Build a relationship before you meet

Planning an event with people you have not met offers the unique opportunity to build new relationships. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo shares their experience with collaborating with musicians, concert producers, and music lovers in planning their 40-day USA concert tour in 2010.

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Half of our 40-day concert tour through the USA was a trip down memory lane. I was reconnecting with high school and college classmates as well as friends I had not seen for years.

The other half of the tour felt like online dating. Robert Bekkers and I were building relationships with people we had never met or known through e-mail, skype, Facebook, and phone calls BEFORE the actual concerts took place.

How does this work when you organise a concert tour without an agent?

We did not have all 20 concerts and 2 radio interviews arranged before we left the Netherlands. In fact, only a handful were definite. The first three and last four concerts were organised by people we had never met before. We continued e-mailing each other to fine-tune the concert arrangements, e.g. date, time, duration, seating capacity, publicity, invitations, announcements, payment, etc.

How do you build a relationship before you meet?

How do relationships get formed?

Through transactions, through communication, opinions get formed. Expectations are managed. Anticipation is built in the run up to an event. When you’re working towards the same goal, that is, to make an event happen successfully, you become partners in collaboration. How you work, how your communicate and react tells the other person something about you and vice versa.

There are no drawn out theses or lengthy biographies about each other. How do we trust someone we’ve never met?

The first person was introduced to us from someone we respect — a doctor in the community. His reputation was validated by someone who knew someone who knew him. We asked if he knew someone else who could arrange a concert for us. The person he suggested turned out to be someone that somebody else we knew also knew of. This triangulation is important for trust-building. A kind of validation, if you will.

The next concert producer came about through the introduction of someone we never met before but had contacted through a google search.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this blog is this:

You don’t have to know the person who helps you make a concert happen. You don’t have to hire the person. The music business is about collaborations. We all have something to gain from working with each other.

The concert producer gets musicians to play for his audience. Musicians get a chance to perform in a concert. The venue gets used. The audience gets to hear and meet the musicians.

The single benefit of not using an agent is that you get to build relationships directly with the people involved in making your concert happen. The drawback is that you have to spend a lot of time online, on the phone, and ensuring everything is agreed and put together, all down to the last detail. This means managing uncertainty and stress on top of the performing and traveling. As time-consuming as it may be, you get to learn about the other person and the process.

During our tour, we met and got to know the following individuals who love music as much as we do. There were many more we met in the audience. How marvelous that planning the concerts gave us the opportunity to meet and build new relationships!

New England

  • Peter Terry, concert producer of JP Concert Series in Boston and Yakov Zamir, countertenor
  • Linda Kernohan, pianist, composer, music director, St John Episcopal Church, and blogger
  • Karen Parsons, Suzuki piano teacher
  • Jonathan Parsons, music connoisseur
  • Frank Wallace, guitarist, baritone, composer
  • Mark Davis, guitarist and mandolin player & conductor, producer of North Meadows House Concert Series
  • Beverly Davis, guitarist

Durham, North Carolina

Phoenix, Arizona

Houston, Texas

Denver, Colorado

San Francisco, CA

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest

How to book a concert tour (part 3): constraints and objectives

In part 3 of “how to book a concert tour” Anne Ku advises musicians to set constraints and objectives beforehand. This helps focus the way the tour is put together.

In part 2 of this blog series on “how to book a concert tour for yourself” I discussed the four levels of contacts to approach for help. I realise that it’s somewhat unconventional to do so.

Most musicians would contact the concert producers and venue owners directly by blitzing them with generic, templated e-mails. Any replies would then be followed up. While this may be the fast and efficient way, I prefer to know who I’m writing to. That’s why I advised to look into other indirect approaches to getting a concert. It may take more time, but in the end, it’s more rewarding as relationships get formed and built.

Bouquets after a concert in the Netherlands
Bouquets after a concert in the Netherlands

Now that you have your sizzle and contact list, how do you go about getting concerts?

Let’s take a step back and set the constraints and objectives of your tour.

What are the earliest and latest dates of your tour? In other words, give yourself deadlines. For us, we had to arrive in the USA by 21st October 2010 or else our visas would expire worthless. For that reason, we were happy to get a concert on 21st October 2010. This meant we had to arrive by then. We also fixed a date to arrive in Maui, by Thanksgiving.

