recording. The rise of high-quality digital music files, streaming outlets like Spotify, video distribution platforms, even virtual reality, all open up new and exciting possibilities when it comes to recorded sound. I could write a separate post on each of these, but for most people, the standard is still going to be a traditional recording that can be distributed online but also packaged into a physical CD. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

The moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it.

Many people make the mistake of waiting until the recording is finished before they begin thinking about promotion, but I cannot stress enough: the moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it. There are a few very important considerations you need to be thinking about the second you decide you want to make a recording:


Gone are the days when a world-class performance of a beautiful piece made for a newsworthy recording. There are simply too many new recordings being released each month, and the only way to cut through the noise is to have a story to tell about your album that will get people interested and engaged before they hear a single note.

As laid out in my first post, having a story that people can talk about and tell others is the beating heart of any kind of modern promotion. The same is true of a recording: Why is this music so important to you that you want to make a permanent record of it? If there are a variety of pieces on an album, what common theme ties them together? If it’s new music, what are the stories and ideas (both musical and non-musical) that might make it stand out in people’s minds?

If the only answer to these questions is: “Because it’s great music and a great recorded performance of it,” then you may end up with a fantastic album, but it’s one that will be very difficult to promote in a meaningful way.

An example: piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton recorded an album entitled Visions, which featured Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, a Kurtag arrangement of a Bach chorale, and Hallelujah Junction by John Adams (a mentor of theirs). The story of the album revolved around different musical approaches to the idea of spiritual joy – from Messaien’s ecstatic transcendence to Bach’s serene confidence to Adams’s reckless ebullience. Having that story angle in place helped to tie the program together and provide a clear, concise message about what people could expect from the recording, and how they could talk about it to others.

The story of your album should determine all extra-musical aspects of it—the title, cover design, liner notes, and any other marketing materials—and answer the question: “Why should people care about my recording?”


Once you’ve got the story of your album in place, you want to think about organizations that might be interested in that story, and in helping you to tell it. Partnerships can boost sales of an album (if your recording centers around music written in response to visual art, for example, is there a gallery of that artist’s work that might be willing to sell your CD in the gift shop?), help with social media (if you’re featuring the music of a living composer with great social media, can they post about your album?), and can help add to the publicity by further validating and adding additional angles to your story, and making the entire campaign feel like more of an event.

An example here is an upcoming album from pianist Tanya Gabrielian, featuring piano transcriptions of Bach solo cello and violin pieces. Tanya suffered a severe spine injury while doing martial arts as a teenager and spent a painful month in the hospital, where the recordings of these Bach pieces helped her maintain her sanity and get through the low points of her experience. So for the album, she’s partnered with various chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, putting on performances at their various local branches where she’ll play the album music in hopes that it will provide the same support to NAMI patients as it did for her during her time of struggle. It’s an example of a partnership that emphasizes the core story of the album (the healing power of Bach’s music), while also providing performances that can be pegs for local media outreach.


There was a time when you couldn’t put out a commercially successful album if it wasn’t on a record label—physical distribution and PR/promo/marketing outlets were simply inaccessible to the common folk. Now the internet has changed all of that, and you can easily put your album on CDBaby and get your music out across all digital platforms like iTunes, Spotify, and more. So why should you even consider a label? Well there are pros and cons…

Pros of a Record Label

  • Physical Distribution: While there are fewer and fewer retail music shops with a physical building, if you want to be in them you’ll need a label—or at least label services—to get your CD shipped out and sold in those stores.
  • Grammys: Getting a Grammy Award is a long, complicated, and opaque process, and you’re VERY unlikely to have it happen unless there’s a label handling it and managing the process, not to mention advocating for your recording within the industry.
  • Recording/Packaging Support: Some labels will help defray some or all of the costs of recording (depending on your contract) and possibly the packaging design, photo shoot, video production, etc.
  • PR/Marketing: Major labels—and some of the boutique ones as well—have dedicated PR and marketing teams, with the contacts and experience to help with the work promoting your recording.
  • Prestige Factor: This one is more amorphous, but there is a certain degree of prestige in having a respected label release your album—it shows that other people believe in you, and you’re not simply doing everything on your own. This is especially true of a major label. If you self-release, realize that some of the larger media might not take you as seriously as they would if your album was on a label they knew and trusted. (Of course, if you’ve already had previous albums that they’ve covered in the past, this can be less of a concern.)

Cons of a Record Label

  • You make no money: If you release on a label, don’t expect to ever see a return on that investment. The most wildly successful niche recordings sell a few thousand copies, and even with the best record deal ever, you’ll only see a fraction of that income.
  • You lose some control: Depending on the label and the deal with them, you might lose artistic control over the presentation, title, story elements, etc. of your album.
  • All labels are not created equal: Some are better at some things, others are better at other things. You want to learn the ins and outs of each and determine what you need from them before signing on, otherwise you can get stuck in a relationship that isn’t beneficial to either side.

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez


Okay, you’ve got a story, partners, maybe even a record label. Now it’s time to start putting a promotional plan in place.

1. Assets

Since you’ve already (I’m sure) read my third post on assets, you know all about photos, videos, and more. But you should also consider these in the specific context of your album, as they can be vital when it comes to promotion and telling the story of your album. Will you create music videos (even just having a two-camera setup in the studio during the recording, which you can pair with the studio audio track)? Can you make an intro video that features some performance footage, as well as interview footage of you telling the story of the album? Are there any “bonus tracks” that won’t be on the final album, but that you could offer exclusively to media outlets in exchange for a feature on the album?

An example of this is a video we shot with violinist Ariana Kim around her self-released album Routes of Evanescence—a recording entirely of contemporary violin works by women composers. We wanted to get some exposure around International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, so we shot the video quick and dirty in her apartment, and offered the exclusive to a major violin blog, which ran this great story as a result. It was an example where an asset led directly to promotional exposure because it was tied into the story of the album.

2. Performances

This is an area where many people fall short when planning their album. I cannot stress enough: having performances of your album repertoire (even if it’s a few pieces within a larger program) is a VITAL part of a successful promotion plan. Fewer and fewer media outlets will cover an album release on its own, but if you have a live performance that features the album, then they can cover that and talk about the album in the context of the performance. Plus, performances open up the possibility of post-concert CD sales and signing sessions, which are where the majority of album sales happen these days.

At the very least, you want to have a record release performance—ideally in as established a venue as you can find, in a market where you have an existing fan base. You want it to be packed, and you should invite as many media outlets from the area to come as possible.

