The Ultimate Selfie

A question that often comes up is “how can we take advantage of the exposure surrounding this event to create a lasting relationship with our fans?”

Sometimes the answer is very simple.

lnop-selfie-2

Converting an audience into Twitter/Facebook followers or email list subscribers is not always easy. It takes sustained activity to have a really successful presence on social media, but once in a while viral content requires little more than a photo with 6,000 of your closest friends.

Gustavo Dudamel / Ode to Joy Promotion

GD_Beethoven_Ode3000

While consulting on the LA Phil’s strategic plan for media, I was asked to help out with a promotion the orchestra were running with the LA Times. Continue reading

Uncovering Classics: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem

On Remembrance Sunday 2014, Southbank Centre hosted a day-long event culminating in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with students from the Royal Academy of Music alongside the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and a specially formed Voicelab Children’s Choir.

This was a huge event requiring years of planning. I worked to deliver Marin’s vision for the media components of the project, devising a way to bring the education element into the live performance, creating a permanent record of the full concert, and developing a set of digital resources for schools studying subject matter related to the War Requiem.

This project won the 2015 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Learning and Participation.

Fauré Requiem

Fauré Requiem

Recordings strategy at King’s College has several guiding principles. In addition to embodying the choir’s traditions of religion, scholarship and excellence, we aim to record the choir’s core repertoire, and to make definitive recordings of every work we approach. Continue reading

Strategy: Berlin Philharmonic

berlin-phil-label-header

The Berliner Philharmoniker approached me for help with their recording strategy. Sir Simon Rattle’s exclusive contract with EMI was nearing the end of its term, and the orchestra were exploring their options for recording. My brief was to help the orchestra decide what form a successful own-label might take by giving them a better understanding of the sales potential of the orchestra’s recordings in each territory and likely future trends as well the economics of conventional distribution vs. a variety of direct-to-consumer models.

I provided the orchestra with international sales data and case studies of sales trends for other artists leaving major labels to sell their own recordings. I supplied sample deal terms for third-party fulfilment services and example margin breakdowns for a variety of scenarios, along with a huge amount of supporting reference material. This helped the orchestra make an informed decision about the best way to move forward.

In April 2014, the orchestra launched Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings, becoming the first major orchestra to launch a label primarily distributing products direct to consumers around the world.

Viral Marketing: Webcasts

With the help of a generous donor, King’s College installed a system to make very high quality audio recordings of chapel services. Each week, a new service is posted on the choir’s website, available to stream free of charge.

We soft-launched the service in 2013, and without any major promotion it quickly established an audience outnumbering the congregation in the chapel. To spread the word about our webcasts, we devised a simple viral marketing campaign for April Fool’s Day 2014.

The audio was captured using the chapel recording system (the very high notes aided by melodyne, not helium, which wouldn’t really work). The video was shot to playback using a borrowed camcorder. Everybody involved generously gave their time. The total cost of the campaign was £3 (for the balloon). A spoof press release  (containing the video) was emailed to  200 people, and the video was shared on the choir’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The campaign was a dramatic success, viewed 250,000 times in the first 24 hours, and 500,000 times in the first week. It was featured in April Fools roundups by news outlets including the Guardian, Telegraph, NBC News, Huffington Post and Daily Mail. It was shared more than 67,000 times on Facebook and 1,200 times on Twitter.

The immediate result was a tenfold increase in listening on the webcasts page. In the long term it more than doubled the regular audience for streaming webcasts.

Commentary: The New Yorker

Will Robin asked me to contribute an illustration to his New Yorker blog post “The Fat Lady is Still Singing” on the persistent myth of decline in classical music.

Stories about “the death of x” are link-bait. They get widely shared because they present a scandalous picture. We wanted to ensure that our rebuttal got as much traction as the original, by making an ultimately undramatic argument (“the reality is much less exciting than it appears”) in a dramatic way.

