In The New Normal—our new interview series—we speak to the musicians and staff of Tafelmusik, to ask how working and performing in new ways has changed our routines, and our operations as a performing arts organization.

In this interview, we virtually sat down with Lana Leprich, our Digital Marketing Manager, to hear her perspective on how this “new normal” has affected her work and life.

A close up of a woman playing an upright bass in a dark club, lit by a bright camera flash.
Digital Marketing Manager Lana Leprich playing bass at a local concert space, pre-pandemic

Tafelmusik: The phrase “the new normal” has become a staple of our everyday vernacular. What does “the new normal” mean for you, as it relates to your life, and your work with Tafelmusik?

Lana Leprich: To be honest, I didn’t get to experience much of the “old normal” in regards to Tafelmusik!

I joined the organization mid-January 2020, and was feeling just about fully settled in by March—and then the pandemic hit. So, the “new normal” of working from home has effectively been my “regular normal” here. I am grateful, though, that I got to experience a few live concerts—Gone With the Winds, Dreaming Jupiter, and Indigo Project—and that I got to know my colleagues in person, before the pandemic forced us to close.

As far as my life is concerned, I recognize that I’m extremely privileged: I’m employed (in the performing arts no less, an industry that’s been among the hardest hit); I work in a safe environment; I have safe and stable housing. I’m acutely aware that a lot of people can’t say the same right now, and that the pandemic has exacerbated existing crises and created new ones. I feel very lucky.

That said, I think I’ve adapted fairly well. I know working from home isn’t for everyone, but I don’t mind it! I’ve setup a corner of my bedroom as my little home office, and I work well and productively from home. I like the small conveniences it provides—like being able to step away and take care of quick little household chores as a break, or getting a little extra rest in the morning because I don’t have to commute. Outside of work, I’ve managed to keep myself well entertained. I’m an “extroverted introvert”, so I don’t *need* to be around people all the time; I don’t mind cozying up at home. I’m very into playing music, watching movies, and most recently, video games—a pandemic development!—so I have lots to occupy my time with, catch up on. I rarely feel bored.

There’s a lot I miss though: most importantly seeing my parents, my sister, and my friends (who are my second family). I am also a musician and DJ, and I used to perform and host events regularly around the city, so I’m missing that a lot. I miss going to movie theatres, to galleries, to restaurants—and of course, to live concerts! I’m optimistic about the vaccines, and hope we can do these things again in the not-too-distant future.

TM: What does it mean to work your role, the Digital Marketing Manager, in this time? What has changed?

LL: At Tafelmusik, my role is to advise on and execute our digital marketing strategy. My usual day-to-day duties involve things like planning content and campaigns, building webpages or ads, analyzing data, and reporting on my findings to make recommendations on how we can better optimize our tactics, and our approaches, in future.

A funny thing happened when the pandemic hit. We quickly realized that all we could do, for the time being, was digital. So, platforms which we typically only used to promote became the same spaces we perform. Spaces like YouTube or Vimeo, which were always the domain of the marketing department and used primarily as a communication tool, also became our de facto concert hall.  

As a result, my day-to-day duties were pretty radically transformed overnight, in the early days of the pandemic. Because I help to oversee our digital assets, I found myself researching and implement streaming setups; coordinating artistic projects (like our Goldberg Variations video); or helping to run technical behind-the-scenes elements on the night of our concert broadcasts, for example.

What I’m getting at is that the pandemic—and the way it forced us to adapt without warning—definitely disrupted our internal goings-on, blurred inter-departmental lines of who handles what, and shook up our individual duties. I’m sure that’s not unique to Tafelmusik, or even to our industry! Things regulated over time: for example, I’m no longer coordinating artistic projects, even though they’re “digital”, because we realized that didn’t make sense—I wouldn’t be adjusting the lighting or tinkering with the sound at a live in-person concert, so it didn’t and doesn’t make sense for me to be performing the digital equivalent of those duties. (Even though I was, of course, happy to!) At this point, one year in, it feels like everything has settled, and I’m back to doing what I came to do: marketing our wonderful programming.

Digital marketing is still a bit of a Wild Wild West—it always was, but especially now—which I find challenging but exciting. It’s shocking how much the landscape has changed in a year. Things that are often on my mind are: how are other organizations structuring and promoting their digital content? How do we stand out amongst the saturation, now that virtually every organization is doing digital performances? How do we optimize when, where, and how we are sharing things, now that everyone is online, all the time?

TM: What have you missed most about being away from our physical space, our home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre?

LL: The thing I miss the most is walking in in the morning and hearing the orchestra rehearsing, or hearing an organist practicing. It’s a pretty magical way to start the day.

I never thought I’d ever say this, and I don’t miss the subway at rush hour, but—I miss the commute. There’s something about getting up, heading out, and going somewhere that gives your day purpose—and I think the act of commuting delineates headspace between “work time” and “me time”. To that end, I often go for a “commute” in the morning, and walk up the street and back again, to replicate that.

And of course, I miss being in person with my colleagues. At the office, I shared space with my three marketing teammates, and I found it very useful to be able to quickly touch base in real time. We have a good thing going on Slack and Zoom, but it’s never quite the same!

TM: We just concluded our Winter Digital Season, with On the Road, and are about to begin our Spring Digital Season. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge so far? The biggest success?

