MARKETING YOUR OPERA AND CLASSICAL MUSIC
BRAND FOR SUCCESS
A LIVE MARKETING TRAINING EXPERIENCE FOR CLASSICAL ARTISTS & C-LEVEL PROFESSIONALS
Used with permission | DarioAcosta.com
(San Francisco, CA) - If you’re an opera fan, or a even a casual reader of Opera News, you’ve probably seen Dario Acosta’s photography of rising and established artists, as well as well-known public figures. I first encountered opera’s most celebrated lensman on Instagram in 2015. @darioshoots is an excellent, behind the scenes look at Dario’s work, as well as the opera world, but his Instagram Stories often carry up to the moment commentary, outtakes, and his latest project sneak peeks.
Dario and I have built a nice rapport through Instagram, but we’ve yet to meet in person - a recent, possible Santa Fe Opera pit stop on my way to the airport didn’t quite pan out. However, I’ve been reflecting on the multi-platform influence Dario’s work has on how we see opera today, within opera spheres and beyond. As many of you know, I ascribe to the notion that opera singers - and classical artists in general - are brands. It’s my opinion that Dario’s work is integral to establishing - and reinforcing - his subjects’ respective brand identities, narratives and recognition.
I was thrilled Dario agreed to do a BrandStoryNow Q&A with me, which we recently conducted via email and telephone. My sincerest thanks to Dario, a delight to collaborate!
BSN: In addition to having talent, singers must strive to find their niche. This includes establishing a unique narrative that explains their talent, training, interpretation of the rep / new work, interests, and who they are as individuals in this competitive business of opera. How do you reflect, magnify, and/or help establish some or all of the above for your clients?
DARIO: I’ve been shooting singers now longer than I’d probably like to admit! When I started, I had young singers come to me for a portrait session. (Note: Acosta prefers “portrait” versus “headshot” since the latter makes him feel “cookie-cutter.”) At the time, I recall researching other young singers’ portraits, which were a little boring, stiff, with little to no personality. I was determined to change that…that singers (I photographed) didn’t follow (portrait) norms, that they were more current, not old-fashioned, glossy. Why do we have to do it like that (i.e. in this style) when serious artists are young, talented, and health-conscious? Their unique personality and enthusiasm should shine through. So, let’s shoot it like we're shooting for a fashion magazine, editorially. It’s so much more dynamic...an artist’s image is so important, it should stop people and get them interested in who this person is.
Hair and makeup is an important part of it, too, for both women and men, as well as wardrobe (Note: Acosta often works NYC-based makeup artist Affar Graber Malik). This all goes towards making a person feel comfortable. By the time we get to the shoot, it’s playtime. At this point, clients / subjects have trust, so I try to please them, as well as myself with something iconic (i.e. work product). I sincerely enjoy what I do, and I’m glad that people see that. I enjoy appreciation for my work, but I want you to look at the picture...it's the collaboration that I mold into something beautiful in that moment.
BSN: My own retail advertising experience exposed me to the value of compelling fashion story photography. Speaking to Santa Fe Opera's 2018 season work product (“Candide,” “Dr. Atomic,” “Madame Butterfly,” “The Italian Girl In Algiers,” “Ariadne Auf Naxos”), Solomon Howard's "True Believer," Ailyn Pérez's "Pure Magic," Opera Philadelphia's O17 "On The Town," and harpist Emmanuel Ceysson’s "Harp Throb,” how do you set out to create the signature Dario Acosta visual narrative and brand experience? In addition to opera singers and classical artists, you also work with brands like opera houses and opera-related publications. Please share what you like on the above?
DARIO: Well, I studied art, and got my BFA from The School of Visual Arts (New York City). They taught us the art of the image - nothing commercial. (The former) is the driving force behind my work. For me, an image is meant to be timeless, and the combination of the universe coming together at that moment to produce the best possible portrait for that particular moment in time. I know it all sounds ‘artsy,’ but it’s really my sincere approach; I try to place myself into a given (photo) shoot 1000 percent, I believe each artist deserves this. (My subjects) have put years and years into their art, I think they deserve collaborations that are equivalent. I have supreme appreciation for what it takes to live in this world as an artist, whether your art form is visual or musical or written. It’s an honor to have these opportunities.
I constantly push myself, to not stay in a comfortable place. I am always trying to move my work forward, to not be stagnant, or to repeat the same approach over and over. Every single shoot should be unique and original. With artist photo shoots, I like to think of myself as a chef who makes a meal with what he or she has on hand. I can certainly have a vision of what I want for that shoot, on the day, but until I see ‘my ingredients,’ I’m not committed to anything visually. I allow for the universe to throw in things. I’m also flexible if (my pre-conceived concepts) just don’t work with someone. Together, we move on to find something that works for my subject while also creating something special, too.
For the most part, my studio is bare because every shoot requires a different approach, which keeps me creative, not complacent. Of course, I know that at the end of the day, I must produce. But, I also know that we should produce something special. Thankfully, the artists who work with me come to have complete faith in our collaboration, which ends up being the most important ingredient.
Working with opera businesses, collaboration is amazing here, too. My collaboration with art directors and design directors is very important to the end product. First, we discuss what needs to happen…many have, for the most part, let me run with it. We discuss the look and various concepts, and then work together on set so that we get the result we're after. Afterwards, we discuss the overall look of the images. Backing up, we usually have a storyboard of concepts to visually drive the shoot, and then rely on the subject to do the rest.
Magazine work is mostly the same. We come up with the concept and then decide whether lighting, props, wardrobe, color or background is an underlying unifier. Then we see what works within that creative space for the artist. The success of any project depends on collaboration, mutual respect, and giving it our all.
