Tag: promotion

Live Streaming 104: Post Stream, Graphics, Licensing, and Live Streaming Through Collaboration

Live streaming is trending, feeding the algorithms, and connecting the world in new ways. If you are already putting forth the effort to create a musical production of any kind, adding another technical layer is very much worth it to share your music, create a community, and market your product. Plus, you will end up with excellent content for blogging, your portfolio, submitting to competitions, and consistent posting to your social media channels.

In my previous three posts, we covered the why, where, and how of successful live streaming. This final article is a sort of postlude, to discuss post-stream content benefits, to clarify some concerns about licensing, copyright, ownership, and agreements, and to encourage you to think beyond the scope of what you are able to do by yourself.

Post-Stream Benefits

There is a segment in Live Streaming 101 about post-stream benefits, but I think it is worth repeating. Once your stream is over, you will have an HD video (saved to your mobile device, camera, or computer) and synced audio. If you have an engineer helping you out, you can master and remix the live audio and re-sync to the video pretty easily at this point as well.

Once the video is polished, if possible, I recommend segmenting the concert by piece and creating a separate video for each piece. I recently did this with three of my short piano pieces from a February 2018 concert at Kalamazoo College, presented with Aepex Contemporary Performance. Instead of bulking them into one video, I cut them into three shorter videos. Here’s what they look like:

Glass Study One
Glass Study Two
Glass Study Three

By having shorter content, this gives me three opportunities to repost to Facebook and Twitter, three opportunities to tag and mention my many collaborators (Kalamazoo College, Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Aepex Contemporary Performance, Justin Snyder), and listenable examples of my music. I could even make a YouTube playlist of all three, and add to it if I make more videos in the future.

If we quickly dissect the social media impact of three videos, with four partners we can tag, we get 24 sharing points (three videos tagging four pages three times on two social media platforms) which will only be multiplied by the algorithms of social media and the shares made by your friends. These videos can also be featured on your website, and—as mentioned before—emailed to your subscribers. Segmenting videos and delaying the release also allows you to be consistent with your social media presence—taking a singular event and spreading the content out over many months.

There are many ways to spice up your live stream in post-production and they usually include graphics. You can do anything, but the standard for concerts seems to be 1.) a title slide or sequence of title slides, 2.) a bar or graphic in the lower third of the video image that you can use to denote the name/movement of a piece and the performers playing, and 3.) closing slides for crediting performers, funding organizations, and your website. For all of these images, make graphic files the same size as your video resolution.

This brings us to creating graphics for your stream.

Graphics for streaming and post-stream production

Inserting graphic overlays and title slides into a live stream is really only possible using an external encoding program like OBS, Switcher Go, or some other non-mobile tech. It’s a really great effect for your next level professionalism; you can have the concert poster start the stream, followed by composers/performer/piece title bars that overlay the video image, like in this live stream I did for The Gilmore.

To create these graphics—specifically the overlay bar—you need a design program that can create a transparent PNG. I use Canva, a simple online graphic design program. (I do believe that the transparent PNG option is a paid feature.) Once you get past the title slides, designing a piece/composer/performer bar for the lower third of the screen is really easy. My recommendation is that you design it in a 1920 x 1080 pixel format, which is standard HD definition, so when you load the graphics into your streaming software, they automatically fit the HD video image. To create the lower third bar effect, use the same resolution, create your lower third image, then download with a transparent background in PNG format. As always, do your research and make sure you know what your video image resolution is.

If you don’t have the encoder software that allows you to import graphic overlays during the stream, take the time to edit your video post-stream and use these graphics (like I did above) or other video editing software to make your videos look awesome.

Licensing, ownership, and approval

As with all non-public domain music, there are some licensing and copyright issues that can arise with live streaming new music. Questions about this were posed to me at my presentation at the New Music Gathering in Boston this past spring, and thankfully, after an interview with Chris McCormick at BMI, I am fully aware of the concerns that can arise, and the solution to properly and legally address them.

In short, you need to get approval from all composers represented on your concert live stream, and all performers who will be part of your live stream. I recommend drafting up a simple letter of agreement for composers and performers detailing 1.) how much they will be paid 2.) how many services are expected (rehearsals and performances) and 3.) that the performance will be recorded and streamed live, with all planned future uses outlined. It’s important to note that the rights to produce a piece can be controlled by 1.) the composer and publisher or 2.) just the composer. The composers involved should know whether or not to include their publisher if you are unsure.

When your video is uploaded to YouTube, it becomes YouTube’s responsibility to pay the PRO (Performing Rights Organization, like BMI and ASCAP) based on streaming data that it sends quarterly. If you are streaming the music of other composers (which you should already have approval for anyway), YouTube will typically direct the streaming fees to the right places. Of course, this works best for pop acts that accrue more streams and have larger representation. After speaking with Chris at BMI, I learned that Twitter and Facebook are currently working on developing their licenses with the PROs, whereas YouTube has a pretty robust system already, so we may see some future changes in how we credit and control intellectual property in live streams.

Thinking beyond your limitations

After reading these four articles, I hope you have gained a deeper understanding of where to begin your live streaming journey, how to do the research necessary, and how to ask the right questions to start your own streaming. If you get hooked like I did, consider expanding your talents and go a little more pro.

When I started streaming with The Gilmore, I was fortunate to get video work from our upstairs neighbors in Kalamazoo, the Public Media Network. They had the equipment and know how—all we had to provide was clean audio and some direction. After years of cultivation, we have a really great partnership and, through practice, have learned how to get our tech working in the best possible ways to make some great streams. After visiting the streaming room in the basement of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s hall, it was apparent that a high-quality stream needed an entire team of people, and early on, the DSO partnered with Detroit Public TV to make it happen. It made me wonder how many other public media groups are out there with camera equipment and know-how, and how many would be interested in collaborating with local arts groups.

The point of my short story is to encourage you to think of ways to leverage your network to build partnerships and share resources for mutual benefit. When I started working with the Public Media Network in Kalamazoo, we benefited from their robotic controlled multi-camera set up and staff expertise, and they received artistic content for their cable channels and community exposure. It never hurts to seek out local groups and ask. You may be surprised what can come together.

Another option might be to build a sort of streaming consortium that would allow you to pool resources to buy a rig that would work for multiple groups, and you could come together to produce each others’ work.

So don’t limit yourself just because you only have a mobile phone set-up. If you are interested in expanding, seek out collaborators in your community!

End Credits

Thank you for reading this far. Special thanks to my employers, The Gilmore and Kalamazoo College; my video partners Public Media Network; and the New Music Gathering and NewMusicBox for helping me hone my thoughts. Also props to Garrett Hope of the Portfolio Composer for being my first public appearance (here on his podcast) where I spoke about live streaming.

As you can tell, I love talking about this stuff, so please reach out:

Twitter: @schumakera
Or through my website: www.adamschumaker.com

Live Streaming 101: Why Live Stream?

When I jumped into live streaming in 2013, I had no idea what I was doing—and my first stream featured a world-renowned pianist performing in a packed hall. The Gilmore Keyboard Festival, where I am on staff, was presenting a concert to the community featuring Kirill Gerstein. Because the concert was being offered free to the public, someone at a staff meeting asked, “Can we live stream this concert?” And from the silence, I blurted out, “Yes!”

You can watch segments of the 4:3 / 480p video here:

At the time, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra had been live streaming concerts for two years. Today, they are a leader in classical music live streaming, presenting around 30 concerts a year online. At The Gilmore, however, live streaming repeatedly brought up one major concern. This concern resonated throughout the office, though I didn’t believe it to be true:

If we offer the concert for free online, won’t it negatively impact ticket sales?

Despite this resistance, streaming a concert live to the internet became a small obsession of mine. With some help from the local Public Media Network, great audio engineers, and the world-class performances at The Gilmore, I managed to get our concerts online, with high-quality audio and multi-camera shoots.

As I gained experience managing small teams of videographers and audio engineers, I learned the ins and outs of the technology, the philosophy, and the social media impact. I even found ways to live stream my own new music concerts—without breaking the bank.

Building off my presentation at the New Music Gathering in Boston this year, during the month of June, I will explore why to live stream, preparing and advertising a live stream, the technology behind various live streaming set-ups, and how to begin collaborating with individuals or organizations to maximize reach and impact.

Why live stream?

If you somehow missed the memo, video consumption is, and has been, on the rise. In 2017, Facebook Live broadcasts quadrupled and 3.25 billion hours of video are watched on YouTube each month. From a marketing perspective, having video content is a no-brainer. But live streaming is a little different.

Live streaming—the act of broadcasting an event in real-time—gives us the unique opportunity to capitalize on the energy of a live performance, while enabling others outside of our community to participate. With advances in technology, it has also become increasingly easy to broadcast live video to the internet.