What are the must visit places on your tour? You can set your priorities by deciding on people you want to see and places you want to visit. In our case, we chose to begin with New England in the Fall — a top tourist attraction. It was that time of the year that was the prettiest to visit Massachusetts. We spent the first two weeks of our tour in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. As neither of us had been to Phoenix, Denver, Davis, or Sacramento, we looked forward to new experiences. Finally, we plugged in other cities where we had friends and/or concerts booked: Durham, Houston, and San Francisco.

Decide on your objectives of your concert tour.

If you want to cover your expenses, be sure to book enough gigs and sell out your CDs. Try to get as many concerts in one area as possible. We gave 4 concerts in 2 days in Phoenix. There was one day in Houston that we clocked in 2 radio shows, a duo concert, and a guitar solo concert.

We approached our America Tour very differently from tours in the past that were primarily vacation with a concert or concerts that did not cover the expenses (Slagelse 2004, Cape Town 2005, Cortona 2006, Houston 2007, London 2008, Madrid 2009, and Taipei 2010).  We obtained visas for the USA to work not play. We were not on vacation though it felt like we were because of the generous hospitality provided by our hosts. All concerts that we gave were paid for — either by the hosts or the audiences, except those that we volunteered ourselves for, e.g. MD Andersen Cancer Clinic, and radio shows.

Besides covering the expenses, we wanted to broaden our network. We did so by contacting composers, producers, patrons, performers, and just about anyone who loved classical music enough to be involved. We reconnected with old friends, classmates, and colleagues we had not seen in years. They introduced us to people they knew. We made new contacts at concerts. It was very enriching to meet people who so supported the arts — face to face.

Back to the first question I posed in this 3-part series on booking a concert tour for yourself: which comes first — the concert or the tour?

If you get invited to give a concert somewhere, see if you can stay longer and give other concerts.

If you want to go somewhere (for vacation, training, family visit, etc), see if you can book concerts while you’re there. The spin-offs are considerable: leads for concerts in the future, hospitality, reciprocation, and surprises.

Feel free to comment or ask questions about this topic via the LEAVE A REPLY box below.

 

How to book a concert tour (part 2): content before contact

In part 2 of this series of self-help guide to booking a concert tour for yourself, Anne Ku examines the different kinds of people to contact for gigs. She identifies four groups.

In part 1, I mentioned the need to put together a sizzle. It’s the equivalent of a menu in a restaurant. Your menu consists of your repertoire. You are the chef. Describe what you can do to turn the indecisive to the decisive, convert a stranger to a friend, and turn your audience into fans.

Monument House Concert Series: outdoor concert in garden, May 2010
Monument House Concert Series: outdoor concert in garden, May 2010

Once you are happy with what you have to offer, you are ready to contact the people who can help you. There are several levels of contacts.

1- People who know you and have offered to help you before

These are the people who are committed to getting you a gig. They may not necessarily be the ones who book you for a concert, but they will help make that happen.

We knew our friends in Houston and Phoenix wanted to help us. They told us so in the past. Although we did not know exactly when we would arrive, we tried to keep them updated of our plans. They in turn checked with their contacts — the ones who could actually arrange concerts for us.

2- People who are willing to reciprocate

Barter is an activity older than cash payments for goods and services. Anticipated reciprocation is implicit bartering of getting something you want now for giving something the other party wants in the future. Think about what you have to offer. You have your contacts in your neck of the woods. Can you help others in the future?

If you ask other performing musicians to help you get gigs for your tour, you are implicitly offering to help them in some way in the future. Composers want their works performed. Performers want to perform elsewhere. Concert producers want to be introduced to new musicians they don’t know already. Audiences are eager for new experiences.

Ask yourself if there is something you can bring to the table.

3- People you want to meet and collaborate with

If you are like me, you would have been following and perhaps corresponding with interesting people with interesting ideas. I do this through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Often one thing leads to another, and I stumble upon somebody I’d like to meet. Use your concert tour to meet these people.