If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

The ideal setup is one where you have a full tour that includes as many major cities as possible, and that starts off with a record release performance. (Do NOT have the release “street date” be at the end of the tour. Please don’t do that.) If that’s not feasible, then as many performances as possible featuring as much of the album repertoire as you can fit in, is the next best thing. Contact each venue to set up CD sales/signings after each performance, and bring a stack of albums along with you so you don’t run out! Square card readers or similar allow you to process credit cards so you’re not just relying on cash.

Regardless, get the music on your album performed! If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

3. Social Media Timeline

Since I’m 100% certain you’ve read my second post about social media, and that as a result you’re now a hyper-engaged, digitally savvy social media maven, let’s talk briefly about how to promote your recording on social media. You want to put a timeline in place from start to finish, with as many different assets as you can, leading up to the release. Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Photos of the scores you’re preparing
  • Video of you practicing for recording sessions
  • Photos and videos of you in the recording studio
  • Pre-order links when they go live
  • Release a single track to give a taste for the album
  • Unveil the cover image in a post
  • If you did a photo shoot for the album, reveal the new photos in a gallery
  • When you first get your advance CDs, share a photo of it
  • Video of you talking about the album’s story, and why you’re excited about it
  • Livestream of you answering followers questions about the album
  • Advance media coverage


  • Share all of the buy links for the album in a single post (or link to a website page where they’re all present)
  • Video of you inviting everyone to listen and pick up a copy
  • Photos/video from the release performance
  • Share any media coverage that runs at the time of release
  • Share intro video


  • Share album reviews with pullout quotes
  • Photos from your tour, CD signing sessions, etc.
  • Highlight specific tracks, tell the stories behind them, record videos of yourself performing them, etc.
  • Roll out music videos for work on the album

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Anything you can think of related to the album can be fodder for social media.

Also, as I mentioned in my social media post, you want to think if there are people you can ask to share some of your more significant posts. Obviously any partners in the album should share, but even the recording studio, related music publishers, composer societies, your conservatory…the more the merrier, and many will share if you just make the ask!

4. Promoting Your Recording

This is where the rubber hits the road—trying to get media to cover your album. Of course, you can consider hiring a publicity/promotion company to do this for you (and you know how to do that, because you read my first post which gives advice on hiring a publicist), but many don’t have the budget for that, in which case you’ll have to do it yourself. Here are some tips to get you started:


  • You should plan to start promotion eight to twelve weeks out from the release date. Any smaller of a window and you’ll risk missing opportunities.
  • You’ll want to have the finished recording in hand when you start promotion, so work backwards from there when planning a street date, performance, tour, etc.
  • In planning the recording, editing, mastering, album package design, etc., always build in a week or two extra for buffers in each step. Trust me.

Press Release

  • I know press releases have lost some of their impact in the digital age, but it’s still useful to have all of the info in one place for a promo mailout, when pitching, etc.
  • Put together a document that has the album cover image, name of the album, names of performers (or just you as the album artist), release date, label (if applicable), a paragraph or two introducing it and saying what the story is, a track listing, and links to any videos, photos. Put your contact info (or the info of whoever is promoting the album) at the bottom.

Media Targets

  • Spend some time brainstorming a list of possible media outlets—blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc.—that might be interested in your album. If outlets have covered you in the past, add ‘em to the list. If you have a possible direct connection to any writers or producers, add ‘em. Again, read my first post for more general media strategy advice.
  • If you have a label, they should have a list of outlets they send promo CDs to. Get that list, and add your contacts to it.
  • Put the whole list into a spreadsheet with media outlet name, contact name, address, email, any notes about past history with them, or possible angles unique to the individual or outlet.

Promo Mailing

  • Six to eight weeks out from release, you’ll want to mail out copies of the CD to as many of the media outlets on your list as possible, so that they can have a chance to listen to it well ahead of street date.
  • A NOTE ABOUT UNSOLICITED MAILINGS: If you aren’t on a label and aren’t in the habit of just sending out CDs to people, then you need to be careful here. While ultimately the most efficient way to go about a promo mailing is to send out the CDs to everyone who might be interested, and then follow up with an email or phone call after the CD has arrived, just be aware that there will be the occasional person who will take umbrage at having a CD sent to them without their having asked for it. If you come across someone like this, just apologize, and then if they’re still listening go ahead with your pitch.
  • In addition to CDs, you should have a digital version of the album to distribute as well—even just a Dropbox link to a folder that contains Mp3 and WAV files of the music, a hi-resolution JPEG of the album cover, a PDF of the liner notes, and a Word document of the press release. That way, you can send that to people if they say they prefer digital versions.


Once you’ve distributed the music to each of the outlets on your list, you’ll want to email and/or call them with a pitch on how they might cover your album. Some tips on different outlets:

  • Newspapers: If it’s a newspaper that runs reviews, pitch them to review it. If they don’t run reviews but have concert reviews and are in a location where you’re giving an album tour performance, pitch them to review the concert, but also send them the album so they can include a mention in their review. You can also pitch for an interview feature to run before the performance, talking about the upcoming concert and album release.
  • Magazines: If they review albums, pitch for a review, otherwise pitch for an interview feature around the recording. See what different sections they have.
  • Websites/Blogs: You can pitch anything from an album review to a video exclusive, interview feature, guest post where you tell the story in your own words, etc. The sky’s the limit here, and many online outlets will be willing to work with you if you’ve got creative ideas and compelling content.
  • Radio Stations: Pitch for airplay if they program music similar to what’s on your album. If you’re touring to their area, you can pitch local stations for on-air interviews, pre-recorded interview segments, or in-studio performances. Some stations have websites or social media that offer possibilities for album promotion if you can’t get it on the air.
  • TV: If you’ve got a really compelling human interest story around your album, then you can pitch local TV channels around your tour markets to have you in for an interview or performance segment—particularly if they have cultural news coverage segments.

This is just scratching the surface. Ask your colleagues where they’ve gotten album coverage and see if you can secure similar hits for yourself. Find albums that have a similar repertoire or story to yours and check Google News searches to see what kinds of media coverage they received. Check the social media feeds of comparable artists (or their record labels) to see if they post about media coverage that might offer leads.

Pitching is an ongoing process, and you might find out about leads months after the album is released. Don’t be afraid to still reach out and see if they’d be interested, as you never know when a big feature might be right around the corner.

