To book more performances, consider your programming. It’s more important than you may realize.
Think about it from a concert series presenter’s point of view. Booking a relatively unknown artist to play a recital of standard repertoire—does that sound like a box office draw?
The audience can stay home and listen to recordings of these same masterworks by any of their favorite legendary artists. Presenters need to look to whether or not an artist can attract an audience. For emerging artists without name recognition, innovative program offerings are the answer.
Jazz pianist Bradley Sowash, writes in a terrific article “Self-Marketing for Artists”:
“Offering many different booking options is my first secret to filling up a performance schedule. For example in the last 12 months, my engagements have included solo piano concerts, educational appearances, guest speaker appearances, jazz worship services, benefit concerts, retail CD signings, concert CD signings, arts organization panelist, teacher training, master classes, private lessons, and conference workshop leader . . . A lengthy list to be sure but united under one consistent artistic and personal vision. If your schedule is scant, you might ask yourself, ‘What else can I do with these skills?’“
Note: Bradley is not just focused on solo performances. So he’s not simply blasting a generic email to a list of presenters. In order to find out how best to meet people’s needs, he’s doing research, making calls, thinking creatively and acting collaboratively.
As performers we focus on the quality of the performances we offer.
But presenters consider a wide range of issues when choosing artists to book. After all, there are many talented and accomplished musicians any presenter can choose among. It’s a buyer’s market.
Presenters don’t simply look for artists who can get “butts in seats” so they can balance their budget and keep in business. And presenters do not simply curate a diverse and attractive season for their community in an attempt to provide “a little something for everyone.”
Mary Lou Aleskie is one of the top presenters in the US. She’s the outgoing Executive Director of the multi-disciplinary International Festival of Arts & Ideas, in New Haven, CT and the incoming Director of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth.
In describing her work in this interview on the role of the arts in society, Mary Lou explains:
“I run a festival that’s essentially a platform for experiences. It isn’t a delivery system of one performance of theatre or one performance of dance versus another. It’s an absolute platform for access, for sharing, for participation.”
She also said she’d been “wondering why it is we speak so much in the abstract or in generalizations about the value of art and culture as opposed to the experience of art and culture as gateways. Gateways for civic engagement, for learning, for empathy building. For participation. And if we look at art and culture this way it becomes a verb and not a noun.”
What presenters want
What’s needed most are creative ways to help audiences connect with the music you love. It’s about creating context and a story around the works you are presenting and a through line for the audience’s experience.
So if you are looking to pitch a presenter think about the particular audience for that venue. What are their interests?
You might, for instance, offer a museum a program of music related to its collection of 20th century Expressionists, or a program built around a particular type of artwork such as miniatures, portraits, or landscapes. If the venue is a school, look to developing programs for specific age groups. Does the organization have a special fundraising event coming up that could use a performance after the gala dinner?
To gather creative ideas for programming, ask other musicians, collaborators, faculty, and music librarians. Research how arts organizations and forward-thinking performers program their concerts.
Creative programming tips
Radius Ensemble is a flexible, mixed chamber group with a set of core players, headed by director/oboist Jennifer Montbach. She approaches programming by first choosing a piece she loves and wants to perform. Then she asks herself which potential themes or ideas does that work suggest — could be explored in the rest of the concert. Montbach also asks herself what pieces might make for provocative contrasts.
The idea is to think creatively to develop imaginative programs that will help draw media interest and audiences.
Winner of the Chamber Music America / ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, Radius always offers concerts with surprising title themes—ideas that are explored in the program. Their 4-concert 2016-17 season themes were Memento, Flight, Clarity, and Vanguard. The Clarity program for example, included works by Kenji Bunch, a Philip Glass piece transcribed for winds, a set of David Rakowski’s piano preludes, and the Brahms sextet in G.
I love it! Where else would anyone hear a group of works like this in one program? And everything performed really well. Radius email invites never fail to pique my curiosity about how each work on the program will sound in relation to its neighbors. As an audience member, I’m fascinated by how pieces come into focus in unexpected ways based on the choices of what comes before and after.
Consider these ideas to construct 3 possible programs around your current repertoire—so that you’re ready to go get more bookings!
- The premiere of a new work (especially by local composers)
- Unusual pairings (e.g. Baroque ornamentation and Contemporary improvisations—a program exploring the parallels between the two, with classical and jazz works)
- Works that explore a thematic idea, (just stay away from clichés). Instead, try out ideas like envy, fire, resistance, nostalgia, retribution, chemistry, outsiders, mysticism, machinery, or healing.
- Works inspired by myths or legends
- Works inspired by dance forms, the visual arts, or theater
- Music from a particular country or era: music of WWI, or of the break up of the Soviet Union.
- Celebration of a local event, person, holiday, organization, or anniversary
- Collaboration with a guest artist from the local community: a musician, dancer, a video artist
- Music inspired by literature or pairing of music with spoken word collaborations
This week: How are you describing the programs you offer? What themes or connecting points could help your audiences and presenters get more engaged? And what non-traditional venues might be especially interested in these programs? Write these down. These are the first steps to creating that next new chapter in your life.
Next week we’ll focus on more of the nitty gritty of booking your own performances. Let’s boost your performance opportunities this month!
And if you’d like to discuss your career goals, and find out how coaching can help you achieve them, let’s talk! I’m at Angela@BeyondTalentConsulting.com.