Watching an art and music improvisation session reminded me of the various collaborations I’ve had with artists in London, Utrecht, Crete, and Brugges. It’s about the process.
As a finishing touch to my recent application for an innovation grant, I asked the Maui-based artist Mike Takemoto if he would consider having his students collaborate with mine. I was thinking along the lines of an exhibit of paintings of musicians, music instruments, or music notes. It would be an extension of the piano ensemble poster exhibit that I “curated” and organized with the photography teacher Harvey Reed and his photo and design students last spring. Such interdisciplinary collaboration raised awareness of the activities we wanted to promote.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
Steinway grand piano from 1909 New York model A 188 cm is up for sale, rent, or loan. Resident piano in Keulsekade, Utrecht, Netherlands, Monument House Concert Series performances and chamber music rehearsals. A fine instrument.
My relocation to the Netherlands in 2003/2004 coincided with a refund of monies from Singapore. It was a milestone for change.
First I visited the local piano shop whose owner led me to a room full of Yamahas. I could not find a piano that was special enough to be different. I abandoned the idea of a Yamaha and went for a Steinway instead. The story of how I found that piano and the piano technician who helped me negotiate the price is an interesting one, perhaps for another blog post. He did request that I visit his atelier after I got back from Taiwan. A month later, the French polished, restrung Steinway grand arrived in Bussum.
It was a glorious moment — to finally have a Steinway Grand Piano in my home. The Steinway was not from Hamburg but from New York. Made in 1909. All 188 CM of it. Model A. Ivory keys. One celebrated concert pianist, Dutch winner of the Liszt Piano Competition who commuted between Vienna and Utrecht, remarked that it was a Rachmaninoff piano for it had that romantic sound.
I held a Steinway Warming party for my piano friends. With the upright piano, four pianists could play on both pianos. We tried all sorts of duets.
Once I got accustomed to being the proud owner of a Steinway, it was time to let go of my Gerhard Adam, a German mahogany grand piano from the 1920’s which I left behind in London. I wrote a decision making guide to buying a second-hand piano to help sell that piano online. Once again I walked down my memory lane of buying a piano. I wrote an Adieu which used all 88 keys on the piano, a way for me to say goodbye thru the new owner I did not meet.
In summer 2006, the Steinway moved with me to Utrecht. We launched the Monument House Concert Series with a violin and guitar concert by Duo 46. That December we chose the theme Piano as Orchestra, featuring several concertos (harp, euphonium, guitar). The following year we combined food with music in Chamber Music Tapas Style. Every year we committed to organizing two house concerts. Often we had several mini concerts, including a kitchen concert, garden concert, impromptu concert. Each time we became more adventurous and more professional. We outsourced food and wine to professional chefs and wine sommeliers. We included art exhibitions.
On my last trip back to the Netherlands, I felt compelled to host two concerts back to back. Despite being time-challenged with only 2.5 months to sort out my things, I felt it was important to organize these concerts for two American pianists on their way to the Italian alps. Why? Maybe instinctively I knew it was the last time my grand piano would be heard in a concert setting. Sure enough, 2nd July 2011 became the last house concert.
A week after Anne Ku arrived in Maui, for the fourth time in her life, she is taking stock and taking it easy. There is much to do.
My fellow blogger Susan introduced the idea of placeholder blog posts to manage her readers’ expectations. Here’s a to-do list for myself and a preview of what is to come.
The last 2.5 months in Holland have been spent on house concerts, duo performances, video and audio recordings, piano sightreading sessions in Utrecht and Den Haag, yoga, hosting & entertaining visitors, dinner invitations, and getting the Monument House rented out so that I can be free of worry in Maui while Robert pursues his graduate diploma with full force and focus in Boston. There is still some outstanding to follow up, such as uploading pianist Nathanael May‘s programme to the Monument House Concert Series website and blogging / uploading of the home recordings of piano duets and piano solos.
On Saturday 13th August 2011, I left the Netherlands by way of a 5-hour layover in Chicago where I met the conductor and composer Kim Diehnelt. We had corresponded briefly via Facebook. I performed her Impromptu for solo piano and liked it. I will write something about my recording of it in an upcoming blog.
Next stop was overnight in San Francisco Airport where I met two composers who had submitted duets to my Call for Scores. I had earlier blogged about Loren Jones’ The Secret Door but had not yet met him in person. I will also write about Phil Freihofner and two other composers whose duets I’ve recorded with Utrecht-based Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia.
It has been a week since I arrived on Maui. The tropical climate agrees with me: no hayfever, no long sleeves, no jackets or gloves or socks. This Pacific island reminds me of my childhood in Asia. Without the need to prepare and anticipate for uncertain weather, I have more time at my disposal. I am free to go indoors and out without having to consider what to wear. And definitely I prefer papaya, pineapple, mango, and guava to apples and bananas.
I have much to write (blogs, abstracts for upcoming conferences, courses, etc) and read (Julia Cameron’s “The Vein of Gold” and Angela Beeching’s “Beyond Talent,” to name a few). Most importantly, I want to quickly get settled and equipped so that my life can continue as smoothly as before.
I am literally on the other side of the world from where I was a week ago. Whether I turn east or west, Holland is on the other side. So are my friends.