By live streaming our music, we gain the following:

  1. Expansion of reach and visibility (marketing, social media, locations, networks)
  2. Accessibly for both our current audience and potential future audience
  3. Increasing trust and loyalty from our fans
  4. Excellent content for later use (YouTube channel, website, grant proposals, sharing)

But what about the impact on ticket sales? This is where you need to trust your audience. I would argue that most people are cognizant of the uniqueness of a live concert experience. Given a choice and with no outside barriers, most people would choose a live event over a video version of it. By offering live streams of your events at no charge, you are trusting that the audience members you have will continue to buy tickets if they can. The benefit of the stream then becomes the ability to engage the dedicated fans who just couldn’t be there (thus allowing them to continue to participate in the experience), while also potentially reaching future audience members who are not fans—yet.

FOMO and concert attendance

Although research is limited, current case studies and surveys point to the same conclusion: after watching a live-streamed concert, viewers are more likely purchase tickets to future concerts. It’s like giving a sample of something delicious at Costco.

It’s important to note that many reports come from service providers like Livestream.com, who are trying to sell their services. Still, according to their 2017 survey, “67% of viewers are more likely to buy a ticket to a similar event after watching a live video.” The idea is simple: viewing a great live stream allows current fans to engage with a concert they would probably not have been able to attend otherwise, and allows potential fans to get a sample of a live event they may want to attend in the future. You are building community.

You’re also working off two sides of FOMO. If you’ve managed to avoid current slang and abbreviations, FOMO is the “fear of missing out.” Regardless of what one thinks about FOMO’s powers of motivation, it is a factor at work that everyone on social media experiences at some level. By live streaming your concerts, you can increase FOMO for those who are on the fence about attending your upcoming programming. On the other hand, you may also be able to dissipate some of those FOMO feelings via the live stream by giving your dedicated fans a way to participate, despite not being there.

Post-Stream Benefits

After the live-stream event (and the real-life concert), the video lives on, and some algorithms, like those on Facebook, perpetuate the views for a short while, reminding people of what they missed the night before. If you captured audience emails at your concert, you could send attendees a thank you email with a link to the video. You can also send the video to friends and colleagues who couldn’t be there.

The most important post-stream benefit is the content you’ve created. If you get the chance to clean and mix the audio and re-sync to the video, you have an entire concert to segment into individual pieces for your YouTube channel, your website, portfolio submissions, etc.


  1. Make sure all content stakeholders are aware and in agreement about how the captured media will be used and distributed well in advance.
  2. Don’t repost the entire concert in full. Only keep the entire performance video up as a result of the live stream.
  3. Segment out individual pieces and create a lead in and a closer for each video, with proper credits to performers, composers, and technicians as text overlays.
  4. Develop a channel/page where all of your media lives.
  5. Use the reposting of video content to strategically activate your social media or blog/newsletter presence.

Upcoming articles

Next week, we will discuss technical preparation, advertising, basic artist agreements, and a complete guide to hosting your stream on different platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter/Periscope, and other streaming hosting services.

But What I Really Want To Do Is Direct!

Music videos are everywhere: pop artists create videos designed to go viral and to sell albums. Budding directors often cut their teeth making music videos and big names like M. Night Shyamalan, Gus Van Sant, Diane Keaton, and even Martin Scorsese have directed music videos, seemingly for fun. (It is way fun.) Formidable artistry sometimes emerges from the genre, like Beyoncé’s ingenious all-video “visual album” Lemonade, with seven directors working on the project, including herself.

Technology is no longer a barrier (even a mobile phone will do) and musicians with far smaller budgets than mega-stars are making music videos. New music folks have found their way to the medium—from cinematic works like The Lotus Eaters by Sarah Kirkland Snider featuring Shara Nova and directed by Murat Eyuboglu; to James Moore’s stunning virtuosity in his rendition of John Zorn’s The Book of Heads: Etude 33, intimately filmed by Stephen Taylor. I’d love to see even more “new music” music videos out there. Our media-saturated culture is a perfect landscape for indie musicians’ videos, and websites and social media outlets are great ways to share and promote music and artistry.

My own music video obsession began with making sure my performance work was documented, and then I moved into creating my own stand-alone music videos. (Actually, it began even before then with wanting to be a rock star and growing up with MTV, but that’s another story.) My neighbor and friend, Raul Casares, is a pro director of photography and I inadvertently apprenticed myself to him a number of years ago as we began to film my performances and music videos together. He patiently stood by as I drove the creative direction of the projects. I was hooked: the creative possibilities meshed with my aesthetic sensibilities and my lifelong adoration of film. I also love the creative control of the medium.

Misha Penton and cast inside the Silos at Sawyer Yards, Houston, Texas.

Misha Penton and cast inside the Silos at Sawyer Yards, Houston, Texas.
L-R: Misha Penton, soprano & director. Neil Ellis Orts, Michael Walsh, Sherry Cheng, voices.
Photo by D. Nickerson.

Since the release of my first music video in 2013, my work in this area has grown significantly. I’ve directed and produced four others, advanced to doing some shooting, and am now finally editing the work myself, with the last two videos being experimental new music pieces for which I also created the sound scores.

Threshold is my latest music video excursion—a work which began as a live, site-specific postopera (as musicologist Jelena Novak might say) created for The Silos at Sawyer Yards in Houston: an enormous mid-20th century rice factory, now a space offered for artistic use. It’s a labyrinthine complex of silos with a many-second sonic delay.

During the rehearsal period for the Threshold live performance, I filmed just about everything we did, either with my iPhone, my heftier Canon DSLR, or both. The process videos, dress rehearsal, and live performance documentation created an archive of material to support the work while also serving as material for stand-alone pieces. Part of what drives me to video is the unrealistic, resource-gobbling nature of contemporary music’s (too often) one-off live performance model. Creating multi-form, many-versioned projects gives the work a longer shelf life.

In the early stages of planning Threshold, I knew I wanted to create a music video as the final version of the project. I’d worked similarly on several other pieces, creating music video versions of live performance works, and I like the longevity and archival nature of media. During the rehearsal period for Threshold, when we were in the Silos space, the music video was filmed. After the live performance, the recording process began, and those audio files became the raw material for the edit and mix I created for the film’s sound score (polished and mastered by Todd Hulslander). I approached the video similarly: after filming with Raul (and Dave Nickerson), I chose all my favorite clips and created the video, adding the sound score last.

After about a year and a half of work—from conception to live performance, and finally the music video version—I now consider the Threshold project complete:

Tips & Toolkits

A music video is simultaneously an art form and a promotional tool.

I work very intuitively, and I like to think I’m pretty resourceful. I often ask myself, “What do I have at my disposal, right now?” rather than “I need seven countertenors and a goat, or I cannot realize my creative genius!” Budget is always a looming consideration, but doing a lot of the work oneself will cut that down quickly. To diminish the financial demands of making media projects, increase your technical independence overall (more on that later) and be as inventive as possible: take advantage of natural light, use interesting outdoor locations, incorporate abstract elements, and think outside the box when it comes to production.

And never underestimate the power of your mobile phone.

In addition to making creative media projects, it’s also possible to get good live performance documentation (in an intimate venue) with a smartphone mounted to a tripod—and although the resolution isn’t quite as high as still photos, video screen captures or exporting still images from the film is possible. A number of major releases have been shot mostly on mobile phones—like Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015) and Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane (2018)—and many film festivals have categories for mobile phone (and music video) submissions. Enchant(ed) was made on my iPhone and filmed impromptu (and handheld) on a crazy-beautiful winter day in Colorado. (The voice-scape was created later in Logic Pro X.)

Although the arts are highly collaborative by nature, you should consider seeking grants or using resources to buy gear and software to become more self-sufficient—at least some of the time or as a choice—instead of using resources to pay for technical support to document projects or to realize creative media ideas. To put it plainly, instead of paying someone else to do it for you, invest in equipment over time and learn to use it. I’m one of those hardheaded, odd creatures who likes the experience of learning things on my own, so my tech skill set is largely self-taught. However, there are many options for upping technical expertise: local filmmaking and photography organizations usually offer classes, as do community colleges and continuing education departments at universities. Perhaps you have a friend or colleague who is into cameras and making films—as rock guitar icon Robert Fripp aphorized, “If we wish to know, breathe the air around someone who knows.”

There are many options when it comes to gear and software, and these tools effectively document live performance as well as realize creative media works.

Newbie Kit:

A smartphone and a tripod with a phone mount, and maybe one of those cool new gimbals from EVO (hand-held camera stabilizers). Many companies make clip-on lenses for mobile phones, like olloclip and AMIR. For live sound, something like a Zoom H4n is excellent.

