The Buggles song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video to air when MTV launched in 1981. Twenty-five years later, after Ana Vidovic’s first posting on YouTube, video gave life to her career as a classical star. YouTube was a new phenomenon then, after coming online in December of 2005. Vidovic got into the mix early, posting her first video in 2006, a stunning performance of the piece for which she is now best known, “Asturias” by Isaac Albéniz. Since then, her commercially produced concert videos, as well as fan-circulated videos from her live shows, have become ubiquitous on YouTube. Collectively, they have garnered millions of views and fueled Vidovic’s rise as one of the world’s most popular classical guitarists. A YouTube video excerpted from a 2015 concert featuring another rendition of “Asturias” has surpassed 39 million views on its own.
“Without YouTube, it would have been very difficult for me,” Vidovic explains in a phone conversation. “I began my career in the States when YouTube was just getting started. It was good timing for me. Sometimes a little bit of luck helps things fall into place.”
Vidovic capitalized on the visibility gained at a time when there were many fewer videos on YouTube and built career momentum. The guitarist’s virtuosic and heartfelt playing and engaging stage presence consistently draw crowds to her live shows. Over the past two decades, bookings for solo recitals and concerto appearances with orchestras have taken her across America and Europe and to Asia, South America, and Australia. She has developed a loyal international audience, which was her ultimate goal.
Performing for an audience is the gold standard for Vidovic. Consequently, she prefers releasing live concert videos rather than studio albums. “I made the decision to focus on playing live and making videos,” she says. “I’ve always felt that people like the visual aspect of a performance. The guitarists in the audience like to see a performer’s hands to study what they are doing. So I feel videos are more appealing.”
Vidovic grew up in a musical family in Karlovac, Croatia, the youngest of three children. Her father was a musician in his younger days, and her brothers, Silvije and Viktor, are a pianist and guitarist, respectively. Viktor began tutoring Ana on the guitar when she was five years old. She proved to be a prodigy and a natural performer and made her stage debut at eight, pursuing further study in Zagreb at the National Musical Academy with István Romer. He urged Vidovic when she was just 13 to enter a guitar competition in Bath, England. It was the first of several international competitions she would win. At 20, she was invited by Manuel Barrueco to study with him at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. After earning her artist diploma, she made Baltimore her home and from there, launched her career.
The abrupt halt to live concerts caused by the Covid pandemic affected all touring artists. “When this all started in 2020, I was caught off guard,” Vidovic says. “One by one my concerts were being canceled, and it took time to make peace with that. I ended up spending a lot of time that year with my family in Croatia. That was a fortunate thing, because I don’t usually have time to do that. While I was there, I met my new niece. I realized that the most important thing in one’s life is family.”
Vidovic did give a handful of virtual concerts—some with only a film crew in attendance. Slowly, presenters began booking concerts for small audiences. She played one such concert hosted by the Omni Foundation at St. Mark’s Church in San Francisco in March of 2021 and toured a little in the fall. “It was great to be back onstage and connect with the people,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it. Things are kind of up and down now, but I am just trying to adjust and work on music.”
Vidovic is among a small number of classical guitarists making a living solely as a full-time performer. She has found that in some years there are more dates on the calendar than others but is steadfast on her chosen path. “A few years ago I thought about looking for a steady university teaching job,” she says. “Then I felt I had to remain committed to performing 100 percent; there is a lot of preparation and dedication that goes into it because every performance is important. I felt I should wait. One day when I am traveling less, I would love to teach. Then I would focus on that. I think it’s difficult to do both.”
Art Over Commerce
Today, many artists in most genres seek to tap multiple revenue streams through social media or membership platforms such as Patreon to earn income from those who support their work. Many sell T-shirts, hats, CDs, DVDs, and more from their websites and after shows for additional income. Vidovic relies on relationships rather than entrepreneurship. She has allied with a small number of companies, including Siccas Guitars, Tonebase, the Omni Foundation, and others to produce her concert videos and online educational sessions. She has cultivated lasting relationships with these entities and is careful not to release too many videos.
