Publicity : Using Social Media

The explosion of social media has caused an upheaval in the entertainment industry, granting unprecedented access for fans to peek behind the curtain and see their favorite performers raw and (sometimes) unfiltered. How should singers harness technology in a way that enhances their artistry? What are best practices for promoting projects? How much should opera performers separate the personal from the professional?


Branding specialists are necessary for singers who need help organizing media strategy in opera’s ever-evolving landscape. Three experts in classical music branding recently shared their insights with Classical Singer: Andrew Ousley (Unison Media), Gillian Riesen (Emitha), and Daniel Welch (Ideodyssey Consulting).


What is the biggest branding pitfall for artists? 


AO: It’s critical to try to convey a sense of momentum coming out of the pandemic and to showcase anything of note that you did over the course of the shutdown (live streams, etc). It’s more important than ever to be able to confidently tell a story about yourself that differentiates you from the many other people who, on paper, do the same thing that you do.

DW: Not telling your story. Every artist has a unique story, and telling it in an engaging way through digital media captures the attention of old and new audiences, creating an emotional attachment to the artist. 

GR: I think the biggest pitfall is that artists are trying to pump out media like crazy because of the huge online demands that COVID-19 created. Your brand should be something that you’ve put enough thought and heart into that you’re excited to live with it for a while! You have to also think about how you will incorporate it into everything you do, from your social media posts to the repertoire you sing!


How do you help each of your clients develop a unique branding strategy?


AO: First I understand their artistic vision and musical values and distill those into a compelling narrative point or two. Then we look at their personal history and figure out which of those points are most distinctive and which can be woven into an integrated story with their musical vision. And then all of our work on their assets (bio, photos, videos, website, etc.), social media strategy, and traditional media pitching will center around representing that story.

DW: I have specific questionnaires designed to look inward at what makes them tick as an artist. And conversation. We dialogue about their goals and their points of difference, then we create a strategy to intersect those and run with it. Every artist is different, and each brand strategy should be equally so.

GR: I first have them start off with a branding questionnaire that asks them to think about what makes them unique and what they think they can bring to the table better than anyone else. I then have them condense that into one sentence that they could almost use like a tagline. It helps you to get a sense of the motivation behind you! I then have them go to image searches and create mood boards of all kinds of things that speak to them. We then look at design elements that seem to be a common theme. I also ask clients to think deeply about their motivation for creating art. These all help your fans to get a full sense of who you are, not just what you do.

Andrew Ousley

How or when does someone know when they ready to engage a pro like you to help with their media presence? 


AO: It’s hugely important to make sure that you have enough going on that can be publicized in cities where there’s a meaningful media presence and that, ideally, you also have some degree of career momentum already in place. And it’s also important to understand the different ways you can hire a publicist: full-time monthly retainer, campaign, or hourly consulting. I generally recommend that artists try hourly consulting, as it’s by far the most cost effective way for them to get a clear strategy in place around how they can do their own publicity work effectively and efficiently.

DW: There are many paths one can take as an artist. I think it’s time to talk to a professional about distinct or unique branding and strategy when they determine their preferred path is a career as an artist. Many singers gig occasionally or perform as a side hustle while pursuing multiple paths. When singing becomes a substantial career goal, it’s important to start working with a professional on their branding and media presence, even if they start small with a single consultation. 

GR: I think someone is ready to enlist our help when they have thought about all of these branding ideas but aren’t sure how to actually make them come to life in their social media, website, or photography design. I traditionally encourage singers to start with their recorded media and then branch into great branded photography, social media, and website design.

Daniel Welch

What are the most crucial tools for a singer to cultivate for a successful brand?


AO: The most important thing is to have a clear sense of your story and what makes you different, as well as a confident ability to tell that story to other people and get them excited about it. Next up is creating tools and assets that reflect that story. And then, lastly, you have to go out and get people excited about your story! And social media is vital for building a community around yourself.

DW: In my mind there are two crucial tools to cultivate a successful brand: 1) knowledge 2) willingness to go beyond what was learned in school. Know yourself as an artist, know your target market, and know what is expected of artists. The willingness to go beyond is key. Too many singers say, “In school we were told…” and aren’t willing to put more effort in, even when they see how different the real world is from what their teachers told them. Be thirsty for knowledge. Always be learning. Go the extra mile.

GR: You first need to start with that one-sentence “tag line” that I mentioned. This really helps you to solidify the “why” of what you do and will be your guiding light for every decision you make. When you face those moments of insecurity about a business decision, you can go back to this statement and find clarity.

Gillian Riesen

How do you see the classical music industry evolving as we emerge from the pandemic?


AO: People started to become very aware of the importance of having your own platform and community on social media, and how powerful that can be when used correctly. People also realized the value of video content, though I think people will move away from streaming in large part as live performances return.

DW: One word: online. Auditions, coachings, lessons, casting, production, live performances…all online. I think we will see the first rounds of auditions remain virtual, either live streamed or recorded. I also think that online coachings and lessons will stick around for the long haul. Another thing that’s changed with the integration of social media presence: leverage. Artists have more control over their industry than ever before. From #MeToo to Black Lives Matter to real, open conversations about wages and treatment, artists are now shedding light on many of the toxic practices in the industry as well. The digital space is literally making this industry a safer and happier place.

GR: It almost seems that if you’re not constantly releasing something new or making some new announcement that people will think you’re not actively producing art, and I think that will continue. What my team and I are endeavoring to change is the mindset about recording among our artistic friends. I’m hopeful that we can be the place for singers to come to when they want to create these dream projects—and we can produce everything from the recording and the artwork, all the way down to licensing, distribution, and streaming. I’m hoping that we see artists feel less overwhelmed by creating digital media and more empowered to do so.


Are there any parting words of wisdom you’d like to add?


AO: Over the shutdown, we created a free video series called Unison60, where we have minute-long clips that each explain a core concept of Branding, Marketing, Publicity, and Social Media. We’ll have around 70 total videos or so, and I recommend people go check them out to get some ideas on how they can approach these ideas on their own!

DW: Developing a brand is not just picking the right images, or having a good website, or being on social media, or establishing a professional vocabulary. It’s everything all rolled into one identity. It’s every public touch point combined. That is both daunting and liberating—because no matter how we look at it, we have more power as artists than we’ve ever had before.

GR: If social media and website design and getting headshots done, etc., make you feel anxious and overwhelmed, take a break! Create art for fun, for you, for those you love—but don’t ever create for likes, for followers, or even to try and get a job. We want to see you loving what you do!

Jonathan Blalock

Jonathan Blalock has sung with The Santa Fe Opera, The Dallas Opera, Washington National Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, The Pacific Symphony, Memphis Symphony, PROTOTYPE Festival and Opera Hong Kong. He currently serves as Individual Giving Officer at The Atlanta Opera, and he is a member of the Classical Singer Magazine editorial board.