How to promote yourself

November 7, 2019, 1:21 PM · This is more of a general music question than it is string related, but how do you actually promote yourself as a performer?
I have an Instagram and Facebook page, but other than friends and family, how do I get people to follow and support?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Replies (45)

Edited: November 7, 2019, 3:37 PM · As one who had my own consulting business I know a bit about "promotion." It is all about becoming a "known quantity" in that you deliver what the customer both wants and needs and you do it with grace and ease and fully respect the customer.

Getting started is the most difficult part because it usually means giving away your services in some public forum as a way of letting the world know what you can offer. Often, delivering just a bit more than is expected is highly beneficial.

Since I've never been a professional musician, I cannot get more specific than that. You just need to put yourself in a place where people will hear you play and be satisfied to blown-away by your performance. Of course, at some point you have to ask for reviews that you can use to let the paying public know what you have to offer.

The professional musicians that I know work hard teaching, performing, giving master classes, playing in public venues for all kinds and sorts of people and always, always, always being sufficiently humble as to not offend anyone. You never know who is in your audience. I remember one now professional violinist friend played for a church event that introduced her to a man who was sufficiently impressed enough to go to a few more of her gigs. After a while he offered her the use of his instrument (much better than hers) and helped her launch her career. (She now plays with the NJSO.)

November 7, 2019, 5:18 PM · So playing in like old peoples homes/hospitals type places?
Edited: November 7, 2019, 5:21 PM · 1. Put together a nice, professional website. (Own a domain and have a business email address.)

2. Create an active social media presence. Post interesting content. Promote other regional and local musicians, not just yourself. Your followers need to share and promote, and engage with your content.

3. Consider creating a mailing list to inform others of your upcoming concerts. Not everyone is on social media; a more elderly audience is more likely to regularly read email.

4. Have business cards. Print the entire season's schedule on your cards. Make sure your cards have a link to your website.

5. Use every free local events-promotion site you can. Eventbrite, Bandsintown, etc. are all good.

6. If your local newspaper has free concerts listings, list your concerts. If your local arts organizations have free ad exchanges in concert programs, take advantage of the cross-promotion.

7. Put up flyers for your concerts in the local music stores, coffee shops, libraries, etc. (Have a QR code on the posters, or the website address prominently listed, so that anyone interested can just snap a picture of the flyer.) Put up your business cards, too.

8. Share recitals with other people. If there are local free recital series, get yourself onto those series, so you can leverage the promotion that they do.

9. Be engaging during your concerts. Get good at giving introductions to the pieces you're playing. It's not just about the music itself.

10. After concerts, stick around to talk to people. Thank them for coming. Ask questions about what they'd like to hear in the future. Etc. Hand them a card and invite them to your next concerts.

11. If you know anyone who writes for a local classical music review or has a big social media following, and you can get them to attend your concert, encourage them to write a review.

12. Have a presence on YouTube. Your website should link to your videos, too.

Hopefully, you'll build a following. I've been pleased to see that I'm building a repeat audience, and that it crosses over -- i.e. people who've come to see me solo have also come to my orchestra's performances, my quartet's performances, etc. And so on across what I've been involved in. People who've seen me in one retirement home have told their friends that live at other retirement homes, and those friends come to the next concert I'm playing at the other home, or to a repeat of the program that I'm playing in a different venue. Word of mouth and repeat audiences are best, in my opinion.

To some degree, time and patience and excellent performances are the key here. (Keeping in mind that technical imperfection is often acceptable to people attending free performances, but the performance has to be engaging despite any mishaps.)

November 7, 2019, 5:35 PM · Hire a professional photographer who knows how to help you look your best.

What you've got for your profile pic? No.

What Kristen has in her profile pic? Yes.

https://www.violinist.com/directory/bio.cfm?member=Kristen

November 8, 2019, 5:37 AM · Lydia has presented a long list of great suggestions -- read and heed!

In addition I would add that if you are looking to be paid for playing be very wary of people who ask you to play at their event for free "think of the exposure!" If you play for free then everybody will think you will play for them for free, so the exposure usually isn't very worthwhile other than to lower people's expectations of what they will pay you for.

You need to make the rounds of wedding consultants, church organists, wedding reception locations, and any other possible place you might get hired to play.

Prepare a short CD of snippets of works that you think people will be in the market to hire you for -- do NOT include full movements or complete songs, and always stop in the middle at an awkward place so that people won't be able to use your recording instead of hiring you.

