Your goal may be to give recitals on all the great stages of the world. Getting there requires lots of diverse experience, practice, and often plying your art in as many unusual places as possible. Let's face it: people do not seek out concert music as much as they used to. As we build a career we need to keep an ensemble together by getting as much quality work as possible. Quality work, as defined here, is something that brings income while furthering the artistic mission of your ensemble (do not take performances that will push you away from your goals -- a gig may be tempting in economic terms, but if the nature of the work encourages bad habits it may not be worth it.) Here are some of the things we did early in our career, and kept doing them for the satisfaction and enrichment they brought us:
Work with Young Audiences
Young Audiences is one of the leading arts-in-education organizations, and has chapters in many areas of the U.S. (I have not worked with arts-in-education organizations outside of the U.S., but a little investigation in your area should prove fruitful). YA helps artists develop programs designed for performances in schools, then book you in concerts for children. If you can keep the attention of 200 seven year olds for 45 minutes, that experience and training will be valuable in developing rapport with anyone. At the same time, you will be building the next generation of concert-goers. There are many other organizations that also taylor their efforts towards bringing the arts to children.
Perform in retirement and nursing homes. Some of our most crystalline memories come watching the child bloom in a ninety year old's eyes. Be creative in finding any public space that is frequented by potential audiences. Malls, parks, city street corners (busking has launched many a career). A composer friend of ours was in the hospital and we decided to pay a surprise visit and perform his new piece for him in his room. A few moments after we started the 'concert', an archetypal head nurse showed up to inform us that if we did not stop IMMEADIATLY we would be arrested. We took flight, although when hospital administrators heard of the incident, they actually hired us for a future scheduled performance for staff and patients.
Start Your Own Concert Series
Why depend solely on having someone else hire you...produce your own series. The Amherst Sax Quartet produced almost two decades of four saxophone quartet concerts per year. It is a great opportunity to develop an audience (and all the skills that are necessary to be a success), develop a repertoire (without being at the mercy of a concert presenter's idea of what you should play), establish a community presence, nuture teamwork within your group, and have a greater appreciation of what the professional (and dedicate amateur) concert presenters do in the service of offering your ensemble to their audiences. Take a look at some of the 19 years of Amherst Saxophone Quartet program books on this site. We've included all the pages from each year's book to give you ideas about repertoire, design, and even what types of funders and advertisers you might be able to attract to support your endeavor. Many, although not all, of the advertisers in the books were business that we actually use and endorse...its a great place to start looking for support. Many of the reviews we received over the years were because of the series. After a few years, reviewers, and the media in gereral, came to expect the series to be presented. They were then able to schedule coverage well in advance of the concert dates. Our government and foundation support over the years was all built to fund the series, and probably would not have been given to us for other reasons. Finally, the series, over the years, was central to our mission, and furthered our goal of being a full-time chamber music quartet that performed the saxophone quartet repertoire and encouraged composers to extend that genre.
A step beyond creating an annual concert series is to gain a long-term residence at an institution like a college, library, or even a business. The balance of having a substantial 'home base' in addition to touring concerts is invaluable. This is a big topic, and more information will be added in the coming months. Also, please feel free to add your own comments using the comment box at the bottom of each page.
In today's world there are many good reasons to make recordings (CDs and music for web delivery, as well as video for a variety of platforms). They include developing an audience for your live performances, making new compositions available for people to listen to, offering your unique take on more familiar music, and listening to your edited performance for personal pleasure (or agony). A bad reason to make a recording (either self-produced or with a record company) is to make money. The ASQ recorded for some of the largest record companies in the world, sold many tens of thousands of recordings, and NEVER received any royalty checks. Some classical ensembles actually LOSE money for each recording sold. A caveat here is that if it does not cost you too much per copy, selling recordings at your performance may generate small amounts of income for operating expenses. Several times on the road, we were able to sell enough recordings to pay for the tour's (inexpensive) travel expenses. [See the 'Financial History' page (not yet posted) for a better view of the ASQ's Income and Expenses over the years.]
Develop a Repertoire and Court Composers
There is nothing as exciting as discovering that the new music you encouraged a composer to write for you is a masterpiece. It is, in my opinion, the most important thing we can do to further what we do as artists. It takes a lot of time to seek composers who's music speaks to you as an ensemble, but the effort is crucial. Once you have developed a relationship, the collaboration between composer and performer often produces a new work uniquely suited to your ensemble. Further, you will have the benefit of having the composer give you feedback (how often have we all wished we could ask questions of long-dead composers!). We have found that the act of working with living composers has given us insights into how to work with the music of those long past. Responses from composers we have worked with in rehearsal have ranged from "No, that's not the way I want it. It should go like this.", all the way to "That's not at all the way I meant it, but I like your version better!". We've even had the experience of preparing a work from a particular composer in multiple concerts over a 15 year period. Each time the composer requested big changes in performance, tempo, dynamics, etc., over previous outings. A great source of information about composers and how to work with them is the American Composers Forum.