LL: The biggest challenge that I’ve been involved with has been figuring out a technological setup for our concerts: something that’s as seamless as possible, both internally for staff and our processes, and most importantly, for our patrons. It’s been a bit tricky, because a standardized approach doesn’t exist.

An analogy: in marketing, there are readymade programs I can purchase which can “talk to” and seamlessly integrate with all of our social media platforms, and let me schedule posts, run ads, analyze metrics, and respond to comments and messages from one single place. Everything talks to everything, like a well-oiled machine.

But something like that for arts organizations—something that lets us use our existing ticketing database, and integrate that with a video broadcasting platform—doesn’t exist yet. If money is no issue and you’re a company like a Netflix, you can build your own setup—but I don’t think any orchestras are in that financial position. And there are resources you can go to and operate through, and both broadcast and sell tickets on their platform, but most organizations want to retain their existing databases, and all of their years or decades of data.

So, we’ve had to get quite creative, and come up with our own solutions and DIY ways of connecting things. There are many ways to approach each “step” in the chain—from buying a ticket, to distributing access links, to finally broadcasting the concert—and so there are infinite variables of how we can (and ultimately did) approach a full setup. There were a lot of “unknown unknowns” along the way, as well: little issues and roadblocks we didn’t think to consider until we were actively in the process of trying and doing.

There’s also the issue of things outside of our control. Even if we are quite happy with how we’ve arranged things—or like with my analogy, even if a perfect, pre-existing ticketing-to-broadcasting application existed—there’s the issue that everyone watching at home is going to have different technology at their disposal, and different needs. Some people have high-speed internet, some don’t. Some people are able to watch concerts on their televisions, by connecting their laptop via a physical HDMI cable, while others are “casting” or “screen mirroring” their phones or their tablets over wireless internet. This aspect has been challenging, for two reasons: one, given the infinite possible tech setups each audience member might have at home, it’s virtually impossible to write a catch-all guide that covers everyone’s unique situation and at-home equipment. Two, it’s frustrating to not be able to have full control over quality control. We put a lot of effort, and take a lot of pride, in our concerts being of the highest quality possible—so it’s understandably frustrating to know that some people have limitations or barriers to viewing our concerts in a high-quality way.

All in all, I’m quite proud and confident with the system we’ve come up with and are delivering, and I’ve been delighted and reassured by all of the wonderful feedback we’ve received about the way our digital concerts are going.

The biggest success in my mind has been the positive reception and reputation our digital adaptation has had, especially amongst our industry peers. I’ve been invited to speak on two panels, to share Tafelmusik’s work as a case study for others to learn from—and several of my colleagues have been invited to speak as well. I’ve had several administrators from other organizations reach out to me directly, to ask how we did what we did, or ask for advice. Other organizations have borrowed from some of our resources, like our How to Access technical guide. This feels amazing. It’s been a rocky ride, but seeing others looking to us as an example of what to do, and how to do it right, feels incredibly validating.

TM: Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying?  

LL: I moved last summer, and the apartment my girlfriend and I moved into came with a private backyard—which is a bit like winning the lottery in Toronto!—and that backyard came with a garden. I’ve never gardened before, but I got very into it: we grew tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, and big beautiful sunflowers. I didn’t know at all what I was doing, but I tried, and to my surprise things grew!

This year, I’ll be adding many more kinds of vegetables into the mix too, as well as some flowers. There’s something incredibly soothing and therapeutic about tending to plants, and watching them grow. (It’s also another convenience that working from home brings: being able to pop outside during the day, check in, and water.)

Also, as I alluded to earlier, I’ve gotten very into video games. I grew up with an original Nintendo console, and later an N64, but I was never a “gamer”. Last summer, my girlfriend—also not a gamer—and I purchased a Nintendo Switch, and more recently we bought a PlayStation 4. I know video games get a bad rap—that they’re juvenile, that they’re anti-social—but they really are great, in ways that are surprising me as a newcomer. Some of them are quite artful and cinematic: they have incredible art direction, absolutely gorgeous soundtracks, engrossing narratives. And, there’s something to be said about doing something “active”—taking on quests, solving puzzles, exploring unknown territory—versus “passively” watching a movie, or binging a television show.

I do still love movies. I’m a horror nerd, so I have a subscription to a service called Shudder, which is like Netflix for scary movies. I also recently subscribed to MUBI, which focuses on classic and arthouse cinema: it serves you a new handpicked film every day, or you can go back through their archives. I’m trying to become a better film buff, and this service is aiding in that education.

I’m looking forward to when it’s warmer, so that (if local guidelines allow) we can host friends and family for distanced backyard hangouts again.

TM: What aspect of our Spring Digital Season are you most looking forward to?

LL: How to pick just one!

At the moment, I’m most excited about our Spring Social, Café Counterculture. This program explores the cultural crossover between 1730s Leipzig and 1960s Yorkville, Toronto—and musically, it combines baroque music from composers like Bach and Vivaldi, with baroque arrangements of popular songs from artists like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. I think it’s a deeply cool concept, and I have it on good authority that the music itself is absolutely breathtaking. I can’t recommend this concert enough.

I’m of course also looking forward excitedly to the Brandenburg Concertos, which are such a legendary part of the baroque music canon—and incidentally, they turn 300 this year!

Spotlight 15 will also be wonderful. As I’m new to the organization, I’m still getting to know everyone, so I’m looking forward to seeing each musician spotlighted, and “getting to know” them a little better.

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