Next up in our installment of ArtsFwd posts (brought to you by EmcArts) is an interview with the fabulously interesting Margo Drako (musician, entrepreneur, and COO at Instant Encore). Margo is one of those rare leaders who is using technology to really transform the performing arts. We talked about everything from her experience as a tech entrepreneur to her suggestions regarding how arts organizations can utilize technology to better engage audiences. Enjoy, and thanks Margo!

Audiences and Technology Series: An Interview with Margo Drakos, Co-Founder of Instant Encore

For the twenty-first century artist, technology represents more than just an innovative tool; it redefines the possibilities of what artists can do and how they connect with audiences.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Margo Drakos recognizes the transformative powers of technology in the performing arts. Margo is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, former assistant principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and co-founder and chief operating officer of Instant Encore, a technology-based company that provides artists and arts organizations the tools they need to succeed in a digital world.

I recently interviewed Margo and asked her about how technology is transforming the way we experience and think about art, both from an artist’s and audience’s perspective. Her experiences and insights are valuable for arts professionals of all kind; I hope you’ll find the conversation as stimulating as I did!

Michael Mauskapf: Tell me a little bit about your background, and how you ended up at Instant Encore.

Margo Drakos: I went to a music conservatory at 15, and was fortunate to graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I got my first job when I was 21, when I became principal cello of the Oregon Symphony, and then three months later I was hired to be assistant principal with the Pittsburgh Symphony.
When I was there, I found that it was the most unhappy I had been. As a student, I felt as though I lived in a utopian bubble, then I found the reality of the workplace for an orchestral cellist was not all I had hoped it would be. So I left Pittsburgh and joined the American String Quartet, taking on residencies at the Manhattan School of Music and in Aspen. It was wonderful, but I became frustrated by the obvious disconnect between performer and audience, and the relevance of this work to our broader society.

So I went back to school for fun, studying International Affairs at Columbia. While there, I thought a lot about what it meant to be a steward of the past, and to reflect on what it meant to be an innovative performer. Around that time, I had the good fortune of meeting Bill Stensrud, who provided the financial backing for Instant Encore, along with some wonderful young engineers, and we started to explore how one might create a powerful platform that would enable fans to be connected to the artists and organizations that they love—anywhere, anytime. I decided to leave my performance position, and that’s how Instant Encore got started. I didn’t have any ‘grand plan’ at the time, but it turned out to be the right decision.

[read the rest of the interview here]