Compiled by Stephanie Powell

As social media continues to prove its lasting worth, we asked seven string-playing social-media masterminds for their tips and tricks on building (and maintaining) audiences on Instagram. From world-class performance engagements to brand sponsorships, the social-media platform has provided many rising stars more than just internet fame. Here are a few of their best-kept secrets and most valuable pieces of advice on how to leverage an Instagram following and build a career.


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Chloe Trevor (@chloetrevor_violin)
Studied: Cleveland Institute of Music (BM) and Rice University (MM)
Current city: Dallas, TX
Instrument: Violin
Number of Instagram followers: 129,000

How and why did you decide to start Instagramming?

Back in early 2012 my good friend violist Amanda Verner recommended that I download Instagram because she knew that I liked taking photos and sharing them with friends. At first, my account started out as a sort of journal of my last year at Rice University, but as more and more students began asking me for violin and career advice via Instagram, I discovered that it was a really powerful tool for making a positive impact on the classical community—a place that is often cluttered with negativity and competition and where people are often afraid to share their art unless they are signed to a record label.

When I reached 10K followers and was starting to get performance engagements directly from Instagram, I made the decision to use my account exclusively as a tool to teach and mentor other aspiring musicians. Though marketing was never my intent, I find it fascinating that my Instagram account has ended up doing my marketing for me in a very effective manner simply because I want to encourage and share my knowledge with others.

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

Be authentic. With all of the celebrities and people trying to be celebrities on social media, I believe the general public sees through superficial attempts to “gain followers” whether they are conscious of it or not. When people see someone who is hard working and energetic, but is also true to themselves, they gravitate toward that person because they sense that a connection can be made.

What kind of opportunities have been made available to you thanks to your large Instagram following?

I have had amazing opportunities to perform concertos and recitals and give master classes in Australia, Spain, Canada, and Singapore, as well as receiving a sponsorship from Southwest Strings because of connections I have made on Instagram. In the summer of 2015, the director of the Intermountain Suzuki String Institute in Utah, Ramona Stirling, invited me to be their featured guest artist after her students, who follow me on Instagram, begged her to bring me to the camp.

I am frequently asked to give lectures at universities about utilizing social media as a musician, and my personal violin hero, Hilary Hahn, told me that she watches my Instagram videos and that I have inspired her to begin posting her own! But perhaps the biggest opportunity is that my following has enabled me to begin my own summer music camp, which has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager inspired by my late teacher, Arkady Fomin. My followers are directly supporting the funding of my camp on Patreon (patreon.com/chloetrevor) and I’m happy to announce that the Chloé Trevor Music Academy will officially begin in summer 2018!

What are the daily requirements to maintain and grow an online audience?

Before you start trying to build an online audience you should have a website. This gives you more validity as an artist and is also the hub that connects your audience to all of your social-media platforms. It is a good idea to be present on all of the major platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but at the very least be on one of these and have a website.

As far as Instagram goes, posting daily is key but quality content is equally as important. Make sure that every photo you post is stunning and eye catching. Brush up on basic photography tips such as the rule of thirds and simple editing tools. (For example, people tend to be drawn to images that have warm tones rather than cool tones.) Videos can be slightly more difficult to control in terms of quality, but the most important aspects to take note of are the lighting and angle of your video.

It takes a considerable amount of time to make daily posts, come up with creative and quality content, edit photos, and write out thoughtful captions, but a big part of building an audience is interacting with your followers.

Why do you feel it’s important to cultivate an online audience?

I think classical musicians have the unfortunate reputation of being a bit standoffish. Cultivating an online fanbase is a wonderful way to bring audiences into one’s own world beyond the concert stage. This ultimately makes an artist more approachable, which I think is terrific for the classical community. I see so many young people online wildly enthusiastic about classical music, and connecting with them there is a great way to reach a larger demographic while also learning how to grow our in-person audiences most effectively.

What is your favorite type of content to share?

Definitely teaching videos and the classical-music comedy videos that I make with my pianist, Jonathan Tsay (@psychokaz), because I love sharing helpful advice with other musicians and making people laugh.

Who is your favorite player to follow on Instagram?

I don’t have just one favorite account, but some of my favorites are Hilary Hahn (@violincase), Tessa Lark (@tessalark), Ross Holmes (@rossholmesfiddle), Matthew Trujillo (@matthewtrujillo), and John Hanifin (@johnrhanifin).


