Your first ukulele jam: do’s and don’ts

Going to your first ukulele jam session may be a daunting experience if you go alone and don’t expect to know anybody there. Like crashing a stranger’s wedding party, you simply don’t know what to expect. If it’s a small jam session, you will feel like an intruder for it would seem that everyone else knows everybody there, except you. If it’s a large session, you might feel totally invisible and unwelcome.

What can you do to make your first ukulele jam an enjoyable experience?

Continue reading “Your first ukulele jam: do’s and don’ts”

5 steps to concert promotion

Anne shares 5 steps she learned from 10 years of promoting concerts that she attended, organized, produced, hosted, or performed in.

One of the most read posts in this blog is “Getting people to come to a concert.” Another name for this exercise is audience development. One goal is to get enough people to come to a concert so that your costs are covered and you can even get a return. Another goal is to have these people that come to your concert come to  your next one and, even better, they get others to come.

The first concert may be a lot of work (to promote). Each subsequent concert should get easier. After you’ve built a reputation and a mailing list, you should get a full house every time.

Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht
Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht

In the last 10 years of experimenting with different ways to get people to come to my concerts, I’ve identified 5 steps that have worked for me.

  1. Identify who you want to come to the concert.
    This is where you have to analyse your audience make-up. In Houston, I brought my colleagues. In London, I invited my neighbors, colleagues, and new contacts. In the case of Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands, I wanted new people to come so that they can experience the authentic house concert tradition. I knew that previous guests would always come because of the sticky nature of such intimate occasions. I also knew the viral nature of word of mouth. But it was getting new people that was the challenge. If I only expected the same people to come every time, our concert goers would have been a clique.
  2. Analyse the lure.
    What is the ace of spades? Is it the music? The performer(s)? The composer(s)? The audience? (People want to come to be with other people they expect to see there.) The venue? The occasion? The date/time? (nothing else better to do). The theme? (benefit concert). Identifying the ultimate lure is the key to a yes.
  3. Figure out where these folks are located, i.e. how they can be reached.
    You may start with the low hanging fruit, i.e. your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Beyond that, how do you find your audience? Where do they hangout? Music stores? Music libraries? Music colleges? A concert? How about music lovers groups on Linked-In?  “If it’s fish you’re looking for, why climb trees?”
  4. Use the right communication tool.
    Some folks read their emails and act. Some react to newspaper ads. Some listen to the radio. There are online, offline, face-to-face communication methods. You might have to try everything. See “concert promotion by other media.”
  5. Write. Rewrite. Format. Reformat.
    A concert invitation is different from an announcement. You have to write to persuade. You may even have to put a personal touch to it. The result you want is action — which leads to a full house and a guestbook that looks like this.

The secret to success is your mailing list. The bigger it is, the higher the chance of drawing an audience. Mailing lists get built over time not over night. This is the subject of yet another blog post.

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.

Concert poster speaks a thousand words

Compare text to image to get people to come to a concert — a colour poster is needed to summarise all relevant information at a glance!

In my vain attempt to describe the upcoming house concerts we are organising for pianists Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella, I completely underestimated the power of a single page image that says it all.

Here are the various e-mails and texts I sent out. Compare these words to a single image which speaks a thousand words. Thanks, Thera for asking yesterday, “Do you have a poster or something I can include in my invitations?” I persuaded Robert Bekkers to drop everything, stop practising, stop arranging music, and create a colourful image that contains all the information at a glance.

Summer greetings!

Robert and I have returned from our coast-to-coast concert tour & sabbatical in the USA for just a few months before we travel again in August. In our adventures through 9 states in 7 months, we learned much about American philanthropy and fundraising and successful approaches to house concerts. We would like to try them here, in our home, in welcoming two American pianists who are traveling to Italy for a festival, using the opportunity to fundraise for Robert’s graduate studies with Eliot Fisk in the Fall.

What is so very special about house concerts for art music (see 14-page PDF of my paper on this subject) is not just the live music in an intimate setting but also the community-building, networking, sharing of great food and conversation. We commit to organising 2 concerts from our home each year to revive that special 19th century European salon tradition.

Hope you will join us for these festivities of the first weekend of July 2011, each of them completely different except for the organic wine tasting, raffle, and silent auction.