In Conclusion

When it comes to album promotion, you get back what you put in. The more work you do, the more results you’ll get, and while you might not have unlimited time to spend on it, you should at least budget a solid chunk of time for planning and execution. Again, there’s nothing worse than putting out a recording and not having anyone listen to it, so I hope that this guide will at least give you some guidance on things you can do to get your music heard by as many people as possible.

Thanks for reading this post and my other ones, feel free to stop by www.unison.media and drop me a line!

Top 10 Things to Know About Social Media Marketing

In my first post, I explained some of the basics of publicity and branding—the story of your music and how it’s told. I also gave some guidance on media relations and how you can try to work with other people to get them to tell your story to their audiences.

For this post, I’d like to talk about social media and digital marketing—something that many musicians dismiss as shallow self-promotion, a waste of time, or something they’ll never understand.

But it’s none of these things. Social media is something remarkable that represents an absolute sea change in our industry.

I urge you to think of social media not as a thorn in your side or something you keep pushing down the to-do list, but rather as an extraordinary opportunity to build a community of supporters around your music that you can communicate to directly with complete control over what you say, as well as when and how you say it.

This communication is a two-way street. You can get real-time feedback that once upon a time would have been impossible. And in the same way that people can come to your social media to learn about you, you can learn about your supporters—where they’re based, what their demographic makeup is, what they respond to most, and much more.

In the interest of demystifying social media and giving some concrete advice on how to manage it, below are the ten things I feel any musician must know.

1. Facebook Is the Most Important Platform

If you’re going to pick one social media platform, Facebook is the one to go with.

Many musicians avoid social media simply because of the overwhelming number of platforms available to them and the feeling that maintaining a presence on all of them will require too much time and energy.

Social media doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game. While it’s certainly better to be on as many platforms as possible (more on that further down), it’s far better to focus on one platform and do it well, rather than do a bunch of them poorly.

And if you’re going to pick one social media platform, Facebook is the one to go with, for the following reasons:

  • Users: With nearly 2 billion users, it is by far the dominant platform across the globe (though there are other country-specific competitors, like China’s WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte).
  • Content: Facebook has the most sophisticated platform in terms of the different kinds of media you can post (text, photos, video, links, etc.), and how people can interact with those posts. As a marketing tool, it has none of the limitations of platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat.
  • Data: The analytics and statistics you can get from Facebook are more sophisticated than any other platform, and if read correctly (see #7 below) can give you amazing insight into your followers.
  • Paid Advertising: Facebook has the most complex advertising options available to its users, allowing you to target existing and potential users in ways that none of the others can even come close to.

As an extension of your professional music career, Facebook is heads and tails above the rest. And speaking of professional…

2. Personal vs. Professional Social Media

Everyone loves cat photos, but your professional social media profiles aren’t where you should be posting them.

You must, must, must differentiate between your personal and professional social media—not only in terms of what you’re posting, but also on a technical level of having professional pages that are public-facing and (if desired) personal pages that are private to all but your friends.

Everyone loves cat photos, but your professional social media profiles aren’t where you should be posting them (or at least only post them occasionally…). Your professional page is where you talk about your music, say what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, share your successes and gain feedback from your supporters.

If you have a personal profile on Facebook, you can easily convert it to a professional page, or if you’d prefer to still have your personal profile, you can create a separate public professional page for yourself and then encourage your friends to follow that page for updates on your music (remember to make your personal profile private so strangers can only view your professional page!).

At the end of the day, you want to make sure that whatever goes up on your social media is polished, professional, and represents your music in the best possible light. Which brings us to voice…

3. What’s Your Online Voice?

It’s crucial to establish a consistent online personality that reflects your real-world personality—what’s called your social media “voice.” Are you serious or light-hearted? Formal or informal? Easily accessible or shrouded in mystique? Modern or more traditional? Opinionated or easygoing?

All of these things go into how you should present yourself on social media. One exercise: think of the three words that best describe your professional personality and try to reflect those in your posts.

4. Your Profile Page Needs to Look Good

If someone who is interested in you—whether it’s a fan, journalist, presenter, or anyone else—visits your social media profile and sees a half-finished, sloppily done page, then they’re going to believe that’s how you approach the rest of your career. (The same is true for your website, which we’ll discuss in the next post.)

You need to have the following:

  • Profile image: Usually your best professional headshot. Don’t change this too frequently as people associate this with you.
  • Cover Image: A larger image, usually another promo shot or one of you in performance. You can also swap this out more frequently to promote specific events.
  • Relevant Info: Be sure to fill in the About section so people can find out more information, and curate photos and videos so that someone who goes to those sections sees only good content.
  • Integrations: Facebook allows you to connect to YouTube, Instagram, email marketing services like Mailchimp, and more.

All platforms periodically change elements of the layout, info, etc. Set yourself a reminder to take a look at your profile page every so often to make sure that it continues to look like it’s professionally presented. (Facebook and others have a “view as visitor” option in settings, so you can see it without your own administrative privileges—or just pull it up in a private browser tab.)

5. The Basics of Posting

Is this the best representation of myself and my music?

On a technical level, there are a number of things to keep in mind when posting on any platform, to make sure that you’re taking advantage of what the platform has to offer. Some general things to consider:

  • Length: Unless the post is specifically supposed to be a major statement, keep it brief. After 477 characters, Facebook goes into “read more” territory and you lose most people.
  • Timing: Try to avoid posting in the evening or weekends, as fewer people are on social media then. Your analytics (see point #7) can help you determine the best time to post. Also if you have fans in other time zones, bear that in mind!
  • Tagging: Typing “@” and the name of a person/organization usually links to their page, notifies them of your post, and will sometimes get them to share your post, which is an important part of expanding the exposure of your social media. Tag often, and try to do so in the flow of your writing (i.e. “This @newmusicbox article about social media is THE BEES KNEES!”).
  • Hashtags: Typing “#” and a word or phrase (without spaces) is a way to become part of a conversation around a topic, so that people who search for posts by that hashtag will see your posts about it.
  • Links: On Facebook, you can edit everything about a link after you paste it into the post box—including the generated image, title, and preview (try it!). Also you can use a link shortener like Bitly to make your links look nicer, plus it’s trackable if you make an account, meaning you can see how many actual clicks you get from a post. Remember that most platforms like Facebook will penalize you for posting links to external content (because they want you to stay on their site), so you’ll likely have to pay to boost those posts to get to more of your followers. And Instagram doesn’t let you include links in non-Story posts, but you can put one in your profile and direct people there from a post (i.e. “Link is in my profile”).
  • Photos: Experiment with the different options—from standalone photos (remember to double check how they’re cropped in the actual post), to galleries (What’s the lead image that people see first? Is it the best of the group?), to newfangled options like 360-degree images, GIFs, and more.
  • Videos: Always upload video separately to each platform rather than just posting a link to YouTube or Vimeo. A video uploaded to Facebook itself will get FAR more exposure from their algorithm than an external link. (Again, they’re trying to encourage you not to drive traffic away from their site.)
  • Livestreaming: Most platforms now have a livestreaming option, and it’s worth experimenting with (Facebook Live, Periscope on Twitter, etc.), particularly around live performances. The most important thing is to try to get someone who has a good following (or just as many people as possible) to commit to sharing the livestream as soon as it goes live, so leave a few minutes for that before the actual event starts.
  • Others: Geo-targeting (i.e. having a post only show up to certain locations/languages), location check-ins, events, notes, emojis, etc.