Entry-Level DSLR Kit:

Canon EOS Rebel series or Sony Alpha a68. Both can be purchased bundled with an 18-55mm lens, plus you’ll need a tripod. I still use a Zoom H4n for live sound, so keep on keepin’ on with that little device.

Although a dedicated digital camera will increase quality and offer more creative flexibility, push your smartphone to its limit. I love my Canon dearly, but I recently upgraded to the iPhone X and it shoots gorgeous video with enhanced image stabilization.

Oh!—and for the love of all things sacred, always shoot in landscape and not portrait orientation: meaning, hold your phone horizontally so the image is wider than it is tall (like the wide rectangle of a computer, TV, movie screen, or proscenium stage). Also, keep your music videos under five minutes (don’t worry, I’ve broken that rule)—pop songs are usually around four minutes, so I say stick with broad audience appeal, and with the idea that a music video is simultaneously an art form and a promotional tool.

Video and Audio Editing Software:

Entry-level apps like iMovie (Mac) or Story Remix (PC) are pretty powerful. I’m Mac-based, but here’s one scoop on free PC video editing software. More powerful editing suites include Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, and for audio editing I like Logic X, but there are many PC kin, some free. Home studio and pro audio recording options are beyond the scope of this article, but research recording resources in your area, like university studios or your local PBS affiliate.

External hard drives are essential because you will never have enough room for media on a laptop or on a standard computer set-up. I edited Threshold entirely on my late-2015 Macbook Air with an external hard drive (not ideal, but bless that little machine). Be forewarned: computer and external hard drives will fail at some point. Always back up full versions of your projects on two separate external drives.

I prefer Vimeo over YouTube as a distribution platform for my work because it’s ad-free, beautiful, and customizable. However, YouTube is free to use, while Vimeo charges a monthly fee for most of its plans (it does offer a free ‘Basic’ plan). Vimeo also has a number of technical advantages over YouTube, but if you’re just starting out, you may want to go with YouTube. Once your work develops in such a way that it benefits from a slick showcase, move to Vimeo.

And always credit collaborators. It’s surprising how many directors, filmmakers, and videographers are uncredited. Put all the credits and video info in the text below the video and not just at the beginning or end of the film itself. This text is search engine friendly.

My video work started when I got my first iPhone many years ago and my gear acquisition and skills built up over time. I am, by no means, a tech expert, but if you have a terrible aversion to gadgets and software, proceed with self-compassion and patience! Be resourceful, take baby steps, and make do: creativity best emerges within constraints.


The number of artists working in media is staggering, and the technical options range from guerilla filmmaking to extremely high-tech operations. Here are a few very cool artists whose work I find compelling that demonstrate this wide array of possibilities.

Jil Guyon is a performer and filmmaker whose surreal work, Widow_remix (trailer), is a collaborative project with composer Chris Becker and the voice of Helga Davis. Jil conceptualizes, directs, and edits, and Valerie Barnes is the cinematographer:

Zena Carlota’s ensemble piece, Lolow Kacha, features the kora, a traditional 21-string harp from West Africa, and was filmed in an intimate documentary-style by JJ Harris:

Nterini is a big budget music video by one of my favorite artists, Fatoumata Diawara, directed by Aida Muluneh with director of photography Daniel Girma:

And finally, animator, director, designer, and performer Miwa Matreyek composes music and collaborates with a number of musicians for her stunning multimedia live performances. Her website is a deep dive, so get comfy. Here’s a clip of her work, This World Made Itself:

Getting the Word Out

Beyond standard PR practices like social media posts, newsletters, press releases, and developing good relationships with arts writers in your community and beyond, submit your music videos to film festivals and find outlets to showcase and write about your work yourself. No one knows your work better than you. Blog about your video creation projects, trade guest posts with other writers in your area of interest, and always embed your video projects in posts.

Your website is another great way to showcase and organize work: performance history, videos, audio, and creative process writings. I love composer Caitlin Rowley’s vlogs. She is deeply honest and comprehensive about her approach. Her work with sound and performance, and her experiments with palimpsest-like hybrid journal / visual art is meticulous and fascinating. Soprano and artist-scholar Elisabeth Belgrano creates hypnotic and maze-like pages, and her iPhone and iPad voice recordings in Swedish churches and cathedrals are quite stunning. Interdisciplinary sound and performing artist Leona Jones, whose work centers “around a celebration of the hidden,” has organized her site beautifully with lots of headphone-friendly audio. My own work is organized in the Project section and Production Archives of my site.

Lastly, share the work with daring confidence: as the inimitable Dolly Parton is credited with saying, “Sometimes you just have to toot your own horn. Otherwise, nobody’ll know you’re a-comin’!”

Making Connections: Helping Presenters Market Your Music

Say you’re a composer whose music is getting presented on a concert series that employs an in-house marketing team. You think, “Blessings! I finally don’t need to worry about concert promotion.” Not true! Just because a presenter has dedicated staff does not mean you’re off the hook. Administrators at traditional music institutions often struggle with promoting new music—how to convey to their audiences why this unknown piece by a composer they don’t recognize is compelling and intriguing and worth taking a risk on.

What I’ve noticed in my years of working at different music institutions is a distinct line drawn between the communications staff and the performers and composers. Generally speaking, there are a lot of middlemen in our industry: The director of an organization contacts the artist’s manager or publicist, who then get a response from the artist, and then that information (hopefully) makes its way back to the communications person.

Here’s the issue: If the communications person doesn’t have enough information to write compelling marketing copy about the new work on the program, s/he is likely going to focus on promoting another aspect of the concert instead. Suffice it to say, this is a huge missed opportunity for emerging composers.

It’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting your work. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

This is why it’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting a concert (or CD release, creative project, etc.) with your work on it. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

Bridging the Gap

The first step is simply to let the presenter know that you’re willing to work with their marketing team on promotion. I’d suggest reaching out to your contact at the organization, probably an artistic administrator, about two months before a concert (or earlier, if you’re in touch with them before). If the concert is arranged through the performer, have the performer introduce you before you jump in to offer help.

Once you’ve established contact, here’s what you can offer:

  • program notes
  • written interviews or videos in which you discuss the piece or your music in general
  • pictures related to the work
  • audio of the music
  • anything else that can be shared on the company’s website, via social media, in marketing blurbs and press releases, etc.

These materials can (and should) also be readily available on your website. The more content a marketing person can easily grab online without having to ask, the more likely s/he will push your materials out from the institution’s different platforms.

You can also offer to sit for a video interview, help with social media outreach, or answer a written Q&A interview for their blog. If marketing content is created (e.g., e-blasts, flyers, artwork), offer to send it out through your channels and suggest other networks that might be willing to give a shout out (e.g., the university you teach or studied at, ensembles you work closely with, a cultural society you’re part of).

[A word to the wise: There’s a fine line between being helpful and being overbearing. In all your interactions, remember to be respectful and let people do their jobs in the way they think is best. Writing the actual marketing copy for a marketing person or offering unsolicited feedback, for example, is ill advised. If you don’t like the marketing copy that’s written, try to let it go; if something is actually inaccurate or offensive to you in some way, then you should let someone know.]

It Begins with the Program Note

The composer’s program note is the first thing a marketing or PR person reads in order to quickly download what your piece is about. (Next, they read your bio, and then they read press to see how critics have described you.) Program notes help promoters figure out how to describe your piece, frame it in the context of the program, create fun marketing campaigns, and determine what angle to pitch to which press outlet.

Keep in mind that people are busy and don’t have a lot of time to get to know your catalog, or even listen to your work. You can make it easier for them by providing a program note that includes descriptive language they can use to write about your music.

Also, ask a friend to proof your program note to confirm it makes sense. Sometimes composers submit notes that are convoluted, vague, or overly technical—and administrators are not likely to come back with questions or suggested revisions because they don’t want to insult the composer.

What Marketing/PR Folks Want to Know

When marketers research your piece, they’re looking for details that might be compelling to audiences or journalists. Here are some things they’re keeping an eye out for, and what you can consider including in your program notes (or somewhere on your website or in an interview).

  • A narrative: Is there a story within the piece or behind how the piece came about, or is there a human interest angle involving yourself that explains why you wrote this piece?
  • Novelty factor: Are there any unusual/new techniques or instruments that you use?
  • Inspiration: Did you draw inspiration from something you saw, heard, read about, etc.?
  • Are there any themes in the music that are relevant to events happening today?
  • If you wrote the work specifically for this performer, is that somehow reflected in the music?
  • How is this piece in line with your musical identity/style [also: What is your style]? How is this piece different from other pieces you’ve written?