“Things are different than they were 30 years ago,” she opines. “YouTube is huge now and there are so many videos. There are many great young players out there now and they have to find their way. Performers have to do what they have to do. To me, though, the art—the music—comes first.
“Of course, I need to make a living like everyone else, but I am not interested in selling things,” she continues. “Playing is my passion and also my job, so I have to merge both. I don’t want to forget how I got to be where I am and that the audience is very important to me. I worked hard to build up an audience and they have supported me for many years. I can’t just see this as a material thing. I have to perform at the highest level and be honest with the listeners. It is like offering a part of yourself. I work hard and practice a lot. It is important for me to always get better and offer something new and interesting.”
Seeing Vidovic onstage, it’s apparent that she works hard on her instrument and has learned to practice effectively to achieve amazing results. She notes that playing slowly and focusing on difficult passages rather than playing at tempo through whole pieces is most beneficial. “Slow practice is very helpful,” she says. “I can’t play fast if I don’t play slowly and cleanly. This gives me a chance to get back to basics and make sure I am doing everything correctly. When I am going over fast passages in a piece, I play them slowly. Practicing fast doesn’t do anything for me anymore. I used to do it, but it’s not efficient because if you play fast you can’t always hear things like buzzes or mistakes. Slow practice forces you to listen more attentively.”
Vidovic’s daily routine includes at least 30 minutes of scales. She also works through fingering patterns using the right hand alone on open strings. “I work on different right-hand fingerings: i and m, m and a, i and a,” she states. “Sometimes I practice slurs. I also play the first and third Villa-Lobos etudes for about 20 minutes. A good hour passes just doing these things and then I go into my pieces. I usually stick with the same routine.
“I will do an hour, then take a break for 15–20 minutes and then start again,” Vidovic continues. “Sometimes it’s hard to stop, though. You can get into the zone and go for hours, but that’s not good for your hands. I recommend breaks for the mind as well as the body. When we practice, we should be at peace. Since we do this every day, we can’t let it become stressful. Practicing in a relaxed way is as important as being relaxed when performing. I focus on details and know what gives me trouble and go to those places. We can get the misconception that we have to practice for eight hours a day, but it’s more about what we do than the number of hours spent. You learn to not waste time.”
Onstage, memory and concentration are important factors for every performer. “You have to stay focused and put yourself in a zone where you don’t think about anything else,” Vidovic says. “If you have prepared in every way you can, when you are onstage you are just going with the music. It’s almost like you are out of your body and are sitting in the audience listening and seeing what they are seeing. For me, it is a completely peaceful place. I don’t feel any fear. At a certain point you merge with your music. You are being yourself, 100 percent honest about who you are. It is a very special feeling.”
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Vidovic was working on an all-Bach album before the pandemic. It’s noteworthy that even though she has released six albums, she is not a fan of playing in an empty studio. “Recording in the studio just didn’t come naturally to me,” she says. “I can’t do something I am not passionate about, and I’ve never felt that way about recording. I do think recording is important though. Imagine if we didn’t have Segovia’s recordings? So, this doesn’t mean I won’t make new recordings in the future. I’d like to release the Bach album. There were a lot of people involved in working on it. I want to make more videos too. Despite everything going on in the world, I want to stay with what I love doing. I am trying to take things a day at a time; it’s difficult to plan anything. Life is very fragile and unpredictable. A lesson I’ve learned is that we don’t have control over everything, so we have to be happy with what we have.”
What She Plays
Ana Vidovic’s main guitar was built in 2010 by Australian luthier Jim Redgate. The instrument has a cedar top with lattice bracing, and back and sides made of Brazilian pardo rosewood. Its scale length is 650mm and its nut width is 52mm. Vidovic uses D’Addario J46 Pro-Arté normal tension strings.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.