The Santa Fe Opera project! Well, in this case the subjects were the opera house and the southwest. The featured singers (from the upcoming 2018 season) worked with the architecture as they would with a production (i.e. onstage design). I conducted, the opera house was the orchestra, and the singers performed! In the end, it’s amazing how similar all art forms are.
BSN: Please describe your dream project.
DARIO: Hmm. Ok, honestly, without sounding like an idiot, my dream project is every new shoot! I see each as an opportunity to create something amazing for the client and for myself, too…something that will last and become iconic. My dream project is to create iconic imagery for our artists. Images that make you forget you’re looking at a photograph.
Learn more about Dario Acosta.
Contact Dario and visit him on Instagram.
(San Francisco, CA.) - Santa Fe is where so much of my opera journey started, so it was a pleasure to join librettist Andrea Fellows Walters at NÜART GALLERY for a November #Operatawk. It was a wonderful, hilarious, and extra delightful 30 minute conversation, and our live Periscope broadcast seemed to work perfectly. However, unknown while we were live, the gallery's adobe walls were more of a broadcast challenge than previously understood (we'd done a test run earlier that week without any problems). Our broadcast experienced several stoppages with less than 100 percent focus. As a result, our 30 minutes ultimately becoming a content-rich ten, these are the Periscope breaks! However, thanks to the magic of iMovie cross dissolves, we're thrilled to present this repackaged #Operatawk | 8!
Andrea and I began our #Operatawk discussing our 2015 meeting, which was basically a blind date at the Starbucks in Placitas, New Mexico! Arranged by Santa Fe Opera Director of Media & Public Relations Director Daniel Zillmann, our meet up was part of my strategic storytelling work with Santa Fe Opera, in an effort to learn more about Andrea's work as Director of Education and Community Outreach. We discussed how her area's unique stories might be supercharged across traditional and social channels for the season and beyond. Andrea also recalled her first opera experience at the University of New Mexico, which led to SRO @ SFO experiences, and eventually a box office job before she headed off to grad school. Andrea's experience over the course of her career has led to one conclusion: "Opera itself is the uber-manifestation of collaborative art."
We moved onto Fellows Walters' "UnShakeable" (with composer Joseph Illick), a piece Santa Fe Opera commissioned in 2014 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death (#Shakespeare400). Profiled in The New York Times, this chamber opera, which Andrea set in a dystopia future, features some innovative audience participation, including a Hamlet-inspired storytelling device; the world-premiere production featured former SFO Apprentice and current Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artist Jacquelyn Stucker, and New York City-based baritone Samuel Schultz. Look for another production of "UnShakeable" during SFO's Spring 2019 Tour.
Our next topic was "Trinity," a New Mexico-centric opera originally commissioned for Santa Fe Opera's 50th Anniversary. Drawing from New Mexico's history of World War II POW camps, Fellows Walters' story of first love, the power of rocks, Trinitite, and time enchanted me - cue the opera storytelling innovation! Luckily, in the lead up to this summer's "Dr. Atomic," Santa Fe Opera will stage "Trinity" again this spring, more details here.
Lastly, we touched on Opera for All Voices, an opera startup Andrea and her colleagues recently launched across a consortium of American companies. It's also one to watch! From Santa Fe Opera's website: "Opera for All Voices was born out of the need for works with outstanding artistic quality that can still reach all audiences via both accessibility of subject material and manageable budgets. The project also addresses the serious need to bring new audiences to opera by commissioning important works that speak to all voices, designed with modern attention spans in mind, and aimed at breaking down pre-conceived notions that opera is antiquated or elitist. The Opera for All Voices (OFAV) consortium companies include the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, The Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, Sarasota Opera and Seattle Opera." Made possible by funding from the Melville Hankins Family Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an OPERA America Innovation Grant, and support by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, OFAV's new works invitational is currently in process, with juried selections by mid-January 2018. Per Santa Fe Opera: "Winners will receive a workshop, the opportunity to premiere their opera at one of the partner companies listed above, as well as, the opportunity for subsequent performances at other partner companies. Additionally, each composer and librettist team selected for the invitational will have the opportunity to be mentored by one of the lead composer and librettist teams." OFAV's upcoming 2019 and 2020 commissions were discussed. Per LauraKaminsky.com: "The first new work will receive its premiere in 2019 at Santa Fe Opera, composed by Augusta Read Thomas with a libretto by Dutton Downer. The second commission will be composed by Laura Kaminsky with a libretto by Kimberly Reed and is slated to premiere at San Francisco Opera in 2020."
A forthcoming #OperatawkExtra with Fellows Walters will cover some of the topics our live video didn't successfully capture, including a recap of SFO's Winter Tour of "Shoes for the Santo Niño," a one-act opera commissioned by The University of New Mexico for the New Mexico Centenary. This piece was composed by Stephen Paulus with a libretto by Fellow-Walters, and featured former SFO Apprentices Sarah Coit and Jorge Espino. We will also delve into Andrea's upcoming education work surrounding Santa Fe Opera's 2018 production of "Dr. Atomic."
