The Business Challenges of a Canadian Classical Artist
By Jaye Marsh
As classical musicians , we don ’ t often engage the ‘ industry ’ side of music because most of us play live : in orchestras , for weddings and parties , or we produce our own solo recitals . There is usually a marketing team to think about that .
For most of my career I have been a freelance orchestral musician . I bounce from pick-up gigs to auditions to pinch-hitting in community groups to giving occasional recitals . I never gave much thought to a brand , a look , a grant , a project budget , a marketing plan , or a PR strategy . Then I recorded an album . It started with an innocent offer from a composer friend , “ Get a FACTOR grant and I ’ ll write you a piece !” Then I got the grant . “ Now what !?”
First I found a sound engineer to help us play and sound our best . Getting it to cut through the noise of 49,000 tracks uploaded per day was the next big challenge . This is particularly difficult if you ’ re a classical artist . When I was in school it was mostly soloists and wunderkinds who had good recordings and they had labels to do all the work . Because of this few people in my world know how to manage this side of the music business . This includes how to promote a single ( What ’ s a single ?), distribute recordings ( DistroWho ?), develop a marketing and promotion plan , or book a PR agent and to know that they don ’ t necessarily do publicity ( Do I need publicity ?)
I wanted to promote the Canadian composers who wrote music for me , not just put out a promotional disc . The problem was that all the things you need to know when you are the front face of a recording project was never part of our training at university . I would have gladly sacrificed some of my history and harmony classes for more industry knowledge ! Full disclosure , I am also a graphic designer , a book editor , an event planner , and I worked as an assistant director in film for years , so I had some skills going in . Without that , I had no hope of accomplishing any of my goals .
When I went looking for help here in Canada , NO ONE had information of what works in the classical sphere . I had to get creative ! I looked south to the Hip Hop world to get information ( they know their independent music poop ) and joined their marketing network . I also found a PR agency with good resources ( again in the US ), and hired some social media help to give me a boost .
I also joined the FACTOR jury pool . Not only to contribute to my community but to better understand the recording industry . If I ’ m totally honest , I also get to steal fabulous marketing ideas and find inspiration from the unbelievably talented musicians we have in this country !
Applying all of this to the independent classical world is still a challenge . Our audiences have not been trained to buy merch beyond a disc (!?) or sign up for newsletters or collect themselves into something resembling a fan base . As for output to fuel the marketing , our timelines are much longer to prepare music , venues for performances are expensive for us , and so is recording . Classical artists are becoming popular on TikTok but not in ways that encourage new music discovery , just scale Olympics or the fabulous cross-genre Lizzo .
We also have issues fitting in to any current music consumption model . Apple has made it easier to discover new music with the recent launch of the Classical app . Although I question whether isolating classical away from consumers of other genres is the way forward for building new audiences . With Def Leppard and Björk performing live with orchestras this year , keeping our music sealed off is a disservice .
Through this exercise I opened a Pandora ’ s box and caught the recording bug , am writing my own music , and I ’ ve started a band ! In truth , this is partly because my inner mercenary realized that I can ’ t sync license the stuff that was written for me , even though I ’ m playing it ! Noted . Now there ’ s this AI thing to add to my marketing plan . Brain . Full !
The learning continues ... copyright , mechanical licenses , album artwork , grant proposals , commissioning , touring showcases , P2 visas , SOCAN , performance rights , photography ( how do I make my face work ?!), buying ads , AI , crowdfunding , stage plots , sales tracking , award shows , music videos , websites , email funnels , microphones , do I print tshirts or tea towels ? ...
Jaye Marsh is the WildFlute ; a water sprite , a trickster , a siren . She is a Canadian flutist and is the driving force behind the FACTOR-funded Flute in the Wild project , new music that takes you into the wild spaces of Canada through a flute lens . Jaye is also a graphic designer , writer , editor , children ’ s book illustrator , and pioneer of eco-friendly events and lives in a small house in Toronto with her husband and two boys . She can be reached at flute @ jayemarsh . com .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 63