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Drew Alexander Forde (@thatviolakid)
Studied: Juilliard
Current city: New York, NY
Instrument: Viola
Number of Instagram followers: 108,000

How and why did you decide to start Instagramming?

I started Instagram on my birthday in 2013. I was at my mother’s graduation and there were over 500 people being called . . . so it took a while. I had recently bought my first smartphone and had been hearing about Instagram for a while. So, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try for myself! If you scroll down to my very first post, it’s still up there. It’s a horribly shot selfie from a low angle, and it features my best friend on planet Earth.

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

For musicians that want to build an audience on Instagram, I would say be authentic. Look at what people are doing on the platform, but then put your own twist onto it. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable—because that’s what also makes people relatable, which is arguably the most important element of audience building. Above all else, don’t just post hashtags. Go into the hashtags and like and comment on other people’s posts. You build community by first being a part of the community.

What kind of opportunities have been made available to you thanks to your large Instagram following?

My large Instagram following hasn’t blown down too many doors over the past four years. However, I will say that I have been asked to solo with a professional orchestra for my first time. I’ve also collaborated with Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, and D’Addario, and I’ve met countless incredible people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Most of these developments have only just come up within the last six months, though.

What are the daily requirements to maintain and grow an online audience?

This is a tough pill for me to swallow, because lately I’ve been breaking my own rules. I personally believe it is best to post at least once or twice a day on Instagram. Because of the algorithm changes and the consistent increasing noise that’s building on the platform, it’s important to post often in order to actually be seen. So, post daily, and make sure to keep your content at the very highest level possible. Your top nine posts are essentially a statement. If your statement is awesome, people will hit that follow button. It’s just that simple.

Why do you feel it’s important to cultivate an online audience?

I personally felt the importance of building an audience because I didn’t want to play in a symphony orchestra; rather, that wasn’t my end goal. I wanted to be in the entrepreneurial realm of music, and in order to have success in that sector, I truly believed that it was important to have an audience. At the end of the day, what is a musician without an audience?

Furthermore, I realized early on that people don’t go to concerts to hear music—they go to hear people. If people just simply wanted to hear music, cover bands would be consistently dominating the concert space. When it really comes down to it, on top of being a world-class musician, it’s also important to resonate with people.

What is your favorite type of content to share?

My favorite content to post in Instagram are videos of me playing. Hands down. I love posting videos where I feel completely vulnerable: I’m not perfectly in tune, my articulations aren’t as clean as I would like, I make multiple funny faces, etc. When I’m feeling like I’m playing my worst, people listen to it and tell me something different. Even if it’s not perfect, they feel touched by the intimacy of my sharing who I am in that one musical moment.

Who is your favorite player to follow on Instagram?

Oh, this is a tough one . . . and I feel like I’m going to get into a lot of trouble when I answer this. There are so many people out there that I love. I got to say . . . my favorite player on all of Instagram is my boy
@mbassett82. He is consistently one of the most creative, fun, and expressive musicians on the internet. Period. If you don’t know who I’m talking about and you love cello, incredible humor, and video-game music, go check him out. You’re welcome!


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Emily Davidson (@emilyplayscello)
Studied: The Longy School of Music and the Hartt School
Current city: Los Angeles, CA
Instrument: Baroque cello; early-music specialist
Number of Instagram followers: 25,200

How and why did you decide to start Instagramming?

I started using Instagram for personal use, sharing snapshots of my life and occasionally incorporating my musical life as well. Once Instagram rolled out video capability, I knew there was a huge opportunity to share my playing with the world. I decided I wanted to make it a professional platform for myself—I dialed back the food photos and pics with my friends and tried to really focus on music.

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

Be consistent. Creative types tend to want to post frequently when they’re inspired and then drop off when they’re busy or distracted. Not only is consistency good for your audience, it also helps get you to find your own groove with posting. Your audience wants to know they can expect good content from you, so commit to a schedule—once a day, or even 2–3 times a week is good.

What kinds of opportunities have been made available to you thanks to your large Instagram following?

I’ve been asked to collaborate with dozens of really interesting, talented musicians from all over the world. I’ve gotten paid gigs, and also been able to start up my social-media consulting business. When people see my numbers they can trust that I have the knowledge to help them grow their following, too.