Friday 1st July 2011 7:30 pm doors open for 8:15 pm
Body of Your Dreams Concert by Nathanael May, founder and artistic director of the Soundscape Contemporary Music Festival in Italy, since 2005. Optional Andalucian dinner at 6 pm.

Saturday 2nd July 2011 7:30 pm doors open for 8:15 pm
Kinsella Concert from Beethoven to Rzewski by Brendan Kinsella. Optional Vietnamese dinner at 6 pm.

The concerts of 1st and 2nd July are 12 euros (prepaid) – including a glass of wine. Optional dinners at 6 pm are 18 euros (prepaid, reservations).

We will have a raffle draw (lotterij) for prizes such as CDs, Monument House Glass Mugs, sportsclub passes, and more.

Please feel free to forward this email to others who may be interested. We are also accepting donations of items or services for the Silent Auction of value over 150 euros each.

Hope to see you & catch up!

Warmest regards,


Body of Your Dreams Concert Weekend at the Monument House, Utrecht
Body of Your Dreams Concert Weekend at the Monument House, Utrecht

Question is – how do I reduce the 1 page PDF to a file size below 1.7MB — perhaps to a manageable 300 kB?

Breaking news! Here is the reduced one page PDF with links (just 340 kB).

Next wish: if only I have a budget to print these posters in colour and the manpower to put them up at various locations in Utrecht! We will never say no to sponsorship!

House concert invitation

Recently I received an e-mail of a beautiful invitation to a house concert, which I forwarded to a friend who lives in the same state in the USA as the venue. All important information for the recipient to make a decision are given: the day of the week, date, time, entrance fee, musicians, website, e-mail address, and phone number.

One of my most popular blog posts is “Concert announcement or invitation” in which I talk about the importance of writing an invitation that truly lures the reader to abandon all reservations and come to the concert.

Recently I received an e-mail of a beautiful invitation which I forwarded to a friend who lives in the same state in the USA as the venue. When I tried to download the invitation to share it with my blog readers, I discovered that it was made up of 20 different small images. Luckily there was a link to the website, and the sender was kind enough to send me a one page PDF at my request. I reduced the file and created a link to the website for use in this blog post.

Salon concert invitation
Salon concert invitation

An e-mail like this is hard to ignore. There is obviously a lot of thought that went into it.

At first I read “As summer slips into autumn” but then noticed that it’s the beginning of an Emily Dickinson poem, which I copy and paste below.

As Summer into Autumn slips
And yet we sooner say
“The Summer” than “the Autumn,” lest
We turn the sun away,

And almost count it an Affront
The presence to concede
Of one however lovely, not
The one that we have loved —

So we evade the charge of Years
On one attempting shy
The Circumvention of the Shaft
Of Life’s Declivity.

The concert is part of a concert series in Tulsa, Oklahoma run by Margaret Sewell, whom I’ve yet to meet but has already helped me greatly in my ongoing research into “house concerts for art music” (15-page PDF). All important information for the recipient to make a decision are given: the day of the week, date, time, entrance fee, musicians, website, e-mail address, and phone number.

If I wanted more information, I could easily visit the website, e-mail, or pick up the phone and call.

Although there is no information about the programme, I gather from the concert series that it would be classical — i.e. art songs or opera arias, or both. I can click on the names of the performers from the webpage and find out more.

This invitation has inspired me to put a little more effort and time into creating invitations for our upcoming concerts in Amsterdam, Newton, Hampton, and San Francisco. So far, I have dropped a few sentences here and there to friends in the vicinity, created a Facebook events page, and considered creating a webpage. I will also try a new way of sending out invitations.

You may ask, “But why are you doing this if you’re just the performer? Surely that’s the responsibility of the concert producer!”


As the performer, I am not obliged to send out invitations. But I would like to see familiar faces in the audience and help the hosts get a full house.

Specifically for the concerts in the USA, our piano guitar duo is performing where we have contacts, friends, family, ex-colleagues, and hope to make new contacts and friends wherever we go.

Creating an invitation involves much more than sending e-mails. It helps to create a theme and a tagline, like this example shows. Give it atmosphere, like the image of autumn leaves. Give enough information to whet the appetite.

