As some of you may know, I recently joined Twitter. I cannot say enough about how much I love this platform! Just yesterday, a Tweep shared this article, written by Aaron Renn of Urbanophile. Focusing primarily on the Metropolitan Opera, he writes of how they and the opera industry as a whole are sorely behind in audience development. What does this mean for opera in the present? That the audience is literally dying. Without a younger generation taking an interest, companies are mounting costly productions for smaller audiences, taking in less revenue from ticket sales, and are having to heavily rely on donations from a dwindling pool of people able to give substantial gifts. We are looking at an unsustainable future for opera unless companies can start investing in their audiences.
As several colleagues and I discussed this topic on Twitter, we all agreed that the responsibility to invest in audience development does not lie solely with the companies themselves, but also with us as artists. We all have many personal connections with people who are not only interested in the arts, but interested in us as artists. How can we build on these connections and gain new audience members? Use these eight strategies for developing your network.
1. Build a mailing list
Social media platforms are fantastic for keeping people informed about your career in real time, but there are limitations. Due to the algorithms used, not all posts on your pages will be placed into the newsfeed of every one of your followers. This means that many of them may not be getting news about your career! Having followers is still important but the true fans are the people who sign up for your mailing list. These are the fans who are the most invested in your career and don't want to miss any news. Above all, they want to come along with you on your journey and are the most likely of your followers to get tickets to your performances. Help them feel like they are a part of it. Place a call to action button on your Facebook page to enable people to sign up for your mailing list. Have a mailing list sign up form available on your website and send out a sign up link through your Twitter and Facebook pages. Create your mailing list through free services like MailChimp and set up a schedule for sending out your updates. Send your subscribers exclusive content which you don't share on your social media pages to help keep them invested in you and your work.
2. Send out a personal invitation
This is such an easy way of reaching out but sometimes gets lost in the wake of mass-Facebook inviting. Do you know somebody who has been dying to see you perform? Is there somebody that likes the arts but loves the subject matter of the new opera you're in? Invite them. Send them a personal message explaining why you thought of them and that you would love to not only have them in the audience, but chat with them after the performance. Personal communications are always more meaningful and are likely to elicit a positive response.
3. Send your followers details before the show
Your friend/fan/follower/opera newbie has taken you up on your offer and is going to see your performance! How can you enhance their experience before they even get to the venue? Give them relevant pre-show details.
- Let them know that there are supertitles. Many people think that since most opera isn't in English, they won't be able to understand what is happening. They don't always realize that the supertitles are there to translate for them so they'll be able to understand the plot.
- Send them a link to a Wikipedia article about the opera. Now that they know there are supertitles, give them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the plot. Some people may not want to read the supertitles because they feel like they're missing the action onstage. Give them the choice so they will enjoy the performance in a way they would prefer.
- Share a link from Youtube of an aria that they may already recognize from the show (ex. Carmen's "Habanera"). Many people don't realize how much classical music they actually know! I remember hearing loud whispers and clapping during my first Rigoletto once "La donna è mobile" began because the audience knew and loved the melody. They'll look forward to hearing this part of the performance if they know to expect it.
- Share a teaser photo of your hair, makeup, and/or costume so they'll recognize you onstage. Sometimes we look nothing like ourselves in a production. Make sure they'll be able to spot you!
- Send a link to the opera company's website so they can read about the company itself and the production. Many company websites have a "first time at the opera" section so specifically point that out to your opera newbie.
Above all, tell them how much you're looking forward to seeing them at the show. Let them know to get there early for a drink and socializing before the performance starts.
4. Respond to all interaction on social media
This is huge! Social media is an extension of how people interact in person. If somebody tried to start a conversation with you, you wouldn't ignore them in person, so don't on social media! You'll be promoting your show from the time you announce the gig to the curtain closing at the final performance. Throughout all of your marketing efforts, make it a habit to interact with everyone who reaches out to you; respond to all comments and questions, or even give a simple "like" or "thank you" to acknowledge their comment. People are more likely to support an artist that appreciates them and engages with them.
5. Remember to include the kids!
So many opera companies offer programming for adults and children. Reach out to the parents in your network and let them know about performances that are family friendly; both ones you may or may not be in. Audience development not only encompasses engaging adults, but in giving children exposure to the arts. This creates our next generation of audiences and arts supporters.
6. Show up to meet and greets
Many gigs include appearances at donor events, or greeting members of the audience after a performance. Make an effort to be a part of these opportunities. Most of these audience members have never seen you perform until now and not only loved your performance, but want to tell you personally! It means a lot to them to meet the person behind the onstage persona and fantastic voice. Humbly receive their compliments and express your thanks that they chose to spend their night with you and your art.
7. Follow up after the performance
Your friend/fan/follower/opera newbie went to see you in your performance and they had such a great time! Send them a thank you for purchasing tickets and coming to see the show. Engage them in a dialogue; ask them what they thought of the performance and answer questions if they have them. Reiterate how much you appreciated them coming, and, if they're not already on your mailing list, ask them to sign up so you can let them know about your next show.
8. Become a member of the audience
As musicians, we are constantly looking for our next performance opportunity, but when was the last time we actively looked for a performance to go see? We can become so busy promoting ourselves to our network that we forget that some people in our network are other artists! Go to their performances. Promote them on your own social media pages. Better yet, support artists and organizations that you don't (yet) have connections with. Try a performance that is out of your comfort zone, whether that be a night at the symphony, seeing a dance performance, or getting tickets to a straight theater show. Not only does this help the organization you choose, but it broadens our artistic horizons. You also never know who you'll meet when you try new experiences!
What strategies are you using to develop your network? How have you been able to bring in new audience members to your performances? I would love to hear from you in the comments!