Since I became involved with the organizational side of choirs 15 years ago, I’ve come to realize that there are two conflicting activities that go on at this time of year. The first is that singers are grappling with a large stack of music in preparation for the season ahead. As a performer, I know what it’s like to be cramming notes, learning dynamics, understanding text and context for a lot of new music in a short period time. Progress toward creating a sound that is more than a tentative and tangled mess can seem interminably slow. As an arts administrator, however, I also know that while the laborious early stages of music preparation are going on, the marketing machine must spring into action to spread the word far and wide about the stunning and expertly sung concerts “coming soon.”
Composers whose work is featured are also asked to take a leap of faith, reaching out to people they want to hear their work while hoping their music will be presented at the highest level. Through my involvement with the New York Choral Consortium, I’ve seen how this can be a challenging time for administrators and conductors.
The reality of finding an audience for any live arts performance is such that the machine can’t wait to make sure all the pieces on the program are perfect and polished. The cranking has to start as early as possible if there’s any chance of having a respectable number of people in attendance. With so many cultural choices in a continually tight economy, marketing efforts have to get going early to cover all the bases.
One of the myths I hear is that the choir will automatically generate the audience. While this may have been true in the past, it’s now as hard for one choir member to sell four tickets as it is for the well-oiled marketing department of an established arts organization to get audiences to come out. Plus, every choir wants their audience to combine the people they know with those they don’t know. The choral, classical, and contemporary music audiences, the people who are interested in the specific kind of work and the concert-goers who live around the corner, are as important as the singer-generated crowd.
The personal appeal can help, but in today’s landscape, knowing one of the performers is not always enough to get someone to buy a ticket. The general rule is it takes at least seven exposures before a person will attend a performance. That still rings true. Telling friends about the concert is a good starting point but probably not enough to get the event into a person’s datebook. A Facebook invite and an e-flier might remind them that it’s something to think about. A postcard thrust into their hand or dropped into their mailbox and a Tweet about a media piece might get them to look at the calendar and see what the other options are that night. A special discount, the offer of a free drink, and a message that one of the featured composers will be attending might actually get them onto the website to book a ticket.
While the starting points for music preparation and marketing spin can be far apart at the outset, they will hopefully meet up perfectly at concert time, when an exquisitely prepared concert lands on the ears and in the hearts of a capacity audience.
Composers, what do you do to get into the marketing mix for performances of your work?