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BWW Interview: Opera and Theater Performer John Riesen on the Spotify Playlist Helping to Raise Money for Artists

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BWW Interview: Opera and Theater Performer John Riesen on the Spotify Playlist Helping to Raise Money for ArtistsIf you, like so many others, are currently looking for a way to support the arts during this global health crisis, operatic singer and musical theater crossover performer John Riesen has the perfect way to help out.

With the entertainment industry on pause and all public performances cancelled, artists have lost their means of employment. Riesen, in an effort to provide financial support, and keep art alive has created a Spotify playlist of music by professional operatic and musical theater crossover singers that can be streamed for royalties. Every stream, save, and follow helps to provide these artists with income lost due to the cancellation of live performances, and all it takes from you is the click of a button.

Check out our interview with Riesen below to learn more about how you can help these artists during this time!

How did the idea for the COVID-19 Artist Support - Pure Voice playlist come about?

Well, the truth is, last week I was set to perform Prince Charming in Massenet's retelling of the Cinderella story, Cendrillon, with Opera Birmingham, when due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I, like thousands of other performers around the country, had my upcoming performances cancelled. Once home, I began to receive emails and calls about which other companies were closing. In a matter of days most of my work for the coming months was postponed for a future date or cancelled, leaving my pregnant wife and I staring into a completely empty spring/summer with the knowledge that we no longer had the income we budgeted for. My management team, ADA Artist Management headed by Ana De Archuleta and Shawn Jeffery, proposed a virtual meeting that included the whole roster of artists. In that session, each person was asked to say how they were doing. While some hid it better than others, everyone seemed to feel the same way: a little confused about what was coming next, discouraged and anxious about the sudden loss of income, and a bit scared of what this all was going to mean for our entire business after the pandemic subsides. Towards the end of the session, Ana and Shawn asked us to consider ways to keep our art alive from home and to occupy this unplanned and unused time on our hands in constructive ways.

I began to consider my options. I had already had an album of operatic pop, musical theater, and personal favorites on Spotify that I had intended promote once I had the free time. It was a passion project, meant for the enjoyment of so many who had supported me in my career as I "grew up" through the business. In the months prior to the pandemic, I had spent a substantial amount of time researching how streaming companies, such as Spotify, promote artists through playlists and genre association. A large discrepancy appeared- aside from the most famous singers, there was little to no representation of the successful performers in the operatic and crossover genres. This sparked the idea to put together a list of the successful performers that I knew in order to garner support financially for them and to give so many who are stranded at home something to enjoy. Once I started down this path, the ball just kept rolling.

What has the process of reaching out to artists been like? Are the artists on the playlist performers that you've worked with?

I started by reaching out to several of my colleagues that I respected had worked with before, using social media. All I did was send a quick message asking if they had music on Spotify that they'd be willing to let me promote, and all I asked in return was that they share the playlist with their friends and fans. Within a few hours of sitting down at my computer, I had the start of an excellent playlist. Soon, I was receiving messages from artists sharing their Spotify music and asking to be involved. As people continued to join the list, they held to their part of the bargain and posted it to their social media. As artists shared the playlist with their fans, the number of followers exploded.

Talk to me about how this process works! Break down for me how listening to this playlist helps the artists.

In order to submit music to a major streaming service, such as Spotify, an artist must find a distributor that can be paid to submit the songs, metadata, musical licenses, etc. for posting. Once the distributor is paid and the music is accepted to the streaming service, each stream of that music on said service pays the artist back a bit at a time. The goal is to get tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of streams to create a new source of consistent income without having to leave home.

On that note, what is the best way that listeners can contribute? Should people be both following the playlist and saving the songs? Listening to the songs on repeat?

The best way listeners can contribute is to follow the playlist, listen to the whole thing, save the songs to your account, and follow each artist. Spotify has its own internal promotional algorithm that takes stock of each follow, save, and stream of a song in a playlist and then looks at the genre, audience, and other songs in that playlist to find people to send the music to. This playlist has just begun, but it is my hope in the coming weeks to garner enough support that the music on this playlist hits the Spotify promotional algorithm for opera and musical theater, and sends our music to fans all around the world who would enjoy it. Every stream, like, and follow gets us closer to making that a reality!

How does an artist go about getting their music onto your playlist?

To get your music onto the playlist, just write me a message! Either on social media (@riesenjohn) or via my website contact page (

What is your ultimate goal for this playlist? How are you hoping that it grows and circulates?

It might seem like a pipe-dream, but my goal for this playlist is to have thousands and thousands of people following, saving, and streaming this music so that opera and musical theater crossover can become a more legitimate recording market. I've always been fascinated by how popular music artists such as Josh Groban can have millions of fans in a genre that otherwise struggles to have an audience of that magnitude- and I've come to the conclusion that it is all about the promotion and taking the time to play the game with these streaming services and to get the music out there. This will help us provide a new source of income to these artists to help with the tens of thousands of dollars they've lost to COVID-19. Millions of people enjoy classical singing, and would love to support it- this is a free way to do so from the comfort of one's own home, a free way to know you are making a difference in people's lives and helping this art form live on while live performances everywhere are shut down. Truly, I'm looking for solidarity in a time of crisis in our community and I believe that people will step up and support one another. There is no better time than now, when we are all cooped up, to sit back, and click a button to help these artists for FREE.

Check out the playlist HERE!

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From This Author Chloe Rabinowitz