The above is just a collection of a few things to keep in mind. The key thing is to always double check your posts and ask yourself: “Does this look professional? Is this the best representation of myself and my music?”

festival message on cellphone

Photo by Kate Serbin

6. Understanding Content

This is a massive concept and one that could have an entire post dedicated to it, but for right now I’m just going to go into the basics as it’s a word that gets tossed around a lot without everyone being clear on what “content” actually is.

Content is simply the “what” of your posts (rather than the “how” of point #5): it’s taking the strokes of a brush and making it into art rather than just random lines.

Good content should be thoughtful, interesting, provide value and perspective to your audience, and somehow be uniquely representative of you and what makes you different.

Some basic points to keep in mind about content:

  • Variation: Think about different the kinds of content you might post (news updates, concert promotion, album promotion, posts about recent reviews/interviews/etc., personal updates, awards), and how each can be represented in different ways. For instance, you can post four times about an upcoming performance and each time just post the ticket link and say “Performance in NYC June 20, come get tickets!” OR those four posts can be: 1) a photo of the concert poster; 2) a video of you rehearsing a piece from the show; 3) a link to a preview feature or listing; and 4) a post with the ticket link saying how excited you are to see everyone there. Which of those two seems more interesting to you?
  • Timeline: For things that are time-specific, like an album release, performance, or similar, think in terms of pre, during, and post What can you post at each point to keep people interested? For an album: PRE could include a photo of the recording session, album cover, promo video. DURING could be a livestream of the release event. POST could include reviews, music videos, etc.
  • Tone: Consider the mood of your posts. Are you excited? Thankful? In awe? For instance: with reviews of your performances or works, it’s important to post these since that will give your followers a sense of success and momentum, but at the same time you never want to seem self-congratulatory or bragging. Be genuine and concise, and thank the outlet or writer for reviewing your work. You can include a pullout quote if there’s a great one, but again, try to insert some personal commentary that is humble and grateful.
  • Interactivity: Ask questions of your supporters, encourage them to start conversations about important topics in the comments of your posts, respond to their comments, and generally make sure to be communicating with them and encouraging them to communicate with you, in order to build a sense of community on your page.
  • Personal content: It can be good to include some personal posts mixed in with the professional: life at home; a great meal you had; photos from your travels; hobbies like photography or dancing; congratulating colleagues on their successes; interesting news articles; etc. These show aspects of your personality and interests, which will draw supporters closer to you. Obviously how personal you get depends on you.

This just scratches the surface, but you always want to be thinking about the content you post. Is it interesting? Is it varied? Is it something you’d want to see yourself if you were a fan of your own page? Are people responding to what you’re posting? That last point brings us to Analytics…

7. Analytics—Know Your Audience

One of the most powerful aspects of social media is that it allows you to actually get real data on your audience and your content. Some key things to keep in mind:

  • Following vs. Engagement: The number of followers you have is less important than the number that actual read and engage with your content. You can have 50,000 followers, but if only two of them like or share each post then that’s not a powerful community. This is where content comes in; the more consistent and interesting it is, the more people will want to be a part of it.
  • Reach vs. Engagement: If a post reaches (i.e. is seen by) a large number of people, but only a small percentage actually engages with it, then perhaps that’s not the most compelling content for your page. Conversely, if a post has a high percentage of people who see it liking and/or sharing it, then clearly that’s compelling content that you should post more of.
  • Demographics: Looking at Analytics/Insights, you can see where your followers are from, whether they are male/female, how old they are, which kinds of people are most engaged, what time of day and which days of the week they’re most engaged, and so on.

There is a wealth of other information you can find in the Analytics section of any professional social media page, but the most important thing to keep in mind is to try and understand what the data means in real-life terms, and how the information it provides can be useful in terms of helping improve your content and posting strategy.

8. How To Grow Your Following

This is the most common question I get from people: how do I get more followers? There are two ways:

Organic Growth

  • Posting good content that people share with their own followers, who then follow you to get more interesting content from you.
  • Being featured on the page of a colleague/organization and having them tag your page (i.e. do a Facebook Live interview with a presenting organization you’re performing with, on their page with them tagging you).
  • Tagging a colleague with a large following, and/or asking them share your post to their page.
  • Having online media (blogs, industry websites, etc.) link to your social media, or embed specific videos/posts.
  • Having presenter organizations always link to your social media.
  • Displaying your social media links prominently on your website.

Paid Acquisition

  • Pay to boost important posts so they reach more of your following, or friends of your followers (experiment with different settings).
  • Create specific advertisements targeting people who might know you and your music, but where you don’t currently see many fans when you look at your demographics data. For instance, if you’re a composer who studied and has had a lot of performances of works in Boston, but you don’t see many fans from the area when you look at your Analytics, then you could create a targeted ad that displays to contemporary music fans in Boston, encouraging them to like your page. If people see that and know who you are, there’s a good chance they’ll like your page. With paid advertising, you want to consider the groups of people who might recognize your name but not already be followers and think about how you can get to them via a paid ad on your platform of choice.

BE CAREFUL: Paid acquisition can be incredibly powerful, but it’s also an easy way to waste a lot of money to get very few fans, or to get a lot of fans who aren’t engaged with your page (which looks bad to visitors).

Once again, there is a lot more to discuss here, but what’s most important is that you keep gaining new followers over time, and if you see a spike in followers when you look at your analytics, try to understand what made that happen, and how you can replicate it.

