I received a terrific newsletter a couple of weeks ago. It made such a strong impression that I wanted to share it so that together we can look “under the hood.” That way, you can analyze and upgrade your own online communication skills. Here’s musician newsletter know-how with forward-thinking cellist Amanda Gookin.
How do you stay in touch with your friends, fans, supporters, presenters?
Too many of us only send out newsletters when we’re looking to get butts in seats for an upcoming concert. Or when we’re promoting a fundraising campaign or an album. And unfortunately, these messages can come across as “salesy” and transactional.
And all too often musician newsletters are impersonal. They don’t help readers feel more connected to the artist.
So it’s especially energizing to get a newsletter that connects you to a more human experience with the artist and with her music.
Before reading the example below, a word of caution.
Don’t do the usual ego dance of compare and despair. Don’t read it and say to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to me: I don’t have a project like that.” Or “Yeah, but what I do doesn’t have that kind of appeal.” Or “I’m not partnering with a composer or visual artist—I don’t have those kind of talking points.”
It’s easy to pretend we can only learn from examples that fit our situations exactly.
But that’s not true.
So let’s get past our own egos and unpack what’s working well in this example. Then see what lessons you can take to heart and implement in your own work—no matter how different it is from Amanda’s.
What to notice: the tone, content, details?
As you read the example below, take note of the tone and the overall message Amanda conveys. Notice the level of detail, the “call to action,” and the organization and sequence of ideas.
Tomorrow is one of my favorite concerts of the season! National Sawdust will present Student CoLab: the culmination of a three-month-long young composer workshop in collaboration with Forward Music Project, composer Angélica Negrón, and students from El Puente Beacon Leadership Program. The above photo was taken during a masterclass I taught last year and it pretty much sums up the way I feel working with young artists.
For the past two years, I have been teaching workshops centered around composition, performance, and social engagement. This collaboration with El Puente Beacon is very special to me because it is just like a mini Forward Music Project!
Angélica and I, along with amazing teaching artists, worked with middle school students to write new works for cello, voice, and electronics based on themes of social justice and empowerment. My artistic partner, S Katy Tucker, worked with the students to create video art inspired by each piece.
I gotta hand it to these kids, they did an AMAZING job as first-time composers. I am in awe of their mature self-expression, willingness to be vulnerable, and their creativity. Tears are guaranteed!
I am looking forward to future workshops and side note, if you’d like to partner with Forward Music Project at your school, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
What did you notice? Here’s what came forward for me:
1. Terrific photo
Photos in newsletters can be worth 1000 words—and here’s a good one. This isn’t a traditional head shot or a performance shot. This is Amanda connecting with someone in a “teaching moment,” and she’s clearly responding enthusiastically. The message is open and generous.
Looking at the photo, you might imagine it was taken in a rehearsal or in an audience Q&A session. But Amanda explains the context: she helps us connect what we see to the message she relates in the newsletter. “The above photo was taken during a masterclass I taught last year and it pretty much sums up the way I feel working with young artists.”
2. Addressing the reader by name
The email I received, as you can see, was addressed “Dear Angela.” That happens thanks to the email management software Mailchimp. There are other programs that will insert the name of each newsletter subscriber as well. (I like and use Mailchimp; it’s free up until 2000 subscribers.)
Does addressing readers individually make a difference? YES. We all want to be seen and heard—no one wants to get anonymous marketing blasts.
But is addressing the reader by name enough to make a real connection? NO.
To do more, as you draft your newsletter, imagine that you are writing to (or talking with) ONE specific reader. Picture that person—someone you know well—and dare yourself to be more open, authentic, and vulnerable.
3. Concise: the essential info in the first 2 sentences
Amanda comes right to the point. First she tells us this is a favorite experience (setting up anticipation).
Then in the second sentence she gives us the essentials and credits her partners and includes links. This is what journalists call the lead (or lede) paragraph. It summarizes the main points emphasizing what’s most noteworthy.