Here’s an example of a piece with multiple points of interest: Last fall, Sebastian Currier wrote a work called RE-FORMATION for the Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale. The Minnesota Orchestra had commissioned Sebastian to write a current-day version of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Sebastian responded with a piece that embedded fragments from Mendelssohn’s work, but also focused its attention on current environmental issues, which Sebastian felt mirrored the corruption and excesses that Martin Luther was battling five centuries ago.

There were a lot of angles to work with here: the Reformation anniversary narrative, the Mendelssohn inspiration, and the present-day environmental theme. To help explain all this, Sebastian wrote this program note, worked with filmmaker Michele Beck to create this video, and participated in this Q&A interview. We handed all this over to the Minnesota Orchestra, which then pushed the content out across multiple channels and were able to secure some superb press.

Being able to share this type of nuanced and specific information with the communications team leads to better-informed, more powerful messaging on the whole. The more we can open up channels between the communications people and the composers and performers, the stronger we can convey what music is being created today and what’s important to us as artists, and hopefully invite more curious people into the room.

How to Promote Your Album

Welcome to The Basics of Publicity: Part 4, the gripping conclusion to my four-part series on promotion and marketing for musicians! In my previous posts, I’ve talked about how to consider your public-facing brand and the key points to hiring a publicist, the ten most important things to know about social media marketing, and the core media assets you need and how to get them on any budget. For this final post, I’m going to talk specifically about recordings and how to promote them. This will incorporate many of the practices and concepts from my earlier posts, and hopefully it’ll give you a sense for how those ideas translate into real-world action. To further drive the points home, I’ll offer some case studies from my more than ten years promoting recordings for EMI and Warner Classics.


For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to go into the actual recording process—that’s something I’ll leave to the many extraordinary producers, engineers, studio technicians, and others who specialize in translating the glorious sounds of your music into a true-to-life, impactful recording. What I’m going to focus on is how to take that lovely digital file/CD/LP/cassette tape/wax cylinder, and give it the best potential shot at being heard by the most people possible. Because there’s nothing worse than pouring your soul, time, and money into an album and then having no one hear it.


Also for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume we’re talking about a traditional “album” that features 40-70 minutes of audio recording. The rise of high-quality digital music files, streaming outlets like Spotify, video distribution platforms, even virtual reality, all open up new and exciting possibilities when it comes to recorded sound. I could write a separate post on each of these, but for most people, the standard is still going to be a traditional recording that can be distributed online but also packaged into a physical CD. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

The moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it.

Many people make the mistake of waiting until the recording is finished before they begin thinking about promotion, but I cannot stress enough: the moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it. There are a few very important considerations you need to be thinking about the second you decide you want to make a recording:


Gone are the days when a world-class performance of a beautiful piece made for a newsworthy recording. There are simply too many new recordings being released each month, and the only way to cut through the noise is to have a story to tell about your album that will get people interested and engaged before they hear a single note.

As laid out in my first post, having a story that people can talk about and tell others is the beating heart of any kind of modern promotion. The same is true of a recording: Why is this music so important to you that you want to make a permanent record of it? If there are a variety of pieces on an album, what common theme ties them together? If it’s new music, what are the stories and ideas (both musical and non-musical) that might make it stand out in people’s minds?

If the only answer to these questions is: “Because it’s great music and a great recorded performance of it,” then you may end up with a fantastic album, but it’s one that will be very difficult to promote in a meaningful way.

An example: piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton recorded an album entitled Visions, which featured Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, a Kurtag arrangement of a Bach chorale, and Hallelujah Junction by John Adams (a mentor of theirs). The story of the album revolved around different musical approaches to the idea of spiritual joy – from Messaien’s ecstatic transcendence to Bach’s serene confidence to Adams’s reckless ebullience. Having that story angle in place helped to tie the program together and provide a clear, concise message about what people could expect from the recording, and how they could talk about it to others.

The story of your album should determine all extra-musical aspects of it—the title, cover design, liner notes, and any other marketing materials—and answer the question: “Why should people care about my recording?”


Once you’ve got the story of your album in place, you want to think about organizations that might be interested in that story, and in helping you to tell it. Partnerships can boost sales of an album (if your recording centers around music written in response to visual art, for example, is there a gallery of that artist’s work that might be willing to sell your CD in the gift shop?), help with social media (if you’re featuring the music of a living composer with great social media, can they post about your album?), and can help add to the publicity by further validating and adding additional angles to your story, and making the entire campaign feel like more of an event.

An example here is an upcoming album from pianist Tanya Gabrielian, featuring piano transcriptions of Bach solo cello and violin pieces. Tanya suffered a severe spine injury while doing martial arts as a teenager and spent a painful month in the hospital, where the recordings of these Bach pieces helped her maintain her sanity and get through the low points of her experience. So for the album, she’s partnered with various chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, putting on performances at their various local branches where she’ll play the album music in hopes that it will provide the same support to NAMI patients as it did for her during her time of struggle. It’s an example of a partnership that emphasizes the core story of the album (the healing power of Bach’s music), while also providing performances that can be pegs for local media outreach.


There was a time when you couldn’t put out a commercially successful album if it wasn’t on a record label—physical distribution and PR/promo/marketing outlets were simply inaccessible to the common folk. Now the internet has changed all of that, and you can easily put your album on CDBaby and get your music out across all digital platforms like iTunes, Spotify, and more. So why should you even consider a label? Well there are pros and cons…

Pros of a Record Label

  • Physical Distribution: While there are fewer and fewer retail music shops with a physical building, if you want to be in them you’ll need a label—or at least label services—to get your CD shipped out and sold in those stores.
  • Grammys: Getting a Grammy Award is a long, complicated, and opaque process, and you’re VERY unlikely to have it happen unless there’s a label handling it and managing the process, not to mention advocating for your recording within the industry.
  • Recording/Packaging Support: Some labels will help defray some or all of the costs of recording (depending on your contract) and possibly the packaging design, photo shoot, video production, etc.
  • PR/Marketing: Major labels—and some of the boutique ones as well—have dedicated PR and marketing teams, with the contacts and experience to help with the work promoting your recording.
  • Prestige Factor: This one is more amorphous, but there is a certain degree of prestige in having a respected label release your album—it shows that other people believe in you, and you’re not simply doing everything on your own. This is especially true of a major label. If you self-release, realize that some of the larger media might not take you as seriously as they would if your album was on a label they knew and trusted. (Of course, if you’ve already had previous albums that they’ve covered in the past, this can be less of a concern.)

Cons of a Record Label

  • You make no money: If you release on a label, don’t expect to ever see a return on that investment. The most wildly successful niche recordings sell a few thousand copies, and even with the best record deal ever, you’ll only see a fraction of that income.
  • You lose some control: Depending on the label and the deal with them, you might lose artistic control over the presentation, title, story elements, etc. of your album.
  • All labels are not created equal: Some are better at some things, others are better at other things. You want to learn the ins and outs of each and determine what you need from them before signing on, otherwise you can get stuck in a relationship that isn’t beneficial to either side.

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez


Okay, you’ve got a story, partners, maybe even a record label. Now it’s time to start putting a promotional plan in place.

1. Assets

Since you’ve already (I’m sure) read my third post on assets, you know all about photos, videos, and more. But you should also consider these in the specific context of your album, as they can be vital when it comes to promotion and telling the story of your album. Will you create music videos (even just having a two-camera setup in the studio during the recording, which you can pair with the studio audio track)? Can you make an intro video that features some performance footage, as well as interview footage of you telling the story of the album? Are there any “bonus tracks” that won’t be on the final album, but that you could offer exclusively to media outlets in exchange for a feature on the album?

An example of this is a video we shot with violinist Ariana Kim around her self-released album Routes of Evanescence—a recording entirely of contemporary violin works by women composers. We wanted to get some exposure around International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, so we shot the video quick and dirty in her apartment, and offered the exclusive to a major violin blog, which ran this great story as a result. It was an example where an asset led directly to promotional exposure because it was tied into the story of the album.

2. Performances

This is an area where many people fall short when planning their album. I cannot stress enough: having performances of your album repertoire (even if it’s a few pieces within a larger program) is a VITAL part of a successful promotion plan. Fewer and fewer media outlets will cover an album release on its own, but if you have a live performance that features the album, then they can cover that and talk about the album in the context of the performance. Plus, performances open up the possibility of post-concert CD sales and signing sessions, which are where the majority of album sales happen these days.

At the very least, you want to have a record release performance—ideally in as established a venue as you can find, in a market where you have an existing fan base. You want it to be packed, and you should invite as many media outlets from the area to come as possible.