We liked the idea of an infographic to illustrate the central premise of the piece, but wanted to avoid the common situation in which the rhetorical flourish (the graphic) gets utterly divorced from the factual source material. We felt we had a better chance of changing peoples’ minds if they could easily check every citation.

killing-classical-music-large

We settled on the idea of something absurdly big, which allows the user to see the overall picture at a glance, but also to zoom in on the sources of specific details. The graphic contains almost as many words as the article it illustrates.

The story immediately went viral (17,000 shares on Facebook and counting) and became (for a time) the most popular article on The New Yorker’s website.

Strategy: Kronos Quartet

Kronos photographed in San Francisco, CA March 26, 2013©Jay Blakesberg

Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Clients often come to me for help with their broader recording strategy. A common question is “Our exclusive major label contract is up for renewal, and we’re not sure what to do next. Other artists are starting their own labels, doing digital releases or selling direct to consumers. How do we choose the right options for our future projects?”

As part of a larger strategic review in their 40th anniversary year, the Kronos Performing Arts Association (the non-profit organisation of the Kronos Quartet) asked me to help them survey the range of options for releasing Kronos’ future recordings. I researched the sales of their previous recordings and provided budgets, costings, projections, and typical deal terms for a number of options, enabling them to make informed decisions about matching each recording project with the ideal avenue of production and distribution.

Mozart Requiem

The second release from the King’s College is a unique recording of Mozart’s Requiem. This release beautifully showcases the branding we created for the label, and establishes its credentials as a producer of the highest quality recordings.

Mozart Cover

Disc one includes the full Süssmayr version of the Mozart Requiem along with excerpts of completions by Finnissy, Maunder, Beyer, Druce and Levin.

To compliment this, I produced a second disc, narrated by soprano soloist Elin Manahan Thomas, exploring the origins, composition, completion and mythology of the Requiem through a documentary written by the noted Mozart scholar, Cliff Eisen.

We also created a video about the album, which is included with the iTunes version of the record.

Continue reading

Label Launch

Nine Lessons & Carols

In 2012, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge had reached the end of its contract with EMI, and decided to take artistic and economic control of its recorded output with a new media initiative. I joined the project in May 2012 to oversee the commercial side of the choir’s media activities, including the launch and ongoing management of their new label. Continue reading

Content Acquisition

One of my responsibilities at Naxos was content acquisition for the group’s platforms.

In just 18 months, Naxos Music Library’s total quantity of content increased from 700,000 tracks in 2010 to more than 1 million tracks in 2012 (+40%).

Content now comes from more than 400 labels, up from 200 in 2010, and the service offers major label content for the first time, thanks to a landmark deal with EMI which paves the way for Naxos Music Library to work with all four major labels.

Obviously doing all these deals requires identifying potential partners, approaching them with a proposal and closing the deal, but expansion on this scale also required changes to ingestion processes, reporting procedures, server-side infrastructure, content management systems, and pricing controls and strategy.

ClassicsOnline Print Campaign

The brief for this project was simple: to create a print campaign to help people understand the value of a $10/£8 a month subscription service. Working with Naxos’ design team in Manila, I came up with this:

My First Classical Music App

One of my first projects at Naxos was to plan the launch of an iPad app based on the already-successful My First Classical Music Book.

With no precedent to follow, we had to devise a sensible pricing strategy and find a way to communicate the value and functionality of a new type of enhanced book product to parents around the world.

Marketing included:

  • Launch event at the Royal Overseas League club
  • In-person demonstrations to key press and servicing to international media
  • Demonstration video
  • Significant store placement on iTunes
  • Targeted pay-per-click advertising
  • Participation in Apple’s educational Volume Purchase Program

My First Classical Music App went on to become one of Naxos’ best-selling digital products of 2011.

Enhanced iBooks

As soon as iTunes announced support for audio content in digital books, Naxos started work on a series of enhanced iBooks, converting existing texts and recordings into interactive guides to classical music, with full-length tracks embedded in the text.

