Review: How to Play Ukulele, a complete guide for beginners

Hot off the press, Dan “Cool Hand Uke” Scanlan’s new book, lightweight paperback and nicely designed, is full of tips and advice gleaned from the author’s sixty years of playing and teaching the ukulele. In that time period, the author has undoubtedly encountered all sorts of questions, for playing an instrument isn’t just about playing. Adults like to ask questions. It takes an experienced teacher to explain the answers without taxing the brain and intimidating the beginner.

Continue reading “Review: How to Play Ukulele, a complete guide for beginners”

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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

House concert kit: guides to producing a house concert

Human beings are social animals. We have a need to bond. A concert could be an attraction to make potential bonding happen. The American singer songwriter Fran Snyder, who has actively championed the cause to support independent musicians, has written a brilliant guide on this topic. The 24-page PDF is downloadable from his website.

I promised my friend in Houston to write a guide to help her and her friends to produce a house concert for us. She had browsed through my blog posts and concluded that “less is more” — there were simply too many articles about house concerts. What was needed was a simple outline with hyperlinks to the relevant blog posts or articles I’ve written elsewhere.

When I started to draft an outline, I noticed that I was too close to see the woods for the trees. Indeed, I did not know where to begin.

For someone who has never been to a house concert, let alone produce one, how can I describe the feeling you get at a house concert? It’s not a house party. It’s not a free for all. It is a concert in a private home that could lead to a festive ending such as a party. But it’s the live music that draws people to come.

This past June before I presented my paper “house concerts for art music” at an economics conference, I learned from a cultural economist that live music at a concert may not be the sole or primary motivation for concert goers. Human beings are social animals. We have a need to bond.  A concert could be an attraction to make potential bonding happen.

If live music could lure people to get together, surely food, drink, a special venue (such as a newly renovated dream house), or a dynamic personality (host or visitor) could also potentially attract people to congregate.

While I don’t know the specifics or rationale of such social gatherings and group dynamics, I do know that I have witnessed and experienced amazing things at house concerts, also known as salon concerts.

Perhaps these are the reasons why musicians and concert hosts are so keen to share this phenomenon: live music in private homes — by invitation only.

The American singer songwriter Fran Snyder, who has actively championed the cause to support independent musicians, has written a brilliant guide on this topic. The 24-page PDF is downloadable from his website.