The success of your email pitches has everything to do with piquing the curiosity of the presenter and getting her or him to click “play.” To book more concerts check your programming! Because if you’re not a household name, then it’s got to be your program description that hooks their interest.
How does a presenter choose what to book?
Concert presenters put together their season offerings the way museum curators plan an art exhibition. They book individual performances with the balance of the entire series in mind. They look to attract, engage, and enlighten their community.
Think about it from a presenter’s point of view. A relatively unknown artist, whose name alone will not attract an audience, playing a recital of standard repertoire—does that sound like a box office draw?
After all, the audience can stay home and listen to recordings of these same masterworks by any number of legendary artists. Presenters need to consider whether or not an artist can attract an audience. For emerging artists without name recognition, innovative programming is the answer.
Does this mean I need to have a gimmick?
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 want to perform. A through-line for the audience’s experience.
So no, you don’t need to have a gimmick. You don’t need to, for instance, create a fancy multi-disciplinary project because you imagine “that’s what presenters want.” Don’t go chasing what you think they want.
Instead, consider the programming you have and consider how you describe it to presenters.
Why are you choosing to put these pieces together in the program? (And why should we care?)
It can’t simply be that you like these pieces, play them well, or that they’re ‘entertaining.’ Don’t simply assign a title to the program to make it seem like it’s a cohesive concert with a real spine.
If you’re anything like me, you’re sick of clichéd thematic concert programming. I’m especially tired of seeming random works programmed as “Around the World” concerts because they happen to include works by composers of varied nationalities. That’s not a compelling title and it’s not a real theme.
That said, there usually IS a fascinating thread that connects the works. Otherwise you wouldn’t be performing them.
But you may need to dig deep to identify what that connecting thread is. Is there a central human question that these works seem to address? Communicate what idea or issue links the works: convey it in a way that fires your prospective audience’s curiosity.
Here are three concert program descriptions that captured my attention and got me wanting to attend them.
First up, here’s a project involving commissioned new works focused on a theme, how humans process trauma. It’s from . . .
American Noir is a program about optimism that arises in very dark times. It is also a program about immigrants. This concert is made up primarily of music by Jewish immigrants who fled antisemitism in Europe and settled in Southern California. Their style set the tone for a generation of film music that still resonates in the high production value television series and films we watch today.
Franz Waxman: Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani
George Walker: Lyric for String Orchestra
Vivian Fine: Piece for Muted Strings (Elegiac Song)
Igor Stravinsky: Double Canon (Raoul Dufy in Memoriam)
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho Suite
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Symphonic Serenade, Op. 39
Like the two examples above, this program also piqued my curiosity and got me imagining what I’d hear.
If you want to book more concerts, check how compelling your programming actually is.
When it comes to booking more concerts, ask yourself if the central idea behind the program (and the description of it in your pitches) will grab readers’ imaginations.
You may find clues to effective program descriptions in the way you introduce the works in concerts. Think about the entry points you use to help audiences connect with the works. These may be stories, metaphors, images, or specific features of the works.
Finally, consider how you help audiences connect their experience of one work to the next—and what helps them synthesize the whole. There’s where you’ll find clues for a theme and an effective pitch.
When it comes to booking more concerts, yes, better concert programming IS your ticket to music career success.
For more help, check out the concert programming club sandwich approach here.
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Here’s to your forward motion,
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well