Enduring thanks to NÜART GALLERY's Peter Gaugy, who so kindly facilitated our use of one of Canyon Road's most gorgeous gallery spaces! We appreciate his kindness, friendship, and beyond the call of duty hosting. We're also thrilled to have showcased the artwork of internationally renowned, Texas-based artist Cecil Touchon. Via NÜART GALLERY Contemporary Fine Art: "Cecil Touchon is a painter, performance artist, collector, draftsman, photographer, and curator. But it is through his collage work that he has made his most lasting mark. His collages are the seeds that grow into his other practices. Touchon's paintings are abstractions based upon typography. Using the techniques of collage, he reassembles portions of letter fonts from billboards and printed material into pure abstractions that transform verbal language into a form of visual architecture." JM
Photo credit (left to right): Third Gears Photography; Bill Hocker; Chris Lee for The Metropolitan Opera; Lyric Opera of Chicago; Brooke Shaden
(Santa Fe, NM) - The classical artist understands that differentiating in a global marketplace counts; the opera and classical music industries are populated by a multitude of talented artists with unique career paths, specializations, and stories. Differentiation in the marketplace begins when unique talent and brand identity create a lane of its own through storytelling, resulting in interest (work) and ongoing loyalty (positive reputation, repeat engagements). Every artist should seriously consider using their unique stories to build a digital and real-world strategy (with day-to-day best practices), whether said artist has representation or not.
However, there's something every classical artist can do right now to begin this process.
Get a hashtag.
It might sound silly, but hear me out. If you already have a hashtag, that's great news. Some questions the have and have-not camps should both review:
Kelli Butler - #Operageek
Kelli Butler is an "opera singer, geek extraordinaire, aria-slinging mercenary" on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But it wasn't always this way. Early in her career, Kelli attempted to follow the more traditional image and reputation management direction of her first manager, which often resulted in self-editing. She ultimately realized that she wanted to integrate her authentic, real-life interests (brand stories) into her opera singer persona. As per her recent blog: "Someone dolled up to the diva nines….playing a Gameboy. Or wearing a Legend of Zelda necklace, or geeking out over any number of videogame, fantasy, or science fiction topics while rehearsing for Mozart, or Verdi, or Puccini." Ultimately, Kelli realized that integrating "girl gamer" into her professional life as #Operageek is where her authentic storytelling gold is found. Full disclosure: Kelli and I are friends and have worked together, but her #Operageek identity was already firmly established. With the foundational support of her manager Kathleen Berger, and voice teacher Susan Eichhorn Young, Kelli is comfortable in her skin as she works with her team through auditions and engagements. In February 2018, Kelli will bring equal parts opera and geek to her Queen of the Night in St. Pete Opera's production of "The Magic Flute."
Joyce DiDonato - #TalkPeace / #DoPeace
Speaking to mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato's all-media mastery, I referred to her as "Queen Joyce" while working on brand storytelling with the Santa Fe Opera apprentices. This isn't a stretch. DiDonato's In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music tour - with conductor Maxim Emelyanychev and the ensemble Il Pomo D'Oro - is the first truly immersive opera brand experience of the 21st century. DiDonato begins by sitting quietly on stage with an open curtain for at least 15-20 minutes. In Vivienne Westwood couture and a signature makeup look, DiDonato takes participants on a deeper exploration of pain, sorrow, joy and - most importantly - the search for peace in our world, performing master baroque works found on her In War and Peace album. Integrating elements I've only previously seen at pop concerts (James Darrah-produced video, as well as video in public spaces and onstage as projections, dance, performance art, spoken word, merchandise), this experience breaks through, something akin to the "Three Tenors" concerts of the 1990s and 2000s. Joyce urges participants to #TalkPeace via branded Hallmark card messaging - marketing collateral as momento - and to engage her via #TalkPeace and #DoPeace across social media and through an In War and Peace-branded mini-site designed by Lenny's Studio. This experience is big, but still feels personal and one-to-one due to DiDonato's onstage warmth and full commitment to her message. In War and Peace is also built to foster ongoing engagement with DiDonato and anyone around the world using her hashtags, which is of course impactful for her, but also the art form and, most importantly, its urgent call to action for peace. DiDonato appears to have kept #TalkPeace and #DoPeace as the guard rails that keep her social and real-world storytelling - as well as the way she approaches this tour, master classes, and other international engagements - higher level, positive plus, and controversy-free. Joyce DiDonato reprises the In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music tour in Lisbon in May 2018, and is currently singing the title role in The Royal Opera House's production of "Semiramide".
Carrie Hennessey - #OperaMom
Northern California soprano Carrie Hennessey built her social media and real-life story around one of the most recognizable hashtags in American opera and performance. This brand geek remains impressed with Carrie's #OperaMom, which she began using in 2009. On Google search, #OperaMom as 'American soprano Carrie Hennessey' dominates organically, without a single ad dollar spent. Did #OperaMom help her land the #2 spot on San Francisco Classical Voice's "Best of the Bay 2017" listing? In my opinion, Carrie is so identified with her hashtag, she could have an #OperaMom business card without any other details on it and still connect online (social media, website, CV, reviews) and in person (contact details, management) if people searched #OperaMom on Google. Across social, Carrie integrates everyday life as a Sacramento mom with personal moments, engagements, master classes, media appearances, and motivational storytelling. Whether by master plan or natural evolution, Carrie's authenticity comes through on screen and in real-life, always supporting the #OperaMom story. Most importantly, some of Carrie's followers may have little to no opera knowledge or interest, but they still know and like #OperaMom (cue brand name recognition). Represented by Vox Artists, Carrie already had an established and exciting CV when I met her four years ago. Her momentum continues in 2018 with The Chamber Music Society of Sacramento, The Sacramento Ballet, and Townsend Opera, where she will perform the role Cio-Cio-San in "Madame Butterly."
