The importance of online artist engagement

Martin Cullingford
Monday, March 25, 2024

Editor Martin Cullingford introduces the April 2024 issue of Gramophone

Gramophone's April 2024 issue
Gramophone's April 2024 issue

Our news pages are pleasingly full of new signings this month. Two of those – guitarist Alexandra Whittingham and pianist Hayato Sumino, signed by Decca and Sony Classical respectively – share two things in common. The first is superb music-making and an imaginative approach to repertoire. In Whittingham’s case, her first release was a beautifully crafted debut album from Delphian that ranged freely across the European continent. Hayato Sumino, meanwhile, first came to the consciousness of many of our readers when he reached the semi-finals of the 2021 International Chopin Piano Competition, with Jed Distler, on his daily blog on the competition written for our website, describing the young Japanese virtuoso as ‘a genuinely accomplished pianist.’

But for many people these two musicians were already familiar faces and names. Under the nickname ‘Cateen’, Sumino has already attracted more than 1.5 million followers across his social media channels, where his online audience is treated to videos ranging from interpretations of core repertoire, his own arrangements and compositions and even forays into jazz. Guitarists and admirers of its repertoire, meanwhile, may well have first encountered Whittingham online too, where her beautifully filmed renditions of pieces central for any player as well as delightful discoveries have been shared with millions. Signing to a major label might once have been the start of an artist building a bond with an audience; in both of these cases, it’s an already meaningful relationship with vast numbers of listeners that they bring to the labels. I’ve long lamented the downsides of the sad decline of physical shops, but at the same time welcomed the benefits of access that digital delivery (whether streaming or downloads) brings. And it’s not just about introductions to artists either: for millions of people, online videos – long or short, quirky or core classical repertoire – are legitimate recording experiences in their own right.

So too are singles or online EPs. When the parameters of a CD’s length no longer apply, there’s nothing to determine what defines a ‘classical release’ as we once thought about it. This month’s cover artist Dalia Stasevska has launched a listening journey named with a nod to the affectionately recalled retro ‘mixtape’, but in practice it’s an ultra modern initiative: new works, spanning styles, available on demand, and with track length determined by work length.

Ultimately, the traditional album continues to be the root of our coverage of music, and rightly so. But it’s vital that we also endeavour to embrace any innovative approach to making music accessible. This month’s signings, and our cover conductor, are shining beacons of exactly that.

Finally, we were delighted that Gramophone’s recently published circulation figures showed an increase in our overall readership for the past year. So a huge thanks to everyone whose ongoing support makes us what we are: and if you are a new reader, not only are you welcome, but we can also promise that we’ll endeavour to reflect classical recording however you choose to explore it.

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