Prepare a nice brochure of yourself, what types of music you play, but don't include rates so you won't have to reprint should you decide to change your rates.

Get a web-site and be sure to consult with someone (hopefully a friend who will do it for free) about how to include keywords which will get your page listed in all the possible search terms. So don't just include the city you're in but also include every other city within a 10 mile or 20 mile radius so that if a person searches for "violinist in east podunk" your name will show up.

And be willing to play just about any kind of music people contact you about hiring you to play -- as soon as you say "no" when someone calls to hire you, that person will tell others.

Word of mouth is the best advertising so no matter what you think about the client and his/her requests (within reason) keep smiling and be pleasant.

Networking isn't easy but it is very necessary -- it's a very small musical world and you never know when someone you may not like calls you to hire you for a pickup concert or a musical pit orchestra, so never let them know you don't like them. And for goodness's sake don't gossip with other musicians -- let them speak if they wish but don't you share stories other than great positive stories about other musicians you've worked with. Never be negative.

Always leave them smiling!

November 8, 2019, 6:23 AM · "exposure usually isn't very worthwhile other than to lower people's expectations of what they will pay you."

Right. Not only what they will pay you, but others too. People who play "for exposure" in my area are called scabs, unless they're tiny children.

November 8, 2019, 6:38 AM · Lydia has made excellent suggestions, most of which I’ve followed myself, and built up a good network of colleagues, we all call on each other for gigs, pit orchestra work and even when we’re looking to move students between us, it does occasionally happen.

Another thing for social media, particularly Instagram, is to use hashtags effectively. I’ve seen a counts blow up, through good hashtags, being honourable, relatable, humble and their content is good. They’ve obviously had fantastic pictures taken and the recording content they post isn’t always from their mobile phones.

Recently, my local amateur orchestra, that I’ve been involved with for many years, have asked me to play a solo work or two over the coming seasons. This is an excellent way to get your name out, albeit starting small, it’s a way for an audience to put a name to your face and clock who you might be. (also really good for prospective parents, who are looking to find a teacher etc).
What Lydia says about hanging around after concerts to talk to people is crucial, people enjoy talking to the musician, connecting with them and exchanging business cards. (get these done professionally). Image can be everything, as can quality of performance and self.

Good luck with your performances and promotions Jake, I’m interested to see where you go and if your name pops up locally to me.

November 8, 2019, 6:40 AM · Both to MZ and Lydia, I had my buisness cards printed by Vista print (I don't know if you have that in the US). I have a box of 200 I think. Thanks for all suggsstions so far
November 8, 2019, 6:57 AM · Jake, I know of vista print, (I am from the UK!)

I’ve got a violin teacher friend who has left some of her business cards in the artisan coffee shops in my city, albeit there are not many of them, small businesses seem to like to encourage other small and local businesses in my area. I wonder if you could use your local independent coffee shop as a port of call?

November 8, 2019, 7:03 AM · I'm not sure if I even have an independant coffee house
November 8, 2019, 9:03 AM · +1 to @David and @Paul.

"Free service for exposure" is one of those ideas which looks excellent on paper but horribly backfires in reality.

It works wonders in retail as loss leaders though. But that is for products... Even then; if you are not clever about it and kinda abuse the concept you'll notice that you've just conditioned your customers in a short period of time. Now they are not buying anything in between and are just waiting for the next event.

Remember, you'll only be valued and respected just as much as you value and respect yourself.

November 8, 2019, 10:02 AM · I disagree with a number of the previous posters. I think that Jake's situation, as a student not yet at a conservatory admission level, is different from that of people who are full-fledged pros. This is not a level where he should necessarily expect to get paid, and certainly not at the outset.

Someone who wants to play weddings etc. needs to establish a group and a group identity, and then market that group, but it's hard to get wedding gigs with no experience. Jake's best off hooking up with an established group who might sometimes need a substitute violinist or violist, and gaining a track record. Note that the hard part of weddings is not the music or whatever happens during the live ceremony; it is dealing with Bridezilla or Mom of Bridezilla, or Well-Meaning But Clueless Wedding Coordinator.