Ailyn Pérez - #becomingthaïs
I've had the pleasure of being connected to soprano Ailyn Pérez on Twitter for a few years, but achieved dyed in the wool fan status when I saw her sing the role of Juliette in Santa Fe Opera's 2016 production of "Romeo et Juliette" - times wasn't enough! It was also pure delight to meet her at that season's SFO Gala, and to continue building a friendly back and forth across social media. Pérez was already an established multi-platform master on social media, but her digital marketing partnership with Lenny's Studio has resulted in visually compelling advertising, as well as #becomingthaïs, an exciting social campaign showcasing her recent Metropolitan Opera title role debut in "Thaïs." Originating from Instagram, one of Pérez's strongest platforms, with signal boosting across Twitter and Facebook, the campaign consisted of photos, boomerangs, video storytelling and first-person reporting (including coordination with Metropolitan Opera-produced content). Covering everything a major role debut involves, including the armies of colleagues and experts who collaborated with Ailyn to make #becomingthaïs a reality, it was beautifully executed. For those of us who'd followed the campaign, we were perfectly primed to see Pérez's debut in person at The Met, or to listen to the live radio broadcast and engage in real time via Twitter. All told, #becomingthaïs seemed to not only generate excitement, but serious goodwill for Pérez (cue the brand loyalty). Although I'm not privy to the analytics this campaign produced, this is *the* social media case study to review for any significant role debut! Ailyn Pérez continues as "Thaïs" on November 28th and December 2nd at The Metropolitan Opera, performs at the Richard Tucker Gala on December 10th, and returns to The Met in late December through January 2018 as Countess Almavina in "Le Nozze di Figaro."
Nicole Piccolomini - #maddalenatakesover
My first exposure to Verdi's "Rigoletto" was at Santa Fe Opera in 2015. I was fortunate to be consulting with SFO that summer, so I had the opportunity to see dress rehearsals as well as several performances - think we ended up with 8 in total! Unsurprisingly, "Rigoletto" is now one of my favorites. In addition to discovering Verdi's masterpiece in Santa Fe, I also found a lovely friendship with that production's Maddalena, Berlin-based, American mezzo soprano Nicole Piccolomini. In early 2017, I was thrilled to learn that Nicole would be returning to the USA to sing Maddalena - a signature role - in Stephen Lord's October 2017 Michigan Opera Theatre presentation of Jonathan Miller's English National Opera production. When fall arrived, and Nicole was onsite to begin rehearsals, her idea for a production and colleague-oriented "take over" of MOT's Instagram was warmly received. My only suggestion was to storyboard her ideas prior to jumping on Instagram, and the resulting #maddalenatakesover was pitch perfect for her, a fairly private person when not performing, and someone who only recently launched a public-facing Instagram account. Given that Maddalena is one of Nicole's signature roles, she could realistically use this hashtag again for another Maddalena take over at a new house, or simply use it as a fun way to connect career dots across social media. Following Nicole on Instagram was an excellent way to get a better sense of this landmark production set in 1950s Little Italy New York, as well as watching "Maddalena Take Over" on opening night, BRAVA! Nicole performs Hans Pfitzner's Op. 3 with pianist Christoph Staude in Kunnersdorf, Germany on December 3, 2017, and the title role in Astor Piazzolla's "María de Buenos Aires" at Oper Halle in January 2018.
The above case studies demonstrate that for classical artists, hashtags have various secret and not-so-secret powers. Your global brand name recognition awaits!
San Francisco Opera | Photo: James Mowdy
(San Francisco) - In 2014, I received a Google Alert for a Barron's article entitled "The Business of Opera." It linked to a short interview of LA Opera CEO Christopher Koelsch, conducted over a business lunch at Michael's in midtown Manhattan. This, in itself, was a very cool find. Writer Harold F. "Rick" Pitcairn II not only captured the ambiance of the room, the moment, and the personality of an "impeccably dressed" Koelsch, but highlighted Koelsh's passionate advocacy for his company and the art form itself. What struck me most was Koelsch's assertion that "running an opera has a lot in common with running a fixed income portfolio." Pitcairn also describes the risk management and diversified portfolio-like aspects of building a successful opera company, in both financial and critical terms.
From LA to Santa Fe
While working with Santa Fe Opera on a strategic storytelling plan in 2015, several untold aspects of SFO's business story emerged as must-tell. The most amazing item was that the company had been in the black for all of its 60 years due to a super-energized donor base (which is still true in 2017). SFO's newly expanded, cutting-edge facilities build five operas from the ground up - dressmakers, technicians, costumes, sets, welders, carpenters - which is unique in the USA, where many companies rent costumes and sets from others. Working with SFO Media Director Daniel Zillmann, I cited the aforementioned Barron's article, as well as pertinent bullets from a company-wide listening tour. My recommendation was that SFO business storytelling was the "right here, right now," low-hanging fruit that could achieve several SFO media goals. At that point, it became Daniel's job to formulate the right pitch for the best writer/publication/channel. It was thrilling to see Ray Mark Rinaldi's piece in the Denver Post a few months later. Rinaldi did a wonderful job describing the $200MM per annum economic "Opera Factory" that is Santa Fe Opera. Rinaldi's story also received significant traction from Albuquerque Business First EIC Rachel Sams.
Michigan Opera Theatre
In Detroit last month for Michigan Opera Theatre's Rigoletto, I caught a wonderful piece from TBD magazine, a Detroit-based, digital and print publication. In the form of a short, but wildly informative profile of the Michigan Opera Theatre's costume shop, I learned about the origins of the company, important families and businesses that have supported MOT over the years, significant capital improvements and financing, and how the company depended on this network after corporate funding fell off after the 2009 financial crash. TBD's focus on MOT costume design spoke to the greater, premium and well-funded product produced by this particular opera factory.
Opera, with all of its unique artistic and cultural merits, is still an industry. Revenue, profit, profitability, investment, re-investment, and growth all come with the territory. LA Opera's story connected dots beautifully, making the subject of opera instantly palatable for the Barron's readership. The same can be said for Rinaldi's Santa Fe Opera piece, which likened SFO's operation to a self-sufficient "factory" creating economic benefit for New Mexico in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In a slightly less direct manner, TBD's profile showcased Michigan Opera Theatre's resiliency during a national economic downturn, in a city that is known for its long-term economic challenges.
