The Business Could Use More Of This

A musician friend of mine recently forwarded a copy of an article that appeared in the September issue of Indy Men’s Magazine. I thought the article did a good job at portraying orchestral music in a light it could stand to get more often in a column the magazine calls What This Woman Wants

Indy Men’s Magazine describes itself as “…a unique and sophisticated monthly publication with a regional focus and national quality targeting active, educated and upscale adults in the greater Indianapolis area.” According to Senior Editor, Tim Farrell, the magazine’s target demographic is men, age 25 to 50.

“Our tone is similar to Esquire & GQ but much of it is general reading and even though we gear much of our content toward the 25-50 male demographic, 40% of our readers are actually women, said Tim.”

about_logo.gifTim went on to say that the What This Woman Wants section in the magazine is one of the most popular. The column features a brief interview with twenty-something age women along with a picture spread. It is the September installment of this column that caught my attention because it featured one of the newest members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, violinist Louise Alexander.

Although this sort of format isn’t entirely new for classical music, most installments I run across feature soloists or other high profile musicians but Indy Men’s Magazine decided to feature a good old rank-and-file section violinist.

Kudos to the magazine for seeing the value in promoting a member of the rank-and-file instead of clamoring over some soloist du jour. The next thought to run through my mind is what prompted the magazine to feature a section player.

I asked the article’s author, Indy Men’s Magazine Senior Editor Tim Farrell, about the process they used that decided on using Louise.

“We always try to find someone with an interesting occupation or an interesting take on a standard occupation for the column,” said Tim. “We keep the features lighthearted, classy, and sexy but not over the top. Every once in awhile we look for someone more high profile and since this issue focused on the arts and we already had have a good relationship with the ISO, we wanted to find a way to work them in.”

I was pleased to hear Tim’s opinion of how a magazine geared toward a younger demographic perceives how the ISO fits into their local culture.

“We like the symphony’s role in our town and we like to promote things that appeal to us on staff,” said Tim. “The ISO has expressed to us that they want to “hip-up” their image so when they suggested we should feature Louise in the What This Woman Wants column we agreed that it would be a good match, and I think this piece has helped them reach their goal.”

I went on to ask Tim about how they went about the interview and if the ISO PR department was very involved.

“The [ISO’s] PR manager floated in and out of the interview but she never told Louise to hold back or anything,” said Tim.

I spoke with Ana Papakhian, ISO Director of Communications, if she lingered around the interview or spent much time prepping Louise and she did say that she hung around during some of the interview but that was mostly because it was being conducted in the ISO women’s locker room. She wanted to make sure no one was uncomfortable and she also admitted that she’d never been in the locker room before and she was curious to see what it looked like.

When asked about how the article came to be, Ana said:

“I actually pitched the idea of featuring an orchestra musician that fit into the demographic [the What This Woman Wants column] typically features,” said Ana. “I didn’t go over anything with Louise beforehand beyond talking about the idea with her at a party.”

I asked her what she thought of the final product and if the coverage helps build the type of image the ISO wants to encourage.

“I love the coverage, it shows the orchestra in a different light and that the players are young.” said Ana. “It also shows that you can love classical music and still be hip.”

In the end, I think it’s great that a local publication like Indy Men’s Magazine can take an interest in their local orchestra to such a degree that they think about identifying members that fit with their image and find ways to use them in mutually beneficial aspects.

If the ISO, or any orchestra, attempted to make it seem like all of their musicians fit into this mold it would be ridiculous. At the same time, identifying individual musicians and finding ways for them to fit into areas of local, targeted interest should be on the to-do list of every PR professional out there.

Of course, in order to do that, PR and marketing folks will have to get to know their musicians.

Postscript: At one point in her interview when asked about what sort of orchestral types Louise is attracted to she describes trumpet and trombone players as “Brassholes. They play the loudest instruments, and it makes the testosterone go wild.”

As a tuba player, that comment made me remember the following joke:

Q: “Why aren’t violins made out of polished, lacquered silver and brass like trumpets?”
A: “Because you’d never get the violinists to stop looking at their own reflections.”

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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