The idea is to grab our attention and get us to keep reading. She starts the sentence with the prestige of the hosting venue: National Sawdust. This “first things first” approach is what’s also called for in writing effective press releases, grant proposal, cover letters, and bios.
To help you figure out what the essentials are for your next piece of communication, try first writing down all the details and information you need to convey. Do a “braindump” on the page. Then step back and ask yourself what—in all that—is essential to understand upfront. Pull that out as your lead.
4. Second + third paragraphs fills in the context and details
Here Amanda gives readers the context. But she isn’t simply giving us a dry recitation of facts.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the details and specificity here crank up my curiosity. Amanda doesn’t simply offer workshops and master classes to young musicians. These are “workshops centered around composition, performance, and social engagement.”
This is infused with her enthusiasm (it’s “very special” to her) and conveys the larger mission. Readers who follow Amanda’s work know these are themes she explores in her own Forward Music Project.
She also explains the particulars and who’s involved in the teaching. And we learn the outcome. That middle school students write “new works for cello, voice, and electronics based on themes of social justice and empowerment.”
5. Gratitude is always good
Amanda’s enthusiasm is detailed. She’s clear and candid about what she’s impressed with and moved by. It reads like she’s talking directly to you:
“I gotta hand it to these kids, they did an AMAZING job as first-time composers. I am in awe of their mature self-expression, willingness to be vulnerable, and their creativity. Tears are guaranteed!”
6. The invitation
Amanda sent this out the day before the performance. She clearly wasn’t expecting her readers to drop everything and come to the performance of these your composers. So why send this?
Yes, she’s updating us on what she’s got going on. But she’s also letting people on her list know that she does this kind of work and that she’d love to do more collaborations. The “call to action” is here:
“I am looking forward to future workshops and side note, if you’d like to partner with Forward Music Project at your school, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!”
This isn’t self-serving advertisement. It’s a generous invitation to connect with her and see what might be possible at your institution.
7. The close: the mission
Below the portion of the newsletter shown, Amanda includes the specifics about the performance: location, date, time. Plus a photo of her performing for the young composers, and this compelling program description that makes clear the value of what she offers:
“Forward Music Project is a multimedia project driven by social justice and empowerment for women and girls. Using the same format and principles of collaboration, and drawing upon similar themes of justice, gender, and empowerment, young people have created all of the new music, film, and visuals which you will experience at this performance.
This journey of artistic discovery and self-expression empowers young people to have a voice on issues that affect them, while also enabling them to explore and fulfill their potential as creative beings.”
8. The nitty-gritty
Amanda credits the young performers and their works. Including these details underscores the benefits. This highlights the value of the learning and personal development the program fosters. And yes, it makes me wish I could have been there, too!
Different: Yara, 6th Grade
Lonely: Amelia, 5th Grade
Talk Together: Janell, 6th Grade
Et Auribus: Jorge, 6th Grade
The Day: Victoria, 8th Grade
You’re Beautiful and Unique: Taina, 4th Grade
My Language is My Voice: Hannah, 6th Grade
Self-Respect: Genesis, 7th Grade
The Search for Hope in the Hate: Kristal, 9th Grade
This program also features FMP commissions:
Dam Mwen Yo: Nathalie Joachim
Swerve: Jessica Meyer
How to apply these lessons to your own newsletters
Whether or not you’re offering a program that works with a specific population and explores social themes is beside the point. The lesson here is to be generous and forthcoming in your communication.
No matter what, you can write with open enthusiasm and detail why you’re excited. Tell readers specifically why you’re happy to be performing with your partners, performing at the particular venue, and/or performing particular repertoire.
Tell us why you put these particular pieces together on the program. What inspired you and what’s special about this for you. What the process has been like preparing.
Tell us why you love making music. Write about how the program has changed you and how you imagine it will change audiences. Invite your readers, your audience into your world and welcome us generously.
In other words, we can all be a lot more human.
** SPECIAL TEASER **
Next week I’ve got something special to announce for musicians looking for college teaching jobs: YAY—I’m excited to be announcing this very soon. So, if a college teaching job is on your to-do list, keep an eye on your in box.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well