Business storytelling that showcases a solid financial picture, a bright business outlook, or results-oriented leadership is not only attractive to potential investors, but also to the development leads who seek them. Is your story investment grade?
(San Francisco) - Allen Plummer, the host of the Head, Heart and Hustle "podcast for creatives," contacted me this spring to gauge my interest in discussing #Operatawk, as well as the creative journey behind my social media and brand consulting work. A Philadelphia-based, digital marketing strategist, Plummer and I were already connected via Twitter, so I was happy to accept his kind invitation; we reconnected in May 2017 to record our conversation via telephone. Allen made the entire process a joy, our discussion covered why every opera singer is a brand, the "why" behind #Operatawk on Periscope, BrandStoryNow marketing trainings, why Twitter and Periscope are still social media secret weapons, work/life balance, career evolution, and how I define creative success right now. Excited to announce that our podcast is now live and I couldn't be more thrilled. It's a quick 36 minutes, and I welcome your comments! *LISTEN HERE*
Our podcast is also available via iTunes and Radio Public!
Excerpted from HeadHeartandHustle.com:
"'Every opera singer is a brand.' - James Mowdy | In this episode, I interview James Mowdy, a brand consultant and creative analytic who helps opera singers build their own brands in the 21st Century. James not only helps professional creatives learn storytelling and social media skills to build awareness, but he runs #Operatawk, a live-streaming Q&A show about opera on Periscope. Given his unique approach to creativity and ability to merge brand consulting with the performing arts, James was a great fit for the podcast. If you’d like to learn more about how you can build your brand as an artist, this is the episode for you!"
"Anyone with a side hustle or creative outlet can feel isolated from friends, family, and others around them who just don’t get their passion. That’s why Head Heart and Hustle exists – to help you feel motivated, to learn, and to get a pick-me-up of creative energy from other people like you. In every episode, we interview a creative individual who doesn’t just pretend to be creative. They’ve rolled up their sleeves and are producing great things because they need to; they know that being creative is part of who they are."
Again, an honor to join the Head Heart & Hustle stable of creatives, be sure to check out their full podcast catalogue here. Connect with Allen on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter. Thanks for listening! 🎧😃 JM
(San Francisco, CA) - #Operatawk, a live storytelling project, returns to Periscope and Twitter this fall, launching a second season of organic conversation with opera professionals. Select #Operatawk conversations are now live on YouTube and BrandStoryNow, with future, live conversations launching later this month.
#Operatawk began in 2016 while attending Santa Fe Opera’s 60th anniversary season; my first broadcast shared positive, personal thoughts on productions seen that week. I quickly realized that a monologue driven by my opera POV probably was a good start but not my Periscope destination. After that first chat, #Operatawk evolved into a loosely outlined conversation with individuals working somewhere in the opera universe. Then as now, “opera professional” includes everyone onstage or in the pit performing, as well as members of the various opera armies who make a production, season, or company possible. Concerning those first few #Operatawk conversations, my sincere thanks to mezzo-soprano Diana Tash, soprano Kelli Butler, tenor Jonathan Blalock, and Lieder Alive!'s Cristin O'Keeffe. All remain generous, engaging, delightful, and critically important #Opertawk partners. Video highlights from these conversations will also be launched in October.
The following #Operatawks were originally broadcast live via Periscope and Twitter from WeWork Transbay in San Francisco (535 Mission Street). Click hyperlinks to watch now via YouTube.
#Operatawk | 5 with Opera Critic Paul Selar, September 23, 2016.
It was a great pleasure to chat with Twitter’s @OperaChaser aka Paul Selar. A once-upon-a-time architect who changed careers to pursue opera criticism, Paul is lucky enough to experience 80+ operas a year at some of the world's greatest houses. Paul and I discussed the genesis and day-to-day of his career, his ongoing training, and how we met on Twitter and then in real-life. Follow Paul on Twitter at @OperaChaser and visit the Operachaser blog here.
#Operatawk | 6 with Vocal Pedagogue Heidi Moss, November 1, 2016.
Science really is fun! A pleasure to discuss the physics, physiology & psychology of singing, Heidi's career in science, her life and career experience with Bell's Palsy, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music voice faculty work with adults and children. Fun Fact: Heidi's helped Googlers to sing! Follow @heidi_moss on Twitter and visit HeidiMoss.org.
#Operatawk | 7 with Scenic & Costume Designer Daniel Harvey, February 7, 2017.
Newly arrived in San Francisco from Melbourne, Australia, Scenic and Costume Designer Daniel Harvey shared his international body of work and creative process, discussing selections from his portfolio, including productions with Melbourne Opera, as well as those in collaboration with designers Leslie Travers, Tobias Hoheisel, and Christopher Oram. Daniel works, designs and collaborates in the Bay Area with San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts and Opera Parallèle. Connect with Daniel on LinkedIn and visit his website for a full bio, CV and portfolio.
Please look for #Operatawk alerts via @jamesjetsoften on Twitter. We look forward to showcasing more unique, authentic, and organic storytelling from the professionals who power opera in the Bay Area and beyond. JM
BrandStoryNow is a marketing training experience for classical artists and the C-Suite. Presented by James Mowdy, founder of BSPOKE LLC, with guest collaborators and presenters. BrandStoryNow empowers The Small Business of You through strategic brand storytelling and marketing ROI.
