YOLANDA KONDONASSIS: ON MUSICIANSHIP AND EVOLVING AN AUTHENTIC BRAND

World-Renowned Solo Harpist

12 Yolanda 1NPR Tiny Desk Concert

In pursuing a career as a musician, the common thread – both now and twenty years ago – is the need to sustain high quality in as many areas of your field as you can. Of course, the most important thing is always what you bring to the table artistically – and while luck may be on your side, you can’t depend on it. That is why you need to be educated in a variety of ways about the business that supports your work. No longer can an artist afford be remote and detached from all but their art.

It’s important to understand your particular audience and the market you serve. You should know how to read a contract and write a proposal. You also need to know how to present yourself and your work in a way that will resonate with both your colleagues and your audience. Know that you can’t afford to be complacent, even when you reach the level where you have arts managers and support systems in place.

I believe you should be in a position to know how you want to brand yourself, rather than having it done by someone who is an expert in marketing, but doesn’t know what you’re trying to do with your art, who you want to be, or what you’re looking to create.  If you leave it to others, you can get into trouble and find yourself promoting a version of yourself and your art that isn’t really you.

Artistry tends to be an evolution and it’s a long process. I tell my students that if they continue to evolve as they should, they will be very different artists at age forty than they are when they graduate from conservatory. The real education begins when school ends, I have found. The bottom line is that you can only be true to yourself at any given moment, but do recognize that your vision is going to change over time. No real artist decides who they are in their youth and stays that way for the duration of their career. That’s why it’s important for you to be in the driver’s seat and to know how you want to present yourself and your music. You have to think about how your music will make the leap from your studio to the eyes and ears of others and how you can be actively involved in that process.

There’s a difference between knowing your audience and pandering to it. On one hand, you can’t ever take your audience for granted and you must respect them, even when they may not know where you’re headed. But at the same time, it’s up to you to take them on your journey –  and if they trust you, they’ll go along for the ride. Ears and eyes move in new directions slowly, but they do move, and it’s an artist’s responsibility to persuade them to stretch and evolve.

With regard to marketing, there are so many effective things you can do, and the Internet is at the heart of most of it these days.I don’t think email blasts are that effective, but I do have a website, which serves me very well, though it does have to be updated regularly. With social media, I feel there is a certain disconnect between trying to focus on your art and checking your social presence constantly. You do need to engage, but not just to put out unformed thoughts or post random activities. While the immediacy of social media is wonderful, people can easily get into trouble with it, so my advice would be to think carefully about what you want to say, or skip it altogether.

Resources are enormously important and you need to know what the people in your particular field are reading, doing, buying, and joining. Read your instrument’s trade journal, join the musician’s union, and talk to people in your business and in other related fields. Stay up on what is going on in your arts area and ask yourself where they might gaps that could be filled with something you offer. Think about attending a conference, take a seminar, or give one. The Internet is a great tool, but face-to-face contact still matters.  It’s easy to get caught up in cyber-hype, but resist the urge to let it substitute for real relationships. The best and most valuable assets in my career have always been one-on-one relationships with trusted managers, producers, colleagues, and mentors.

As a final thought, I would say that while a good marketing system goes a long way in helping to get your art out to the world, make sure you stay grounded and avoid getting addicted to the hype and affirmation that will inevitably begin to follow you. Know your own nature and surround yourself with quality people whenever possible. At the end of the day, you will always go home with yourself, so you better be someone you know and respect.

Yolanda Kondonassis is celebrated as one of the world’s premiere solo harpists and is widely regarded as today’s most recorded classical harpist. Hailed as “an extraordinary virtuosa” and “sheer luminescence at the harp,” she has performed around the globe as a concerto soloist and in recital, appearing with numerous major orchestras such as The New York Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name a few. With fifteen albums and well over 100,000 recordings sold worldwide, Ms. Kondonassis’ extensive discography includes her recent Grammy-nominated release of music by Takemitsu and Debussy entitled Air, as well as the world-premiere recording of Bright Sheng’s Harp Concerto, written for Ms. Kondonassis. In addition to her active performing and recording schedule, Ms. Kondonassis heads the harp departments at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory and has presented master classes around the world. Visit www.YolandaHarp.com.

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