If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

The ideal setup is one where you have a full tour that includes as many major cities as possible, and that starts off with a record release performance. (Do NOT have the release “street date” be at the end of the tour. Please don’t do that.) If that’s not feasible, then as many performances as possible featuring as much of the album repertoire as you can fit in, is the next best thing. Contact each venue to set up CD sales/signings after each performance, and bring a stack of albums along with you so you don’t run out! Square card readers or similar allow you to process credit cards so you’re not just relying on cash.

Regardless, get the music on your album performed! If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

3. Social Media Timeline

Since I’m 100% certain you’ve read my second post about social media, and that as a result you’re now a hyper-engaged, digitally savvy social media maven, let’s talk briefly about how to promote your recording on social media. You want to put a timeline in place from start to finish, with as many different assets as you can, leading up to the release. Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Photos of the scores you’re preparing
  • Video of you practicing for recording sessions
  • Photos and videos of you in the recording studio
  • Pre-order links when they go live
  • Release a single track to give a taste for the album
  • Unveil the cover image in a post
  • If you did a photo shoot for the album, reveal the new photos in a gallery
  • When you first get your advance CDs, share a photo of it
  • Video of you talking about the album’s story, and why you’re excited about it
  • Livestream of you answering followers questions about the album
  • Advance media coverage


  • Share all of the buy links for the album in a single post (or link to a website page where they’re all present)
  • Video of you inviting everyone to listen and pick up a copy
  • Photos/video from the release performance
  • Share any media coverage that runs at the time of release
  • Share intro video


  • Share album reviews with pullout quotes
  • Photos from your tour, CD signing sessions, etc.
  • Highlight specific tracks, tell the stories behind them, record videos of yourself performing them, etc.
  • Roll out music videos for work on the album

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Anything you can think of related to the album can be fodder for social media.

Also, as I mentioned in my social media post, you want to think if there are people you can ask to share some of your more significant posts. Obviously any partners in the album should share, but even the recording studio, related music publishers, composer societies, your conservatory…the more the merrier, and many will share if you just make the ask!

4. Promoting Your Recording

This is where the rubber hits the road—trying to get media to cover your album. Of course, you can consider hiring a publicity/promotion company to do this for you (and you know how to do that, because you read my first post which gives advice on hiring a publicist), but many don’t have the budget for that, in which case you’ll have to do it yourself. Here are some tips to get you started:


  • You should plan to start promotion eight to twelve weeks out from the release date. Any smaller of a window and you’ll risk missing opportunities.
  • You’ll want to have the finished recording in hand when you start promotion, so work backwards from there when planning a street date, performance, tour, etc.
  • In planning the recording, editing, mastering, album package design, etc., always build in a week or two extra for buffers in each step. Trust me.

Press Release

  • I know press releases have lost some of their impact in the digital age, but it’s still useful to have all of the info in one place for a promo mailout, when pitching, etc.
  • Put together a document that has the album cover image, name of the album, names of performers (or just you as the album artist), release date, label (if applicable), a paragraph or two introducing it and saying what the story is, a track listing, and links to any videos, photos. Put your contact info (or the info of whoever is promoting the album) at the bottom.

Media Targets

  • Spend some time brainstorming a list of possible media outlets—blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc.—that might be interested in your album. If outlets have covered you in the past, add ‘em to the list. If you have a possible direct connection to any writers or producers, add ‘em. Again, read my first post for more general media strategy advice.
  • If you have a label, they should have a list of outlets they send promo CDs to. Get that list, and add your contacts to it.
  • Put the whole list into a spreadsheet with media outlet name, contact name, address, email, any notes about past history with them, or possible angles unique to the individual or outlet.

Promo Mailing

  • Six to eight weeks out from release, you’ll want to mail out copies of the CD to as many of the media outlets on your list as possible, so that they can have a chance to listen to it well ahead of street date.
  • A NOTE ABOUT UNSOLICITED MAILINGS: If you aren’t on a label and aren’t in the habit of just sending out CDs to people, then you need to be careful here. While ultimately the most efficient way to go about a promo mailing is to send out the CDs to everyone who might be interested, and then follow up with an email or phone call after the CD has arrived, just be aware that there will be the occasional person who will take umbrage at having a CD sent to them without their having asked for it. If you come across someone like this, just apologize, and then if they’re still listening go ahead with your pitch.
  • In addition to CDs, you should have a digital version of the album to distribute as well—even just a Dropbox link to a folder that contains Mp3 and WAV files of the music, a hi-resolution JPEG of the album cover, a PDF of the liner notes, and a Word document of the press release. That way, you can send that to people if they say they prefer digital versions.


Once you’ve distributed the music to each of the outlets on your list, you’ll want to email and/or call them with a pitch on how they might cover your album. Some tips on different outlets:

  • Newspapers: If it’s a newspaper that runs reviews, pitch them to review it. If they don’t run reviews but have concert reviews and are in a location where you’re giving an album tour performance, pitch them to review the concert, but also send them the album so they can include a mention in their review. You can also pitch for an interview feature to run before the performance, talking about the upcoming concert and album release.
  • Magazines: If they review albums, pitch for a review, otherwise pitch for an interview feature around the recording. See what different sections they have.
  • Websites/Blogs: You can pitch anything from an album review to a video exclusive, interview feature, guest post where you tell the story in your own words, etc. The sky’s the limit here, and many online outlets will be willing to work with you if you’ve got creative ideas and compelling content.
  • Radio Stations: Pitch for airplay if they program music similar to what’s on your album. If you’re touring to their area, you can pitch local stations for on-air interviews, pre-recorded interview segments, or in-studio performances. Some stations have websites or social media that offer possibilities for album promotion if you can’t get it on the air.
  • TV: If you’ve got a really compelling human interest story around your album, then you can pitch local TV channels around your tour markets to have you in for an interview or performance segment—particularly if they have cultural news coverage segments.

This is just scratching the surface. Ask your colleagues where they’ve gotten album coverage and see if you can secure similar hits for yourself. Find albums that have a similar repertoire or story to yours and check Google News searches to see what kinds of media coverage they received. Check the social media feeds of comparable artists (or their record labels) to see if they post about media coverage that might offer leads.

Pitching is an ongoing process, and you might find out about leads months after the album is released. Don’t be afraid to still reach out and see if they’d be interested, as you never know when a big feature might be right around the corner.

In Conclusion

When it comes to album promotion, you get back what you put in. The more work you do, the more results you’ll get, and while you might not have unlimited time to spend on it, you should at least budget a solid chunk of time for planning and execution. Again, there’s nothing worse than putting out a recording and not having anyone listen to it, so I hope that this guide will at least give you some guidance on things you can do to get your music heard by as many people as possible.

Thanks for reading this post and my other ones, feel free to stop by www.unison.media and drop me a line!

Photos, Videos, Website: The Tools You Need and How To Get Them

Welcome to Post 3 in my series on the basics of how to promote and market your music! In Post 1, I covered the basics of publicity and how to think about the story of your music, and in Post 2, I laid out the ten most important things to know about social media.

Now, I’m going to talk about assets: the tools you need before you can do any sort of publicity or marketing around yourself and your music. The primary materials you’ll need are photos, videos, audio recordings, a bio, and a website to tie them all together.

There are two things you must consider about all of your assets:

1) Do they accurately represent you and your music?
2) Are they of high enough quality?

The former extends directly out of the work done in Post 1, as you must understand your unique brand and story before you can determine how best to represent that in a photo, video, etc. If part of your story is your commitment to contemporary music, but all of your videos feature you playing Bach, then there’s a disconnect there.

The latter will of course depend on what you can spend on these assets, but even if you’ve got a limited budget, there are ways to get high-quality tools without breaking the bank.


Even though we work in music, we still live in a visual world. When it comes to promoting yourself, the reality is that you’ll probably be seen before you’re heard, and that’s why your photos are so important. People will judge you (both consciously and unconsciously) based on what they see, and will act upon those judgments, so you need good photos that visually represent your music and personality.

For instance, are you fun-loving and easy-going? You probably don’t want photos of yourself dressed all in black, with dramatic lighting and pensive stares into the abyss. If you’re a performer, do you want your instrument in the photo or not? If you’re a composer, do you have scores with you? Will you wear formal or informal clothing?

Your photos should depict to some degree what people will encounter in your music, so think about your story and how you want to tell it (Post 1) before you invest the time and money in photos.