(Santa Fe, NM) - Such a delight to get to know soprano Jacquelyn Stucker a bit better this summer at Santa Fe Opera. I first encountered Jacquelyn when she was among 2015's SFO Apprentices; we've been connected via social media since then, but real-life catch up happened this year. Jacquelyn made her main stage debut as Oberto in this summer's production of Handel's #SFOAlcina, and we're thrilled for her success - she even made the company's postcard with Alcina herself (soprano Elza van den Heever)! Also excited for Jacquelyn as she joins the Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artist program for the 2017-8 and 2018-9 seasons, one of five young artists selected from 365 applicants from 61 countries. This season, Jacquelyn will sing in ROH's productions of Semiramide, Carmen, and Falstaff. A huge accomplishment and I sincerely hope to see her perform on the ROH stage during her time in London. Brava Diva! | FOLLOW @gonzosoprano on Instagram and visit JacquelynStucker.com. JM
Original version published August 19, 2017 on Instagram.
(Santa Fe, NM) In case you've missed it, Operamusica.com may be the latest must-have tool for those working in the opera and classical music worlds. If you're an established artist (or lucky enough to count yourself among the Santa Fe Opera Apprentices, or any other Young Artist Program like those at Glimmerglass, Merolaor Fabricca | Opera di Roma), you might consider joining this exciting new social network built just for you. Based in Paris, France, and with global reach, Opera Musica aims to be the first social network dedicated to the opera and classical music industry. Celebrating 3K followers in late July, as well as a recently launched 2.0 version, it's currently free for artists, fans, presenters, companies and industry professionals to join. OM also features the latest opera news from major global sources and partners, as well as deep search capability for videos, artist profiles, and up to the minute opera and classical music events around the world. My assessment: Opera Musica is similar to an early version LinkedIn. Consider Twitter circa 2009, remember that? If you're working across the opera and classical music spaces, join today. You heard it here first. I've had the pleasure of connecting with Opera Musica's Pablo and his business partner Mathieu Abelli. Their passion for their product, consistent goodwill across social, and infectious entrepreneurial drive comes through - I hope to meet them in person the next time I'm in Paris. Operamusica.com isn't a client, but we love their startup tech + social media innovation, helping artists tell their brand stories here, now, and into the future. Bravi. JM
VISIT Operamusica.com, and their Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.
(San Francisco, CA) - Glad to have been connected to soprano Courtney Ruckman via Twitter and Instagram since 2015. Florida-based and a Nashville Opera Young Artist, I connected with Courtney through her weekly #singchat tweetups with opera singers from around the country and world.
So pleased to come across Courtney's recent video performance of 'Caro Nome' from Verdi's "Rigoletto," a favorite opera in my ongoing opera journey. My first exposure to this particular piece was through Santa Fe Opera's 2015 production, but I'd love to see Courtney in a fully staged production as Gilda; Courtney has already sung this role in Pacific Northwest Opera's 2013 production, Entertainment News NW saying, "you cannot help but fall in love with Courtney Ruckman as Gilda. Her voice quality was superb...her solos were magnificent." Courtney has also performed this role in preview scenes for Seattle Opera Guild (2014), and covered Gilda for Opera Coeur d'Alene (2013), respectively. Reached by direct message, Courtney added: "(Gilda) is a beloved role, I'm dying to sing it again! I offered (Caro Nome) for auditions, but hadn't performed (this particular piece) in almost two years. This video was a return after a break from singing it."
In June 2017, Courtney took her world-premiere role as Jessie in Nashville Opera's and American Opera Project's co-production of "Three Way" to New York City, for four (4) performances of this new work by composer Robert Paterson, with a libretto by David Cote. Described as "'Sex and the City' meets 'Black Mirror'...this new opera imagines the present and future of sex and love." Next season, Courtney's engagements include a solo turn in Handel's 'Messiah' with the Walla Walla Symphony. Brava, Courtney! Connect with Courtney on Twitter and Instagram, and visit CourtneyRuckman.com. JM
Original version published May 23, 2017 on Instagram.
(Santa Fe, NM) We always expect opening night at Santa Fe Opera to be spectacular - a beautiful evening sky, happy people, a buzz in the air, seeing opera friends from seasons past and present. But this season opening of "Die Fledermaus" was different from the moment the orchestra starting playing our National Anthem. Whether it was MAGA or RESIST, we all felt deeply, the eyes of many, including mine, filled with tears.
#sfoFledermaus was presented in English, which completely worked - a huge win for those unaccustomed to opera (hello, visiting dignitaries). This gorgeous Ned Canty-directed production is the perfect gateway to more traditional repertory looking like a million bucks onstage (thanks to scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designers Zack Brown/Christianne Myers, & lighting designer Duane Schuler), with Maestro Nicholas Carter expertly driving his orchestra. In case you don't know already, this operetta plays like a clever Broadway comedy, so if considering SFO this summer, especially if you have kids, look no further.
Most of the action centers around Rosalinda (Devon Guthrie), a bored/suspicious wife, her once upon a time beau & intentionally hilarious aria belter Alfred (Dimitri Pittas), Rosalinda's maid Adele (Jane Archibald), Rosalinda's husband, Gabriel Von Eisenstein (Kurt Streit) & a wonderfully wicked Dr Falke, played to the hilt by Joshua Hopkins. Thrilled to see soprano & friend Adelaide Boedecker on stage as Ida, Adele's party girl sister with 'wow' vocal skill, comic timing & the ability to make it all look easy (when it certainly isn't).
Let's talk about Kevin Burdette. Heck to the Yeah. Kevin is Frosch, the inept jailer to David Govertsen's Frank, his prison warden boss (who's also a delight). Kevin doesn't sing much, but his brilliant word play, timing, physical comedy & onstage agility recalls Tim Conway in his The Carol Burnett Show prime.