One such person was Chong Kee Tan, who started a new yahoo discussion group for organisers of classical music house concerts. Our online discussions on hosting, audience development, and other issues pertaining to the economics of house concerts led me to ask if he would consider organising a concert for us in San Francisco.

This is like asking a stranger to do something for you — quite unheard of surely! The preparation for a concert allows you to collaborate with the person and get to know him or her better. Indeed by the time we finally met in person, it felt like we already knew each other.

Ask yourself this:

Is there someone you want to meet that you can involve in your concert tour?

4- People who produce concerts or own concert venues

This is the group of people most musicians immediately think of when they contemplate getting themselves booked for concerts. I put this as the last category because everyone else is thinking the same. Your sizzle really must sizzle and dazzle and spark. You are competing with other musicians that want to perform.

I heard that arts organisations and big concert halls require a year’s notice for concert bookings. We did not have a year to plan our tour. We did not even have time to apply for funding. We were self-funded.

The first concert that got booked became the third concert on our tour. It sold out a month before the performance date. The house concert series in rural Connecticut is well-run and well-attended. Our second concert came from a lead from producer of that house concert series. The third concert that got booked became the opening concert of our tour — due to a cancellation in a new concert series in Boston.

Once you have identified who you want to contact, think about the best way to contact them. Some react to phone calls. Some to e-mails. Some prefer to skype. Do not, I repeat, do not send out a generic e-mail and expect a reply. I have received many of these as co-producer of the Monument House Concert Series in the Netherlands. I prefer the personal approach.

Next: how to book a concert tour (part 3) constraints and objectives

How to book a concert tour (part 1): a peace of mind and the sizzle

How do you book a concert tour for yourself? If you are a classical musician who is not internationally famous, how would you get someone to book you for a concert where you have to travel a great distance to? And when you’re there, you don’t want to just give one concert. A concert tour is a journey of more than one concert. Here are the first two steps to the dilemma.

Back in early October 2010, I posed the circularity of booking a concert tour. It’s the chicken or the egg question. Do you book the tour first or the concert?

In other words, do you get the gigs lined up before you book the flights and cancel other commitments? Or do you book the flights before the fares go up and then hope that you can fill your tour with concert bookings?

Time is the answer. [Someone else would argue: hire an agent.]

The more time you have before you start on your journey, the more opportunities you have.

We knew in late April 2010 when we got our visas that we wanted to give concerts in the USA. We did not know where to start. We sounded out a few people we knew well. Every time we wanted to book our flights, an obstacle came up. Where do we fly to? Where do we come back from? When do we leave? When do we come back? When we finally answered those questions, we discovered we could not leave without a peace of mind.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in San Francisco, November 2010
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in San Francisco, November 2010

Step 1: Make sure you have a peace of mind (BEFORE you embark on a tour).

Can you leave your job?  Robert asked for permission to take an unpaid leave of absence. In less flexible parts of the world, this is unheard of.

Can you leave your home? Do you have a mortgage to pay? How will you cover the bills? Can you leave your home empty?

Do you have enough savings to buffer uncertainties that may arise?

Can you cover the large costs of air travel (and others) without bankrupting yourself? [This is a future blog post. Classical guitarist and composer Derek Gripper offers some suggestions.]

Step 2: What do you have to offer —- to get yourself booked?

What are your unique selling points (USP)? How are you different from any other classical guitarist playing solo guitar? Why would anyone want to hear you? Why would anyone want to organise a concert for you?

I call this the Sizzle.

Create a one page document that contains a few words about you, a short biography, your programme, some validation points so people who don’t know you can associate you with something, someone, or somewhere better known & that’s been validated. A sizzle should sizzle. It should make you shine and make the reader want to meet you and find a way to hear you.

For our America Tour, we created a 3-page PDF about ourselves and what we would like to share. We linked the PDF from a webpage that we used to add other things we could not fit in the 3-page sizzle. This webpage became the central depository of concert bookings: dates, locations, and links to stories we wrote on our blogs.

