All careers are built from the ground up: everyone starts small and local. So if you’re launching a new program or a new ensemble, or if you’ve moved to a new city or are new to booking your own concerts, this is for you:
Think beyond the “usual suspects”
Explore beyond the most prestigious series in your region, the places where national and international artists are presented. These series typically book artists with professional management who can fill a hall by name recognition and have more extensive track records and reviews.
Your job as a DIY artist is to think more creatively about smaller and less traditional venues where you could offer distinctive or bespoke programming tailored to the location or occasion. To research opportunities, read your local arts calendar listings to find creative spaces beyond your genre and discipline.
You’re performing WHERE?
Ever hear of The Industry’s project Hopscotch? It’s described as “an original operatic experience that unfolded in 24 moving vehicles, in sites around downtown L.A. and in online animations.”
No, you don’t need to perform in a moving vehicle in order to book more performances, but you do need to get creative.
The Multi-Story Orchestra in Peckham, England performs in a parking garage—and has received excellent reviews. The brainchild of composer Kate Whitley and the conductor Christopher Stark, the orchestra is a confederacy of freelance musicians.
Ms. Whitley says that “as a pianist, she used to find concerts frustrating: ‘It really seemed like as soon as people came into a concert hall atmosphere, they became so reverential, in a sort of neutral way. It struck me as totally unnatural. I tried to bridge that gap, and find ways of presenting classical music that would be more fun to play, and be more fun to go to.’”
Alternative Performance Sites
Consider spaces that already attract audiences or attendees but do not currently present concerts. Research venues through your public library, Arts Council, or Chamber of Commerce. You may find non-traditional sites with surprisingly good acoustics and good energy. With people who are enthusiastic to have your music. And that the media are interested in promoting! Aquarium? Zoo?
And you may have more than one geographic area for possible performances or tours, such as where you live now, where you attended school, where you grew up, and where you have relatives and friends who could host you (or your ensemble).
Check out your regional:
high end condominiums
parks & recreation
boys & girls clubs
civic clubs (Elks, Rotary, Lions)
chamber of commerce
adult education centers
community music schools
Think outside the hall
Flutist Sarah Robinson’s terrific guide to “Clubbing for Classical Musicians” grew out of her doctoral research on classical musicians performing in non-traditional venues. In her dissertation, Robinson sites the Degenerate Art Ensemble performing with a string quartet in the underground loading docks behind the Seattle Opera. And the Long Beach Opera performances “in unconventional locations, including a swimming pool, a parking garage and aboard the Queen Mary,” a retired ocean liner anchored in Long Beach harbor. Not to mention Classical Revolution PDX playing a streetcar in Portland to celebrate the expansion of a line.
As for how to connect with audiences in non-traditional venues, Sarah wrote about her experience in programming for clubs, in a guest blog post:
“We played every movement as a separate entity and provided each one with an unforgettable introduction. To share a little about our life as a traveling, low-budget chamber ensemble, we told our audience about the time a swarm of roaches overtook the bed of our pianist, Meghan Schaut, in a Texas motel. We played a piece by William Grant Still called Miniatures, a trio where each movement is based on a different folk song from the Americas. We taught the audience two of the songs, ‘I Ride an Old Paint’ and ‘Adolorido’ and had them sing together before we played. There is nothing like slightly drunk people singing with wild abandon to liven up a classical show!
For the movement ‘Yaraví,’ which is a Peruvian song about the heartbreak of a missing loved one, oboist Phil Popham and I played the song as a duet from opposite sides of the club. We also performed a work of Phil’s called The Pharmacy, in which each movement features a different prescription or over-the-counter drug. The final movement, ‘Dextroamphetamines,’ shows how these drugs can be used to cure social anxiety. To simulate this effect, each member of the ensemble downed a shot before striking out into the movement! The audience was laughing, yelling, singing and, well, you just know it when you have it right. The distractions of a club environment were no match for a fantastic show. Now we knew how to hook an audience. . . “
Finding Your Niche
Here’s a further tip from self-managing jazz pianist Bradley Sowash. In “Self-Marketing for Artists,” Sowash advises musicians to
“find a niche for which you alone are suited. Find where people gather around your niche concept, and you have a new outlet for performing . . . I know a guy who wrote and self-produced an instrumental recording of songs about flowers and herbs mentioned in Shakespeare. He could have named them Song #1 or Opus 43 but he hooked his notes to flowers through his titles. Do you know where he gigs and sells merchandise? Flower shows.”
Bradley goes on to explain that “since jazz worship services are a part of my offerings, I go to church events to promote them . . . How many other touring performers do you think set up booths at flower shows and church conventions? With zero competition, it’s easy to stand out among bud vase wholesalers and angel jewelry vendors.”
This is an example of what’s known in the business world as a “Blue Ocean” strategy. It’s the idea of finding your own “uncontested market space” where you aren’t competing with a gazillion others offering the same product (that would be the bloodied, shark-infested “red ocean.”)
If you are the sole musician promoting your music at a flower show or at a church convention, then you truly have no competition.
This week: Come up with 5 local venues where you could offer a distinct program tailored to the location, audience, or occasion. Where’s your blue ocean? What special needs or niches could your creative programming address?
Next week we’ll focus on how to pitch—sending proposals to venues for performances. If you have specific questions or examples for me, I’d love to hear from you! Let’s all get booking more performances 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.