Ideally you should have 3-5 promotional photos, including a headshot for programs. Things to keep in mind:

  • You want a mix of portrait and landscape images.
  • Ideally at least one photo has some blank space where writing can be placed for marketing materials, album covers, social media banners, etc.
  • You can have black & white images, but I recommend focusing on color.
  • You want to keep an easily shareable folder of your photos (Dropbox is great, and throw in a copy of your bio too!), including sub-folders that have the photos in Hi-resolution JPEG (for printing, newspaper/magazines, programs, etc.), Low-resolution JPEG (for websites, social media, emailing to people), and TIFF (super high-resolution, for billboards, posters, etc. – these won’t be used often, but good to have when this degree of quality is available).
photo gear

Photo by Jakob Owens

BUDGET: Champagne and Caviar

A full-day, professional photo shoot can run well over $5,000-10,000, and can include the following:

  • Photographer (obviously)
  • Assistants (to help with lighting, setup, etc.)
  • Hair & Makeup (can be combined into one person sometimes)
  • Stylist (they will bring their own clothes, or borrow from showrooms/fashion houses)
  • Studio rental (unless the photographer has their own space)

For a shoot of this scale, you’ll want to work closely with the photographer in the lead-up, sending a “mood board” of images that inspire you and that you’d like them to keep in mind during the shoot. If you have a clear concept in mind, then the more that you can communicate to the photographer beforehand the better, as they can then assemble a team that can best realize that vision.

If the photo shoot is being paid for by a record label, presenter, or other entity, then you’ll likely sacrifice some of your own personal vision, but still don’t be afraid to speak up—ultimately, these photos are a representation of you and need to feel accurate in that regard.

You’ll also want to negotiate how many finished, edited photos you will get from the shoot, and what type of usage license you have for those photos (some will charge extra if you want to sell the photos, or use them on CDs/books/other merch that will be for sale).

BUDGET: PB&J Everyday

If you don’t have enough cash on hand for the full-on David LaChapelle treatment, fear not—there are plenty of options.

  • Professional photographers: Ask friends and colleagues whom they’ve used, and also ask what they paid (if you’re comfortable doing so), so that you have a sense of what to say when the photographer asks for your budget. The range will vary widely here, but if you hire a younger talent that’s just starting out, then you can often negotiate a lower rate and also get more finished photos out of them.
  • Use a friend: Instead of paying for a professional photographer, you could use a friend (or friend-of-a-friend) who is a solid amateur photographer and just pay them a few hundred bucks (or treat them to dinner or a bottle of nice Scotch) to shoot you. Pro-tip: bring someone else along to hold a reflector to fill in any shadows on your face.
  • Freelancers: If you don’t have friends (sorry) then other options are to ask local university film and photo departments, or go on websites like UpWork or Fiverr to find cheap freelancers; just go through their photo portfolios beforehand to make sure you like their work.
  • Equipment rental: If the photographer doesn’t have a pro-level camera, you can easily find a local photography store that will rent you top-of-the-line SLRs and lenses for very affordable day rates, so there’s no excuse to skip professional equipment. You can also buy various lighting and backdrop setups on Amazon, and then just return them after the shoot for a refund.
  • Locations: You can use an apartment or home if you have access, a rooftop can work wonders in an urban environment, or just go outside and find a non-populated area (though city parks can sometimes be risky as officials might stop you or issue a ticket).
Rink shoot

Photo by Jakob Owens

Whatever route you choose, just make sure that your photos are as professional as possible, and don’t look like you set up an iPhone on a table in your bedroom. Even a few hundred dollars can get you fantastic images that will carry you through the early stages of your career.

A note about post-production

Looking beautiful is nice, but being airbrushed to within an inch of your life can be a dangerous proposition. Photographers can do anything in post-production these days, but if you look completely different from your photos, then when people meet you that’s what’s going to stick in their mind—not your music. So skip the Kim Kardashian treatment, just a minor clean-up is sufficient.


In recent years, video has become one of the most important assets you can have from a promotional standpoint. A good video can be shared easily, used on your website, social media, presenter sites, embedded in articles, and more. It can be a powerful, compelling representation of your music and, if done right, can be useful for years to come.

So please, PLEASE do not have the only video material of yourself be a shaky iPhone video of your recital, shot by your mom in the third row.

There’s no excuse to not have at least a relatively high-quality video of your music in performance, and these days, you can make it happen on a shoestring. Regardless of budget, one thing that’s important to remember: You want to do everything in your power to have a minimum of two cameras shooting footage. That will give a more varied visual and professional feel to the video, and from a practical standpoint it will allow you to cover mistakes or jump edits by switching between the two cameras.

Another note: In general, video is less about the details of the performance, so you can get away with an imperfect interpretation. Audio recordings should have a higher standard here, but a beautiful video of a really good (but not world-beatingly-great) performance is worth keeping and using, since people will mostly view these on computers or phones, and won’t focus obsessively on the minutiae of the performance.

video camera

Photo by Jakob Owens

BUDGET: I live at the end of the rainbow and collect pots of gold

As with photo shoots, if you have money to spare then you can make a huge production out of a video shoot—director, multiple cameras, sound team, lighting, space rental, hair/makeup/styling, and more. Unless you have experience with video production, you’ll want to leave the technical details to someone else who can project manage the entire affair, and instead focus on the performance and creative elements, as those are where you should have more say.

BUDGET: A leprechaun took all of my money

You can still get solid video content with a budget of a few hundred dollars, and even one good video can go a long way. Some tips:

  • Hire amateur videographers: You can find videographers in a variety of places these days, from the film/media department of your local university, sites like Craigslist, local job boards, or just by asking around. Ultimately, as long as they know how to work the equipment, the footage they get will be professional enough to create a solid end-product with a competent editor.
  • Rent equipment: As with photo shoots, you can affordably rent a pair of digital SLR cameras with a wide angle and portrait lens, two tripods, and a solid portable sound recording setup, for very affordable rates at your local photo/video store.
  • Locations: You’d be surprised at where you can get a good-looking video. Rehearsal rooms, apartments, basements, backyards…obviously the more interesting the space the better, but if you don’t have the budget to rent something then go with what you have access to and focus the footage on the performance and performers by using lenses with tighter focal lengths.
  • Editing: You can learn a lot about editing (and shooting for that matter) online via YouTube and education sites like SkillShare, and both FinalCut and Adobe Premiere are very user-friendly editing programs. That said, you can also hire editors for very affordable rates on sites like UpWork and Fiverr. As long as you like their previous work, they should be able to edit a two-camera music video in a few hours (though definitely make sure you use someone who has experience with music videos).

People are always looking for video content these days, so if you can’t get someone else to pay for your video production then it’s worth investing a bit of money and doing it yourself – even if just to get a video of your most compelling piece or performance (or just a movement or excerpt). It’ll go a long ways towards getting yourself out there.

video production

Photo by Jakob Owens


I’ll speak more on this at length in Post 4, which will deal entirely with recordings. For now, suffice it to say that you want to be careful when it comes to audio assets, as they are the purest representation of your art form (and your business, given that you’re a professional musician). If you’re not ready to invest here, then hold off and create a few videos instead, as you can get more promotional use out of them in the short term, and the bar is lower in terms of people judging the sound and performance.


Wiser minds than my own have written on this subject, and there’s not much I can add to those words other than just to say that your bio will always be a negotiation between factual information about yourself that should be included to show your history, achievements, and the momentum of your career, and the more descriptive elements that speak to your unique brand and story, and why people should care about you and your music.

One other note: it’s worth having a short and a long bio on hand for each season, as both will have different uses.


Photo by Jakob Owens


Once you’ve got a bunch of great assets, you need to pull them all together, and that’s where your website comes in.

First things first: YOU NEED A WEBSITE. And it must be fast, functional, and responsive (meaning it looks good whether on a desktop, tablet, or mobile device).

This is not optional. A website is where you can curate and present your music and brand in a space that you control, and it gives you the ability to filter the content around yourself so only the best is on display.

With the options available to you, there’s no excuse not to have your own website at this point, as it can be built for free and maintained for a few dollars a month.

BUDGET: My swimming pool is full of gold coins

I don’t care if you are literally Daddy Warbucks, personally I don’t think you should spend more than a few thousand dollars on a website. As a musician, there are limited functionalities that you need from a site. To have someone custom-code a site from scratch is simply overkill at this point; you’re not building the next Facebook here. You should save that money to invest in social media or better assets. Or buying a solid gold donkey statue.