I announced the first books in this series at a launch event alongside My First Classical Music App, and a combination of press coverage, email marketing and outstanding retail placement helped to make Beethoven – His Life and Music the #1 music book on the iBookstore.

Altissimo! Digital Compilation

Early in 2011, Naxos acquired the American military music specialists, Altissimo! Recordings.

Keen to explore what we could do online with the new catalog, we created a digital compilation for July 4th.

Other labels tried similar things. At least one major label released an album at the same price with the same number of tracks and almost the same cover, within 24 hours of our release date. We got the marketing right, though, and our album outsold the competition more than 10-1, putting the album in top twenty of the iTunes chart by the end of Independence Day, generating more than $10,000 in revenue in a single week.

AMPPR Keynote

Shortly after joining Naxos, I was asked to give the keynote address for the 2011 conference of the Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio at WNYC‘s venue, the Greene Space.

This was a valuable opportunity to reach out to an important group of promotional partners.

What to tell them, though? Not knowing a lot about radio, I talked about the future. The title was “10 ways to fake it as a futurist”. You can download a PDF of the talk here.

Philip Glass: Live From Soho

iTunes’ “Live From Soho” series offers significant online and offline promotion, so I was keen to find a classical artist that would fit into this predominantly pop-alternative campaign.

In January 2010, Philip Glass became the first classical artist to make a recording at flagship Apple retail store in Soho. The store remained open throughout the performance, but more than 300 people filled the upstairs, standing in silence to hear more than 45 minutes of live, acoustic music.

The recording is available on iTunes, and includes a rare performance of Philip and Ira Glass performing the Wichita Vortex Sutra.

Leif Ove Andsnes live at the Apple Store

In November 2009, New York’s classiest Apple Store opened at 67th and Broadway. Because of the store’s proximity to Lincoln Center, Apple’s retail marketing team were keen to use it as a venue to cement Apple’s relationship with the arts world.

This was the first Apple Store in New York to accommodate a Steinway D*, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some serious piano music.

Working with EMI Classics, I arranged for Leif Ove Andsnes to give the first performance at the store. We arranged the show after closing time so the store would be quiet, but Leif was playing in the window, so despite the cold, crowds gathered in the snow outside. We let people in between movements so nobody would freeze. The concert was recorded for release on iTunes. Media coverage included the front page of the New York Times arts section.

* There’s space for a Steinway D on the stage in the Soho store, but it won’t fit in the elevator, and the architects wouldn’t let me carry it up the glass staircase. I might have got away with it if I hadn’t asked first.

New York Philharmonic iTunes Pass

When Alan Gilbert took over as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009, he was a celebrated conductor with a very small recorded output, unencumbered by a major-label contract and free to do something innovative.

I worked with the New York Philharmonic to put together the first classical iTunes Pass. $149.99 bought a subscription to receive 30 concerts from Alan’s inaugural season, each released within a few weeks of the performances. The pass included the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s EXPO and the hugely successful performance of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre.

At $149.99, this was hardly an impulse buy. If you treat it as 30 albums, though, this is one of the best-selling digital classical products of all time.

Email Marketing

In 2006, I worked with Apple’s email marketing team to create the iTunes Classical Music Spotlight email newsletter. It was the iTunes Store’s first genre-specific email campaign, and quickly became the single most powerful tool at my disposal for promoting classical music. The exact number of recipients is confidential, but it’s fair to say it was in six figures, and it generated approximately ten times my salary in additional turnover.

This became the model for other genre-specific email campaigns, although the Classical Spotlight remained one of the most successful, with unusually high open, click-through and conversion rates.

After a while, they let me write the main US music newsletter as well. This was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to sneak in some classical priorities alongside the pop, country and hip-hop.

iTunes now has more than 200 million customers, so this is one of the largest email distribution lists in the world. It’s likely New Music Tuesday was read by more people than all the newspapers in the US.