How to experiment and make progress as a classical musician

Its damp nose was continually scanning. It couldn’t tell you what it was looking for. But it knew when it detected it. An unmistakable scent. One of a kind. Unmatched by anything else.

Perched on the fluorescent plastic. Bobbing with the waves. The roaring hum of the engine suddenly lowered. 

It had to be found. Successful conviction depended on it.

They collapsed on this acute spot.

1 minute…10 minutes…20 minutes…nothing.

The panting companion didn’t detect it. There was no find..

What had they missed? It was time to head back to shore.

How would you react in this situation? You’ve taken a risk. Given something new a go and it didn’t provide the results you were looking for.

The scene I described above is from a dutch crime drama called The Investigation. If you’re into Scandi noir, you’ll love it! They had to find the victim’s body to be able to convict their suspect. It could’ve been anywhere within a vast area of sea. It appeared impossible. They had to go through a process of trial and error. Experimentation, learning, unlearning and relearning.

This approach struck me as exactly what you need to do as a musician online. 

There is an online format that will work for you and your audience. Experimenting is key to finding it.

So what’s holding you back?  There are three things that can get in your way.

Tradition

You invested hours during your studies, practising, honing your artistic craft. It gave you a protective bubble to prepare for the profession. You engaged in the master and apprentice approach. Traditions handed down to you. They serve you well in a typical performing ecosystem.

But as you know, there has been a seismic change. Out of necessity, digital recitals are a new performance format for classical musicians. There is no set tradition for it. During the first lockdown, a traditional recital format was a novel experience online. Now, audiences are seeking a digital specific experience that is live.

Masters of their tradition are now an apprentice just like you and me.

Some big organisations are still trying to use traditional performance approaches online. I hold my hands up, I’ve still yet to sit through a traditional symphony concert online as an audience member. It’s too long, not engaging enough and very rarely live.

It’s time to look beyond tradition. To see which elements can be tinkered with (length, time, audience engagement, learning, collaborating etc…).

There are two more aspects that can get in your way of experimenting.

Being Right Or Wrong

When you give something new a go, it is easy to think that the results are either right or wrong. Or to view a performance as good or bad. This black and white approach will lead you to dead ends. You’ll follow your path and then find it bricked up and reinforced with concrete.

This approach is having a ‘fixed mindset’. It is characterised by thoughts and values such as:

  • Good or Bad
  • Right or Wrong
  • Achieve or Fail
  • Intelligent or Stupid
  • Pass or Fail
  • Accepted or Rejected

A better approach would be a ‘growth mindset’. Instead, your path continues with various obstacles, experiences and encounters. There’s space for learning, reflecting and developing. 

It can be characterised by thoughts and values such as:

  • Effort
  • Improving
  • Experimenting
  • Adapting
  • Reviewing
  • Planning
  • Reflecting
  • Evolving

Now think about the last social media post you put out to promote your work. What do you think about the level of engagement it received? Which mindset do your thoughts come from, fixed or growth?

The next area is where a lot of creatives stumble.

Perfectionism

You expect a high level of yourself when you perform. It makes total sense because you want to be at the top of your game. The problem can be when perfection creeps into the early stages of creating. 

The early stages are when it is a fantastic opportunity to experiment. Why? Because there is less to lose and more to gain. My mentor Chris Gardener has written a fantastic blog about this here.
 

If you wait for something to be perfect, it will slow or even stop you from having forward momentum.

For example in December 2020, I knew I wanted to start a blog and a weekly email. A few months ago I would have agonised over every detail of setting up my website. Instead, I put enough on it to allow me to blog and write these emails to you. My website isn’t perfect by any means, but it has given me a fantastic step forward because I can talk to you today.

Now I know it’s working and people are interested, I will improve it later down the line.

A Unique Opportunity

You have an extraordinary opportunity to experiment with digital recitals and building your own audience. All the elements that create a performance are open to change, play, develop and adapt.

Once you commit to giving this a go, you’ll have courage within you. You can act and then see what the results are. Keeping forward momentum is key. If you give something a go and it doesn’t work, it gets lost in the tidal wave of content. If you find something that does work, amplify it.

This can be done with little or no extra financial expense, which is another bonus for you.
 

Experimenting
 

Let’s say you are thinking of creating an online French Lieder Recital. As an experiment, you want to have a historical discussion with your audience during the performance.

There are two possible ways to experiment to see if this could work:

  1. Ask your audience if this is something they want. If it isn’t, then you have your answer without having gone through the time and energy to do it. If it is, crack on.
  1. Equally, if your French Lieder is ready to go and the discussion element is easy to apply. Go for it and get the feedback from the actual experience.

The Stages Of Experimenting

  1. What’s the goal? What’s the result you want?
  2. How could you do it?
  3. Give it a go.
  4. Review the data/results
  5. Make your next step

In Summary

All breakthroughs come through an element of experimentation whether intentional or not. Three things can hold you back from experimenting: Tradition, Fixed Mindset and Perfectionism. You have the opportunity to find new ways of performing and connecting with your audience. Some will work. Some will offer new learning. Both will help you to keep moving forward and having momentum.

As for the dog and the detective. Did they find the victim? You’ll have to watch it and find out.

Join the Digital Recitalist Weekly Email to read the post first and receive the extras that only come in the weekly email.

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