I certainly wish I could be in Oklahoma on 18th September 2010. But we give a concert in Amsterdam on 19th September. And it’s FREE to the public.

Concert announcement or invitation

The fastest and easiest but not necessarily the most effective way, is to announce that there is a concert. Give the essential information such as who is playing, where it will be, when it will be, what will be played, whom to contact for reservations and information, and how much it would cost if it’s not free.

An effective message to get people to come to a concert is one that welcomes them and gets them to reserve a ticket and put it in their diary. Remember the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.

There are many ways to get people to come to a concert.

The fastest and easiest, but not necessarily the most effective way, is to announce that there is a concert. Give the essential information such as who is playing, where it will be, when it will be, what will be played, whom to contact for reservations and information, and how much it would cost if it’s not free.

I say it’s fast and easy but not effective because an announcement doesn’t call you to action. It simply states a fact. Something is going to happen. The reader may digest it like a piece of news. No action needs to be taken.

Here is an example of an announcement of our next house concert:

House concert invitation by Elsbeth Carp
House concert invitation for 17 April 2010 designed by Elsbeth Carp

Monument House Concert Series presents


Saturday 17 April 2010 from 20:00

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo perform “Grand Potpourri National” and other new works in the home of Dutch artist Elsbeth Carp

After the one hour concert, enjoy homemade finger food from the Mediterranean and wine in the home of culinary experts Ivo and Paulien

Book early, only 50 seats. Reserve by prepayment.

More information on website.

How can we improve upon this concert announcement? Give a bit more information? Spice it up with words that make the reader curious or motivated to reserve a ticket?

Live classical music in the home of artist followed by homemade snacks in the home of culinary experts, reviving that 19th century tradition of salon concerts

Or perhaps describe the venues, just how convenient it is to get there and how special the locations are.

Only 5 minute walk west of central Utrecht station, along a canal with houseboats, after a windmill, before the famous building of the Dutch Royal Mint (Munt in Dutch) that houses the Money Museum. The two houses are “herenhuis” with high ceilings and wide entrances.

Maybe it’s worth mentioning how unique this event is.

A grassroots event, local musicians collaborating with local artist and neighbours to welcome guests into private homes to experience that tradition of chamber music in an intimate and relaxed setting followed by conversation over homemade finger food and selected wines.

While words may tempt, they don’t necessarily invite. An effective message to get people to come to a concert is one that welcomes them and gets them to reserve a ticket and put it in their diary. Remember the AIDA principle: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.

Here is our personal invitation:

Dear friends,

In our fourth year of producing the Monument House Concert Series, we like to invite you to the home of local artist Elsbeth Carp where we will be giving a one hour concert on Saturday 17th April 2010. Elsbeth has fulfilled every child’s wildest dream: to draw and paint on the walls of her home. It’s a spacious place with huge walls and high ceilings that she has decorated and designed with great artistry. Each time we visit, we are inspired by her imagination and talent.

After senseo coffee provided by Douw Egberts, we shall begin the performance. We will take you back in time, to the 19th century salon concert tradition when guitarist Giuliani and pianist Hummel got together to play the “Grand Potpourri National” and other virtuosic and fun pieces. We have invited musicologist/composer Rolf Straver from Nijmegen to tell you about the pieces in the potpourri.

After the concert, we will walk a few doors down to the double-herenhuis home of Elsbeth’s neighbours Ivo and Paulien whose passions are cooking and traveling. They are planning a menu from the Mediterranean kitchen and selecting wines to go with the gourmet delights they will make. We are sure this will entice you to stay and converse, like the good old days — before mass media and the Internet.

Because of limited seating, we ask that you book as soon as possible by pre-payment into the bank account specified on the website. Please mention in the description in the online banking field how you found out about the concert, e.g. invitation from Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, etc so that you will get an e-mail confirmation.

Saturday 17 April 2010, doors open 20:00, concert begins at 20:30
Euro 17.50 includes music, food, drinks
84 Leidsweg Utrecht (5 minute walk from Utrecht Centraal station)
Free parking in nearby Oog in Al (from Leidsweg 95 and up) cross bridge
Booking: elsbethcarp AT lombok DOT nl

We look forward to seeing you there.

Warm regards,

Anne and Robert

Now tell me, is this an invitation you can refuse?