A lot has changed in social media in the last ten years.
Instagram, (which was acquired by Mark Zuckerburg in 2012), started as a social network and a way to see the world through the eyes and experiences of other people. I think we all know it has evolved past that into a commercial hybrid, with Instagram set to make 12 billion dollars in ad revenue in 2020, and millions of people earning hefty paychecks as "influencers" worldwide.
It would be naive to think this doesn't affect the art world in any way, because we clearly see social media trends already affecting casting decisions in TV, movies, and Broadway. To ignore social media would be to eliminate yourself from the running at some point. I realize that might be a bold statement and many may disagree, but I admit that even I have used social media to recommend potential singers to my casting director friends for the sake of expediency, and the ones who a) weren't online, or b) didn't have a good sound clip, simply didn't make the the cut.
I think we are a long way from theaters making casting choices ONLY based on numbers, but I know for a FACT this is already happening on Broadway.
In the world of “influencers”, there are very few accounts held by opera singers that would even break out of the micro influencer category.
One source I found broke this down into the following stats - they are from May 2019:
Nano influencers: 500-5k followers
Micro influencers: 5k-30k followers
Power influencers: 30k-500k followers
Celebrity influencers: over 500K followers
These numbers affect the amount of money brands will pay for a sponsored post. It's probably an obvious statement, but brands only want to partner with people/personalities that will convert to sales for them. I mean, why else would they dedicate part of their marketing budget to this kind of advertising?
In our industry nobody is really breaking these stats so we don’t see a lot of brands working with opera singers. I think there is some resistance to such kinds of brand deals, though hopefully that is changing. I think it's good for freelance artists to make money wherever they can, because this career is long, hard, and EXPENSIVE. Why should Rihanna be the only one who gets to sell make up??
Furthermore, brand deals have always existed in the opera industry and always will exist.
Rolex, Chopard, Mercedes, and other high end luxury brands have always partnered with our industry in some form or another. One soprano even had a deal with the Austrian water brand Vöslauer.
What the instagram movement does is move these kinds of partnerships into a more flexible, smaller arena where the personal preference of the artist might have more sway than say a big corporate sponsor.
We have entered into a time where personal brands and tastes are actually dictating a lot of spending trends and businesses are VERY well aware of that.
What we are going to see happening is the rise of micro-entrepreneurs who have a loyal following, who are able to establish strong, small, personal brands, rather than waiting for a large corporate sponsor to define them. You heard it here.
I think this is why our project has gained some momentum in the last year - we are all understanding that its not enough any more just to be a great singer - we have to create a narrative that people want to be part of.
Instagram at it’s most annoying is a home for sleazy sales, flex culture, and MLM's posing as business. At it's BEST, however, its' a rich STORYTELLING platform where one can literally learn about ANYTHING! From how to cook authentic pasta from Nino's grandma, to climbing in a remote village in Switzerland, to flamenco dancing in Spain, or how Soula sings a high note in Vienna, there is almost NOTHING we can't engage with, and that makes this moment in time ABSOLUTELY amazing!
So I think it's our job to use these platforms to tell REAL stories that harness the desires of others for something authentic. New opera audiences are out there for us to CAPTURE. We need to learn how to inspire and engage them to the point where they are compelled to attend a show by making the whole opera going experience fun, exciting, inclusive, intuitive, and relatable.
If I have to get in the door by singing on a Coke commercial and then posting about it on Instagram, you better believe I WILL! I don't really care anymore about "looking" like a serious artist, because I am one. Nobody can take that from me. Nobody can take that from you! We are highly skilled craftspeople, and we know that. We also live in this time and space, and we deal with all the same junk as our contemporaries.
Nobody wants to engage with or FUND what they perceive to be a stuffy, stuck up, expensive art form with untouchable people made of gold or marble or something. They want FLESH AND BLOOD! So embrace your quirky, unique, and talented self, and go create a NEW audience for our beloved art form. You are part of the solution.
"Ich will meine Bühne mit Menschen bevölkern! Mit Menschen, die uns gleichen, die unsere Sprache sprechen! Ihre Leiden sollen uns rühren und ihre Freuden uns tief bewegen!"
- La Roche, the director in Richard Strauss's opera Capriccio, 1943
The discussion continues on Youtube. Hope you enjoy it!