Groupmuse, the popular platform designed to promote and facilitate Classical music house parties, is in the midst of a successful Kickstarter campaign. The for-profit company has raised more than its initial goal of $100,000 to fund administrative salaries.
Generally speaking, Groupmuse has received very favorable press coverage and encouragement because, in the words of founder Sam Bodkin, it seeks to "revitalize the role of classical music in contemporary society by emphasizing and accentuating its inherently social nature," as described to The Boston Globe. For those of us thinking deeply about the relevance--and sustainability--of musicians based in communities, there is plenty here about which to be excited.
Meanwhile, over at Adaptistration, Groupmuse is receiving its first public examination from Drew McManus, a Classical music industry insider who likes "separating fact from fiction [and] interpreting spin." Drew is trying to find out what's really happening under the hood.
You can read Drew's two recent posts about Groupmuse here and here. I'm not looking to comment on the concerns he raises. Rather, my goal is to introduce an idea into the Groupmuse model conversation that is especially relevant to participants in my community-based residency building course.
One of the notable aspects of the Groupmuse business model that Drew highlights is the absence of shared financial risk. The musicians risk everything and Groupmuse risks nothing. Because musicians can conceivably walk away from a performance with little or no money in their pockets, this raises concerns about the potential for exploitation. After all, who are these musicians who can afford to participate in such an activity that doesn't guarantee any income?
Still, Groupmuse appears to have good momentum and its Kickstarter campaign's success indicates a high degree of optimism for its future from those already involved. Therefore, musicians need to know how to use this model effectively. The question I want to address here is "How do you make the most of your Groupmuse performance opportunity?"
Let's assume that musicians end up with zero net income after performing at a Groupmuse event. Why would they possibly feel good about having participated? Because, in the context of thinking about building a community-based residency, Groupmuse provides something incredibly useful: a free platform to access new social networks. The more credibility this platform accrues, the more widely it is shared, the greater its networking reach.
Access to new social networks has tremendous value. Typically, musicians tend to socialize with other musicians. The potential game changer in one's social circle is that friend--not a musician--who is part of a different and, most likely, more affluent circle. Groupmuse provides the opportunity for musicians to build relationships beyond their own social circles, gaining personal connections to potential enthusiasts who they would otherwise have little likelihood of meeting.
No matter how amazing the performers or the program, the challenge of bringing the audience out of their homes to engage with live music is always a big hurdle to overcome. Therefore, if my priority is to grow my tribe, I would trade that (half full) beautiful hall downtown for the opportunity to get in front of an eager audience of new faces packed into someone's living room.
It's not about immediate income, even though that could also be an outcome under certain conditions. Ideally, for maximum effect, the musician(s) and the host(s) work in careful coordination to create a guest list, an atmosphere, and a program that best positions the musician(s) to make a successful fundraising pitch (including providing a vehicle for further engagement), either in support of their own artistic project or for a worthy nonprofit. Easily forgotten if too anonymous, it is incumbent on the musician(s) to be putting at least as much effort into personally connecting with the audience as they do into the performance portion of the event. I would certainly call this "accentuating its inherently social nature."
Although it will require consistent attention and follow-through over time, any immediate financial gain from a Groupmuse event pales in comparison to the potential of long-term investments that cultivating and maintaining those relationships may yield. If I'm thinking about this from a personal sustainability angle, playing that Groupmuse event for free is significantly more attractive to me than playing in any other local venue that doesn't allow for such casual social interaction. After all, the real payoff may not necessarily come from the Groupmuse host. What about that really interesting person that the host introduced you to that led to a ten-minute conversation in the hallway about your interest in developing a residency in ________, who then invited you to perform a similar program at her home for all of her friends two months later...
According to Drew McManus, Sam Bodkin stated that "when musicians perform at Groupmuse parties and maintain a profile at their site, the fundamental value is in the form of exposure and developing potential connections down the road for selling recordings or getting hired for non-Groupmuse private performances." That sounds right to me. This opportunity is potentially very valuable for musicians, so long as they understand the opportunity for what it is, and if they have developed the skills to make the most of it. Selling recordings is just the tip of the iceberg if your unit of measurement for success is years.
Large cultural institutions definitely know the value of gaining privileged access to an audience of current and potentially new supporters in the intimate setting of a private living room. Now, through Groupmuse, freelance Classical musicians have their own platform to try out some donor cultivation strategies for themselves.
Sharing project documentation and examples of student thinking, and my own.