So you want to know how to get more bookings as a classical performing artist?

Daily as an arts manager I receive dozens of unsolicited emails and material from artists I’ve never heard of and those materials are instantly discarded to clear my inbox and desk of excess clutter. Meanwhile I sometimes meet talented artists who ask, “how do I get booked to play more?”

Quite a number of years ago I had my first fulltime job in arts administration in a major US orchestra. I assisted the General Manager in administering the contracting of guest artists. The first thing I was told was to throw out all unsolicited material–no one wanted to see it, or hear it. I was horrified at the waste and for awhile made the effort to return the material–only to be met with angry inquiries and indignant letters about why I hadn’t put the material in the correct hands! Needless to say, from then on I simply trashed unsolicited promotional packages.

So if emails, glossy packages and promotional CD’s won’t get you a booking, what will?

Our business, the music business, is very much a word-of-mouth industry. Most of your bookings are going to come from direct or secondary contacts in the industry so you have to make sure that you make as many contacts as possible and that all those contacts are very positive.

1. The Music Director: When you perform with a conductor, remember that individual is likely also Music Director of 1 or more additional orchestras or ensembles. Find out about those connections, show interest, get details and you may be on the way to a follow-up performance with one of maestro’s other groups.

2. The Orchestra: Remember that many of the musicians in the orchestra have contacts with additional orchestras and ensembles, and may themselves be administering a chamber series in the area. Be cordial and friendly with orchestra members and find out about these networking opportunities.

3. Arts Administrators: Far from all programming decisions are made by Artistic Directors. Often decisions are left up to Artistic Administrators and General Managers, and certainly administrative vetoes are something to be avoided. Unpleasant, pushy, demanding and disorganized guest artists are just unlikely to be invited back. And if you have an agent who falls into this category, you might like to re-think whether that bull-dog attitude is good for you in the long run. If your agent managed to push someone like me into exceeding the orchestra’s capacity to pay or accommodate you in some way this time—enjoy it. You are extremely unlikely to be asked back and word that you are difficult or your agent is difficult will be telegraphed from manager to manager in short order. So unless you are a leading international virtuoso whose whims must be tolerated, think twice about bullying orchestra administrative staff. They will accommodate you once and then write you off the list. Remember that smaller organizations may not be able to provide as much as larger organizations. The simple willingness to take a taxi rather than demand personal airport pick-up will endear you to many a harried administrator’s heart!

4. Other arts organizations. Don’t forget the decision-makers in other local and regional arts organizations when you are performing. Likely you have more complimentary tickets than you can use. Invite decision-makers to be your guests at a performance. Don’t just invite the top people. If they can’t come, invite the Marketing Director, the Arts Administrator, the Program Assistant. Word of your great concert will travel in that organization.

5. Your web site: While aggressive forms of marketing (email spam, mega brochure mailers) are a waste of money, having a good up-to-date, easy to find website is essential in today’s world. When I hear about a potential artist, I immediately Google them. If I can’t find information right away I form a negative impression.

In addition, once I have booked an artist I need photos, bios, quotes from reviews. If they are all on your site, your promotion gets started months before artists who have to be asked for promotional material or who send material in paper format. We are simply too busy to be efficient at re-typing, scanning and editing copy that is in such an inflexible format. If you want to have more control over how your bio is edited, provide a number of “brief bio” options on your site. If you have one two page opus, be prepared to only see the first paragraph or two in print most of the time. If you think that’s your agent’s job, how well are they doing it? If not too well, it might be worth your while to bite the bullet and put your own site together.

6. Reviews–You need them. Post them on your website and circulate to all the contacts that you make in your developing career. Extracting a few choice quotes makes it easy for your bookers to get your promotion off the ground all that much faster!

What do you need to be booked?

1. Talent.
2. Opportunities for decision-makers to hear about your talent directly or through trusted contacts.
3. A comprehensive website for research purposes and promotional purposes. (doesn’t need to be fancy)
4. A professional and agreeable attitude with everyone in the business so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot!

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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