Instant Encore: Classical Music goes Mobile

Margo Drakos, co-founder and COO of InstantEncore
Margo Drakos, co-founder/COO of InstantEncore

Margo Drakos is a woman on a mission. The co-founder and COO of InstantEncore wants to take classical music directly to its audience via a host of online services, including a digital strategy package for powering custom websites for organizations, a website builder for artists and the development of mobile apps. Recently, the company has been busy building custom mobile apps for Android, iPad, iPhone and all smartphones. InstantEncore’s mobile apps have previously been featured on this blog in Tom’s article 10 Arts and Culture Mobile Apps from 2010.

apple-interface-250wInstantEncore currently powers about 100 iPhone apps and 50 Android as well as hosting mobile web apps, which make an organization's website functional on a mobile phone. Their platform powers the app for the popular YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which, at over 125,000 downloads, and beats both the Taylor Swift and Linkin Park apps by about 90,000. Instant Encore also hosts the apps of notable organizations like the NY Philharmonic, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Cleveland Institute of Music and Houston Grand Opera.

I talked with Margo recently to catch up on Instant Encore's latest endeavors.

What is InstantEncore? is a classical music platform that enables artists and arts organization to harness the power of technology to connect with their fans anywhere, any time. We are the infrastructure! We have created the only classical music-specific digital asset management system that essentially allows our Partners from a broad spectrum of the performing arts world to enter digital content – event listings, ticket selling, audio recordings (streaming, download, public or private), video (live or on-demand), news, blogs, and photos - one time, and have all of their content published in real time to their own website, mobile apps, Facebook or Twitter accounts.

instantencore1 How did the idea for InstantEncore come about? Two things happened: I was playing cello for a living and I had sort of grown frustrated with the disconnect between musicians and the audience, where the field was going, and how technology was disrupting the traditional models. I felt passionate about re-personalizing the concert experience without losing artistic integrity.

An InstantEncore concert card offering a music download.

An InstantEncore concert card offering a music download.

Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful engineers and they had a really powerful search engine specific for classical music that resulted in a high-end jukebox called Maestro. It had originally been created to help catalog vast CD collections, like that of our chairman/CEO. I was talking to them about how sometimes as a performer you would go to a live event and afterwards people would say “I loved the concert. How can I hear it again? How can I get a recording?” And of course I was always trying to sell some unrelated CD. So I talked to these engineers about this predicament that a lot of musicians always find themselves in, and so we actually created this concept of the “Instant Encore”—where you can take a card at the concert, go home, and download the content that you just heard.

How has InstantEncore evolved from the days of concert cards to now? Instant Encore started with a very powerful search engine that had organized and standardized all classical music meta data, and our objective was to build the tools that would enable fans to connect with the music and artists they love, in a personal, immediate way. We wanted to leverage technology to extend and enhance every aspect of the live concert experience. We are committed to providing the 21st century tools that will save organizations time and money by automatically or quickly powering their digital assets to connect with fans and engage sponsors.


How does the Instant Encore component fit in with an organization’s existing social media presences and organizational website? Our goal is to streamline redundancies and save resources. Right now, you have a lot of people that are trying to update their website, spending a great deal of time developing a content management system internally instead of spending development time and resources on the front end. Then there is the mobile space--if an organization does not have a good web-browsing experience from a smartphone, people will close the site. Then organizations are manually pushing content that is often a PR push to Facebook and then to Twitter as well. So there’s a great amount of time and effort in trying to maintain all these very necessary social network platforms.

Obviously details about classical music can be a nightmare to organize or for data entry. We have a very standardized way—unless it’s a world premiere, it’s all in our search engine’s system. For example, if you start to type in “Beethoven Symphony No. 5”, it’s going to have the opus number and the key and all the movements and you just click on that and it’s automatically transferred. So, you’re never entering all that information yourself, which is 1) time-saving and 2) tagged at the most specific level, which allows people that are not looking specifically for you to find you and you that already know you and want to find you to customize their experience.

Our system is set up so that you as a Partner can enter an event listing in moments in our secure Control Panel. By that one simple event creation in our content management system, it updates in your website with our webbuilder or more advanced API (Application Programming Interface—see the end of this entry for more information). posts to the partner’s social networks, mobile apps, etc. You can do a host of different things—tag your YouTube channel. You can manually upload music for streaming or download purchase. Or you can create a private download code campaign for donors or concertgoers. One of our most valuable features is this web crawler that goes through hundreds of RSS feeds and finds articles specific to arts organizations and tag any article from newspapers or blog. This can automatically appear in your app or website as the latest news, so you’re not having to physically manage your app or site but your content is current.

The music player feature on InstantEncore's Android app (left) and the events feature on InstantEncore's iPhone app (right).The music player feature on InstantEncore's Android app (left) and the events feature on InstantEncore's iPhone app (right).