9. Other Platforms

As noted, I believe that Facebook is by far the most important platform to invest your time and money in, but if you feel a personal attachment to any of the other platforms, or you enjoy using them personally, then it’s worth building a following on them around your professional career. For example:

  • Instagram: If you’re a visual person or enjoy photography (or are just really, really ridiculously good-looking), this can be a good platform for you.
  • YouTube: Do you like shooting/editing video? Do you communicate really well in-person with your fans? YouTube can be very powerful, but only if you take time to post videos frequently, and with a consistent brand/content style.
  • Twitter: If you are funny or good with one-liners, like expressing opinions, enjoy being a part of larger conversations, or understand memes, then Twitter is good for you. Otherwise it’s probably not worth your time.
  • Snapchat: Tough to “get” for many, and it isn’t really useful for professionals, but if you enjoy it personally then go for it!
  • LinkedIn: It can be useful to connect on a professional level with presenters, etc., but it has a very cold, corporate energy that can clash with a more artistic mindset. I generally encourage our clients to stay off of it.

There are more social media platforms emerging every day, but my general advice at this point is to focus on Facebook in terms of your time and money investment, unless you personally feel drawn to another platform (but even then, you should be on Facebook, too).

10. Email Marketing

Email is BY FAR the most powerful form of marketing.

Just a final point: you need an email list. Email is BY FAR the most powerful form of marketing. It is the best in terms of getting actual results (i.e. selling actual tickets or recordings), and gives you the most control over how you express yourself.

Go with Mailchimp. It’s free up to 2,000 subscribers and is the easiest to use. Have an email signup field on your website and start sending out update emails every few months, telling recipients about your upcoming concerts, past successes, new photos/videos/recordings, and so on. Occasionally drive your social media fans to sign up. Ask people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. Do whatever you can to grow this list.

ONLY email them with interesting content. It’s better to skip an email if there’s nothing to say then to send a boring email to your subscribers. Every blast they receive from you should give a sense that you have cool things happening and that your career is on the rise.

As with social posting, consider the tone. Are you conversational (“Hi friends! Another update from yours truly!”) or professional (“Dear friends, I hope you’re enjoying the spring. I have some exciting updates from my end…”)?

Also similar to social media, Mailchimp has amazing analytics reporting, so you can see how successful each email is in terms of opens, clicks, and more. Use that data to improve your email blasts!

In Conclusion

I know social media can feel like a time drain for already busy musicians, but I cannot stress enough how important it is, and how it will only become more important in the coming years to have your own following of supporters that you can communicate with directly. So take the time to grow and nurture a community around yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Next up, the assets you need (photo, video, audio, website, and more) and how to get them on a budget.

The Basics of Publicity

If you’re reading NewMusicBox, chances are you’re someone in the music industry working to make a career for yourself (unless you’re someone with an actual, physical music box that’s broken, and you’re trying to replace it, in which case try here). If you fall in the former group, then at some point or another you’re going to need to think about publicity, and so I’ve written these posts on the basics of publicity as a primer to help get you started on the winding, sometimes treacherous road of self-promotion.

Before we go any deeper, however, we need to be clear about what we mean when we’re discussing publicity.


At its core, publicity is about the public face of your music making and how people perceive it. What is the story of your music? What distinguishes you from the sprawling hordes of other people out there doing the same thing? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it? Essentially, it boils down to trying to get someone to care about what you’re doing, and then having them tell other people that they should care, too.

In the golden days of yore, that public-facing story was told in a rather controlled way—a publicist spoke about you to the decision-makers at a handful of very powerful media outlets (newspaper/magazine/radio/TV), and those media outlets either told your story to their readers/listeners/viewers and made you a star, or they didn’t.

Then the internet happened, and there was a flood of new ways that the story of your music (and your music itself) could be exposed to the public. As a result, the ways in which people heard your story, and told it, changed dramatically. Instead of a handful of highly controlled outlets, all of sudden you had blogs popping up like rabbits in summertime, not to mention forums, podcasts, video series, a parade of social media platforms, your website…even the older media outlets began expanding into digital and social media, in addition to their traditional platforms.

What is the story of your music? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it?

So today more than ever, if you want to get your music to an audience that’s larger than yourself, your cat, and your mom, then you must consider the question of publicity and how the story of your music is being told. And that begins with your branding and media relations (with or without a publicist), though it also extends into your social media and digital marketing, as well as your public-facing assets (photos, videos, website, and recordings—the last of which deserves its own category). But let’s start with the first of these.


At the risk of sounding like a budget Don Draper, you need to consider your brand. Yes, “brand” is a terrible word, and yes, I do feel a little bit dirty every time I say it, but I’ve yet to find a suitable alternative (though if any of you wordsleuths have a suggestion, please share in the comments).

You should think of your brand as the best possible slice of yourself and your music. It’s about taking the gloriously messy complexity that is your life, personality, and creative process—most of which is (spoiler alert) not very interesting to anyone other than your closest friends and family—singling out the most compelling parts, and shaping them into a narrative that people will want to hear and want to talk about.

It’s the difference between saying this: “She’s a young lady who spent her childhood in rural Montana, then studied to be a hotel manager at a state university while also singing on the side, and then, on a whim, she applied to a conservatory in New York, was accepted, and then after finishing her studies, was offered (via a close friend) a chance to be a cover at the Metropolitan Opera, and when the lead fell ill suddenly, she got the chance to sing in an actual production.”

Or this: “She grew up in the middle of Nowhere, USA, until a top-level conservatory heard her, brought her to New York, and four years later she was singing on the stage of the Met.”

It’s the same story, but the second version cuts out what’s extraneous and focuses on a concise story with a few “hooks” that people can easily catch on to, remember, and repeat to others.


Let me just pause for a second, since many people will read that last section and say: “I’m an artist…I don’t want some skinny-tie-wearing, hair-slicked-back hustler trying to sell me like a bar of soap. MY MUSIC WILL STAND ON ITS OWN MERITS, and if it’s good enough then I’ll succeed without any branding or publicity!”

Except it won’t. And that’s not what this is about anyways.

If you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

Listen, I understand that being a musician generally reflects a certain baseline level of commitment to integrity and a belief in the inherent value of art. And I also understand how people feel that any sort of promotion might somehow risk compromising that and cheapening their art, but the fact is that 999 times out of 1,000, if you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

The distinction—and it is a vital one—is between talking about what you have created in a way that is thoughtful, concise, and honest versus being a crass, egotistical self-promoter. We all know the latter when we see them, and while they might get some more exposure in the short term, they always lose in the long run since people get tired of having something pushed on them.

