A Vibraphone, Sheep and the BBC – Twitter for Musicians
by Nick Parnell – Vibes Virtuoso
Ever since the explosion of the social media phenomenon, I have wondered how I could utilise sites such as Facebook and Twitter to advance my performance career. I had heard of the incredible success stories of musicians such as Taylor Swift who have credited social media as the key component to their fame, but couldn’t help feeling cynical and thinking that it was more likely to be orchestrated by some clever marketing agency or was simply a fluke! Given that I am a classical musician, I wondered if classical audiences engage with social media in any significant manner and therefore questioned how valuable it would really be to me. Nevertheless, about a year ago I took the plunge and opened my own Facebook musician’s page (facebook.com/NickParnellVibes) and Twitter account (@NickParnellVibe).
To begin with it was all a bit of mystery to me and still is to some extent. I took some advice from two leading communication agencies, Vim & Zest and Prakky. These two organisations are experts in their fields and were incredibly helpful in explaining the basics from how to set up the accounts, to when and what I should write about. However, after a few months of posting photos of performances and what I thought were interesting updates about goings-on of the classical music world, I had accumulated very few followers. In fact when I went through the list most of them were personal friends, other musicians or businesses trying to promote their own work – not exactly the audience I was trying to connect with. Further to this, I found I was wasting a lot of time constantly checking my sites when I could have been in the practice room learning that new J.S. Bach sonata that had been on my to-do list for the last six months. This lack of outcome fuelled the return of my initial doubts on the effectiveness of social media for classical musicians.
However, a few months ago I had a breakthrough. Late one night after a long day’s rehearsal, I was lying on the couch half listening to David Letterman’s Late Show while aimlessly scrolling through the endless list of tweets on my iPhone when one particular tweet caught my eye. The BBC Music Magazine (based in the UK) posted a tweet that they were looking to feature musicians with strange hobbies for their next edition. I thought, “Well I’m a musician and I really enjoy working with livestock – that’s got to be a bit strange for a classical musician” (I grew up in outback Australia hence my connection to cattle & sheep). So I messaged them back and before I knew it I was in email communication with the Magazine’s chief editor.
They liked my story but required a photo of me working with the livestock, which I didn’t have. I was reluctant to spend a great deal of money on a photographer in case it came to nothing. So next time I visited my parents’ sheep property, I took my mallets and vibraphone, positioned them in the yards amongst the sheep and gave my mum a digital camera and asked her to take some shots. This was quite a risk as my mum has cataracts on her eyes and really doesn’t see well. That, combined with uncooperative sheep which didn’t seem to enjoy the sound of the vibes especially when they realised they could couldn’t eat it, made for quite a challenging shoot.
So I said to mum, “just keep pushing the button continually” and hoped that we might get lucky. By some miracle we did!
I sent it to the BBC Magazine and they loved it. Before too long they had published my interview and photo covering about a third of a page. Now having an article in a magazine isn’t going to change my life, but it was timely for me as ABC Classics had just released my albums in the UK which also coincided with my first performance at the Australia High Commission in London. The BBC Magazine is aimed at classical music fans and has an estimated readership of over 200,000, so it was some excellent PR in one of my key markets.
To gain this type of exposure one would normally need to engage a PR company who would pitch your story to the media. There is no guarantee that the agency would be successful and it could easily cost thousands of dollars. The fact that this opportunity came from lying on the couch late at night fiddling with my iPhone has caused me to revaluate the power of social media. I don’t claim to be an expert of any kind, I am certainly not. I still don’t have many followers on Facebook or Twitter. But this experience has shown me that if you engage with social media you never know what might happen. You may even end up in a UK classical music magazine staring a sheep down with a set of vibraphone mallets looking a lot like Crocodile Dundee!
To view the BBC article, please visit www.nickparnell.com.