Why do you feel it’s important to cultivate an online audience?

Even though most classical musicians are live performers, there is so much of our music that can be shared outside of an in-person experience. Now that concerts and performances can be livestreamed, there are more opportunities for us to reach a global audience.

What is your favorite type of content to share?

Mine is the “cello selfie!” I’ve been taking pictures of myself since I got my first digital camera in 2002, long before front-facing cameras. I love to take a selfie with my instrument.

Who is your favorite player to follow on Instagram?

It’s so hard to choose! Drew (@thatviolakid) is one of the original classical-music Instagram superstars. He’s authentic and creative. Sarah Joy (@sarahjoymusic) is a cellist, singer, and incredibly sweet person with great attention to detail.


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Anastasia Mazurok (@mmm_anastasy)
Studied: Rimsky-Korsakov College; Temple University’s 
Boyer College of Music (BM)
Current city: Philadelphia, PA
Instrument: Violin
Number of Instagram followers: 72,000

How and why did you decide to start Instagramming?

I started my Instagram account three years ago, when I came to the US for school. I have always been into photography, so I was using my account for pictures I took. The first video of me playing appeared a year after—it was an excerpt of my performance in Salzburg, Austria. I got nice feedback; I was so surprised that people who followed me for photography were also interested in classical music. I started posting violin-related content every once in a while, and one day, the video of me playing Paganini went viral. That’s when I decided to give it a try.

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

Work out your own concept and image. Your content has to be your trademark. Choose what you want to do with your social media in terms of purpose, consistency of posting, your look, captions, quality of your pictures and videos—and stick to it.

It is important that your perception and personality shine through everything you post. Do not copy someone else’s work, but be yourself and be confident about everything you do. Be engaged, just the way you want your followers to be engaged—I always try to find time to communicate with my audience.

Be flexible, if you feel that certain content gets less attention, make adjustments and see what your following responds to. Needless to say, do not post poor quality (meaning the quality of playing and, if possible, that of a recording) videos. Think of it as a performance—do your best.

What kind of opportunities have been made available to you thanks to your large Instagram following?

I have been lucky to meet great musicians. I have collaborated with amazing photographers and videographers, and various brands that I work with and represent. I met my close friend and manager through Instagram as well. I often get concert opportunities and requests from people who want to study with me.

What are the daily requirements to maintain and grow an online audience?

Be consistent. It is easier to grow an audience than maintain it. Daily requirements are relatively simple—prepare a post, publish it at a certain time that works best for your followers, respond to the messages you received. Sometimes, when I know I have a busy week coming up, I think ahead and record videos and prepare photos in advance. However, I am irresponsible at times, too—I abandon social media when I have a lot on my plate and then find out there is too much catching up to do.

Why do you feel it’s important to cultivate an online audience?

You never know who is out there watching your video or stumbling upon your photo. Of course, having a huge following gives you odds; it increases your visibility and it is more likely that important people will find your account.

I like to think of my followers as my real audience, the same people I play for when I am onstage—just in a slightly different manner. I like doing live translations of my rehearsals before important shows. Knowing how many people tune in to listen gives me a rush, and that is exactly what I like to rehearse prior to a recital—emotions.

What is your favorite type of content to share?

I like to share videos. Surprisingly, it is always challenging. Playing a whole recital is easier for me than recording a one-minute video. It takes so much focus and drive—when you are playing onstage it comes naturally, but when there are just the two of us, my phone and I, it is a different feeling.

Who is your favorite player to follow on Instagram?

I love @twosetviolin—Brett and Eddy are two talented, funny, and friendly guys. I discovered them a while ago, and their videos always made me laugh. One day they reached out and offered to have me join their team when they were launching their Practice Journal. I am glad I got to know them and work with them. They are doing a great job at showing everyone that classical music is so much fun!


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Photo by Mark Castillo

Esther Abrami (@estherabrami)
Studied: Chethams School of Music;
Royal College of Music
Current city: London, UK
Instrument: Violin
Number of Instagram followers: 70,100

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

I have a social media success formula: consistency, quality content, and originality.

Be consistent. Make sure you are posting regularly and keeping your followers up to date with what you are doing. As musicians we tend to get very busy with concerts, recordings, etc., and it is very easy to stop posting for a while. This is one of the biggest mistakes one could make on social media.

