The culmination of a long association with pianist Matthew Mills, Bagatelles represents some 30 years of piano music by British composer Bernard Hughes.
We’ve spent the last 4 years promoting new music concerts, which definitely feels like the toughest bit of what we do although it always seems to have worked out ok (or better!) in the end. Having a full, buzzy, engaged audience makes such a big difference to the success of the concert but no matter how organised you are, getting the audience to turn up is the one thing you can’t control. Some of promotion is long term work: building your brand and reputation so that people know who you are and what to expect. Some of it is short term for the specific event you’re promoting now. We haven’t got it all worked out but this is what we’ve learnt:
For the long term…
Know who you are and what you’re about
For your audience to become fans and come to everything you do, they need to believe in you and what you do so be clear about what you’re trying to do, why you do it and what you’re passionate about. Work out how to talk about it clearly and be consistent with it in everything you do – and that might mean not doing some things that don’t fit. Your audience will know what to expect with your events – it doesn’t mean every event is going to be the same but it’s all aiming for the same goal
Do everything really well
It’s about quality not quantity. Build your reputation so that people know that whatever you do will be good and worth coming to. Decide what’s important to do really well based on your artistic integrity, what’s important to your audience and don’t cut corners on that stuff. For us, we only do 2 projects a year because we don’t have time to do any more than that and do them properly. If we can’t do it properly then we’re not going to do it.
Put your audience front and centre
I wrote about this back for the Guardian Culture Pros blog when we started and happily I still agree with myself! Think about the audience’s perspective in everything you do. That doesn’t mean you make every decision in favour of the audience but I believe you need to think about it from their perspective – the venue, programme, programme order, vibe, acoustics, sight lines to the stage, engagement with the musicians etc etc We have an audience member on our selection panel for calls for scores, pick venues with the audience in mind, intentionally think about programme order from a “non-muso” perspective as well as a “muso” one, offer free tickets in exchange for audience reviews and ask audience for feedback
Maintain a social media presence all the time
Social media is great for awareness – people hearing about you and what you’re doing but you need to have a consistent presence for this to work for you in the long term. There’s loads of stuff written about having a social media strategy, which I’m sure would be a good idea, but we haven’t made the time to do it and so muddle along! Maintaining a constant presence can be really time consuming, particularly during a patch where you’re not doing much yourself (with only 2 projects a year, we definitely have peaks and troughs of activity) so we focus on Twitter and Facebook, with a little bit on Soundcloud when we have recordings available rather than trying to do everything (Pinterest, Google+ etc). In addition to writing our own blogs and tweeting/sharing what we’re up to, joining in conversations etc, we talk about interesting things other people are doing. So really that’s what I find interesting! To make life easier, there are a few (free) tools that are my current favourites:
Buffer – you can create a schedule for each social media channel and then fill it up and it sends them at the right times. This means you can schedule your posts in one go for a few days and not have to constantly be thinking about it
Feedly – I use Feedly to read blogs and it links to Buffer so when I read something interesting, I can schedule a tweet/FB post easily
Nuzzel – this tells you what links your friends/followers have shared most in the last 24 hours so sort of gives you a summary of what’s on Twitter and/or Facebook. It also links directly to Buffer
For one particular event…
With our Kings Place concert in 2014, I looked at the stats for when people visited our event page on their website and 50% of the visits were in the week before the concert. I can’t cope with leaving all promotion until that late because it would completely stress me out so I aim for lots of activity from 1 month before
Put it in your budget
You don’t need much money for promotion but some is useful so you’re not trying to do it for nothing. We use it for printing posters and fliers, maybe social media advertising, maybe some free ticket give-aways
Have a story and great images
There are various views about “themes” for concerts and you have to decide artistically how you want to create your programme but it helps to have some sort of story or hook so you can sell the event. What is it about and why would someone want to come and listen? It could be a theme or linked to the venue or the fantastic soloist/ensemble or one unusual, big piece on the programme or anything else! Good images are also important. On FB and Twitter, the posts that get most engagement are ones with images and people are drawn to eye-catching posters
We don’t get much traffic from listing sites but as it’s mostly free (or cheap) it seems foolish not to. The main places we use are: The Sampler, Concert Diary, Classical Diary, Bachtrack, Composition Today. If your programme includes a premiere then let Classical Music magazine know about it
More social media
I got marketing advice a while ago that people need to hear about something 3 times before they make a conscious commitment to go to, which may or may not be true but a lot of buzz about your event is a good idea either way. We post photos of rehearsals, blog posts about the pieces on the programme and interviews with composers.
Twitter and FB advertising is one way of quite cheaply reaching people that don’t currently follow you. We’ve experimented with both and found FB to be more useful for us.
Use email for action
Social media is great for awareness but I’m not convinced it’s the best way to get people to take action and actually buy a ticket. So we have an email newsletter, which goes out only when we actually have something to say and includes a link to book tickets. We use mail chimp to manage our email address list, make sure we’re following data protection laws and it makes our emails look good! It’s free if you have fewer than 2000 people on your list
Get press interested
This is one area that we do not have at all figured out. Jessica Duchen has written a couple of posts about what not to do if you’re trying to get coverage for your concert (here & here) so that may be helpful. From what I’ve heard from other people, getting press interested when there’s no big name involved is hard for everyone so we’ll just keep trying!
Use every personal connection possible
The audience at most small new music events seems to be predominately friends and family of composers and musicians or other composers so we try and use our personal connections as much as we can – ask for favours, help with promoting, people to come to concerts, if they know anyone who might be interested etc etc. The world is a small place, there’s potential audience out there who are only a couple of connections away, we just have to find them!
Help others as you’d like them to help you
We retweet, tweet, share, shout about, attend as many concerts and events that we can and we hope that others will do the same for us. The audience for new music isn’t huge and I believe helping to promote other events (as long as they aren’t on the same day!) helps grow the genre and so helps all of us.