So once again—if you wish to be a public figure in any capacity and to have your music reach an ever-larger audience, then you simply must come to terms with the idea of talking about yourself and what you’re doing. The important thing, as I’ve said, is to do it well, and to always to be true to yourself.


So how do you figure out what your brand is and how best to tell your story? Well, you can hire a publicist and have them figure it out (more on that later), or you can go the DIY route. The first step is write down your story in your own words: how you’ve come to where you are now in your music career, step by step, in as much detail as you can. Then write about how you approach your music making: what you think is special about it; what you love most about making music; what you think is important (and not important); the people and experiences that have influenced you and why. Get it all out on the page, even if it’s messy and longwinded.

Next, come up with a list of close friends—people who you feel know you, and also appreciate and enjoy your music. Call them up, tell them you’re doing an exercise and were wondering if they might be willing to tell you what they find most interesting about you, what they enjoy most about your music, and how they would describe you and your music to other people. Write it all down. Yes, it’s going to feel a little bit awkward, but get over it—again, this is part of being a public figure, and if you don’t want to do this then it’s back to the basement with your mom and cat.

Once you’ve gotten some external opinions, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Compare those points to the story you originally wrote down and see how you can consolidate the two into a narrative that is true to yourself and your history, but speaks to the things that other people find engaging. Then read it back to those friends and see if it strikes a chord.

After that, you should at least have a much clearer picture of your brand and how to better tell the story of yourself and your music.


Now that you’ve got a story to tell, the next step is figuring out how to get other people to tell it—both to get the word out to new and larger audiences, and also to validate the elements of your story. So instead of you saying, “Hey, this is my story and it’s true, I swear it!” instead you can say, “My story is such-and-such, and here’s a sweet pull-out quote from a prestigious media outlet that proves it!”

This is what media relations is about: finding a way to get people in the media—journalists, critics, producers, bloggers, influencers, and anyone else who has access to a platform that reaches an audience—to talk about you and your music, to that audience.

Once again, there are two ways to do this: 1) you hire a publicist who has the media contacts you want to reach, and pay them to get your story told, or 2) you do it yourself. Let’s once again take the DIY route first.

If you want to do your own media outreach, then the most important thing you can do is actually engage with the media that you want to be featured in—read the blogs, newspapers, and magazines, listen to the radio, watch the TV shows, follow the social media accounts. See who covers what, how they talk about it, what stories, angles, music, and personalities seem to pique their interest…then start to think about how you might be able to make them interested in you. Do they write about live performances in NYC featuring avant-garde music by living composers? Don’t pitch them on your Gershwin recital in Kentucky. Do they do long-form, in-depth interviews with established stars? Don’t pitch them a listing for your upcoming house concert. When you’re reaching out to media for the first time, it’s crucial to show that you understand what they’re about and that you’re trying to present them with a story that they might actually be interested in telling, in the way that they like to tell it.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it.

Once you’ve identified some outlets and contacts who might be interested, you have to research your way to their contact info. Alternatively, if you’re performing with a venue or presenter that has a PR/publicity/marketing person or department, you should get in touch with them and see if they’d be willing to make the pitches, or at least give you the contacts. Or, if you have colleagues who have been featured in certain outlets, ask them if they’d be willing to give you a contact or make an introduction.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it. You can follow up once or twice after a week or so of no response, then let it go and try again next time. You’ll never get everyone to respond in the first go-round, and you shouldn’t take it personally if you never hear back from people.

If they do respond, and you end up getting some form of coverage, then keep a list or spreadsheet of that, and whenever you have other things going on that might be of interest, reach out to them again. It’ll be much, much easier the second time around.

I could write another ten pages on media relations, but those are the core basics if you want to handle it yourself. Alternatively, you can hire a publicist—which leads to our final area of discussion.


I can’t tell you how many people have asked me the question: “so, what do publicists actually do?” There’s a lot of confusion—not to mention smoke and mirrors—around the work of publicity, when it’s needed, and how to tell if it’s being done right. Let me try to clear the air a bit.


First and foremost, there are two types of publicity: campaign-based publicity and ongoing (or “retainer”) publicity. Campaign-based publicity is when you hire a publicist or publicity firm for a specific time period around a specific event or series of events, like a major performance, tour, album release, announcement, etc. Here, the goal is for the publicist to determine the best way to tell the story of your event, and to try to secure as much media coverage as possible for it, in order to achieve both general exposure for yourself and your event, and also to help achieve whatever the concrete goals of the campaign are (selling tickets or albums, for example).

Ongoing publicity (also referred to as PR or public relations), is when you hire someone to be your constant advocate and mouthpiece to the public, to shape the longer arcs of your story and career, and to also pitch and coordinate media placements around your important events. If you’re a top-level established artist, then this becomes more about controlling the flow of communications, deciding which outlets can run which stories when, and so on. For the rest of us, it’s about building a sense of momentum for your career and making sure more and more media outlets cover you in increasingly visible, impactful ways. It can also be about forging brand partnerships, collaborations, putting on showcase events or performances, and managing your social media and digital marketing, depending on the publicist and your own career goals.


Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize.

Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize. If what your trying to promote simply isn’t a good story, or doesn’t have the necessary elements in place for media to want to cover it, then you can pay A LOT of money (see next section) and get very little in return—and believe me, there are plenty of people out there who will gladly take your hard-earned cash if you’ll give it to them.

For campaign-based publicity, if you’re not playing a thoughtfully programmed concert at a relatively noteworthy (or a wildly unusual) venue, or releasing a professionally recorded album with a compelling theme on a respected label, or receiving a significant award that media have covered before, then you will most likely not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

For ongoing publicity, if you don’t have a relatively full schedule, ideas about interesting projects you want to do, a willingness to do interviews and promo performances, and at least a baseline of industry bona fides (top conservatory training, competition wins, awards, successful recordings, social media traction, etc.), then you most likely will not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

There are a lot of people who hire a publicist just because it makes them feel like they have arrived at a certain career milestone. This is not a good reason. Let’s briefly look at how you can tell if a publicist is actually getting results for you.