To create a sizzle, you need the following:

  • good photographs (72 dpi for web images and higher resolution for printing)
  • short biography that’s easy to read
  • programme: titles of works and their composers
  • description of the programme: this could be a summary, especially if you offer a choice
  • audio clips
  • video clips
  • quotes from reviewers or other third-party validation
  • contact details

Another item you should have readily available is the programme notes of what you would play. It should be in a format that you can edit so you can adjust the length of the programme and the text, change the date, time and location of the performance, etc. We have a copy in Word document but we linked our concert tour webpage to a PDF version for easier viewing.

Next: How to book a concert tour (part 2): content before contact

Bekkers interview in Davis, California

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers answers questions about Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concert tour in the USA.

After an early Thanksgiving dinner, the first of three in a 24-hour period, our host Rachel interviewed Robert Bekkers regarding the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo America tour.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo America Tour 2010

“So how does it feel to be at the end of your tour?” asked Rachel.

Bekkers Duo America Tour: no agents

Reflecting back on the concert tour while sightseeing in San Francisco, California. A do it yourself concert tour without help of agents.

The only regret I have in planning this concert tour is not including enough slack to sightsee. It has been solid work: practising, rehearsing, performing, networking, and traveling. We specifically tell our friends that this is not a vacation. Our goal is to break even and survive as classical musicians. So far we have not been disappointed. However, it has taken a lot of work to make it happen.

Over a year ago in Den Bosch, a city south of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, I had asked the director of a vocal competition what it took to go on an international tour as a performing musician. She replied, “Get an agent.”

I did not believe her. Getting an agent is catch-22. You have to be good enough for an agent to want you. And to be good enough, you need an agent. Could we prove otherwise?

I decided to do it ourselves. Instead of hiring an agent to help us plan a concert tour of the USA, I figured out what agents did. Booking concerts requires finding venues and concert producers. The established ones are those that everyone else knows about and compete for. Competition means long lead times. We did not have time. We had six months to use our US visas before they would expire worthless.

Where would we start? What happens first — book the plane tickets before the fares go up or get a concert first?

Apply for funding? That is wishful thinking. We did not have enough time.

As I reflect back, I am amazed that we managed to give more than a dozen concerts as a duo and several as soloists.

On the 33rd day of our tour, we finally gave in. We decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon of sightseeing in San Francisco. The weather was not so conducive — it hovered in the 40’s (Fahrenheit) – barely 10 degrees Celsius with rain and grey skies. On the F tram from Market Street and Civic Center to the Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided to interview each other.

Catch 22 or the circularity of concert touring

How do musicians book a concert tour? Do you wait until you get a concert before you book your flights or do you book your flights and hope that you’ll get concerts to cover the airfare?

How do musicians book a concert tour?

I should have asked the American singer/songwriter/pianist Rich Wyman when he was touring the Netherlands this past summer. I should have asked the South African composer/guitarist Derek Gripper when he toured Europe last autumn.

I recall agreeing to organise a concert for Derek Gripper a year before the event. Does it really require planning a year in advance?

Derek was invited to perform in a music festival in Denmark. The airfare was covered, so he stretched the tour date to cover various house concerts in the Netherlands. I think that was how he did it.

We don’t have the luxury of any music festival or anybody covering our transatlantic fare to the USA. We just had to assume or trust that we’d get enough concerts to eventually cover the airfare. Instead of thinking big and ahead, we thought piecemeal. Each concert would cover some aspect of our touring. The small ones would cover the car rental. The big ones would cover the airfares between cities.

Actually that’s not how it began.

We simply hoped to get one concert to fix the destination. And then we asked if the concert organiser knew anybody else who could help us get another concert.

It’s “catch 22” because we can’t determine if we should book the tickets first or wait to get a concert booked.  If we wait for a concert, airfares will rise and become unaffordable (with respect to concert revenue). If we book our air tickets, we might not get enough concerts or any.

Right now, we know we have a big house concert in the heart of San Francisco on Saturday 20th November.  We are crossing our fingers for a concert in Houston on 13th November. In between, we could be giving concerts in the outskirts of Houston or even drive up to Austin, the music capital of America. With so much uncertainty, how can we possibly book a ticket to fly from Houston to San Francisco?  Which date?

A few days ago, I was asking the same question about leaving Phoenix. How long should we stay in Phoenix? The answer came in the form of a concert booking in Houston.