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Social Media: Friend or Foe? – An interview with Marc Yeats
Back in June, I read a news article regarding a concert given by pianist Krystian Zimerman in which he took issue with an audience member who was filming his performance. Zimerman complained that he’d lost contracts because of such actions, adding, ‘the destruction of music because of YouTube is enormous’.
There seems to be some ill will between aspects of the music industry and social media sites such as YouTube, which could lead aspiring musicians and composers to shy away from displaying any of their work. Leaving aside the contentious issue of audience members filming performances, I wanted to examine the potential benefits of YouTube and social media for composers, whether established or aspiring.
With this in mind, I approached Marc Yeats, a successful composer and visual artist with a formidable reputation for utilising social media, who kindly agreed to answer some questions for OCA Music:
How does your experience of YouTube compare to Zimerman’s?
I’m a newbie to YouTube, relatively speaking, but in the short time I’ve been there I have found it to be a most valuable platform on which to have my music. From my perspective YouTube isn’t killing music at all. Indeed, it is not and cannot be compared to live performance; but that’s not what it’s there for, not in my view. I see YouTube as a valuable resource of music performances and recordings as well as a great place to get my work out into the world. It is a springboard to people knowing one’s work, further adventuring to composer’s websites, investigating more recordings and provides a resource for those wishing to collaborate or commission work. YouTube is sometimes a first point of contact with one’s work and at the very least, it is probably a point of reference for anyone wanting to Google a composer’s name and see ‘what’s out there’.
Like all social media platforms, there and pros and cons. For me the pros far outweigh the cons. Perhaps the proliferation of music on YouTube has inhibited sales of music CDs and recordings – once material is out on the internet is it very hard to control or limit what happens to it, but on the plus side, it is free, worldwide distribution, if you have the network of followers and interest to help distribute your work, that’s where social networking comes in with sites like [especially] Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. All of this can only be a good thing for building new audiences.
Are there any extra benefits for the musician and/or visual artist on Youtube, with being able to combine music and video?
I was very lucky in as much as a fan of my music decided to combine scores and recordings of my work for YouTube distribution. I didn’t ask him to do this; it was his initiative because he had come across my recordings elsewhere and liked my work and wanted to help to get it to a wider audience via video on YouTube [an example of the healthier aspects of social networking – what fans will do for you!]. From the viewing figures on the score to video recordings that are now on YouTube I would say that they are among the most popular of my videos. I think there is a fascination from other composers and interested individuals to see how the music ‘works’ in relation to how it sounds.
As soon as these videos are posted the viewing numbers quickly jump. This is also because the fan who posts the videos is known for producing score to video work and has a large following on YouTube who quickly pounce on any new uploads. That’s brilliant for me as I can ride on the back of someone else’s network and attract new fans and followers to my work that way. There is a direct link between the posting of new videos on YouTube and visits to my personal website. This social networking lark actually works!
There are videos of some of your works on Youtube with extracts of scores. Do you think this a useful idea for sales or education? Or, could it have potential drawbacks?
Undoubtedly, having score- to -video videos on YouTube leads to sales of printed music, further performances and of course, perhaps most importantly, commissions. All the embedded videos on my personal website are uploaded to YouTube and linked back to my www. There is a direct link between my website activity and YouTube viewing to a degree where Twitter, YouTube and my website become almost a seamless source of information and reference for potential collaborators and commissioners. I have seen this in action time and again.
The score-to-video videos also have an educational aspect. Not only is there a casual or even passing interest in them from some viewers but others have used them to study my work or even write theses around certain pieces. I have seen reference made to certain videos in the work of others. In short – it’s free, it’s out there, it works – why wouldn’t you want to use it?
Thinking about your available videos, do you have any advice or tips for student composers considering YouTube?
I would wholeheartedly recommend any composers or students to have their music represented on YouTube; if you don’t, you’re missing out. Things I would offer as advice: Put up the very best recordings you have; Don’t match music with unrelated video material – a still photo is better; Make or get someone else to make score to video videos for you – they are very popular and give a fabulous insight into your music, how it works and how you notate it; Seek permissions from all musicians involved before posting materials; Avoid posting Sibelius or other midi versions of your work – such ‘demos’ are best kept private and never do composers any favours; Live recordings are always received well.
To get a YouTube following and YouTube views you need to be active on other social media sites, especially Twitter where you can post links to your videos on a regular basis. There’s little point in posting work to YouTube if you do not follow it up with sufficient marketing or promotion that enables other people to know it’s ‘out there’. The key to getting views on YouTube is to regularly post links to your work there on all other social network sites so as to capture the biggest audience possible. If you have a healthy social network on Twitter, for instance, others will pick up on your Tweets about the videos on YouTube, re-tweeting and sharing them even more widely to their networks and so on. This is how things can go viral!
How do you feel about other performers (or concert goers) uploading videos of your music?
This is a little more tricky. There is a stream of thought that suggests all publicity is good publicity and to a certain extent I go along with this. However, I do like to control the quality of what goes onto YouTube in association with my work or name. In the main this is possible but sometimes not, and one has to just put up with a less than satisfactory upload from elsewhere. On balance these unfavourable uploads are not so common. We all want to be seen at our best and usually a polite word will remedy the situation if one is sufficiently disturbed by the perceived damage a rogue video may do. My goal is to make sure that only the very best work available at the time appears on my playlist.
Thinking about other social media for a moment, such as Twitter, Facebook or Soundcloud, how much of a benefit do you find other platforms in helping you promote your music or network with others?
Twitter is King! I get 95% of my commissions, performances and collaborations from my presence on Twitter. It averages at 1 opportunity per week and sometimes more. Importantly, a huge proportion of my contacts and conversations on Twitter around potential commissions, performances or collaborations really do materialise in the real world. Twitter earns me money. Twitter makes sure my profile is ‘out there’ all the time and people know what I’m doing. Even the very impression of success gives others the confidence to invest in you as a composer.
Facebook has it’s uses for me – I have a composer page there and it all ticks over. I have found that Facebook is much more dynamic as a visual media platform – post a photograph and everyone’s onto it. Post an article and only the ardent few will investigate. Posting music videos from YouTube onto Facebook can be quite good, too. In all my years on Facebook only a handful of FB friends have become real world collaborations or delivered performances in the outside world. This pales into insignificance in comparison to Twitter triumphs! Google+, well, don’t bother – bit of a graveyard. Same applies to LinkedIn, great for linking up but precious little happens to provoke activity in ‘the real world’, for me at least!
Do you have any particular success stories with social media?
There are so many – mostly from Twitter. All of my commissions over this past 12 months, national and international, have come from Twitter connections. My composer-in-association posts with Thumb Ensemble [Birmingham UK] and Chamber Cartel [Atlanta US] have all developed on Twitter as have so many national and especially international performances from individual musicians and ensembles I’ve met on Twitter that the list [still growing] is too long to cite! As stated, I can say with confidence that 95% of my commissions and performances come from Twitter.
Any drawbacks to social media?
Considering the successes I have had with Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook, it would be hard for me to identify any real drawbacks to social media. I’m sure there are some, I just haven’t experienced them in my years of networking [apart from the occasional nutter, but they are easily dealt with].
Do you have any final words of advice to student, or aspiring, composers considering using social media for the first time?
Do it; link it to your website [if you have one], promote it through other social media sites, put up the best work you have – spend a few minutes every few days promoting your work [important to gain a presence] on Twitter, network and re-tweet other peoples interesting work and projects / news; they will return the favour when you post . . . . enjoy!