There are a few ways to tell if a publicist is actually making things happen or just taking your money and laughing all the way to the bank:

  • Media Placements: Listings, previews, interviews, reviews—are media covering you and your events? Also make sure to distinguish actual media placements with smoke and mirrors media placements (i.e. places that simply re-post a press release, tiny blogs whose readership is literally you, your publicist, and the person who wrote the piece, or pay-to-play websites where your publicist pays them to review you so they can say, “Look, I got you some coverage!!”).
  • Traffic to your website and social media: You should see a gradual but steady increase in online traffic and engagement around you (which, by the way, you should know how to read and monitor—more on that in another post). This might not happen overnight, but if you’re paying someone to increase your public profile, that should be reflected in the numbers.
  • More people should know your name: Even if you’re not getting covered immediately (and it can take a moment for the rubber to hit the road), then at the very least your publicist should be talking about you to people and trying to get them interested in you. And eventually that should somehow filter back to you via the trickles of communication that make up any niche industry. If after a few months of publicity, someone doesn’t say, “I heard about what you were doing from so-and-so!” then you should ask what’s being done for you.
  • A sense of momentum: This is a bit more difficult to quantify, but if you’re paying someone to promote you, you should feel a sense of excitement and an upward trajectory to your career—that you’re headed in a positive direction and taking significant steps to get there. This is crucial, but it’s also an area where many publicists can talk a great game to their clients, and sell them on the belief that they’re becoming stars, without actually delivering on any of the first three points…so while this is important, if it’s all you’re getting then you need to be wary.

Those are a few pointers in terms of deliverables. Now let’s talk money…


This is the question I get most often—how much do publicists charge? Obviously it depends on the publicist, how established they are, what other artists they represent, etc., but there’s one hard and fast rule: good publicity is expensive. If a major market publicist is charging less than $1000 a month, then chances are they don’t have the contacts or influence (or confidence in their abilities) to really deliver for you. Good publicity takes a certain level of expertise and experience, as well as contacts and relationships that are established over a long period of time, and you will pay a premium for access to both of those things.

Generally speaking, campaign-based PR is more expensive since it’s a shorter time-period, and has more concrete and high-pressure deliverables for the publicist. You should expect to pay at least $1000-1500 per month on the low end, to $5,000 and up (though for niche genres, unless you’re a superstar you will quite frankly almost never see a financial return on that kind of an investment). Ongoing publicity rates can depend on the length of the relationship and how much you have to actually publicize, but you should still be prepared to pay north of $1000 a month. Think of it as hiring a part-time employee to work with you on your career.

There can be countless add-on costs as well, such as press release writing, social media and website management, event management, and so on.


Hopefully that gives you an understanding about the core concepts of branding, media relations, and when to hire a publicist. Next up, we’ll look into some other ways that you can tell your story and present your public-facing brand: your website, social media and digital marketing, and the various audio/visual/written assets that represent you and your music.

Andrew Ousley

With more than a decade of experience in the music industry, Andrew Ousley has worked with artists and organizations such as Lawrence Brownlee, Conrad Tao, Kevin Puts, Warner Music, On Site Opera, and more. He has overseen the marketing, promotion, publicity, and project management of fourteen #1 albums, from core classical to crossover. He is the founder and president of Unison Media, an integrated music company that handles publicity, marketing, social media, websites, and more. He is also the creator, curator, and presenter of The Crypt Sessions, a concert series in a crypt in Harlem, and runs Burger Club.

The Media and the Message

When I read Kenneth D. Froelich’s article “Lessons From The Central Valley” back in June here on NewMusicBox, his experiences presenting new music in Fresno resonated with my own as a presenter/producer, publicist, and music journalist and sparked some additional thoughts about audience development and the media.

(For those already knowledgeable about publicity and marketing, some of this may seem obvious or old hat. But I’ve learned from interacting with musicians, composers, and presenting organizations that a lot of them aren’t all as well versed in this sort of thing as I might have supposed, so my hope is that this will be useful to at least some of you.)

One of the lessons Froelich mentioned was to “shop local,” noting that when promoting an event, providing a local connection or angle is helpful in gaining the attention of the media. That’s true for all local journalists, not just those covering music or the arts, and there’s an important corollary to that.

“The media” is not a monolithic entity. It’s made up of a variety of outlets (each with a particular focus) and individuals (each with their own personality, interests, preferences, and so on). Knowing the specifics about each outlet and each individual can help you to target your communications more effectively, and even to develop angles and story ideas that may be of interest specifically to those individuals.

In my work with the Mizzou New Music Initiative, we’ve been fortunate to have local newspapers and radio pay a good amount of attention to our signature event, the Mizzou International Composers Festival, from the beginning.

That’s partly because Columbia, a college town with a population of 115,000, roughly equidistant from St. Louis and Kansas City, has a lot of local media for a city its size. There are two newspapers: the Daily Tribune and the Missourian, which is published by Mizzou’s School of Journalism and is not a campus paper, but rather a daily covering local, regional, and national news. The J-school also plays a role in the operation of the local NBC and NPR affiliates, and the market is served by affiliates of the other broadcast TV networks and a total of 15 radio stations.

It’s also because rather than just sending out press releases and hoping for the best, we’ve made an effort to identify and interact with specific people in the media who have taken an interest, and to keep them informed about what we’re doing.
For example, Aarik Danielsen, the arts editor of the Tribune, also is a musician and composer. When MNMI presented its first summer festival in 2010, it was clear immediately from our first contact that he had a genuine interest in what we were doing, so we were pleased to assist in arranging interviews, provide photos and links to online media, and do whatever else we could to help him cover the story.

For that first festival, Danielsen wrote a couple of stories for the Sunday edition, supplemented by online-only interviews, and he’s continued to produce extensive and substantive coverage of the festival each year. He and the paper’s other arts reporter, Amy Wilder, have written about various other events and profiled students and faculty members involved in MNMI, too.
Over at the Missourian, ongoing relationships are more difficult to develop, since the student reporters change assignments each semester and eventually graduate. However, when we learned that editor/faculty member Elizabeth Brixey had been a fellow in two National Endowment for the Arts journalism institutes and is an amateur French horn player, we began sending information specifically to her, which has led to reporters being assigned to cover several stories about the Initiative.

Now obviously, not every media outlet is going to have a musician or composer in a position of editorial importance, so we’ve undoubtedly had some good luck there. But the basic principle—look for specific people who may be interested in what you’re doing and then get information to them—still applies.

Contrary to some stereotypical views of public relations, there’s nothing inherently manipulative about this. You can’t force a reporter to cover a story—you can only appeal to their interests and then help them get the information they’re seeking. And although some journalists are understandably wary of professional publicists trying to “spin” them, most are glad to get pertinent information in a timely fashion, to have their phone calls returned and questions answered promptly, and to get some help in setting up interviews, obtaining photos, and so on.
Froelich’s essay also noted that in Fresno, “a smaller, economically disadvantaged market, nothing beats traditional media” and that social media had not been particularly effective in selling tickets for his series.

