Review: The Business of being a Community Musician

Now that I’ve been sold on the idea of ukestras and ukestration, I turn to the companion book by the same authors: “The Business of Being a Community  Musician.”

In this 58-page e-book, Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart explain how to set up a business and more importantly, how to stay in business as a community musician. The latter is the reason for writing a business plan, to avoid burn out and financial distress.

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Guitar meets piano; guitar orchestra & ukulele club

When musicians meet, they want to play together. They exchange recordings of themselves. Playing together is a way to establish whether they are compatible, whether they want to collaborate, whether there is a future together.

Such was the case when I met a classical guitarist more than seventeen years ago. He copied a recording of his guitar quartet on CD as a takeaway gift.

The next time we met, I brought the only piano guitar piece I owned — an arrangement of Vivaldi’s guitar concerto for guitar and piano. Eager to find more pieces to play, I visited music bookshops in my travel as magazine editor. He arranged music for us to play. Before long, we had collected and arranged enough sheet music to give a concert. Soon composers started writing for our piano guitar duo.

The subtitle of our first concert at the Makawao Union Church in Maui, in December 2007, was “four centuries of music for piano and guitar” —- which comprised of arrangements, original compositions, and commissions. We released the live recording of the concert as a CD in January 2011.

Nearly two decades later, the guitarist is conductor of a guitar orchestra while I have founded my own ukulele group. How do we combine the two? Is it possible?

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Concert etiquette for performers

When you google “concert etiquette” you get tips on how to behave as a member of the audience. This article is not about that. It’s about how performers should behave so that the audience will appreciate the performance.

I asked my piano students how they felt when the performing student didn’t bow or look at them when he/she got on stage and off/stage. They weren’t quite sure.

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What inspires artists, musicians, and other “creators”?

Conversations inspire artists. Works of love and labour do also. Living in a place with panoramic views in Maui is another.

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Thomas Edison

Creativity requires inspiration. It takes a spark to light a fire. Where does that spark come from?

Maybe it’s more like 20% inspiration that fuels the 80% perspiration — the 80-20 rule. One idea may start a chain of events, like the idea of getting a guitarist to go on a solo concert tour by himself. Most of his time is spent practising, preparing CDs for sale, getting concert bookings, making travel arrangements, and doing the actual work of performing and traveling.

Inspiration comes from conversation with people who stimulate us, like the recent gourmet dinner in the home of a composer and his chef-turned-knitter wife. That evening in Kula led to a private viewing and a house concert the following week.

Works of love and labour inspire us to try something of our own or remind us when we were in the “flow.”

Some people move to environments that are conducive to their creativity.

Every morning we wake up to the following scene, when the sun appears above the slope of Haleakala in Maui.

Dawn in Maui, from our balcony
Dawn in Maui, from our balcony

Even from inside the apartment, we can look through the floor to ceiling glass and admire the harbour and the volcano. This is what inspires me to write my blogs. This is what inspires Robert to create the CD covers and concert posters.

View from inside the apartment looking out
View from inside the apartment looking out

Every visitor that has come to our intimate house concerts in Wailuku has marvelled at the spectacular view from the balcony. From here, we can hear the outdoor concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Elton John is visiting on 24th and 25th of February 2011. Perhaps that’s an occasion to discuss what inspires artists, musicians and other creators — on our balcony.

Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center
Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center

Challenges of marketing yourself as a musician

Marketing yourself as a musician or artist is plagued with challenges of time, perception, and tedious effort. It’s much easier to sell someone else than sell yourself. How does one overcome the catch-22 situation?

Over dinner after an afternoon of creative healing with artist Frances Ku, classical guitarist Robert Bekkers and I discussed the challenges of selling ourselves as musicians. Frances has experience selling her art on Maui.

“It’s much easier to have someone else represent you and market you than trying to do it yourself,” she advised. “I can sell my art but it’s hard to market myself.”

What’s the difference between marketing and selling?

According to Frances, selling is getting someone who is already there to buy your product. Marketing is getting yourself known so that you will have clients.

“I can sell my art. But it’s not easy to market it.”

The point is not the difference between selling and marketing but having someone else do it for you versus doing it yourself.

“If you try to do it yourself, you will come across as arrogant, desperate, and cheap. If you get someone else to represent you and do it for you, you will get the opportunities (gigs) faster, get more of them, and get paid more.”