Star mezzo-soprano Susan Graham's Prince Orlovsky is luxe casting and a LOL joy; she's also delightfully gender fluid and ends up with a fun love match who doesn't sing much (hint, hint). Seán Curran Company choreography and dancers ruled our Russian party pad & jail, incredible talent and innovation. #OnlyAtSFO, my friends. JM
Original version published July 8, 2017 on Instagram.
(San Francisco) - BrandStoryNow reached new heights this month, launching a second live marketing training event at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as presenting a retooled for the C-suite experience for residents of The Harrison SF, a high-rise community in San Francisco's SOMA.
Beginning at the conservatory on March 5th, it was exciting to introduce the classical artist's most important KPIs across website, social media and real life, and how all of these elements work together when formulating individual strategies for marketing success. We also went deep on building brand identity and why emotional connection matters. Lovely to meet several first-time attendees, including professional opera singers soprano Cabiria Jacobsen, tenor Kirk Dougherty, and baritone Adrian Rosales - all or whom performed in Opera San Jose's west coast premiere of Kevin Puts' "Silent Night". Our classroom-sized group enjoyed a fun and insightful running dialogue as we moved through the training. Bravi to us, with sincere thanks to SFCM's Seth Ducey and his events team.
Ten days later, I found myself looking down at the Bay Bridge from the 49th floor of The Harrison San Francisco. Opened in 2016, and featuring signature Ken Fulk interior design, #TheHarrisonSF is a luxury high-rise tower located just north of the Bay Bridge, making it a new yet instantly recognizable part of the San Francisco skyline. Luxury Attaché's Aaron Hughes was the driving force who brought BrandStoryNow to The Harrison SF, as part of his larger personal brand event for the community; Luxury Attaché provides exclusive concierge services around the world. With epicurean treats by Ladies Who Lunch Catering and the one-of-kind ambiance of the 'Harry's Room' clubhouse, guests had the opportunity to have their head shots done by Godoy Shots Photography before my discussion of personal brand and brand identity for the C-suite and beyond. After touching on digital marketing KPIs, it was great fun sharing storytelling case studies for Gary Vee, Kara Swisher, a certain ride-share CEO and his competition, Akshay Oberai and Niki Leondakis. Our best Q&A takeaways included the sharing of Instagram Stories secrets, how to blow up Snapchat, and the power + velocity of Periscope and FacebookLive video. My sincere thanks to the delightful and engaging residents of The Harrison San Francisco, and to Aaron, Brittany and the entire Luxury Attaché team.
Upcoming BrandStoryNow live marketing experiences are in planning, we look forward to announcing these events as they are confirmed in the coming weeks. Happy Spring!
(San Francisco) - BrandStoryNow, an independent marketing training experience tailored for classical artists, returns to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on March 5, 2016. Originally launched at SFCM in November 2016, BSN evolved from consultant James Mowdy's 2015 work with client Santa Fe Opera.
BSN's philosophy is simple. Classical artists, like small businesses, are brands. As such, they require the same kind of small to medium size business plan and planning that a brick and mortar and/or start up requires. Mowdy, who has worked with classical music clients Musica Marin and Berger Artist Management, as well as Brian Asawa, Diana Tash, Jonathan Blalock and Kelli Butler, sees these artists as they see themselves - the original-and-still-going-strong gig economy. To that, the global arts playing field continues to become more crowded and competitive, especially in the US. With the National Endowment of the Arts potentially under threat, its disappearance could be a direct hit on small companies and arts organizations who depend on NEA funds to mount their work, productions. This example, coupled with our ongoing, national arts funding crisis, dictates that artists themselves - not management - must know how to tell a compelling business brand story across social media and real-life if any career ROI is to be realized.
Beginning with a discussion of brand identity, BrandStoryNow attendees will discover how to tell a strategic brand story about themselves, the critical importance of real as well as pie-in-the-sky business goals, and how to build out online and real-world strategies that connect the moving parts of their brand. An in-depth discussion of KPIs (key performance indicators), social media metrics across different platforms, and relevant classical artist case studies will also be offered, as well as an open Q&A session.
"Presenting BrandStoryNow at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is an amazing honor, " says Mowdy. "My father was a stagehand and sound technician at the American Conservatory Theatre in the '70s and '80s, so I've always had great respect for arts institutions, as well as their actual brick and mortar structures. To physically share BrandStoryNow at SFCM - and hopefully add value - is time wonderfully spent."
BrandStoryNow applies business brand marketing concepts and approaches to The Small Business of You.™ Please register for our March 5, 2017 event from 11AM-1PM via Eventbrite. Classroom space is extremely limited, no waitlist.
BrandStoryNow brings marketing insights, case studies and one-to-one consulting to San Francisco's Conservatory of Music
(San Francisco) - BrandStoryNow, a marketing training for classical artists, launched at San Francisco's Conservatory of Music on Sunday, November 20th. The inclement weather didn't dampen attendance or interest among an activated group, which included opera singers, academics, opera company representatives, startup founders, and classical (collaborative) pianists.
Consultants Cristin O'Keeffe and James Mowdy welcomed and chatted with guests until the formal presentation began. O'Keeffe kicked off things by inviting attendees to pair up and learn their partner's name, profession and a noteable achievement within 3 minutes of conversation. Once time was up, each person introduced his or her partner, which, in addition to being an excellent group ice-breaker, demonstrated the value of unique personal and professional brand story.
