Special Reports

Case Study: eighth blackbird Tumbles forward with Tumblr

August 30, 2012 | By Janice Mayer

The two-time Grammy Award-winning ensemble eighth blackbird* is known for its bold programming, so it is not surprising that their adventurous spirit would extend to the promotional side of their efforts as well.

Issue: eighth blackbird is creating a new work, Never My Heart, with music composed by Amy Beth Kirsten and direction/choreography by Martha Clarke. eighth blackbird wants to find a vehicle to bring potential audiences inside the development of the project and provide sales support to its manager, David Lieberman Artists’ Representatives, who will be booking a 2013-14 national tour of the work.

Goal: Find a platform to support and promote a new work without limiting the content to Twitter’s 140 characters and Facebook’s extemporaneous content structure. Also, the group was looking
for a more flexible format than standard blogs while still being compatible with eighth blackbird’s ongoing social media efforts.

“eighth blackbird has been on Facebook (2,544 Likes) and Twitter (8,827 followers) since the beginning,” said Jen Richards the ensemble’s managing director. But lately, “Twitter has become
over-populated; it’s hard to detect signal from the noise. So recently I’ve been exploring Tumblr as a way to get the word out about our new creative project.”

Richards added, “Tumblr has opened up a new space for this kind of exploration. Blogs have become formalized, but here I can create a more casual micro-blog that people can follow and share. Tumblr also makes it easy to share media. Though over 150 arts organizations and publications currently have blogs on Tumblr, those represent a small section of the overall arts community.”

Richards said Tumblr’s policy of allowing unlimited content postings and the way it is “easy to combine with our other social media efforts” made Tumblr an attractive service. (Click here for a look at eighth blackbird’s Tumblr efforts.)

Rationale for the technology choice: Musical America contacted Tumblr’s arts outreach specialist, Annie Werner, about Tumblr’s relationship and offerings for the performing arts:

  • Audience size: Overall, Tumblr boasts over 64 million blogs, 140 million monthly unique visitors, and more than 16 billion page views, according to Quantcast, a website traffic measurement service.
  • Engaged users: Visitors spend an average of 1 hour, 38 minutes on the site, according to researcher Statista.com.
  • Popularity of arts topic: According to Werner, art is one of the most popular topics on Tumblr and is one of the top tracked tags on the platform
  • Supports new art: “We have a huge community of emerging artists and art enthusiasts,” said Werner. In addition, the platform “treats art content with the kind of visual integrity it deserves…visual work is exposed in an elegant, striking manner—no thumbnails or small boxes to confine it.”
  • Connectivity: Tumblr also links easily to Facebook and Twitter, as is now expected of most social media platforms.

Obstacles: Balancing the creative director’s need for privacy during the fragile development phase of a new work and the organization’s goal to share the process with an interested public and presenters is a delicate dance.

Twitter and Facebook will drive traffic to the Tumblr page, so all social media outlets have to be updated and managed simultaneously.

Cost: Tumblr is free for most of the needs of arts organizations. Customizable themes are complementary and premium themes cost between $9 and $49, which also usually includes customer support. eighth blackbird, for instance, uses the standard theme. Video production
costs are variable, but need to be factored in to the budget.

Time & Staffing: Writing and posting blogs, creating and posting videos, and taking and posting images takes organizational staff members’ time, as well as time from the creative team. As a closeknit ensemble, eighth blackbird takes its collaborative chamber music spirit into its partnership with its management. According to Richards, a key element in the selection of its management team was David Lieberman Artists’ Representatives “no fear factor,” which mirrors the “spirit of the eighth blackbird musicians.”

Unlike many small- to mid-sized agencies, David Lieberman Artists Representatives chose to invest in a dedicated onsite marketing specialist, Amanda Bryant, director of marketing and new media: “If I want to send out a well-designed press release the morning after eighth blackbird wins a Grammy, I can do it because my press agent, graphic designer, and social media specialist sit in the office next door.” Taking marketing in-house with Bryant (covering much of
what would have been done in the past by outside vendors) is what has allowed the organization “to maintain a carefully curated, smallish roster capable of supporting each of these artist’s enterprises as well as our own,” said Bryant.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Reckon with the shifting audience: Commenting on the challenge of assessing marketing trends overall and how eighth blackbird’s Tumblr page might help address them, David Lieberman offered, “What is dynamic, compelling, and confusing is the shifting audience of presenters—their cultural view, their marketplace view, their audience view. It is moving so fast, I cannot consider the appropriate allocation of marketing assets without the help of someone dedicated to sorting that all out.”
  • If the tree falls…: According to Lieberman, “No matter how compelling the message, if the intended audience never gets the message because they never saw it, that’s a lot of wasted effort. With a marketing and new media specialist on our team, I can be more confident that we are making the right investments and succeeding on behalf of the artists a higher percentage of the time than in the past.”

*What’s in a name? “The name ‘eighth blackbird’ derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, aphoristic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917). The eighth
stanza reads:

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.



Janice Mayer’s wide-ranging experience includes positions at the New York City and Metropolitan Operas, The Shubert Organization, Inc., and Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS. A former Manager at CAMI, she founded Janice Mayer & Associates LLC which she ran for over a decade. She is currently collaborating on Caminos del Inka, Inc., Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s Latin American music and recording project.




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