Opera stars don’t come much more stellar than mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Having sung high-profile roles at London’s Royal Opera House and New York’s Metropolitan Opera this year, DiDonato also appeared at the biggest classical music party of the year – the Last Night of the Proms. Not only that, she has just released a ‘best of’ disc with a difference – from the tracklist to the album artwork, her fans voted on it all. We asked her why she decided to crowdsource ‘ReJOYCE’...
For this disc your fans have chosen the tracklist, voted on the name of the album and submitted photos for the CD booklet. Why did you decide to throw this project open to them?
I’ve been recording for EMI/Virgin [now Erato] for ten years and I’ve developed such a wonderful rapport with my fans. I thought this disc is really a gift for them. Part of the thing that I love about my fans is how interactive they are and it just seemed like the perfect project to ask them to help me to produce.
Was it scary letting go of some of the control over the record?
Very much so – for example, I was nervous to hand over the title because I thought it had to be absolutely right. We chose six options for them to vote on and I was sure which it was going to be – I and the rest of the company thought ‘yep, this is the one’. It was decisively the least popular. In the end 47 per cent chose 'ReJOYCE', which was not my first choice at all. But I thought about it and I saw the fans’ enthusiasm for it – and now it seems like the most obvious choice all along.
And how did you come up with the track selection?
I came up with a sort of dream list of what I thought should be on the disc – because I thought I’d better be prepared if nobody engages in this. And I got about 85 per cent of it right but there were some surprises. This feels like a disc that has been selected by the fans so my hope is that there is a sense of honesty with it – I really wanted them to feel like they were producing it. What I found is that they chose a better album than I could have done on my own.
Crowdsourcing is something of a trend in classical music at the moment – perhaps because of the rise in social media. Now, it’s much easier for fans and artists to have a conversation…
Absolutely, and I think it’s the way forward. The language of marketing and PR has changed drastically because of this – people want to be involved and to have their voices heard. I think classical music is very smart to use social media in the best way, because the music itself is really all about making a connection to people.
So do you think more records will be made this way?
Not necessarily. The reason it’s working for me is it’s something I enjoy, something that’s grown organically from what I’ve been doing – it’s not some imposed gimmick. The most important thing is for artists to find out how to connect to people, to find out what what makes them unique and capitalise on that. Gimmicks don’t work long-term and in the next five or ten years we’re going to see technology changing so quickly, we’re going to see more and more inventive ways of people using technology to get heard, so being unique is really really important.
Do you think there’s a risk with crowdsourcing that artists give up too much control of their projects?
In general artists need to have freedom to do what they need to do, express what they need to express. If you’re beholden – whether to a record company, a theatre or to patrons – it’s a temptation to to sell out. That’s when you see some artists get too commercial and it’s not authentic to them. Artists need to serve themselves – that’s when the art is the most authentic.