If Jake's area is typical, most people playing solo or chamber-music performances aren't getting paid. The sponsored performances bring out-of-town artists who will draw ticket sales, or feature local luminaries (the symphony's concertmaster, the profs at the local university, etc.). Some organizations might be getting grants and are able to pay their musicians, but they are well-established. The local folks who are performing tend to offer free recitals and/or "donate what you can" recitals (and donations might go to charity). On a practical basis, you have to do a lot of free audience-building before you can draw a paid audience, in most locales. So I think for Jake, playing those free concerts is going to be important.

Winning a symphony spot in a freeway philharmonic is the best way to demonstrate that you're employable as a freelance orchestral contractor. Other than that, making the circuit of any semi-pro groups where you'd have a chance to sit next to freelance pros, and playing very well, is a good way to build up contacts. (You will find that your stand partner asks you for contact info and will recommend you for future jobs, if you play well enough and are pleasant to deal with.)

November 8, 2019, 10:23 AM · I'm planning on joining my local amateur orchestra when I pass my driving test (hopefully in the new year)
Edited: November 8, 2019, 3:52 PM · One of the problems with trying to promote yourself when you're a performer of classical European music is that you are playing music that thousands of other people play, and some of them are thirteen years old. The fast lane is to win big competitions and then you become one of the better-known people playing that music. Certainly, building a reputation for professionalism and quality performance will raise your profile with your peers, but that won't really promote you "out there." But it will get you gigs.

My suggestion is that you consider repertoire/ensembles/contexts in which what you offer is exceptional. Can you play other traditions of violin music--Arabic? Hindustani? Irish? If you are inspired to compose or arrange music, no one can get that music unless they get you to play it--that's one path. Consider approaching theatrical performers and dancers as ways to put your music out. Get some recording gear (I recommend a ribbon mic for a violinist) and get good at recording yourself. Then find where the struggling filmmakers are and offer your services by providing a demo recording. Granted, a little bit of keyboard skills can go a long way in helping with this, since then you can provide accompaniment for yourself. A lot of this won't pay, BTW. But one or more of these theatrical performers, dancers, or filmmakers might help get you where you want to go.

I'm a composer by training, and I found the academic world of music composition to be a problematic place to pursue creative music-making, but I found that reaching outside that music world into the other performing arts was what worked for me.

November 8, 2019, 2:16 PM · I'm putting feelers out to 2 of my friends about sharing a concert together. 2 solo pieces each and one at the end of all of us together. We'll see how that goes
November 8, 2019, 2:27 PM · Are your friends pros? If you're all students, you're going to be viewed in a different context than if your friends are pros. Ideally, if you want to be hired as a pro, you should share recitals with people who are pros, and the recital should seem professional.

If you are all students and it's going to be mostly friends and family in attendance, then you'll probably want to do something like a raise-money-for-charity or raise-money-for-your-education, and try to get your friends/family to bring an extended circle of friends to the concert.

November 8, 2019, 2:28 PM · Lydia wrote, "most people playing solo or chamber-music performances aren't getting paid."

We need to make a distinction here. Yes, it's fine for an amateur to put on a recital in a church or in their own home, or wherever, and make it free. That's totally different from offering your services as a performer in a restaurant or "gig" type venue when others people, including amateurs and day-jobbers, a playing similar types of gigs (perhaps jazz, rock, or other genres) and getting paid for them at reasonable wages (i.e., union scale). I see those as two very different things.

November 8, 2019, 2:59 PM · No. My friends are university students. But I understans your point. Paul I also agree with your distinction
November 8, 2019, 10:04 PM · Paul, I would distinguish "venues hiring musicians" and "musicians playing in the community". Venues that hire should indeed pay, though that assumes that they are indeed hiring someone who is fully professional; usually for such venues, musicians are background, not the main attraction. And I think of those as "gigs" rather than as concerts that you self-promote for.

Musicians playing in the community will often give free concerts, even if those musicians are full-time professionals.

November 8, 2019, 11:29 PM · Talk to people, connect on facebook, linkedin etc. With everyone. With your primery school teachers and students, with you mom's tea club members, with your home doctor etc.
Travel and connect. Come here on this forum and connect.
Give the links to you youtube channel, facebook and other in your profile.

Share, share, share.

Share local news related to any art (photo and art, music, theater, dance). Share your friends posts about their performances, but always add some personal words.
Share your new recordings, your ideas, your travels and with the permission stories about intersting people you meet.

They all will like you in answer and share your posts and concerts.

Travel, go abroad for masterclasses, join festivals.

