Roll over Beethoven: owned media replaces traditional

Classical music artists such as Yo-Yo Ma no longer rely on reviews and local media coverage to promote their work - instead, they have created direct relationships with fans through owned and social media channels.

Classical music artists such as Yo-Yo Ma are going direct to their fans to communicate. (Pic: Getty Images.)

The world of media has undergone seismic changes in the past two decades that have completely transformed the landscape into which PR pros sell stories.

This week’s high-profile 2019 tech full-year financial releases from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Microsoft and Amazon only served once again to illustrate the eye-watering numbers these enterprises post, often in part due to revenues syphoned away from the traditional media industry.

That has led to a decimation of newsrooms throughout the country and a dilution of the resources that can be applied to different subject areas that once had specialists devoted to them.

The likes of Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy can only look on enviously at the widening distance between their regional media revenues and those of the new media darlings that have usurped them. Even Warren Buffett, one of newspapers’ most diehard fans, is finally exiting the sector and offloading his titles at a significant loss.

This media trend was highlighted in our podcast interview this week with Jessica Lustig, MD at 21C Media, a PR firm specializing in clients from the worlds of classical music, culture and the performing arts that recently celebrated 20 years in business.

Lustig explained that the most significant thing that had changed in her specialist field in the last two decades is a complete change in who’s telling the stories, because of the diminution of traditional media routes to market.

Back in the day, PR pros relied on third parties to tell these stories, such as The New York Times, radio stations and local or regional newspapers. Now, however, a lot of outlets in the so-called smaller or B markets, which still comprise major cities such as Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dallas no longer have a music critic or anyone on the arts desk with any specialty in covering this material.

It became more difficult for artists visiting those markets to make their presence felt via a story in local media so they have started telling their own stories through owned media.

This fundamental shift has changed the way PR is conducted in these and many other specialist areas of communication. There is much more awareness of the fact that artists should develop their networking skills and utilize channels that enable them to target their fans and consumer base directly.

Some performers are really good at the promotional side of the business and love it, and they have relished these new ways to interact with fans.

But as Lustig points out, "someone who’s brilliant at reading a score or playing the piano may not be a fashion icon or well-spoken, or have a good command of English, and they may just not have the time to create their own content and interact on social media."

That’s where consultancies such as 21C Media come in, filling in gaps, making media for them and creating opportunities with partner institutions.

Such owned media examples include videos such as a Rachmaninov piano concerto release and a Chopin piece for Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov.

Another of Lustig’s high-profile clients is cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who in August 2018 began a two-year cultural diplomacy tour to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for solo cello in 36 locations around the world. The Bach Project aimed to celebrate the ways culture makes us stronger as individuals, communities, society and as a planet.

"When one door closes a window opens," adds Lustig. "Fans of classical music are very international. So while it’s regrettable that there are no longer classical experts to develop local reviews and commentary in certain communities, there are opportunities for those who are gifted to develop their own channels and fan bases in unexpected places."

In fact, record labels now search for artists who have those big social media followings and fit well in the new environment.

As we constantly document at PRWeek, this changing nature of communication and media landscape is mirrored across all areas of branding and business. Consider the fashion PR sector, which has seen the closure of a number of specialist firms that either couldn't or wouldn't adapt to the new media and influencer environment - or simply didn't want to.

I regret the demise of traditional regional media outlets as much as the next person. It’s where I learned my trade as a journalist. But what was initially viewed as a total downside can end up being a net positive. More people than ever are listening to classical music due to channels including Spotify or Apple Music and popular playlists such as Music to Relax To… or Music to Study By...

It has made a topic that may once have been seen as intimidating accessible and something you can easily experiment with on your desktop or on social media without fear of social embarrassment. As Lustig concludes, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy classical music, just go with the flow, experiment and find what you like.

As we lean into the new decade heralded by the year 2020 that’s great to hear in what is the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, one of the greatest composers of all time.

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