During the lockdown period for COVID-19, I found myself asking, ‘How can I continue to connect with audiences despite the fact that I am unable to perform publicly?’
I had not invested a lot of time into social media at that point, so when the quarantine began, this was an area I was keen to learn about and improve. I looked at other industries and was taken aback by the sheer size of influencers’ audiences, which in many cases, included millions of viewers.
Reading the comments on influencers’ posts, it was clear to me that followers felt a personal connection; even though they’d had never met the people whose work they were following. Social media had allowed them to develop a relationship that provided real value. I was excited to explore this unique way of connecting with audiences.
There are two primary strategies that I employed during this period. The first is standard branding and marketing, something music college doesn’t typically teach students. We are so focused on refining our playing and developing our artistic voice that we don’t learn how to communicate our message and maximise our reach, as a business would.
At first, it was strange for me to think of myself as a ‘brand’ or a ‘business’. It felt so detached from any form of musical purpose or identity, and if anything, it felt quite artificial. Once I realised that this perception was actually holding me back from reaching audiences with my musical voice, I started fusing my musical identify with my brand. And it was then that my social media presence began to gain real momentum.
The second strategy was a change that truly skyrocketed my engagement. This change was to shift the focus from me to my audience. Rather than focus on what would be good ‘promotion’ for me, I started asking myself the following questions: ‘What does my audience want to see?’ ‘What can I provide of value to them?’ ‘How can I show this to them in a way they might not be familiar with yet?’
This line of thinking shifted my Instagram videos from just featuring finished performances to tips and tricks on difficult technical passages or discussing fingering choices in a slow movement of a violin concerto. The possibilities for content suddenly became endless. As my audience grew, each new person would have something they wanted to learn, and in turn, I would have more to share.
This was extremely rewarding for me, because just as I was helping so many people on difficult technical passages, I was also practising and evolving those passages myself! By spending time brainstorming the best ways to demonstrate, I delved into what made a certain technique tick, and that naturally informed and developed my own playing.
This mutual benefit between my audience and me has made my social media efforts feel sustainable, without it seeming like a chore or something I have to do to ‘advertise’. Instead, it’s been an enormous source of inspiration for me, and has very much become part of my own artistic development.
Listen to Callum Smart’s recent album Transatlantic with pianist Richard Uttley.