November 9, 2019, 6:47 AM · Lydia I think we basically agree. You also wrote, "Musicians playing in the community will often give free concerts, even if those musicians are full-time professionals." Yes I've seen that. Usually they collect donations for some charity.
Edited: November 9, 2019, 1:08 PM · An excellent and well-chosen list of suggestions and networking issues by everyone, whether you agree or disagree with some of the particulars. And the issue of self-promotion is indeed a sensitive one, especially for artists.

I would add only one suggestion to all of the above. Give an indication that the particular pieces of music themselves are your focus of attention, and that you take a bit of pride on sharing with the audience what your training, experience, and talents tell you what the composer wanted to share with the audience and how you intend to share it.

It's called professional and artistic humility, and in this age of exaggerated self-promotion by politicians, professionals, entertainers, etc., a little genuine humility can go a long way.

Just a thought.

Cheers,
Sandy

PS. One wonders how Paganini would have addressed this issue. How the devil would he promote himself?

Edited: November 9, 2019, 1:14 PM · Lots of good suggestions above. Here are some other things that have helped performers:

1. Professionalism. Give your 110% percent and look like you're having a good time. Do this no matter who or where the audience is.

2. Treat your audience like they are your peers. Don't talk down to them.

3. Practice your responses to compliments. It takes courage for someone to talk to a performer. Too many times, inexperienced performers have goofed up and alienated an audience member. Learn to smile and say thank you, even if it's not what you expected to hear.

4. Attend other people's recitals. Support others like yourself, not just online but in person. They may appreciate this and reciprocate by attending your recitals, too.


November 9, 2019, 1:40 PM · The first thought which came to mind was unfortunately not, play really well and engage your listeners so that they want to hear you more, it was get a good PR agency.

https://slippedisc.com/2019/11/whos-punting-the-naked-countertenor/

Edited: November 9, 2019, 2:46 PM · Constanzo, the countertenor referenced above, got his start on Broadway as a child, and switched to the opera world by winning a bunch of competitions. He's certainly not someone who needs to resort to gimmicks to gain bookings, though I'm sure it never hurts to get mainstream press if you want to sell CDs. To all appearances, he is a serious musician who has earned a lot of kudos from music critics and impressed audiences.

If anything, his career illustrates "perform really well, bring unique artistic qualities, in well-chosen works, with great collaborators" formula for success.

November 9, 2019, 3:08 PM · The thing is I wat to play pieces and stuff that I like, bot necessarily what people will want/expect to hear, especially as a viola player
November 9, 2019, 3:36 PM · I think another nice way of getting involved with orchestras and various other projects, is considering something like the Vacation Symphony Orchestra. My brother (currently at music college in Scotland) does this, and its a great way for him to connect with peers from other music colleges, but also build contacts with people he is likely to work with in the future, once he has graduated and (hopefully) joined a professional UK orchestra.
November 9, 2019, 3:43 PM · ... how about naked viola player? This would be something the world is still waiting for. - Although, it might take some extra hours at the gym to catch up with Frank Yang...
November 9, 2019, 3:45 PM · Maybe waiting, just not from me haha
November 9, 2019, 3:58 PM · Okay, got it. But it was worth a try.

You still can revisit that idea in case everything else fails. And never forget the protein shakes.

November 9, 2019, 4:29 PM · Don't forget to study a lot.... the more you play better, the more you will be easly promoted.
November 9, 2019, 4:32 PM · "The thing is I wat to play pieces and stuff that I like, bot necessarily what people will want/expect to hear, especially as a viola player"

You have to earn the opportunities to do that. There are no shortcuts. Network with musicians in your area, and make them want to work with you by showing that you are competent and reliable. Though Paul Smith suggests that raising your profile among your peers isn't always enough, it is still a necessary first step in order to get performance opportunities.

One thought: try to get a principal viola chair in an orchestra -- even if it's a lower-level amateur orchestra, it can be helpful. When you're a section leader, you have a lot more interaction with the conductor and other section leaders. Conductors are generally well-regarded enough that they will be listened to when they put in a good word for you, and even lower-level amateur orchestras often have some quite accomplished section leaders with good reputations in the local community. Also, you're much more likely to get opportunities to play as a soloist with the orchestra.

Combine this with Lydia's suggestion to stick around and meet people after concerts. I made my one appearance as a soloist with an orchestra where I was principal violist; after the concert I met a professional cellist who attended because half of the cello section were her students, and later she in turn recommended me to a quartet that needed a substitute violist for two gigs.

Anything you do to build a good reputation among local musicians helps immensely. In the early stages of making inroads into the local musical community, it probably matters more than your reputation with audiences.

November 9, 2019, 4:38 PM · I'm not even Grade 8 yet. So I won't be the section leader for quite some time. Although I have 3 years before conservatoire
November 9, 2019, 4:53 PM · It depends on the needs of your local amateur orchestra, I’ve not yet completed grade 8 for viola, but I’m now co principle for the viola section, (there is 7 of us too). The principle of the section has completed grade 7. However, her orchestral experience, certainly on the amateur scene is second to none. Additionally, she’s a fantastic sight reader, which is helpful. Taking principle position is something she’s looking to pass to me, because I’ve got experience and she wants to stand down from that position.
So I reckon, you don’t necessarily need grade 8 for a principle viola seat in an amateur orchestra.

Definitely get involved with a local orchestra though, good luck with your driving test when you take it!

November 9, 2019, 10:57 PM · Whether you need more skill as a player to be principal viola depends on the quality of the orchestra and what they need out of a section principal. Leadership is much more than just playing well. To develop better leadership and musical communication skills, play more chamber music, especially quartets with prominent viola parts.

To make useful contacts as a performer, you need to make the acquaintance of pros. That's why I suggested a semi-pro, rather than amateur, group. In a semi-pro group, you have a good chance of sitting next to a pro or at least being noticed by a pro, thereby making contacts.

Jake's playing level is a major complication, though. In a country where many students achieve Grade 8, and many will achieve a distinction like the LRSM or FRSM while still in secondary school, he's done neither and is still a few years pre-conservatory. Even though technical standards for violists still tend to be a bit lower, not playing at a pro or near-pro level makes life very tough if you're trying to build a reputation as a performer.

Hook up with a great quartet, I'd suggest. Lean on other people's reputations.

November 10, 2019, 6:12 AM · I know many musicians who are on LinkedIn, which I recommend joining.
November 10, 2019, 7:20 AM · Our local orchestra is a mixture of professionals and amateurs. The leader as an example is a graduate of a conservatoire
November 10, 2019, 9:02 AM · See this pro violinist's LinkedIn entry to see how he started off, his training, and subsequent career to date:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/declan-daly-33a69566/

November 10, 2019, 9:03 AM · Interesting
November 10, 2019, 9:11 AM · Oops ... have to join LinkedIn to see that ...
November 10, 2019, 9:43 AM · I apparently already have an account on it. Which I don't remember doing lmao
November 10, 2019, 1:17 PM · Jake,
Because of you age and (perceived) level, I don't think doing all this promotion with websites and business cards and youtubes is all that productive.

For most classical musicians aspiring to work, there's one basic thing they need to work on:
Being reliable. That means being prepared: have fingerings and bowings ready to go. Measure your numbers. Have a pencil and mute. Pass back changes from the front. Don't be late.

Be a good sight-reader. One of the things that makes me the most nervous at weddings is the other musicians, especially if I've never played with them before. Will they embarrass the group by making easy sight-reading goofs? This is what gets musicians hired, and re-hired.

Edited: November 10, 2019, 5:26 PM · I'm with Scott. There's only so much you can do about your playing skill over the next month. But you can be super professional. I'll tell you something that puts me off -- when someone's violin case is a disgusting mess of cat hair and grime. Hard to imagine that person showing up to a gig looking spiffy. Just adding to what Scott said, also notify your orchestra manager well in advance if you have to miss a rehearsal, and remind them of it again the day before. If your orchestra rehearsals have breaks in the middle, use them to greet people -- or to eavesdrop on their conversations.
Edited: November 10, 2019, 5:39 PM · ... and be nice to the woodwinds, especially the clarinets and oboes. There's lots of beautiful chamber literature requiring them. Besides a pianist, one should always have a clarinetist at hand. Not necessarily you have to engage in the same genres than anybody else - there's a huge number of potential string quartets you could book, but how about a mixed trio? The expectations to your professionality will still be high enough, but it's easier to stand out without winning a rally in virtuosity.
November 10, 2019, 5:41 PM · While in my youth orchestra, I never missed a rehearsal (I even went on my prom night) and always had my music with me and a pencil, which a lot of others didn't ha e


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