Though you might not think of YouTube as a place for classical music, except when classical musicians are covering pop tunes, classical pianist Valentina Lisitsa used YouTube to build an audience after her career appeared to be going downhill and then got a major label record deal. It's a great story of an artist who used her direct connection to fans to break the rules and get a deal after aging out of the traditional career path of classical musicians.
According to Anna Russell, writing for The Wall Street Journal, Valentina Lisitsa received her classical training in Kiev, Ukraine before moving to the U.S. and eventually settling in North Carolina with her husband, also a classical musician.
Rachmaninov (aka "Rach Project" ) the Official Trailer - Valentina Lisitsa
According to her website, Valentina Lisitsa has self-produced three DVDs of her music. Russell says it was the DVD of Chopin Etudes released in 2004 or 2006 or 2007, depending on the source, that inspired her YouTube activity. Apparently fans were posting unauthorized clips from the DVD on YouTube:
"'Finally I came up with the crazy decision to just put all 24 tracks on YouTube myself, as I couldn't keep control of my product anymore. Then a strange thing happened,' says Ms. Lisitsa: Sales of her DVD shot up on Amazon. She adds, 'I saw the power of YouTube.'"
An earlier article shares more of her backstory and her previous YouTube activities:
"Searching for inspiration, she started reading about business strategy online. It’s not enough to make the world’s best mousetrap; you also have to advertise it, she learnt. She decided to apply the same principles to her music, to bring it to the masses."
She was already posting videos on YouTube as a marketing maneuver, prior to the release of the Chopin DVD, but confirms that it was the illegal posting of clips from the DVD that inspired her to start posting most of her content online. That move led to rising sales on Amazon and her commitment to YouTube.
The Wall Street Journal article does not give a clear sense of what a rich career she had before this point. Sophie Wilson, in the above-linked article, does give a better sense as does her Wikipedia page. In particular, Wilson includes Lisitsa's recognition that she had aged out of the rising star game in classical music which can be as unforgiving as pop music.
But she didn't just turn to YouTube. She also mortgaged her home (I assume her husband was in on this):
"to raise the nearly $300,000 it took to hire the London Symphony Orchestra and book recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios."
With a growing fanbase, she was able to play the Albert Hall in London and livestreamed the show on YouTube. All this activity led to attention from Decca Classics who agreed to distribute her recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and for whom she now records exclusively.
It's a rich story but the core of it is that Valentina Lisitsa, after a period of some success, ultimately had to bypass the classical music gatekeepers and go direct to her fans. She built up her fanbase via YouTube with substantial investments of her own money in independent releases and ultimately got a deal with a major label.
Lisitsa offers an excellent example of a musician taking charge of her own career, obviously with considerable financial resources, and not letting the rules get in her way.
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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.