Barking Up the Wrong Tree? Concert Venues

A musician asked me where to send concert pitches. She wanted to know how to find appropriate places to perform so she could send more effective pitches and get better results. Good question.

Here’s the thing: when it comes to places we’d like to perform, we all have a fantasy list of venues to play “some day.” We want the status boost of adding to our bios that we’ve performed at prestigious halls. Think Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, or the Met (fill in your own fantasy venue here). And, of course in our fantasies, these are always sold-out concerts, full of adoring fans. So I need to first ask . . .

Are you barking up the wrong trees?

If you’re competing for the same handful of top presenting series that every other musician is pitching, then you’re losing out on the performances you COULD be booking.

My guess is you don’t yet have a huge following and so the top-level concert series aren’t yet within reach. So how do you find choose the venues to focus on now?

Some musicians compile lists of presenters found in the Musical America directory or through their state arts agency. Nothing wrong so far. But then they send out blasts of generic identical emails to every presenter on the list. (Yikes!)

Don’t make that Big mistake.

No one wants to be spammed or to receive a “Dear Sir/Madam” email. Or to get a pitch from someone who clearly hasn’t bothered to read about their series.

Too many musicians send pitches to presenters that they haven’t researched, to series aren’t good matches for what they’re offering. So the first rule is:


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Do your homework: research the concert series first.

Read the website in detail. Check out the artists who are booked for the season—read their bios and go to their websites. If they all have management and significant performance experience, or have won major international awards, are you in that camp?  Unless you fit that profile, you’re probably not going to be considered by the presenter.

Also, read about the community engagement work and partnerships the series has. Find out what kind of residency opportunities they may have along with their main stage concerts. Note that some high profile series do hire local musicians for community engagement (AKA “outreach”) performances.

Where to perform? Start close to home.

Look for smaller non-traditional venues in your community and region. Ask your mentors and colleagues for suggestions. And read the local arts calendar listings to find additional series and performance spaces. Get to know the area’s concert series and keep tabs on what they’re up to.

Barbara Raney, who managed Epic Brass for many years, recommends that emerging artists “approach smaller series with smaller budgets and make them an offer they can’t refuse! Practice six degrees of separation: if you want to get to a series, plot a course through the people you know and the people your people know. Your message is more compelling when you can say something like, ‘Jim Barker suggested I contact you . . . ‘ ”

Start with the people you know.

A couple of my clients, when they were first starting to book their own concerts, made a list of friends and colleagues who lived in other cities. People they thought would be open and willing to help. My clients asked these people if they knew of venues or had connections to places where they might perform.

One client ended up with contacts at community music schools and colleges. And the other had a friend with a connection to a local venue, someone who was happy to make an introduction to help with the booking. That friend was also a musician so they ended up doing joint concerts. It was truly a win-win.

You may have more than one geographic area for possible performances, such as where you live now, where you attended school, and where you grew up.

Once you’ve done your homework, and come up with a more targeted list, make sure tailor each pitch to the specific venue or series. Here’s to better booking!

Angela Myles Beeching

Author of the acclaimed “Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music,” Angela Myles Beeching directs the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at Manhattan School of Music and maintains a thriving private practice focused on results-oriented coaching and consulting. Previously, Ms. Beeching directed the New England Conservatory Career Services Center and was a consultant to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Check out her weekly Monday Bytes blog for a regular boost of inspiration and career tips.