Small ensembles use DIY ingenuity to find audiences online

by Austin Gerth
November 19, 2013
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The Musical Offering's online home page (MusicalOffering.org)

The Internet and social media offer exciting new opportunities for musicians and artists of all stripes to reach an appreciative audience. Only recently, though, have classical ensembles started taking full advantage of these tools.

Major organizations all use social media in some form, and some have invested significant resources in online outreach. The Minnesota Opera, for example, hosts regular blogger preview nights at which online writers are invited to attend dress rehearsals free of charge. Smaller ensembles are also seeking to expand their online outreach, and are using DIY ingenuity to make the most of their limited resources.

One such ensemble is The Musical Offering, a 43-year-old chamber group based in St. Paul. The group's executive assistant, Alex Legeros, has spearheaded a re-design of the group's website and greatly increased the group's presence on social media. Legeros has even procured a grant for the group from Google for Nonprofits, allowing them access to thousands of dollars in ads and apps.

Legeros emphasizes the careful balance of courting a younger audience while retaining accessibility for listeners who've been around for years.

"There's a difference between what new young people want and what older subscribers want. Older subscribers are less concerned with having a CD recording of the concert, or things like that, but younger subscribers do want those things — which means the group has to strive to cater to both groups' desires."

Pursuant to reconciling old listeners with new, Legeros said he didn't want "another website that was just a list" of links. He strove to make the site's contents "very clear using color, using words, using images." He built the site on software that allows it to appear similar regardless of whether it is viewed on a conventional computer or on a mobile device like an iPhone or iPad. He included links to audio files of performances on the site because "people want to hear the music before they go to the concert."

Legeros has had to be resourceful to implement this technology, as he's an amateur when it comes to Web design. "It's thanks to a bunch of Google searches and YouTube videos that I'm able to do this," he said.

Another small classical group effectively using the web as a means of promotion is the Fargo-Moorhead Opera, whose marketing director, Rachel Meier, recently rebuilt their website to draw in a younger crowd. She made sure the group's Twitter and Facebook accounts each delivered content customized to those services' different audiences, and had the opera create a mobile app.

Legeros says that the Musical Offering's small size has given the group flexibility to adapt online, and said he hasn't noticed other groups following suit. "It's harder for a [larger] organization to shift and make it a priority," he said. Despite the support from Google, the Musical Offering still has only 135 Facebook likes and 25 Twitter followers; thanks in part to the high percentage of local college students among its chorus, the Fargo-Moorhead Opera has 735 Facebook likes and over 1,400 Twitter followers.

Legeros is excited about the future of classical music online. "This is where we're going," he said. "It can't replace the concert hall experience, [but] it just adds so much depth to what we can offer."

Austin Gerth is a member of the class of 2016 at Concordia College. He also writes for Concordia's student blog, The COBBlog; and Concordia's student newspaper, The Concordian.