Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Marketing Our Music

Iíve been reading with interest the various threads, comments, and questions on bios, self-promotion and marketing, etc. While I am an active musician and composer, my day job is program production manager at WFIU public radio station, licensed to Indiana University. We successfully syndicate a number of programs, and itís a nice marriage of my interests and skills. In this capacity, I see a number of promotional materials come through the door from composers, musicians, and producers. Perhaps it would be helpful to offer some perspective on how some works are selected for broadcast, and what kind of things broadcasters look at and listen for when a CD comes in the door. Based on questions Iíve heard, and things Iíve seen, here are some suggestions:

* Composer bios are fine. But I see too many talking about their educational pedigree. A bio for finding a job at a college or university is very different from trying to get a spot on a radio show such as Harmonia, Sound & Spirit, or Performance Today. You need a personal angle, something about who you are, where you come from. Most people donít care who you studied with or where you went to school unless there is something particularly famous or particularly unusual about it.

* Liner notes count, and keep your target market in mind. Busy radio hosts donít have time to explain transpositions and retrogrades to their audience. Most listeners donít care about such things. This may seem obvious, but youíd be really surprised how many composers send such descriptions in. Instead, tell us what your music is about, how it connects with the human condition, and spell it out as quickly and concisely as you can.

* In broadcasting, timing really is everything. Put timings on the back of your CD where music programmers can assess if it will fit their time slots at a glance. And be sure theyíre correct.

* All of this presupposes excellent performance and production values. Get a good performance, and get a good engineer. Post production is equally important. With so much good material to choose from, as well as top flight performances of the standard canonical pieces, second-rate performances go into the round file in the first minute of audition without a backward glance.

* Package yourself well. Good art, like good music, is important, and it will catch attention. Cottage industry CDs donít make it past opening the envelope. Photos and images, inside and out, should reflect who you are and what you do.

* If you send in a recording, a CD or a DAT is fine, particularly if itís going to Performance Today. PT in particular, is concerned with current performances. They are the exception that prefers a burned CD-R of very high quality with a description of where, when, and how a performance was accomplished. A quick, conversational paragraph about the CD or the work helps. Hereís a sample from a CD we sent around, from which various pieces were selected for broadcast in different places without much arm twisting and begging:

ďMusic and religion have been connected throughout the centuries in all cultures of the world. Even in our secular times, composers create music to express religious beliefs and compel the soul to devotion and spiritual communion. In western classical music, the texts and rituals used as sources for these musical compositions frequently derive from Judeo-Christian tradition. These texts have maintained their capacity to convey personal truths and values through the centuries to this day. The Psalm settings of Cary Boyce and Menachem Zur, and the Catholic Mass settings of John Eaton and Mario Lavista are contemporary manifestations of this spiritual vision. CANTICUM NOVUM is based on repertoire performed by the AguavŠ New Music Ensemble at the 2000 Tempus Fugit Contemporary Music Festival in Tel Aviv.Ē

Visualize how your description will sound on the radio during drive time in LA, and you'll probably get a decent version of what programmers are after.

* In your packet, include a one-sheet programming guide with a quick point or two about each work, and how it might be programmed. Use descriptive adjectives. ďThe Lark Ascending for violin and orchestra is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams' best-loved works from the first half of the 20th century. This lyric soliloquy for violin offers listeners a pastoral impression of the English countryside through the larkís song, played here with stunning musicality by internationally renowned violinist Corey Cerovsek.Ē

* Include a contact number and an e-mail address, and let them know youíre available for interviews or questions. Most radio hosts are looking for something more than a track on a disc.

* Send your CDs to radio stations around the country. Youíll have better luck if you know who the music director is, and address it to them. The music directors and show hosts and/or producers are your primary targets here. For each CD, you'll probably send about 100 around the country to major markets.

* Donít expect it to be a commercial success. My production company CDs from AguavŠ show up from time to time on various broadcasts, but they function primarily as calling cards and samples of our work. We get gigs (and I get commissions) because the work is good, the production values are at broadcast quality, and they are at the highest level we can possibly get them from every angle. We are competing, after all, with ECM, Deutsche Grammophon, et al. We work very hard and spend enough money to be sure they are at least as good, though we only press 1000 each. When weíre lucky and do our legwork, we usually get the investment back, and a bit more.

Finally, a personal note: Art music isnít just about our product. Itís also about the image of the product. In order to be ďdiscoveredĒ by the mainstream, a work must hook into the mainstreamís way of doing things. But art music is rarely a successful commercial venture. And while we in the serious art music world live on the fringes, we have chosen this as the place we find most interesting to work in. Even so, it has an important and essential place in the cultural dialog of our country and world.

Performance Today and other programs were designed to fit a particular market, and they continue to do what they know well and do well, which doesn't include much in the way of new music. Ē Nevertheless, occasionally, something surprising breaks through and has its effect. When you hear such a thing, call the station or the producer, and let them know.

All this said, itís best to develop oneís own contacts, teams, and audiences for particular projects. As an artist, I became a lot happier when I accepted the fact that the machinery wasnít put in place for my benefit, so I had to develop my own resources. I wish you all good luck and success.

 



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