How to promote a concert (aka more on FSU)

(We could also call this “Solutions 3,” another in an occasional series of posts — here and here — that offer solutions to classical music problems.)

Another happy memory of my wife’s and my visit to Florida State.

I mentioned in my earlier FSU post that we helped a faculty chamber ensemble plan an upcoming New York concert. Here’s what we did. This ensemble will make its New York debut in a respectable venue late this spring. They wanted to know how to get reviewed, especially in the New York Times. Anne and I had to tell them the sad truth. There’s almost no way they can get reviewed. There are just too many concerts in New York. Doesn’t matter how good they are, doesn’t matter whether they play a piece by a notable living composer, as they thought they might do. Maybe an entire program of new music might raise at least a little interest, but basically they’re swimming upstream against an all but invincible current.

So what else could they do to generate interest? They’re not worried about attracting an audience, they said. FSU alumni will come to the concert. They want the review for all the understandable reasons that anyone would want it — for prestige, for validation on a high professional level, and for use in future publicity and in efforts to get more concerts. What could they do that might generate at least some of the same benefits?

Here’s what Anne and I thought of. They first should arrange to have their concert streamed on the Internet, as an audio stream, at the very least, but preferably with video. Then they should organize a group of listeners back home in Tallahassee, who’d gather to watch the concert streaming live.

Then they should start a blog, in which they’d talk about their preparation for the concert. Ideally this, too, would involve audio and video, and one of its key subjects might be rehearsing the program they’re going to play in New York. More broadly, they might discuss how they prepare all the repertory for their combination of instruments. They should go into great musical detail, as professionals talking to other professionals, and to advanced students. This is something younger ensembles might find very helpful, not to mention students at schools all over the world.

And menwhile they should contact friends and colleagues at other schools, people whom they said would readily book them for concerts. They should get these friends and colleagues interested in the blog, and get them to recommend it to their students. With any luck, the ensemble now would be developing a national, and very likely international community of students and professionals who follow what they do. They could consider live chats, live streams of rehearsals, even master classes conducted via Internet 2, or even with Skype. (I’ve heard of people using Skype for this. How reliable is it? Does anyone know?)

Once all this is happening, they should ask their colleagues at other schools — and anyone else interested — to organize listening parties to watch the live stream of the concert, just like the one at FSU. Now they’d have a national audience for the event, which conceivably could be brought into the New York concert in some way. The ensemble could say a few words, greeting their audience in other places, and naming what some of the places are. Or they could go a little further (if this wouldn’t be too hokey), and arrange for some of the people watching the concert elsewhere to say hello to the New York audience.

Now they have a serious event, something much more substantial than an unadorned New York concert. They can publicize it. Get it written about, and talked about. Maybe now they really will get reviewed! Maybe now the concert stands out from other events. Maybe now it’s a story that even the New York Times might want to tell.

Would this work? I’d love to know. Has anyone tried something similar? I understand that not every chamber group would feel comfortable doing all these things. Many musicians, after all, didn’t sign up to make themselves so widely visible, doing more things than playing music. Many musicians don’t have the urge or will to publicize themselves so fiercely. But still it all sounds like a good idea, at least to Anne and me, and if any particular ensemble doesn’t have the stomach to arrange it all themselves (which would be completely honorable), they still might find others who’d do the work and networking and promotion for them.

Anne then had one other good idea. At FSU we’d met a student who’d made video documentaries. So why shouldn’t he make a documentary about the group doing all the things we talked about, or at least about them preparing for the concert?

Comments?

(If anyone likes this idea, and wants my help in implementing it  — or something like it — in their own situation, I could be available.)

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Greg,

    Hope you are doing well! I absolutely love the idea. It seems to make sense and seems like it would work just fine. As everybody knows if you have a small crowd it will draw in more people and make it a huge crowd. I’ll never forget when my two buddies from Eastman and I were jamming in Central Park and these dancer people (I think it was Tic and Tac) came and set up shop so to speak the next block over. Not only did they steal our crowd, no offense taken, but they amassed a group of about 600 people (No joke!) in a matter of minutes (No joke!). People see the crowd and think, “Wow something is happening let’s go check it out!” And then more people come see, it’s a snowball effect. It was absolutely incredible, and I commend them for their skill.