Post quality content. The videos or photos must be high quality. It is not necessary to have professional pictures—some of the videos that have had the most success on my Instagram were taken with my iPhone! (More than 250,000 views!)

Finally, be original. Get inspired by others, but never copy them. Find your own style and basically just be yourself!

What kind of opportunities have been made available to you thanks to your large Instagram following?

Being an international platform, Instagram has brought me many professional opportunities (concerts, recordings, interviews, press articles, etc.), as well as giving me the chance to meet professional musicians from all over the world. Thanks to the visibility I am getting, my large following has also allowed me to work as a social-media influencer with renowned music-related brands such as D’Addario Strings, Beaumont Music, Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin, and Wmutes as well as with fashion luxury brands including Lancôme, Daniel Wellington, the Kooples, and others.

What is your favorite type of content
to share?

I really enjoy sharing videos of pieces I am practicing or I am about to perform. I also sometimes share some pop and film music to have fun!

As musicians we are always seeking perfection, which means we are hardly ever happy with our recordings. One year ago I was not able to post a video of my playing without thinking “actually it could be better so I won’t share it,” but after taking the risk to share a first video and seeing the absolutely amazing reactions from my followers I realized there is a real “classical-music community” on Instagram.

 


Mariya

Mariya Ksondzyk (@mariya.music)
Studied: The Boston Conservatory
Current city: Boston, MA
Instrument: Viola
Number of Instagram followers: 16,000

How and why did you decide to start Instagramming?

I started my account last spring, and at the time was going through a bit of a rough patch as a musician. I was very self-conscious about my playing, where I was going in life, and had big doubts about myself. Needless to say I was terrified of posting videos of my playing on any social media. I knew I needed to do something about my attitude because it wasn’t getting better. I was inspired by accounts of other musicians, and decided to simply face my fears and start sort of a public journal or diary on Instagram about my daily musical ideas, inspirations, and struggles, ultimately to push myself to be more open and confident.

What advice would you offer to players that hope to develop an Instagram audience?

First of all, be patient! Nothing happens overnight, and an audience usually develops out of consistent posting over time. It took over a year for my account to really take off, so don’t get discouraged.

Also, pay attention to which posts do better than others. Instagram’s Business Profile shows you analytics for each post, including reach and likes. It’s important to post what you want to post, but it’s also smart to keep track of what kind of content your followers like.

What are the daily requirements to maintain and grow an online audience?

For me, presence is the main daily requirement. You have to keep your followers engaged, and show them that you are interested in what you’re doing. Otherwise, why should they care? If I know I will not have the opportunity to take a new video or photo tomorrow, I plan ahead and take an extra one today and save it. And before focusing on growing your audience, it is important to focus on maintaining your current one. Liking their comments, thanking them for nice feedback, and responding to questions and messages takes only a little bit of effort every day, but it is very crucial. After all, they go out of their way to contact you, and it’s important to show your appreciation.

Why do you feel it’s important to cultivate an online audience?

Our society has changed so much in the past decade, and has become so internet-centered that I feel an online audience is a way for classical musicians to adapt. Right now the job market in classical music is insanely competitive, and it is very difficult to build a musical career the old-fashioned way of finishing school, landing an orchestra job, and working with little online presence. There are few jobs and many very talented musicians, so I think many musicians have to find a niche for themselves where they can excel and freelance instead.

What is your favorite type of content to share?

I really love posting videos of myself playing random pieces that are outside of my “serious” repertoire. These are often show pieces, Ukrainian folk songs I grew up with, pop-song covers, covers of my favorite opera arias, fiddle tunes—basically anything I feel like playing for fun that day.

As a classical musician, you have to do scales, études, excerpts, concertos, sonatas—so much serious music! Sometimes I just like to unwind and play fun pieces for myself and share it with my audience.

Who is your favorite player to follow on Instagram?

I think I’m one of many people who would say their favorite player on Instagram is Drew Alexander Forde (@thatviolakid). One of the reasons I like his work is because he’s a fellow violist, but in addition to this his account is very inspiring and positive. I love that he encourages other musicians by featuring them on his account, and it’s inspired me to start doing a similar thing on mine. I’ve talked to him a few times on Instagram, and he is just a very friendly and professional person. 

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