The conventional wisdom is that older people consume more traditional media like newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, while younger people flock to social media and get more of their news from the internet. While my experiences suggest that’s generally true, there’s no real reason one has to choose between traditional and social media; a comprehensive communications plan should include both.

The first year I worked on the Mizzou International Composers Festival, most of our time was spent reaching out and pitching stories to traditional media, but the social media part of our plan has grown in importance in each subsequent year.
For the last two years of the MICF, we’ve even laid out a social media schedule for the weeks leading up to it, as well as during festival week. Tweets and posts to Facebook are scheduled throughout the day at regular intervals, with enough room in between for spontaneous and serendipitous updates, retweets and reposts of select messages from various participants, and communicating with other users.

The prescheduled messages cover all sorts of topics, including links to information about each of the composers and performers; videos and streaming audio; ticketing information; background about the Initiative and the MICF; and more.
While we can’t really attribute an increase in ticket sales specifically to social media efforts, the festival has enjoyed modest gains in attendance each year, so the overall plan seems to be working.

However, the really interesting thing is that in looking at who follows our Twitter account, we discovered that a vast majority of followers identify themselves as being involved in some way with music, including many composers, but also musicians, ensembles, educators, and presenters.

So we’re now trying to find ways to make use of that information going forward—for example, how best to employ Twitter as we solicit applicants for the resident composer spots at the 2015 MICF.

If we hadn’t developed an active social media component to our communications plan, or taken the time to analyze our followers list, we might not have discovered that so many people were paying attention through that particular channel. The takeaway is that as social media continues to evolve rapidly, the benefits may not be obvious at first, but instead may reveal themselves as you go.

Classical Music in the Era of ESPN

What if there was a ESPN's Scorecenter that showcased music scores.

What if there was a ESPN’s Scorecenter that showcased music scores?

Imagine a television station where live performances of select national events are broadcast seven days a week. While the events themselves are often quite expensive to see in person, the broadcasts are available for anyone with a cable subscription, ensuring access to millions of television viewers across the nation regardless of income or location. Those who create and organize these performances give short live interviews, both before and after the events. In-between events, news programs are held discussing upcoming live shows, recapping past events, and giving behind-the-scenes looks at programs that are still in development.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, it already exists—and it is called ESPN.

We musicians often bemoan the attention that our society lavishes on professional athletics, while our concert halls struggle to fill seats. It is true that athletics has always been a large part of 20th-century American culture. However, for a brief period of time—primarily during the heyday of radio—our professional orchestras shared the spotlight with athletics. Radio stations that would broadcast local baseball games would also broadcast live performances of our radio orchestras. In the world of radio, both athletics and music were treated as equal partners. But much of this changed with the advent of mass media and cable television.
I don’t believe that I exaggerate when I say that, over the past 35 years of its existence, ESPN has successfully transformed professional and collegiate athletics (which, some would argue, are more or less the same…but I digress) from a “mere” multi-million dollar enterprise into the multi-billion dollar juggernaut that it is today. It is ESPN that has allowed millions of cable subscribers to tune into their favorite sports teams on almost any given day, follow their every off-season move, and obsess over the slightest minutia of their all-star fantasy football/baseball/water-polo roster. It allows any sports fan to consume sports entertainment twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—as much as they can handle. Miss the game? Catch the recap. Anticipating the next game? Catch the “pre-pregame” interview.

Which makes me wonder: is it possible that this model—one that has turned professional athletics into a multi-billion dollar enterprise—could work in bringing classical music to a much broader audience? Would a “classical music ESPN” work in bridging the gap between our great musical institutions and every cable-subscribing home in America? By leveling the media playing field, could classical music once again compete for the attention of American households?

Sure, there are plenty of ways for individuals to watch and/or listen to recorded broadcasts of concerts. PBS does a great job of providing a multitude of concerts for viewing. If recorded concerts could develop a great audience, perhaps a model similar to MTV would work. However, those of us who work, eat, breath, and sleep classical music know the sheer excitement of watching a live performance. Think of this from the sports perspective—how many people do you know who get excited over taped broadcasts of live athletics? I can think of three, and they are all a tad on the obsessive side.

(Besides, we all know what MTV has turned into. I am personally not interested in seeing “The Real World: Boston Symphony Orchestra.” Wait, actually…)

Similarly, we can point to many individual efforts by orchestras, opera companies, and radio stations to provide live radio and internet broadcasts of their performances. However, these broadcasts are not centrally located, and are primarily targeted to those who are already classical music connoisseurs. If you are not a fan of classical music, you are not going to suddenly find yourself on the New York Philharmonic website, accidentally listening to their live concert.

Which is why a “classical music ESPN” could work. Heck, the Golf Channel has existed now for over a decade, so why not a channel dedicated to the live performance of classical music? Why not a channel that would bring conductors, composers, and performers into every cable-owning home in America? Then, instead of watching that rerun of Storage Wars: Texas for the seventeenth time, you could obsessively follow live news updates on the recent premiere of Andrew Norman’s Piano Concerto with the L.A. Philharmonic. (Hey, I would!)

Of course, there are insurmountable hurdles to overcome to make this work, not the least of which is money. Lots of it. More than most of us reading this article probably have. Additionally, there would need to be a buy-in from all of America’s greatest classical music institutions. Imagine ESPN without the New York Yankees? It would be the same if a station like this existed but the New York Met (as opposed to the Mets) didn’t sign up.

And what about ticket sales? Sure, initial sales might struggle slightly, but if this were at all successful then I can’t think of any better way to increase sales than to bring classical music to a much broader audience. Of course, if this became a deal-breaker then local concerts could be blacked out in the same way manner as local sporting events.

So, what do you think? Is this just a harebrained idea of mine, or does it have merit? Could it ever happen? Perhaps not. But then again, I don’t know if the founders of ESPN ever would have imagined the sort of colossal enterprise their fledgling station would turn into three decades down the road.



Kenneth D. Froelich (photo by Janna Melkonian)

Kenneth D. Froelich is a composer and Associate Professor of Music at California State University, Fresno. Froelich’s music has been performed worldwide, with notable performances by Earplay, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Pacific Serenades. He currently serves as the director of Fresno New Music, where he seeks to showcase a wide variety of composers and new music performing ensembles in the greater Fresno metropolitan area.