How To Connect With Your Audience - An Interview with Danielle Kuntz
Classically-trained harpist, Danielle Kuntz has always gravitated toward new and under performed music. Danielle is also an advocate for new music within the harp community and seeks to encourage harpists to move beyond their comfort zone.
Danielle, can you tell us a little about yourself, what you’re working on these days?
Yes, absolutely. So, I call myself a new music harpist, and by that I mean I primarily play music that is newly composed, so music written by our contemporaries, people I’m able to actually work with, and it is fascinating.
I come from the classical music tradition, and we spend a lot of time playing music from composers who are not here anymore, music that is 200, 400 years old. It’s great music, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m not saying that we’re done with the old classics, but there’s so much good music being written today.
Composers need to hear their music played by a live musician and many don’t get that opportunity. So that’s what I’m about, new music, and making those connections with composers, bringing their music to audiences.
How did you get into the harp? It’s not the easiest instrument to get into.
I had a friend who played the harp in our church when I was growing up and I thought it’d be cool, so I talked my parents into giving me a little tiny harp, and went from there!
I was homeschooled, so I grew up in a different environment than most musicians in the U.S., which has been very interesting. My perspective as a musician has evolved a lot through the years, going from thinking that older music is better and that anything written after 1940 is bad, to being someone who mostly plays contemporary music. It’s been an interesting personal journey.
On one hand is the music; it’s important because that’s what people connect to, but the audience also needs to connect with the people behind it.
Can you tell us a little about how your musical taste changed or evolved over time?
As much as I would like to say that I just got interested in contemporary music because it sounded cool - and there definitely was an element of that - the truth is a lot of my friends in school were composers. They wanted to write for me and I thought, oh this is cool! So just like that, I wanted to get to know their music, and that exposure is how I got interested.
It was also about the people behind the music even more than the music itself. That kind of ties into a lot of discussions I have on social media about audience development, and getting people interested in contemporary music. On one hand is the music; it’s important because that’s what people connect to, but the audience also needs to connect with the people behind it. Instead of just nameless faces playing, they want to know why we are passionate about it, and that’s how we get people excited about music!
It’s something I don’t see as much in the classical tradition. I recently posted a Tiktok on this. We’re so used to pretending the audience isn’t there so that we can overcome our nerves and have this perfect polished performance of the music that we were told to learn. But that creates a disconnect from the audience, and it’s not great for the development of music and making sure the classical music industry doesn’t fade away.
The audience is important, that personal connection. That’s what got me excited about contemporary music. Then I got into the theory of it all, seeing how it all relates, the influences of 12 tone music, serial music, minimalism, and all the technical stuff. But it was really when I saw people excited about the music that I thought “Oh I’m gonna check this out, they’re so excited about it!”
As a follower of your social media, I see that your content is very relevant and thematic. How did you find your theme, or niche?
It started out with people telling me I had to get on social media because “that’s how people find you”. So as a recent graduate from school, I thought, “Well, I just need to post and make sure people know I’m available for weddings”, but there wasn’t a whole lot of purpose to it, beside showing people that I played the harp.
Developing my presence online was more of a COVID era project. I was always passionate about composers and new music, but I didn’t make that a big focus for my social media until I realized - with the lockdowns and everything - people were looking for ways to keep building their communities and keep learning about new music. I thought it was a great time to build this community online. I saw different people doing it, some musicians, but also people in other industries like fitness or nutrition, who were building their audience and connecting with people online. I decided I could do this with music too, and I didn’t need to have a journal of my life as a harpist, there could be a purpose to what I was sharing.
So it evolved, starting out as a very technical account with content like “Here’s how the harp pedals work” and things like that. But I’ve been trying to balance that out a little bit more because some of my audience are just people who like the harp. I want to make sure that I’m also speaking to them, not just people who want to know what types of intervals you can play on the harp. So yes, it’s been growing and it’s going to continue to grow and evolve! It’s not going to look the same five years from now.
You spoke already about how you communicate with your audience. How has that experience been with you?
A lot of my more extensive conversations tend to happen on Facebook. A lot of people claim Facebook is dead, but I think that’s where more of the community is, in Facebook groups, which is where we can talk about more technical things.