    There are hotspots on the Internet where everybody who is actively seeing music will go like MySpace and YouTube to name the big hitters. They are sources of media readily and easily accessible for free. If the promoters of these videos get a buzz about them the same thing could happen on the Internet that Tic and Tac did in central park. The small concert that charges $10 a ticket for a “no name” band could explode.

    Although I do wonder how much would it cost to do all of this stuff with reliable equipment, streaming audio and video on the net, etc… What do you think?

    Hi, Nick. Excellent question. I don’t know the answer. I suspect it doesn’t cost as much as we might think, especially audio streaming. And if you’re conservatory faculty, probably the school could help. But I’m glad you asked. Can anyone reading this give us an estimate of what my idea might cost?

  2. Yvonne says

    Depending on repertoire and its copyright status there might be costs associated with the rights to record/stream the performance.

  3. says

    “Would this work? I’d love to know. Has anyone tried something similar?”

    Yes.

    ANALOG’s first move was to establish a blog. Before we did much of anything, we had a daily presence on the internet.

    It put us in constant conversation with like-minded people who were involved in new music, one of which happened to be Alex Ross.

    When we were giving the US premiere of a Stockhausen piece, I was able to email Alex without hesitation through our internet familiarity. He mentioned the concert in one of his New Yorker articles.

    The fact that we simulcast the concert online was part of what perked his interest. (BTW, it was also broadcast in Second Life).

    Establishing a robust online presence is vital today. What you’ve outlined is a fairly standard approach to online marketing. It does work, and it is how an ensemble can increase their bookings, increase their critical profile, and increase their bottom line.

    What would be interesting to hear from a critic (perhaps in your next post) is what motivates you to review a concert. If we’re all ‘swimming upstream against an all but invincible current’, why do the concerts that get reviewed get reviewed?

    How do critics/publications choose what gets reviewed? There are five variables, broadly speaking. The amount of space available, the fame of the performers, the critics’ interest, the number of events on any given night, and finally the critics’ schedules.

    At the NY Times, every NY Philharmonic concert and every production at the Met will be reviewed. Likewise other big events. They get first claim on the space available, regardless of whether the critics actually care about them. Next in line will be smaller concerts that particularly interest the critics. What interests them? Well, maybe they love the performers’ work. Eva Podles, the Polish contralto, has a cult following (just for instance). Many critics will go out of her way to review her, even if she isn’t a household name.

    If you or your group aren’t household names, then you have to have a compelling story. A world premiere, even by a fairly well known composer, won’t help much in New York, because there’s so much competition. Might help more elsewhere, if the critic is sympathetic to new music.

    If there are many events on a given night, some won’t be reviewed, because there just isn’t space, or because the critics can’t be in three places at the same time. If you want a better shot at a review, give your concert late in May, or early in September, or during the summer. Not in November, when there are legions of concerts. (I’m talking about big cities here, but smaller places may generally follow the same schedule.)

    Finally, the critics themselves have personal needs. This especially plays a role at papers with a number of critics (obviously, big papers in big cities). Sometimes something doesn’t get reviewed because there’s no critic available on a given night. Don’t blame the critics — they mostly work amazingly hard, get few nights off, and have a right to, oh, have babies, go to family weddings, get sick, be reluctant to travel out of town to go to their fifth concert on a given week, whatever.

    Two aids in getting attention — having a publicist, and creating a buzz. But not just any publicist. Very few, in my view, are effective. A good one already has a relationship with the critics, knows what will interest each one, and knows the best way to get the critics’ attention. The less good ones just send information almost mechanically out to every critic on their list, without even saying in the e-mail or letter or phone call or press kit anything notable about why the event they’re pitching is interesting.

    Creating a buzz is the best weapon you’ve got, in the longer run. If word gets around that what you’re doing is really good, really compelling, really new (or whatever applies to you), eventually critics will notice. Or they will if they themselves are plugged in. If they’re not, there’s not much you can do about it.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Read says

    Well, with many thanks to Greg and Anne, we are slowly getting rolling – see http://threeplay.blogspot.com/

    That’s great news, Read. I hope it works out as well as we all hoped.

    And thanks for outing yourself, so to speak. I tried to preserve your anonymity in my post, since our conversation was private. And now I’m happy you’re willing to go public with our experiment.