Mowdy then launched into the BrandStoryNow presentation, exploring the following:
Once a few spontaneous audience questions were addressed, O'Keeffe took the reins to discuss Active Listening and Social Networking, the latter covering the online and traditional networking perspective. Her points included:
Mowdy continued with several case studies, ranging from cautionary tales like opera's Tamar Iveri and New Balance in the age of Trump, to the cross-platform arts brand success of opera singers Ailyn Perez and Jonathan Blalock, respectively, as well as an examination of classical superstar Lang Lang's global dominance, and West Edge Opera's astute, year-round use of Facebook.
A deeper discussion of social media analytics, goal-setting and true ROI also spurred spontaneous discussion amongst all in attendance, seguing nicely into an extended, post-presentation Q & A.
Some post-event comments:
"Social media is a valuable tool for nonprofit art organizations," said West Edge Opera Marketing Director Kate McKinney via email. "BrandStoryNow taught me how to create social media content that's consistent with West Edge's brand, while also attracting a diverse audience to our various (social) accounts and, ultimately, our performances."
Enchanted Book founder Bridget McGraw via email: "As a digital veteran with a beginner’s mind, I appreciated approaching familiar material with a fresh outlook. It was great to be reminded by Cristin that I need to set SMART goals for the Enchanted Book. Also, James' case studies brought home the critical importance - and balance - of authenticity...in one’s social media presence. "
Soprano Carolyne Anne Jordan - who most recently sang with the San Francisco Opera chorus in "Aida" - kindly direct messaged the following, with permission to share: "Thank you, James! I really appreciated everything you (and Cristin) shared, and I know I can benefit from using Instagram Stories and as well as other (social media tools)...will also share this info with Opera On Tap San Francisco!"
San Francisco-based classical music fan Josh Dougherty via email: "The BrandStoryNow seminar presented a lot of valuable information that's applicable to all aspects of your life. James's case studies demonstrated how simple your brand can be - it doesn't have to be some complicated marketing strategy devised by an expensive team of gurus. Maintaining presence on social media allows your personality to shine while using your most valuable and unique marketing tool: yourself. Cristin's presentation on active listening was a well laid out guide to strategically engaging in conversation instead of just trying to think of the next thing to say. The whole presentation was great, and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to develop his or her brand."
BrandStoryNow returns to The San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Sunday, March 5, 2017. More details soon!
Independent Marketing Training for Classical Artists launches at San Francisco Conservatory of Music
(San Francisco, CA) - Positioned as an independent marketing training for classical artists, BrandStoryNow launches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on November 20. Presented by arts brand strategist Cristin O'Keeffe and brand consultant James Mowdy, the BrandStoryNow concept grew out of Mowdy's 2015 client experience with Santa Fe Opera.
Working with SFO PR Director Daniel Zillmann and several department heads, Mowdy built a strategic brand storytelling plan to help The Company meet specific PR, marketing and business goals, as well as grow Santa Fe Opera's social to real-world ROI with the SFO comms team. Early in the season, Zillmann asked if Mowdy could present a social media-related training to fifty apprentice singers. With only a short time to prepare, Mowdy went with what he knows best - brand identity, brand story, and brand strategy. Positive feedback regarding his consultative and conversational approach from apprentice singers and SFO leadership led to the development of the BrandStoryNow concept: training classical artists to strategically self-market and meet professional goals.
Freelance arts brand strategist O'Keeffe brings far ranging classical music and arts and entertainment business knowledge, experience and passion to the BrandStoryNow collaboration. A New York University-trained lawyer who works for a San Francisco startup, O'Keeffe is well-known amongst the Bay Area's classical set, both online and in real-life. She is often found mingling with friends at San Francisco Opera, Davies Symphony Hall, and various, other classical music venues. O'Keeffe has also established a robust social media "cheer leading section for classical vocal artists, musicians, and opera companies" presence on Twitter, tweeting as @Aspasia_1. If that weren't enough, she somehow finds time to manage social media, real-world PR and event assistance for San Francisco's LIEDER ALIVE!, as well study classical voice with Heidi Moss in the Adult Extension program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A native San Franciscan, O’Keeffe also lived on the East Coast where she graduated from Harvard University and went on to gain valuable entertainment industry experience in the business and legal affairs departments of NBC, the WGBH Educational Foundation (a television broadcaster and program producer for PBS), and Sony Music Entertainment, before returning to the West Coast.
O'Keeffe and Mowdy first met via Twitter, when Mowdy was working with the late countertenor Brian Asawa. O'Keeffe, a devoted fan of Asawa's, met her favorite countertenor and future collaborator, respectively, at one of Asawa's 2015 performances in San Francisco. O'Keeffe's and Mowdy's friendship developed over the course of 2015 and 2016, both mourning Asawa's unexpected passing this past April, attending his LA Opera memorial in May.
It was during this period that Mowdy suggested the then-unnamed concept: a brand-oriented training specifically for classical artists. Given O'Keeffe's multidimensional classical arts and entertainment knowledge, first-hand understanding of the artist experience and a shared interest in helping them succeed, it was an easy sell. "We bring different skills and experiences to the table. James' brand storytelling experience, in addition to his passion for opera and turning 'social into real-world,' means we're uniquely positioned to help classical artists in a competitive global marketplace," says O'Keeffe. Mowdy agrees: "I could certainly run, manage and deliver the BrandStoryNow experience by myself, but Cristin shines a light where I might lack some (classical arts) knowledge or understanding regarding repertory, history, entertainment business affairs and so forth. Cristin has this ability to gently illuminate and correct...and I couldn't be more thrilled."
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Learn more and reserve space for BrandStoryNow's Classical Arts Marketing: Telling Your Most Compelling Brand Story at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
on November 20, 2016.
BrandStoryNow is a marketing training experience for opera and classical music artists and C-level professionals. Presented by James Mowdy, founder of BSPOKE LLC, with guest collaborators and presenters.