Great Expectations: Social Media and the Classical Guitar

Wanna be my friend? One of the biggest mishaps of guitarists nowadays is the poor use of social media.

Since its adoption, it was clear that social media was going to start a great migration of the information sources in the inchoate guitar market. Nowadays, social media plays the most important role in the marketing efforts of the majority of guitarists and guitar organizations. The question is: was it worth it? Lets find out.

Before the arrival of social media, as with most other types of information, guitarists relied on ‘official’ sources such as Classical Guitar Magazine, Gendai Guitar, Soundboard, and other venues that quenched our thirst for knowledge about the latest happenings and personalities of our instrument. With social media, the classical guitar market – historically isolated from the mainstream classical music industry since its inception – found a democratic venue where to exhibit its development. Finally could the community show the world the ‘progress’ it had made, so far obscured by the diminishing interest of mainstream venues such as TV, radio, music labels, management agencies and other major players of the classical core.

The main problem with social media is that it beclouds the public by providing an equal real state for all users. No matter the size of the organization or the relative importance of the artist, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other sites provide a unifying template that makes no difference between the average Joe and the experienced master.  The Berliner Philharmoniker does not have a bigger size picture as a brand new guitar organization, therefore making them ‘equal’ for the inexperienced audience member. Certainly this was good news for many guitarists who would have never been able to have their names next to the likes of Segovia, Bream or Williams just by playing and uploading ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’. However, have there been any tangible results?

Benchmarking: The Classical Music Core and Social Media.

From the beginning, it seems that the Core Classical Music Industry (CCMI) approached social media from a different angle as classical guitarists. Large institutions with solid marketing budgets were able to advertise and effectively cash in the promises that social media advertises: increased audiences. However, given that the major CCMI artists and institutions were an active part of the mainstream, there has always been a clear differentiation between the established artist and the amateur for the quality of the material and the association with brands (labels, concert halls, organizations)that differentiate them from the crowds of violinists and pianists uploading their content in these sites.

Further, the development of a musical career in the CCMI seems to be much more related to personal connections and savvy networking than numbers in a generic website. A quick perusal of the fan pages of major classical artists will surprise the reader for their apparent ‘lack of relevance’. Take for example the Facebook pages of Berta Rojas (89K followers) and Valery Gergiev (27K followers) or Lorin Maazel (47K followers). For those unfamiliar with the two latter, Maazel is probably the most important conductor in the 20/21st century and Gergiev is the Artistic Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Mariinsky Theater. Further, a personal friend of V. Putin, Gergiev is one of the most powerful figures in the world of culture. Certainly, Berta Rojas is an established artist with many accolades to her credit, but is her ‘virtual fan base’ reflective of the reality and importance of the career of these artists in the real world? I would ponder that it is not.

In spite of this, a large number of guitarists pursue ‘Facebook careers’, creating multiple profiles full of guitar ‘contacts’ that are neither targeted nor segmented. Having learned from the mishaps of MySpace, Facebook limits the number of ‘friends’ one can have in order to deter cases like ‘Tila Tequila’. It seems however, that there are many ‘Tila Tequila’ wannabe’s in our guitar niche. With more than 1 Billion people belong to Facebook, having 5, 10 or 15 thousand friends in multiple personal profiles seems to be a poor investment of time and effort. Further, there are other artists who believe that their development is so evident, and their ‘playing level’ is so superior that they will be eventually ‘discovered’ by the power of the masses. Unfortunately for them, in a world where 11 hours of video are uploaded every second in Youtube, the chances of them rising above the crowds seems almost impossible. Who has the hours, days, or even years to spend analyzing and comparing ‘performances’ regardless of audio and video quality to finally determine that X or Y player is ‘the best’? Further, a large part of the inexperienced audience will be biased by number of views, quality of the video or other non-musical associations.

But why would these otherwise worthy artists pursue such a poor strategy to present themselves to the public? The answer is simple: Social Media is FREE. Lorin Maazel, Gergiev, Barenboim and many other artists and institutions count with the support of PR (Public Relations) agencies that target information to sources that provide the best return for investment, and although not cheap (the services of PR agencies can amount to thousands of dollars per month) their careers evince that these practices pay off.

Even though over time the community has slowly realized that the inflated promise of social media led to an over saturation that doesn’t benefit anybody anymore, I can probably count with my fingers the number of guitarists currently engaged with PR agencies on a regular basis. Engaging similar practices to those of the CCMI requires a change in mindset. Hiring a PR Agency requires money, which in turn requires an artist with a fundraising attitude. Artists and organizations should be wise to change the strings of their marketing strategies: No pain, no gain.

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Without other means of differentiation, it does not matter how many ‘friends’ one has.

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