What’s most important is to have a content management system that you can update easily to add concerts, news, press quotes, etc. And you’ll want most if not all of the following pages:

  • HOMEPAGE: I advocate for a scrolling homepage that includes snippets of key info from other areas of the site (a few news items, upcoming performances, some key press quotes, photos, videos, social media, etc.). The more people have to click, the more you’ll lose them, so you want as much info available to them the second they land on your site.
  • ABOUT: Here’s where you can put your bio, other personal info, and a link to your press kit (hi-res photos, bio text, link to videos, etc.). If you have special projects, those can also go here or on their own page.
  • REPERTOIRE/WORKS: If you’re a performer, it can be useful for presenters to be able to see a list of what you play. And if you’re a composer, you’ll definitely want a page with info on all of your compositions, including links to score rentals, recordings, video and audio samples, etc.
  • NEWS: Here you can have posts about big performances, projects, or announcements. You’ll want to add in something every few months at least, just to show that things are happening on your end. These don’t have to be long blog posts; they can simply be a headline and a few sentences, plus photos or videos if you like.
  • SCHEDULE: Here you can list concerts (or performances of your music), with some brief info and a link to where people can purchase tickets. This is the most important page to update, as most people are going to come to your site to learn where they can experience you live.
  • MEDIA: Photos/Videos/Recordings – these can each have their own independent pages, or can be put on a single page with different sections, depending on how much of each you have. But you want people to be able to see and hear the beautiful assets you’ve created (again, only select the best of each), feel that you’re a professional who cares about how you are represented, and engage with your music via these assets.
  • PRESS: This is where you list recent reviews/interviews/pull-out quotes. Essentially it exists to show that people are talking about you and that your career has traction. This will be mostly for presenters and industry people visiting your site, so they can see what kinds of outlets are covering you. If you’re a young artist with no major press coverage yet, skip this page for now.
  • CONTACT: If you have booking, management, or PR, you want to list them here so people can reach out to them directly about you. You also want a contact form leading to your personal email address (or representative) so that people can get in touch directly – don’t list your actual personal email on the site though; you don’t want strangers to have access to that.

If you have those pages, you’re basically covered in terms of the info people would come to your site to get. You can of course add other pages around different aspects of your career, extra-musical interests, charities and causes, etc., but these are the core functionality pages you need in there.

BUDGET: I live in a van down by the river

Thanks to glorious advances in modern technology, you no longer need need to hire someone to build you a custom site. And if you want someone else to do it for you, you should be able to get someone to build you a great site for under a thousand dollars.

There are numerous DIY website platforms out there, but for the moment Squarespace is BY FAR the easiest to use. Wix and Weebly are both far less polished and can lead to messy, amateur-looking sites. Webflow is more complex and customizable, but is probably much too complicated for most artists.

I recommend building off of one of the templates on Squarespace – it’s very user-friendly, tightly coded, and easy to update. Downsides are that you have limited customizability, and Squarespace sites can look similar (though a lot of tweaking can be done on the Style Editor section). You’ll have to pay $150-200 in hosting each year, but that’s true of any website.

WordPress is another platform that people often use (my own company included). It’s far more powerful than Squarespace/Wix/Weebly, and infinitely more customizable, but it’s much less user-friendly if you have no experience with web development and design. And you have to constantly update it to avoid potential security breaches, so if you don’t know how to do that then you should avoid WordPress, or hire a developer to build and manage the site. (Again, you can find very affordable options on UpWork for this, and don’t need to spend more than a few thousand dollars here.)

In Conclusion

These are the core assets that you need to effectively promote your music, both via publicity and social media, as well around your performances via presenter pages. Even if you’re at the very start of your career, it’s worth investing a minimum amount money to get these done as professionally as possible, as they will make a major difference in how you are perceived, and whether people take you and your music seriously before even hearing a single note.

I’ll conclude the series next week with a separate note on recordings and how to promote them. Until then, my internet friends…

Good Career Hunting: On Being a Deer Chaser

As this is my first post for NewMusicBox since my series on entrepreneurship and because this post will be tangentially related, I feel obliged to make one quick comment before beginning. After quite a bit of time and reflection, I wrote a fairly lengthy follow-up to those essays over at my website, which I titled, “Entrepreneurship, Success, and the Illusion of Narrative or How Felicia Day Taught Me That I Was Wrong About Claire Chase.” I believe it offers a more nuanced perspective than my original posts, as well as a much-needed public apology to Claire Chase.

I find it difficult to talk about the struggles I have in my musical career. Part of that is from a desire to maintain a successful public image, but another part is worrying over how it would be received. I worry about sounding whiny and ungrateful to those who are working hard just to get where I am, and I worry about sounding hopelessly naive to those further along. But recent events led me to open up and write about what’s been bothering me.

I have been having difficulty lining up gigs for next season, interest in my albums has been in a bit of decline, and, darn it, I thought there would be a bigger response to the release of my tenth album. I’m not sure what I was hoping for, exactly, but it felt like a big deal to me, and I wanted others to feel the same. I was in a real funk. Then I went to a book signing where I got to meet a woman whose work I’ve admired for years, and in the process I gained some much-need perspective.

I came away from my brief encounter with Felicia Day feeling better about my career than I had in a long time.

I came away from my brief encounter with Felicia Day feeling better about my career than I had in a long time, and I felt inspired to write about why. Here is the tl;dr.

I was one of the last people at the book signing, and as I waited in line for more than an hour, I got to see the labor that goes into such an event. To make each fan feel special in only thirty seconds, to pose for picture after picture (knowing that each will likely be shared online), and even just to sign that many books seemed exhausting. And that’s when it clicked for me. Even though she’s successfully built a company from the ground up and written a New York Times best seller, I’m certain she still has to work tirelessly to keep her career moving ahead. It was a poignant reminder that the work, the pure effort of building a career never stops, and that helped me move forward.

Andy Lee meets Felicia Day at her book signing

Andy Lee meets Felicia Day at her book signing and adjusts his perspective on career building.

So I wrote about it, and the response was incredible. I received lots of positive feedback and “you’re not alone!” comments, and I realized that many of the respondents were not in my circle of friends even a year or two ago. Moreover, I made new connections as the post got shared, notably among fans of Felicia Day who otherwise would have never encountered my music. (Shout out to Team Hooman!)

One particular response also brought to my attention a wonderful NewMusicBox article from Ingram Marshall, “The Tipping Point.” In the post, Marshall asks several prominent composers what they considered to be the tipping point for their careers. The article is well worth reading in its entirety, but I’d like to draw attention to one particular analogy he uses—the deer chaser.

A deer chaser, or shishi-odoshi, is a style of fountain used in Japanese gardens. Water flows into a piece of bamboo, causing the center of balance to shift and the water to spill out. As the bamboo returns to its resting position it typically strikes a rock, creating noise to scare away deer or other wildlife.

In his post, Marshall uses this image to describe the “near miss” of a tipping point. As he writes:

In the deer chaser model, the tipping point occurs, but it doesn’t create a steady rush, only a momentary one, and it keeps recurring at set intervals. I think a lot of composers experience this kind of tipping point, where they think they are on the verge of some kind of surge of popularity due to a big event—say a prize, a recording, a publishing contract, or maybe a big commission—but soon enough, as in the deer chaser model, they find that they have flipped back to their old position, the rush of the cascading water with its loud alarm having dissipated.

I experienced something quite similar with my album Dennis Johnson: November. It was reviewed in publications around the world, including sources such as The Wire and Gramophone, we quickly sold out of the first two pressings, and it helped me get my first gigs in London and New York. The icing on the cake was making a large number of “best of” lists that year, including the #1 classical album of 2013 in Time Out New York. That in turn landed me a big award from my alma mater and an interview with Colorado Public Radio, among other things.

Yet nothing I’ve done since has been even close to that successful, and I’ve spent many hours since wondering what I might have done differently to make that less of a deer chaser moment and more of a tipping point.

Since writing about meeting Felicia Day, however, I’ve come to think that it’s too easy to chase after tipping points and get frustrated by near misses. Instead, I’d propose thinking of the deer chaser less for its negative connotations and more for the positives the analogy holds.

The work never stops, forward momentum is rarely ceded without a fight, and chasing tipping points is a fool’s errand.

First, a deer chaser makes noise, and that’s exciting. There are a lot of things I want to do with my career, but making some noise and getting noticed seems like a good place to be. Second, all the water that pours out of the deer chaser has to go somewhere. No, we don’t always get to control where it goes, but that water still nourishes the soil and helps create new growth.

Likewise, career progress is often difficult to see. I haven’t sold any CDs as a result of that post, nor have any gig offers come my way, but I’ve expanded my new music network (to use a crass term), and I’ve gotten my foot in the door with an entirely new community. It was also a useful reminder that I enjoy writing. That’s not nothing.

I’ve also used this new mindset to help tackle mundane chores. I’ve complained about how hard it’s been to find gigs, so I’m trying to be more organized in my efforts, to make more cold contacts, and to be more forward in general. I’ve complained about the lack of attention given to my recent albums, so I’m writing about the stories behind them and trying to up my social media game (without becoming a self-promoting drone). In short, I’m trying to remember that my efforts to build a career are not in vain.

