Beyond MySpace: More Web Resources to Help You Succeed
Keeping your head in the clouds can actually boost your career
Remember MySpace? It began in 2003 as a worldwide social network that permitted musicians, and others, to build profiles to promote their music, post pictures (and, later, even video), list upcoming performance dates, and upload MP3s so visitors could hear sample tracks. It was a place to discover new and emerging performers who might not have the advantage of a major label or budget to do widespread marketing. The innovative, free service looked somewhat amateurish, fed almost entirely by its members, but it opened the door for similar, albeit slicker, services.
MySpace was a revolutionary "cloud service," a Web-based service that allows users to access applications or to store files on a remote server. MySpace reached the height of its popularity in 2006, a year after its purchase for $580 million by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, with some estimates claiming the site had as many as 100 million users. In its wake, such so-called cloud services as Google Apps, InstantEncore, Flickr, and YouTube have emerged on the Internet, and are helping musicians to get the job done quicker and easier, and in some cases, to merely survive.
"Without some of these services, it would almost be impossible to run a group like A Far Cry," says Jesse Irons, a violinist with the Boston-based, conductorless string orchestra. "In particular, Google Apps is a complete godsend for us."
Google Apps is a suite of online Web applications by the same people who brought you the search engine Google. It includes a host of services, including a word-processing program similar to Microsoft Word, a calendar feature, and a place to store and create photo albums. Instead of having to circulate files, such as press releases, as e-mail attachments (or, heaven forbid, faxes), the Google App document resides in one place: in the clouds, if you will. With it, the performer or ensemble can create, modify, and store documents—such as budgets, concertgoer lists, press materials, all in one place, accessible at any time from any computer—or iPhone or BlackBerry—anywhere in the world.
Instead of e-mailing rehearsal schedules and future performance dates, simply log into Google Apps, and anyone can see an ensemble's schedule and add notes or comments accordingly.
"It's like having a virtual filing cabinet," says Jason Fisher, A Far Cry violinist.
Thanks to the suite's recently launched video-sharing application, the ensemble can also store concert footage. Members can review it and discuss the weaknesses and strengths of a particular performance and decide what music files should be released to the public. Because the footage is stored on Google's servers, users no longer have to rely on the limited storage space of e-mail to share video, or invest tens of thousands of dollars on a personal server.
Though it doesn't yet have the ubiquity of Google Apps, InstantEncore is an emerging website that promotes live classical music. Echoing some of the virtues of MySpace, this online service allows soloists or ensembles to create profiles for themselves or their group, and upload MP3s of various music tracks.
Another perk of membership: once a group uploads MP3s to InstantEncore, the site will mail members a small box of business cards printed with links to those tracks. Each card comes printed with easy instructions for downloading the tracks for free. A Far Cry passes the cards out at concerts as a way to keep fans' interest piqued.
"You can go home and instantly get an extra taste of the concert you just saw," Fisher says.
Then, of course, there's the ubiquitous video-sharing website YouTube that's been a powerful force in popular culture. In fact, Fisher was recently sitting in the library at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he noticed that the person sitting next to him was watching a video of A Far Cry's performance of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. That person had Googled the song, which led to footage of A Far Cry playing the tune on YouTube.
The entirely free YouTube video-sharing site has been a fantastic way for groups like A Far Cry to grow their audiences, and not only in terms of numbers—it's enabled A Far Cry to cultivate a younger audience as well.
"We've had kind of an amazing number of views from our YouTube videos— 200 views a day," Irons says. "And that's with very little advertising."
CONSIDER THE COPYRIGHT
The International Contemporary Ensemble's focus on playing new works keeps a site like YouTube out of reach because of licensing issues. Since the group doesn't own the music and none of it is in the public domain, posting concert footage is a lot more complicated. However, the 30-member chamber orchestra, whose members are split between Chicago and New York, began to embrace cloud services, like Google Apps, almost from the moment the service was available.
"We were aware we'd need a system like that to have people together if not geographically, then at least technologically," says Josh Rubin, the ensemble's program coordinator.
Though slow to move on other services, such as InstantEncore, the International Contemporary Ensemble has worked to get people to its website, its chosen one-stop shop for reading recent news releases, finding concert information, and down the road, downloading video and audio segments.
In terms of marketing and promotion, the ensemble still heavily relies on its physical mailing list for sending out postcards announcing concert dates or fund-raising efforts. The ensemble, however, is looking at podcasts as a way to broadcast its recordings through the Internet and is hoping for advances in the ability to embed videos as well. For instance, while mainstream pop bands have had MTV and VH-1 as means for expressing themselves visually, classical-music groups have really had no outlet for doing that. YouTube is one place where Rubin sees chamber ensembles and soloists expressing their creativity in the form of music videos.
Online services may be the future, but musicians must still strike a balance between nurturing a younger (and typically more online-savvy) audience and continuing to use traditional forms of media so as to not alienate their tried-and-true more mature audience.
"The classical music scene is still relatively older," A Far Cry's Irons says. "For that reason, people worry that slightly older patrons won't be able to understand the website or the blog. People don't want to alienate [the concert-goers] they've already got signed up on their lists. I think that we kind of take the opposite view. There's this vast untapped audience out there. It's younger and much more comfortable downloading tracks to an iPod, and what's the harm in putting it out there and at least trying? It's not expensive, it's not a huge risk to us, and it's not hugely time consuming either."
The other challenge is finding someone within an ensemble who is willing to take on the task of setting up these services and educating the rest of the members about the technology. Fisher says there's usually someone in every chamber-music group that will have some kind of familiarity with these services.
And if there's no one—or if you're a solo performer—don't be afraid to e-mail or call customer support and ask questions, which is exactly what A Far Cry did when setting up its InstantEncore account.
"I think the key point here is that musicians in this day and age cannot just be musicians," Irons says. "We have to constantly be educating ourselves and learning more and thinking creatively about how we can get our music to more people, because that ultimately is what it's all about."
This article, "Beyond MySpace: More Web Resources to Help You Succeed," is part of the Strings Archive, which you can access with a paid site subscription.
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