Instagram is mostly a way to get stuff out there. I personally love Instagram, it’s a cool format, and it’s very easy to have a portfolio of your work with the way stories work, along with the highlights, posts and what not. But my goal is to get people on my email list because that’s where we can communicate and talk, whether it’s someone who wants to work with me, write for me, take my courses, or just get to know me. It’s easier to have those conversations via email because I hate typing on my phone.
If your goal is to be a classical musician, you can treat social media as a vlog, a way to motivate yourself, or connect with other people...
Last time we spoke, we were talking about the classical world versus social media engagement and modernity. You started with a classical background, and now you’re also very involved in social media. What advice would you give to fellow classically trained musicians to make that step and take the leap? How has your social media presence affected you, and how do you see your music career now?
It took me a while to accept new music as my career because I always thought that as a harpist, I’d focus on doing weddings, teaching, and doing auditions. My goal was to either get a professorship or an orchestra position because that was the expectation for classical musicians. Even though I was just doing new music as a hobby, it was what I really enjoyed doing. I made sure to make time for it, but I didn’t think I could actually focus my career on that.
If your goal is to be a classical musician, you can treat social media as a vlog, a way to motivate yourself, or connect with other people; but that’s not necessarily going to be how you get jobs. When COVID hit, I had already started realizing that traditional classical jobs were not for me. I’m not the greatest virtuoso out there. I’m definitely good, but traditional repertoire doesn’t really showcase my skills the way contemporary music does. My fingers are not the fastest in the world, so playing Mozart is not really the way I shine.
I love music that is a little bit more complex, rhythmic, and we don’t see that in the same way if we’re stuck in traditional music. Also, there aren’t that many jobs out there if you’re focused on structured traditional jobs. So what was the point of me killing myself trying to take auditions, playing the same music as everyone else? There’s just too many people competing for the same thing, so why not just do what I enjoyed doing; what I was good at?
That’s when I started using social media to differentiate myself a little bit. I wanted to delve a little more into this niche of new music and writing for the harp because I realized there’s not a lot of great resources out there. There are good ones, but they appear to contradict each other, so it’s really confusing for composers to navigate that. So that’s what I decided to focus on, because I love talking about writing for the harp.
To answer the last question, my advice for other classical musicians trying to build more of a social media presence is to make your music relatable to your listeners. Talk about your music, talk about what you’re excited about. You don’t have to make it super technical, but you have to convey your excitement to your audience. Otherwise, they don’t know why they should be excited about it, especially if it’s music they haven’t heard before, or if it’s music they wouldn’t go out of their way to listen to. They need to see that you’re excited about it.
But for us as musicians, classical music can feel like a chore, like drudgery. We have to practice six hours a day, do our scales, practice slowly, so that we can give this great virtuosic performance. If that’s how you feel, it’s going to be tough to get your audience excited. Find music you’re excited about, and it doesn’t have to be the same music everyone else plays.
Outside of classical music, that’s how artists connect with their audience. If you think about singers, songwriters, Hip-Hop artists, and rappers, they’re always looking for ways to build these connections. That’s why they do what they do. I think we need to tap into that a little bit more within the classical music industry: to find ways to get our audience excited.
You mentioned collaborating with composers. What does a really good collaboration look like for you and what kind of collaborations are you looking for?
When composers approach me about writing for me, they usually ask me what type of music I want, what kind of things I like to see in it. And that’s such a tough question because I feel like I want to bring their vision and their creativity to reality; that’s my role. I’m not a composer. I’ve tried, it’s just not the way my brain works. So I say, just write music you’re excited about, and then I want to find a way to bring it to reality, taking it from the notes on the page into actual realized music.
Of course, a good collaboration means that we work together. If something doesn’t work so well, I can give you ideas, or you might think of something else, but we do have a lot of back and forth to make something really awesome for the harp. It’s fun to work with composers in that way, and it’s the benefit of working with someone who is alive. This means you can actually be part of the creative process, versus playing something by Wagner that doesn’t really work for the harp, and you have to do it anyway.
I am getting ready to launch a new course on harp writing. It’s a five-week self-guided course, and my goal is to have most composers go through that, so that way we can focus more on one-on-one consult type work, on the nuanced details, like getting your music ready to perform, rather than getting started on writing for the harp. I want to build more time into my schedule for performing through written works, because ultimately that’s what composers need, and that’s what I really enjoy.
Contact Danielle Kuntz:
Instagram & Facebook: @daniellekuntzharp
You can book Danielle for private and corporate events at her GigLinked profile.
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