So basically it’s just a one-stop shop. It’s a digital asset management system where you come to enter your content in one place and it goes to all the platforms that you’re using. We’re just an aggregator and publisher of that content… Our concept was that it should be something that a two-person organization can use our tools and manage and have a very robust, beautiful integrated social media presence or an organization with a budget over 10 million can use the same tool.

Regardless of all the features you offer, many organizations might have trouble getting the rights to use pieces of music or convincing players that a mobile app is somewhere the music should be. What are some of the arguments you can make to convince them that this is something worth doing? I come from the musician/recording side of things, am a current member of the AFM and as a child was a member of AFTRA and SAG, so I certainly appreciate where the musicians are coming from. What I think is important is that, fortunately or unfortunately (however you want to perceive it) we’re in a new period that is such disruptive change, brought on in part by technology and change is always painful. There are new great opportunities but the existing models and the days of residuals in the way that we used to know it, at least right now, are not there. I think it’s really important to actually be very upfront about this. Artists are highly intelligent people and creative people and have wonderful ideas to bring to the marketing and development side of the business. I think it is so important that everyone be a stakeholder charting this new world together.

I think part of this is taking a holistic approach and saying that there are certainly a group of people that are going to want a physical CD’s and there’s people that are going to want to download content. But there’s a certain group of people know who just want what they want, when they want it. We see from our stats that music or videos are increasingly having a very short shelf life. People will often want to hear a new live recording over and over and then they move on and that is it. I often say to my friends and colleagues that you have to have some faith and work together to try things. Every community and every audience is different, but if you don’t have the tools to even explore or try things, that’s very challenging. I think mobile is so essential. People will be accessing the internet via their mobile devices more than from a computer within the next few years. If you don’t have a good user experience to access your content via mobile or any content in it, in my opinion, I think it will be very, very challenging.

You mentioned that you are focusing your research efforts on return on investment in digital media and how orgs can get sponsorship for their technology initiatives. Can you tell me more? Why should anyone care about social media and an integrated digital strategy? Why should anyone care about having a mobile app? I’m a very “nuts and bolts”, frugal person. When I look at some of the organizations that I work with and see how much they’re spending on print material and yet they don’t want to spend a few thousand on a mobile presence, or want to wait a few years to see where this mobile thing goes, I think it is quite alarming. Showing people the return on investment is critical for them to care.

Many arts organizations' apps are sponsored by corporations or foundations.

Many arts organizations' apps are sponsored by corporations or foundations.

Many organizations we are working with have packaged a digital or mobile sponsorship package and in many cases, new donors or people who were not previously interested in sponsorship at a significant level, are excited to be part of new technology, sponsoring live video streaming on websites and mobile platforms and much more.

It’s built into our platforms—ways for people to feature sponsors, going through their audience to create new audiences, etc. What I’ve found is that I’ve been pushing organizations to think outside of their printed program with a printed logo and think, how can we think outside of the box and take the old ways that we used to monetize and seek corporate sponsors and take this into the digital space? Some organizations have come up with some fabulous things. Whether it’s embedded streaming announcements featuring sponsors, ad spots with sponsors, getting grants to cover new educational and audience development initiatives—various things. They’ve been able to monetize this in new ways, from new sponsors (not cutting out of other things).

I am very excited that Telstra, the telecom company in Australia, hired us to create a premium custom app for the Sydney Symphony that will include live video streaming of ten concerts in their mobile apps and website. This is a win-win for everyone.

How should arts organizations approach technology? There are so many platforms out there, there is so much information and everything’s changing so rapidly. I remember launching the app with the New York Phil and at that time, apps were still—people thought “what the heck is that?” So, the most important thing is to integrate digital media strategy into organizational strategy—into every aspect of decision-making across all departments. It involves PR, it involves marketing, it involves development, it involves operations, the audio recording department, musicians—absolutely everyone. I think that buy-in is essential. I think one of the most important things is just to start small and get permission to try something. If it doesn’t work, don’t let it validate that “this is never going to work” and if it’s a home-run, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work the next time. It’s important to look at just getting started but with a clear, integrated strategy approach. And really, actually, there’s a lot of fear sometimes when it comes to technology and I think part of what’s been fun to see is that oftentimes, it’s a lot more fun than people necessarily anticipate and I think that that’s been a really rewarding part of what we’re doing.

When Thomas Hampson made his recital available for download and Performance Today, Minnesota Public Radio, and European Public Broadcasting Union announced it on air. We read the comments from people from around the world—from United Arab Emirates, to Germany to California to Wisconsin—about how that music impacted them and how grateful they were for that. I was very honored and proud that some of our tools could be helping to connect the power of his voice and his artistry globally in a way that’s never happened before. I think that’s really what it’s about and instead of feeling more protectionist, as scary as it feels, to embrace democratized access in this engaged age.

More info on Maestro API: