Namesake concert: getting to know your audience

We musicians categorize our audiences based on age group and demographics. At one glance, you can usually tell which group they belong to. Is it possible to get to know them individually?

Continue reading “Namesake concert: getting to know your audience”

Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui

Anne Ku reflects on the decisions and steps required to produce a concert, specifically, the first and second classical guitar concerts at Maui College.

It is entirely possible to make an event happen without being there. If we’re to deconstruct the steps to produce an event such as a classical guitar concert, we can see what it takes in the following phases. Continue reading “Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui”

RSVP or not

What is the point of asking people to RSVP if you can’t hold them to their word?

One of the fundamental tasks of revenue management is capacity management. This is something airlines are good at. They deliberately overbook so that all seats get filled.

For concert producers, the objective of getting a full house means ensuring every seat is occupied. This may mean selling stand-by discounted tickets at the 11th hour. [Notice that last minute flight fares are never half-price!]

Last time I organized a seminar, I did not bother to ask people to RSVP. Respondez si vous plait. I was filled with nerve-wracking trepidation, growing as the event got closer. What if only a few people showed up? What if too many people showed up? Last minute, I changed to a bigger room. A good move. Around 35 people showed up.

For today’s seminar, I asked attendees to reserve their seats by filling out a short survey. When the numbers didn’t fill as quickly as I expected, I sent a round of e-mails through another mailing list. A few people e-mailed me their plans to attend instead of filling out the survey — they did not show up. Filling out the survey unfortunately did not oblige the attendees to show up. While the majority of those RSVP’d did show up, there were a few cancellations.

In hindsight, I would have saved time creating and monitoring the survey by not requiring RSVP.

There has to be a more reliable way of gauging the final turnout. How do we get people to hold to their RSVP? What is the point of requiring RSVP when people can show up without prior reservation, and those who do reserve can not show up without penalty?

This phenomenon happened early on in the Monument House Concert Series. I decided that I had to demand prepayment as a condition of booking. No show – no refund. After all, revenue management was more important than capacity management. If the revenue stream was certain, then we’d breakeven and have a peace of mind.

In conclusion, requiring people to RSVP is an extra step for them and yourself. Think carefully whether it’s necessary. For today’s seminar, not only did I get a rough headcount, I also got questions in advance.

Announcement is not an invitation

The difference between an announcement and an invitation is that the latter uses persuasive writing.

Just telling someone about an event is not going to make that person come to the event.

Persuasive writing is required.

One of the most popular blog posts on Concertblog is Concert Announcement or Invitation.

I have read press releases in passive tense. I will remain detached.  Change it to active tense and I might think it relates to me.  Make it personal and inviting, I just might think I am the audience.

Why are some musicians able to get people to go to their concerts and others aren’t?  One clue is in the writing. If this kind of writing is not taught at conservatories, it should be.

Getting people to come to your concert is one of the greatest skills to have. It is transferrable. How do you get people to come to an event you organize?  How do you fill a hall?

You won’t by simply announcing it.

You have to invite.

To invite, you have to be skilled in persuasive writing.

How to get to a “yes”

Audience development requires successful invitations to reach people who will say yes and mean what they say. How do you get to a “yes”?

I tell my students that taking a test is not like bingo. You have control over the situation, and you can get the result you want. It’s not a game of chance.

Similarly, when you invite someone to an event, be it a concert, a seminar, or anything that requires someone to think twice, think about giving up something else, you want the result to be a “yes” and not waste your time.

How do you get to a “yes”?

The way you ask is very important. Don’t give excuses to say no. You have to be engaging but not pushy.

Before you ask, think about what the person wants or needs. You may have to show that you know what he or she needs or at least understand it. You may have to identify what it is. How can you make it a win win situation?

For last two house concerts we organized in the Monument House, I thought of exactly that. How do get people to come to a concert in which the performers are not known in the Netherlands? In which the programme is not full of works that are well-known?  In which people have plenty of other things to do, such as go on holiday to France and Spain?

Everybody has to eat. This is why it’s common to arrange meetings at lunch time. Provide food, and people will come. How about selling the appeal of a chef and exotic cuisine?  Add organic wine tasting?

Maybe people are not saying “yes” to the food, the wine, or the concert. Maybe they simply like you, who gave the invitation. Maybe they just want to be inside a beautiful home, with excellent feng shui. Maybe they said “yes” because they know everybody else who said yes are as interesting as they are.

There are plenty of reasons why people will say “yes” to you.

Consider that it is difficult to refuse a compelling invitation.

Make an offer no one can refuse.

Audience development: the art of creating demand

People go to concerts for all sorts of reasons. The trick is to find the reasons and then they will go to your concert.

One of the worries a seller has is how to get buyers to want your stuff. The things you sell may bear history and laden with value to yourself, but they are absolutely meaningless to a stranger.

Similarly, musicians and concert producers love their music. They too worry whether enough people will show up. How do they get people to come to a concert? Posters and invitations may not suffice.

Audience development means getting people to come to an event. It’s also about creating demand. There are many alternative ways to spend a Saturday evening in a big city. How do you get someone to choose you over other possibilities?

The keyboard and guitar that found new homes
The keyboard and guitar that found new homes

How is this similar to a garage sale?

I spoke to a lady at a yard sale today about how I managed to get rid of my things to free myself to leave London for the Netherlands. I held an Open House, baked cakes and cookies, and invited my neighbours and friends to visit. All four rooms (living room, dining room, bedroom, and study) were filled with things I wanted to sell.

One man’s medicine is another man’s poison. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Nobody wanted to buy my flowery summer dresses or conservative business suits. I had to think of innovative ways to get rid of my stuff.

Spend at least 5 pounds and get the solar calculator for free. The solar calculator and various knick knacks were giveaways at the conferences I attended. I didn’t care about the calculator at all. I did not know that this offer was attractive until I spotted a bassoonist selecting various paperback books to get the 5 pound total. He got his solar calculator.

My friend, the late London-based architect Ayyub Malik desperately wanted a piece of cake. I told him he had to buy something first. There was nothing he wanted except for a piece of cake. I encouraged him to buy an umbrella that he might need (in case his broke). He got his cake.

How do you get people to want something? How do you get people to buy what they do not need? Or what they do not realise that they need or want?

The answer: find out what they really want.

A concert is not just about the music. An economist told me so. “If you think people come to your concerts just to hear you, you are wrong.”

People go to concerts for all sorts of reasons.

The trick is to find and give reasons for people to come to your concert.

[Note: this blog post was inspired by my visit to two yard sales in Maui. People go to yard sales to get things at a discount. Some people go to discover what they did not know they needed. For instance, I bought a shower curtain even though I already have one.]

Concert booking and reservation in San Francisco

Dr Chong Kee Tan’s High Note Live, is a new kind of concert management system for booking artists, inviting guests, and confirming attendance. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo used it for their loft apartment concert in San Francisco.

Our concert in a loft apartment in San Francisco was an experiment in a new kind of concert booking and reservation. The host and I used a bespoke web-based software under beta test to book the performers (our piano guitar duo), invite guests, interact, specify number of seats and amount of payment, and confirm through payment.

This web-based mechanism is called High Note Live conceptualised and developed by the multi-facetted and multi-talented Dr Chong Kee Tan.

From left: Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo with concert hosts Chong Kee Tan & Doug
From left: Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo with concert hosts Chong Kee Tan & Doug

How does one book an artist for a performance? How does one keep track of an artist’s popularity or reliability?

How does one invite guests and ensure they show up? How does one guarantee an artist a certain income before the concert begins?

How do different stake-holders in the run up to a concert track how many people are attending? In my 14-page paper (PDF) on “house concerts for art music,” I specifically describe the different stakeholders: owner of the concert venue, concert host, concert producer, performer(s), guests, collaborators, sponsors, patrons, etc. They each have their own interests and needs. A successful concert is one that meets everyone’s expectations.

From one perspective, producing a concert is a risky business. To remove the risk, the concert producers needs to ensure what is expected to happen will happen. Those people who said they wanted to come to the concert actually do. The performers would prefer to know beforehand whether the venue is filled and whether they will get paid what they expect. In essence, how does one get a peace of mind?

These were the questions that led Dr Tan to research the market for software that would help concert producers, be they house concerts or bigger venues, to achieve greater efficiency and minimise risk.

Loft concert in San Francisco
Loft concert in San Francisco

High Note Live removes the stress of tracking various e-mails between different counterparties, i.e. between the different stakeholders. In the week of our loft concert in San Francisco,  I saw the number of attendees go up until there were no seats left. What a great feeling!

Without such a central system, we resort to disparate ways to invite people to a concert: Facebook event (but not everyone is on Facebook and clicking ATTENDING does not oblige one to attend), LINKED-IN announcement, e-mail invitation, phone calls, face-to-face, and paper invitation.

The confirmation process is also iffy. People don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say. How do you oblige someone to show up? Make them pay. Use it or lose it. That’s how airlines fill up their seats. That’s how concert halls fill up their theatres. An empty seat is a disappointment and a failure to fill it.

Watch this space for future updates to this new concert management system.

Audience engagement

For many musicians, myself included, getting a piece ready for live performance takes months if not years. Many musicians feel that their music should speak for itself. There should not be a need to explain it or distract from the music. When executed properly, music should touch, move, and inspire. But it’s also important to develop a rapport with the audience. How does one engage an audience?

There’s a Chinese saying, “On stage 3 minutes, off (below) stage 10 years.” It could take 10 years of preparation to deliver a 3 minute performance. Tai shang san fen zhong, tai xia shi nian gong.

For many musicians, myself included, getting a piece ready for live performance takes months if not years. It’s taken our piano guitar duo 9 years before we were ready to release our first CD. All time is given to perfecting the piece for performance. Is there any time left for anything else?

Many musicians feel that their music should speak for itself. There should not be a need to explain it or distract from the music. When executed properly, music should touch, move, and inspire. On a CD, perhaps. When you’re famous, perhaps. A virtuoso performance may impress but not necessarily engage the audience.

In a live concert, the audience is also searching for eye contact and something else besides the music. Robert Bekkers’ 7 years at conservatory did not include training to engage the audience. In my own musical education, I witnessed the emphasis placed on musicianship, performance practice, interpretation, and a host of other essential matters but not how to engage the audience.

How does one develop rapport with an audience on stage?

At Rich Wyman‘s concert in Doorn, Netherlands, I experienced not only superior audience engagement but also audience involvement. This was not a talk show. His first instrumental prelude (piano solo introduction) immediately touched me. It was like a magic wand aimed directly at me and nearly made me cry.

Wyman’s piano solo reminded me of stolen moments in my “previous” life. Once upon a time, I improvised on the piano to work out a feeling or mood I was in. I did it for myself out of a need to process a particular agony, pain, or nostalgia.

That prelude opened me to receive what Wyman had to offer. Next he sang a song of his own. He invited the audience to sing along “American Pie,” a request from a member of the support team. That was the beginning of audience involvement. We knew the chorus. We knew most of the lyrics. We couldn’t wait to be asked to sing along. His piano interludes and accompaniment to this popular melody brought the music to life. Those were the days.

Wyman had a tough audience to engage that night in Doorn. It was a free evening concert in a Dutch resort where people stayed in tents or bungalows with their families. The front row seats were taken by squirming and restless kids, some of whom thought they were the evening act. Robert and I sat in the second row trying to filter out the movement and noise. People behind and around us were in a state of constant flux, fidgeting and chatting. They probably thought that the amplification and speakers gave them the license to be loud.

Yet somehow, Wyman was able to command the audience to sit through two sets (concert began at 20:40 and ended before 23:00 with a break), a standing ovation, two encores, and fans to queue for his autograph. People cheered for more. We bought all 6 CDs, DVD, and a T-shirt. We didn’t want to leave. We wanted to hang out and absorb more of that positive energy.

How did Wyman manage to convert an audience from strangers to fans? When I got home, I searched for him on youtube and discovered that Wyman sang and spoke for environmental protection and other issues I believed in. I decided to join him and upload a video I took with my mobile phone below.

Audience engagement is the subject of a series of blogs. Perhaps the first thing to do is to get an audience to like you. How do you do that? Revisit Dale Carnegie’s claim to fame, the book “How to win friends and influence people.”

Anne Ku after the Funen concert in Amsterdam
Anne Ku after the Funen concert in Amsterdam, 25 July 2010

Background

After giving our piano guitar duo concert in Amsterdam, we drove to Doorn to catch the last concert of American singer songwriter Rich Wyman on this 6 week tour of Ireland and the Netherlands. We had only met him two evenings before, enough to motivate us to abandon all plans on a Sunday night to see him live.

When we first met him on Friday evening, it felt like a blind date. He brought his sons on tour in Ireland, and his wife Lisa joined them in Holland. We were introduced via Facebook and that’s how it began.

Why attend a house concert?

In my research into “house concerts: perspectives of multiple stakeholders, audience development, and sustainability” I asked guests of our house concerts why they keep coming back. One music aficionado said that he goes alone but knows that he will have a great time. “There will be interesting people there.” Could it be that house concerts attract interesting people?

Some time ago I blogged about getting people to come to a concert. As it was well received, I shall now pontificate over why anyone would want to attend a house concert.

Consider some barriers to entry:

  1. A house concert takes place in someone’s private home. If you don’t know the person or anyone else who is going, you may hesitate. Unless you have been to house concerts before, you will need some daring or encouragement.
  2. If the location is not in your neighbourhood, you may think twice about trying to get there.
  3. If it’s not free entry, you may wonder if the benefits outweigh the costs.

I’m not talking about a party where there is also music, food, drink, and pleasant company. By house concert, I refer to a planned event where people go with the expectation of live music performance. Food, drink, and pleasant company may also be present but these elements are not the main focus.

The first house concert I was invited to attend as a guest and performer was in Houston in early February 2001. The late pianist/composer Robert Avalon also encouraged me to invite others. It was a free concert of improvisation. Because I knew him and because I could invite people I knew, I was willing to change my flight so that I could participate. Notice that familiarity is very important to some people. I did not know the venue or the house owner but Robert spoke highly of her and wanted to introduce us.

Empty chairs before a house concert in Utrecht
Empty chairs before a house concert in Utrecht
a full house in Utrecht, Netherlands
a full house in Utrecht, Netherlands

Come to think of it, I have never been to a house concert where I didn’t know anyone. Usually I’m invited by the host, the performer, or someone who has been there before. Robert Avalon invited me to a house concert in Amsterdam in March 2002. I didn’t know anyone there. But I was curious after the wonderful experience in Houston. It was a free house concert in a city that coincided with a business trip. There were no barriers to entry.

On Sunday 17 December 2006, some 75 free house concerts took place in Utrecht. If I had heard of it sooner, I would have been visiting other people’s homes and attending concerts instead of organising my own. I found out too late. Ours was the only house concert that was not free but sold out — and not part of the monthly Cultural Sunday events organised for the city of Utrecht.

In my research into “house concerts: perspectives of multiple stakeholders, audience development, and sustainability” I asked guests of our house concerts why they keep coming back. One music aficionado said that he goes alone but knows that he will have a great time. “There will be interesting people there.” Could it be that house concerts attract interesting people?

…. to be continued…

Hosting our next house concert (final part)

I purposefully refrained from writing about anything else in the run up to the sold-out house concert of 3rd October 2009 which we organised and hosted for classical guitarist Derek Grippers. I wanted to document what was involved in producing such a concert so that I could refer to it the next time we get the urge to host another concert in our home.

Monument House Concert Series, Utrecht Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series, Utrecht Netherlands

I purposefully refrained from writing about anything else in the run up to the sold-out house concert of 3rd October 2009 which we organised and hosted for classical guitarist Derek Gripper. I wanted to document what was involved in producing such a concert so that I could refer to it the next time we get the urge to host another concert in our home.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry (part four), improving capacity management, revenue management, and audience development will reduce stress and anxiety before a concert.

We bought and borrowed extra folding chairs and hoped for last minute cancellations and no-shows to cope with capacity management. To ensure we met our costs and contributed sufficiently for the artist, we strived for maximum booking. Earlier (in part three) I mentioned the invitation process which is critical in audience development.

Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands

On the day after the concert, we placed the chairs row by row and discovered we could fit 50 people comfortably, all with view of the performer who would sit in the corner near the front door. I’m writing this so that next time I won’t panic when the bookings reach and surpass that magic number 50. What a relief! We couldn’t have known this before we had moved the furniture. We couldn’t have moved the furniture earlier than the day before the concert, for we live in this very house.

Four people didn’t show up. I received an SMS from someone who fell ill from possible food poisoning from her husband’s cooking. The other couple had provided all the South African wines.

Bookcase in living room of Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Bookcase in living room of Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

It would have been a short, straight forward (i.e. simple) concert without the supporting acts, dinner, workshop, and masterclass beforehand. In many ways, these pre-concert events complicated the planning and logistics. Next time I would insist on a time schedule that gets followed to the minute, with plenty of breaks between each event and clarity of delineation of beginnings and ends.

I was trapped in the downstairs kitchen while the guitar master class osmosed into the workshop. Alone preparing the refreshments and dinner, I sent brain waves to the three ladies trapped in the upstairs kitchen. The guests for dinner with the artist arrived on time, but the workshop continued on.

So you see, hosting and producing a house concert is quite another matter. As mentioned in part one of this series, I enjoy attending house concerts. I love performing at house concerts. But I’ve yet to LOVE organising house concerts. I would dearly like to show others how to do it (hence this blog) so that they too can experience live music in their home.

Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands

Many of you reading this are wondering — how did the concert go? Did people enjoy the music? What time did they leave? Did I miss anything? Should I have called on the day for last minute cancellations so that I could squeeze in?

I will save that for the next blog.