Welcome to “Asking for a Friend,” a new music advice column where arts administrators Rachel Sokolow and Carol Ann Cheung address questions about working as a composer or with composers.
When I learned notation and started composing for mixed-instrument ensembles, I was already way beyond the frequent age-restricted calls for scores. And, now even more, the majority of opportunities I see are for “emerging” composers (with often additional criteria). I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways to navigate through these general roadblocks.
Dear Later bloomer,
Thanks so much for writing with your very important and topical question, as it is something our field is starting to incorporate within vital conversations about inclusivity. I hear two questions within your question: 1) how to build a network around your work when no longer in a university setting, and 2) what the word “emerging” really means.
“Emerging” could imply a younger age range, but it could also refer to someone in the early stages of their composition career. We definitely agree that it is time to examine how that word is utilized and perhaps identify another word to describe parameters so that everyone feels welcome to apply. But in the meantime, I’d like to invite you not to count yourself out! If there’s no age restriction listed, it’s definitely worth putting in an application and including something in your artist statement depicting your particular artistic journey.
For example, here are just a few great programs open to any age range, as a sample of possibilities:
And, of course, always check out the ACF Opportunities page, too — if there are parameters to consider, they are included in the description and are easy to spot: https://composersforum.org/opportunities/
Given that there are fewer existing fellowships and grants catered toward older emerging composers, here are some ideas on how to build your own network and opportunities. First, do some research on artist residencies — these are great opportunities to have quiet space to focus on your creative practice and also meet and collaborate with like-minded artists.
And second, cultivate your local network, starting small with the people you know, then building outward from there:
- Go to concerts of musicians/ ensembles you admire whom you would love to play your music, and start developing relationships with them.
- Get to know your local music network by joining an ensemble or attending meet-up events in your community.
- Join an artist collective (or start your own!) to share knowledge and support with other creatives.
- Post a request for musicians on Craigslist, post to a Facebook group of musicians in your area, or explore community music schools to find people who might be interested in performing your music.
- Check out Meetup.com, and join an existing group about playing classical music or make one!
Dear Rachel & Carol Ann,
I’m an indie record producer/label working with three groups of older, professionally established, yet “indie” artists (read: over 60) making recordings of (truly) fantastic new music that doesn’t easily fit into either “classical” or “jazz” genres. These artists are fantastic performers, yet unaware of how to self-promote, especially in the contemporary landscape of social media.
Do you have any advice for older artists about a) how to develop greater comfort and facility promoting themselves via social media; b) how to find experienced publicists who can help us promote niche-genre recordings to the audiences that seek it; and c) if we are self-promoting, how far in advance of a release date should we be seeking press? Many thanks for *any* advice you can offer!
Let’s get social
Trust me — it’s not just older folks who struggle with navigating digital spaces. Promoting an album today means proactively finding your listeners on multiple platforms — radio, YouTube, digital streaming platforms, social media, live shows, you name it. Yes, the number of different platforms in the digital sphere can be overwhelming, but it’s also an opportunity for artists who don’t fit into neat, pre-defined genre boxes to find niche audiences.
The great news for these artists is that they’re already working with a label, who can ensure recorded assets are fed to all the streaming platforms with the proper metadata.
If you’re sending a press release out yourself, I’d say to plan around 6-8 weeks before the album release date — but this can also depend on what time of the year you’re releasing, if there are events tied to the release, if you’re trying to hit the holiday gift lists, etc. Make an electronic press kit to share with press and music platform contacts that includes the album information and artwork, audio files, and artist bios and headshots. This can be as simple as creating a password-protected folder in Dropbox or Google Drive, and including the link in your press release.
Having a publicist on your team can be a big help in navigating a release plan, getting better placement on music platforms, and securing interviews and reviews. Many publicists today also advise on (or even handle) social media for clients, or can recommend someone who can help your artists with creating posts.
How to find the right publicist? Well, it’s often a bit of a process of researching, gathering info from peers, and reaching out to many potential collaborators before you find the right fit. I sometimes advise artists to look at other artists making (relatively) similar music to see who they’re working with. Or just literally google “classical music publicist,” and start reaching out to folks to introduce yourself, set up a meeting, and see if it’s a good fit — oftentimes, publicists can recommend names of other colleagues even if they’re unable to take you on for any reason.
On the topic of social media: one great thing about the world of social media is that there is enough room for all types of folks, ages, and backgrounds. A few tips for figuring out how and what and where to begin posting:
- Again, do some research. Check out what other labels and artists who you admire are doing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. What kinds of posts, artwork, and videos are they creating, and where are they posting them? It’s helpful to get content ideas from others first, and then emulate until you find your own way. (By the way, there are some great free tools available online for designing professional-looking posts, like Canva and Adobe Express.)
- Start with one channel. If social media feels too vast and complicated, narrow your scope to one channel that feels manageable or fits your personal style more. Many of the artists I work with primarily focus on one channel (say, Twitter or Instagram) that most suits their manner of expression. Get comfortable in one space, and then down the road you can adapt your posts across other platforms.
- Ask yourself, “What makes your group you?”— and then show us. Use this question as a guiding principle for what kind of content you can share to help audiences understand who you are, what kind of music you play, and what makes it so special. Today, visual content (i.e. videos and photos of you performing or talking about music) is key to engaging potential fans on social media — just keep it short and sweet. You can capture a lot with a cell phone, a tripod, and good lighting these days (or find a younger person who is willing to help). But one thing that I’ve found never fails as content: performers just having a really joyful time playing music together.
Best of luck,
Want to submit a question for the next installment of Asking for a Friend? Send in your question by May 1.
Have questions that you’d prefer to speak directly with someone about? Submit your inquiries to American Composers Forum’s Help Desk to get in touch with an ACF staff member and connect to resources and support.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.
A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.
Rachel Sokolow is an Artist Manager at MKI Artists and maintains a freelance consulting practice. She is passionate about collaborating with and developing special projects for composers and performing artists.
|CAROL ANN CHEUNG
Carol Ann Cheung is the Director of Publicity & Marketing at Boosey & Hawkes, where she promotes composers through strategic communications.