Frances’ experience in selling art translates to the music world. As musicians, we face the catch 22 situation of having to do it ourselves to get good enough before an agent or impresario is interested enough to want to do it for us. It’s an arduous climb to get to the point where someone else will do the marketing and selling for us.

By the time we’re good enough to get concerts easily and quickly, we expect agents to queue to market us to get a piece of that pie. By the time we get there, we don’t want to do marketing or selling anymore. We just want to perform.

Is there a short cut?

Robert looked at me. “Do it for me, Anne.”


Cold calling tips for musicians

A cold call is a phone call to someone who has never heard of you, whom you’ve not spoken with before. We don’t always have the luxury of warm calls. We don’t always meet the right people, let alone get introduced to them. How is a musician going to get gigs? How will get expand your concert attendance to beyond your circle of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours?

COLD CALLING 101: learn from database marketing

A cold call is a phone call to someone who has never heard of you, whom you’ve not spoken with before. Cold calls are difficult to make because

  1. it’s hard to get the right person on the phone;
  2. it’s hard to get the right person to stay on the phone;
  3. it’s hard to get the right person to respond to you;
  4. it’s hard to get the right person to do what you want him/her to do.

In other words, the chance of getting it wrong — getting rejected is very high. And nobody likes to be rejected. So people tend to avoid cold calls unless they have to.

We don’t always have the luxury of warm calls. We don’t always meet the right people, let alone get introduced to them. How is a musician going to get gigs? How will you expand your concert attendance beyond your circle of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours?

Cold calls, just like cold emails, are inevitable if you are to go beyond what’s and who’s familiar. You will step out of your comfort zone —- and be uncomfortable talking to strangers.

Unless you get used to it…..

This means cold calling takes practice… until you get used to it.

Here are my notes taken from a conversation with a successful musician who has cold called to make his database of contacts. Year after year, he renews the contracts, builds the relationships with these contacts, and gets enough gigs to sustain a living: 250 gigs per year.  Although these tips make a lot of sense, I have not taken steps to implement them.

Why not? For one, it’s not easy to make cold calls in a language you’re not good at, in my case, Dutch. Two, it’s hard to get hold of someone who doesn’t work full-time or keep regular hours, as do a great majority of the employees in the Netherlands. Flexible working hours is more than the norm than the exception, especially in my line of work (music). But I’ve learned over time that cold calling can be fun. Just as I enjoy meeting strangers, for the lure of discovering something unexpected and refreshing, I shouldn’t shun from speaking to strangers on the telephone.

The following are tips I’ve summarised from that successful musician who shared his secrets with me – and my own experience of making cold calls.

To make a cold call, you must warm up first.  Call someone you know. Get into the swing of chatting on the phone. Get over your nerves. Never make a cold call in the cold.

Before you make any calls, warm or cold, make sure you prepare yourself. Do your research.

Make a list of the decision makers you need to talk to. There will be gatekeepers you have to get through. These are receptionist, partners, assistants, and anybody who picks up the phone, takes notes for the decision maker, and get in the way.

Write a script, i.e. exactly what you will say on the phone. Never attempt to “wing it” —- don’t vary the script, but you have a choice what happens. Type this script so you can read it clearly.

Get a feel for objections. Anticipate the 5 or 6 standard objections. Write out your responses for each objection. These objections may consist of the following situations:

  1. the person is not there
  2. the person is busy and will get back to you
  3. the person answers but can’t talk long
  4. the person doesn’t want to talk to you
  5. the person says he knows what you want but doesn’t want to give it to you

When you are on the phone, make sure you listen well. Get connected with the person. Take notes. It’s not about how great you are but being able to fish out the person’s needs and make a connection.

Never get someone to call you back. They won’t.

Keep a calendar. Take notes. Suggest a follow-up call after a few weeks.

Persist. Don’t give up.


Why am I writing this blog on making cold calls? I was once very good at doing it. I was paid handsomely to get through the fierce receptionist at a bank and set-up an appointment with the decision makers for a technical service provider. I called in London and while on vacation in France. I didn’t give up until I got the appointment. I was highly motivated to do it because of the pay and the deadline.

Nowadays, nobody pays me to make cold calls. I start the process and stop. I don’t follow the steps listed above. I lose momentum because of it. I get demotivated by rejection or the lack of results. I am like all other musicians who would much rather make music than cold calls. Without the luxury of an agent or plentiful warm leads, I will have to bite my lip and make cold calls.