Still, while I’ve psychologically gotten over this current speed bump, I know that many more lie ahead. When the next one crosses my path, the first thing I’ll do is give myself permission to vent my frustrations. Somewhere inside my head is a little voice that believes that complaining doesn’t fix anything, but I know better. True, complaining isn’t going to get me a gig, but it may well help me become emotionally ready to press ahead once more in a career filled with rejection and disappointment. And while I’ll allow for a bit of public complaining, I’m also going to use a lifeline (and expired cultural reference) to phone a friend and have a real conversation.

The other thing I’ll do is try to remember my all-to-brief encounter with Felicia Day. Seeing a small portion of the labor that goes into her career brought me some peace about my own. It reminded me that the work never stops, that forward momentum is rarely ceded without a fight, and that chasing tipping points is a fool’s errand. So for now, I’m going to seek contentment as a deer chaser, making as much noise as I possibly can and nurturing my career bit by bit.

R. Andrew Lee

R. Andrew Lee

Pianist R. Andrew Lee is one of the foremost interpreters of minimal music. He has recorded ten solo albums with Irritable Hedgehog Music, which have made “best of” lists in The New Yorker, Time Out New York, The Wire, MOJO, and Gramophone among many others. Upcoming projects include previously unreleased piano music by William Duckworth and a 3.5 hour composition for piano and electronics by Randy Gibson, a longtime student of La Monte Young. Lee currently teaches at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, and was most recently artist-in-residence at Avila University.

The Media and the Message

When I read Kenneth D. Froelich’s article “Lessons From The Central Valley” back in June here on NewMusicBox, his experiences presenting new music in Fresno resonated with my own as a presenter/producer, publicist, and music journalist and sparked some additional thoughts about audience development and the media.

(For those already knowledgeable about publicity and marketing, some of this may seem obvious or old hat. But I’ve learned from interacting with musicians, composers, and presenting organizations that a lot of them aren’t all as well versed in this sort of thing as I might have supposed, so my hope is that this will be useful to at least some of you.)

One of the lessons Froelich mentioned was to “shop local,” noting that when promoting an event, providing a local connection or angle is helpful in gaining the attention of the media. That’s true for all local journalists, not just those covering music or the arts, and there’s an important corollary to that.

“The media” is not a monolithic entity. It’s made up of a variety of outlets (each with a particular focus) and individuals (each with their own personality, interests, preferences, and so on). Knowing the specifics about each outlet and each individual can help you to target your communications more effectively, and even to develop angles and story ideas that may be of interest specifically to those individuals.

In my work with the Mizzou New Music Initiative, we’ve been fortunate to have local newspapers and radio pay a good amount of attention to our signature event, the Mizzou International Composers Festival, from the beginning.

That’s partly because Columbia, a college town with a population of 115,000, roughly equidistant from St. Louis and Kansas City, has a lot of local media for a city its size. There are two newspapers: the Daily Tribune and the Missourian, which is published by Mizzou’s School of Journalism and is not a campus paper, but rather a daily covering local, regional, and national news. The J-school also plays a role in the operation of the local NBC and NPR affiliates, and the market is served by affiliates of the other broadcast TV networks and a total of 15 radio stations.

It’s also because rather than just sending out press releases and hoping for the best, we’ve made an effort to identify and interact with specific people in the media who have taken an interest, and to keep them informed about what we’re doing.
For example, Aarik Danielsen, the arts editor of the Tribune, also is a musician and composer. When MNMI presented its first summer festival in 2010, it was clear immediately from our first contact that he had a genuine interest in what we were doing, so we were pleased to assist in arranging interviews, provide photos and links to online media, and do whatever else we could to help him cover the story.

For that first festival, Danielsen wrote a couple of stories for the Sunday edition, supplemented by online-only interviews, and he’s continued to produce extensive and substantive coverage of the festival each year. He and the paper’s other arts reporter, Amy Wilder, have written about various other events and profiled students and faculty members involved in MNMI, too.
Over at the Missourian, ongoing relationships are more difficult to develop, since the student reporters change assignments each semester and eventually graduate. However, when we learned that editor/faculty member Elizabeth Brixey had been a fellow in two National Endowment for the Arts journalism institutes and is an amateur French horn player, we began sending information specifically to her, which has led to reporters being assigned to cover several stories about the Initiative.

Now obviously, not every media outlet is going to have a musician or composer in a position of editorial importance, so we’ve undoubtedly had some good luck there. But the basic principle—look for specific people who may be interested in what you’re doing and then get information to them—still applies.

Contrary to some stereotypical views of public relations, there’s nothing inherently manipulative about this. You can’t force a reporter to cover a story—you can only appeal to their interests and then help them get the information they’re seeking. And although some journalists are understandably wary of professional publicists trying to “spin” them, most are glad to get pertinent information in a timely fashion, to have their phone calls returned and questions answered promptly, and to get some help in setting up interviews, obtaining photos, and so on.
Froelich’s essay also noted that in Fresno, “a smaller, economically disadvantaged market, nothing beats traditional media” and that social media had not been particularly effective in selling tickets for his series.

The conventional wisdom is that older people consume more traditional media like newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, while younger people flock to social media and get more of their news from the internet. While my experiences suggest that’s generally true, there’s no real reason one has to choose between traditional and social media; a comprehensive communications plan should include both.

The first year I worked on the Mizzou International Composers Festival, most of our time was spent reaching out and pitching stories to traditional media, but the social media part of our plan has grown in importance in each subsequent year.
For the last two years of the MICF, we’ve even laid out a social media schedule for the weeks leading up to it, as well as during festival week. Tweets and posts to Facebook are scheduled throughout the day at regular intervals, with enough room in between for spontaneous and serendipitous updates, retweets and reposts of select messages from various participants, and communicating with other users.

The prescheduled messages cover all sorts of topics, including links to information about each of the composers and performers; videos and streaming audio; ticketing information; background about the Initiative and the MICF; and more.
While we can’t really attribute an increase in ticket sales specifically to social media efforts, the festival has enjoyed modest gains in attendance each year, so the overall plan seems to be working.

However, the really interesting thing is that in looking at who follows our Twitter account, we discovered that a vast majority of followers identify themselves as being involved in some way with music, including many composers, but also musicians, ensembles, educators, and presenters.

So we’re now trying to find ways to make use of that information going forward—for example, how best to employ Twitter as we solicit applicants for the resident composer spots at the 2015 MICF.

If we hadn’t developed an active social media component to our communications plan, or taken the time to analyze our followers list, we might not have discovered that so many people were paying attention through that particular channel. The takeaway is that as social media continues to evolve rapidly, the benefits may not be obvious at first, but instead may reveal themselves as you go.

Growing Pains

When I was 18 (and had barely a year or so of musical study under my belt), I remember that one day our school composition seminar was visited by accomplished composer Stephen Paulus, who was kind enough to share some of his experience and expertise as a business-savvy independent composer. A lot of what Stephen described to us—self-promotion, distribution, contract negotiations—seemed laughably out of reach to our undergraduate minds, even pompous; I recall sharing in a bit of nervous tittering while a slightly more advanced student asked if he should create a professional website. That seemed like a silly question to most of us beginning students with few musical offerings, which is why several of us chortled that we would never have a website.

Just over a decade later, I not only have an unremarkable but functioning composer website, but have crossed all kinds of other Rubicons: writing a blog, teaching my first class, receiving my first humble commission payment, and seeing my work reviewed in the paper. I own an 11×17 printer and a coil binder, have a folder for commission agreements, and an envelope for tax-deductible receipts. On the flip side, I’ve never sent out an email concert announcement or Facebook event invite; I’ve never applied for a Guggenheim; and I’ve never presented my own concert or festival.

There is such a thing as reaching for the next rung of the career ladder too early, as in the case of the over-eager self-promoting student, or buying a lot of expensive printing equipment when you print out only a few scores each year. Yet there comes a time for every composer when one must either expand or else stifle development: when works are receiving some performances but there’s nowhere online for someone to listen to or purchase the composer’s music, or when it’s time to create a separate checking account just for composing travel and expenses. It seems to me that there are paths that overemphasize each extreme—pushing to expand too rapidly when it is not helpful, or failing to make the necessary changes and investments when old ways are holding us back. Composers would do well to stay attentive to their own needs right now, and not what their peers, friends, and competitors are doing.

The process of growth looks different for every composer. Some of us build momentum fast, while others do their best work when they take their time. Some of us peak early and ride out a plateau, while other composers modestly chug along until they are knocking out some of their best music in their 70s and 80s. Some of us follow linear paths, while for others development is marked by a process of lateral expansion. But all of us will grow if we keep composing, and all of us will have to deal with musical “growing pains” of some variety.