Firstly, you are putting on a concert, so you are achieving more than most people.
I find a really straightforward way to start interacting with all media is to identify your motive first. Answer your own questions - why are you putting on this concert? Are you working with people that you admire? Is it the repertoire? Is it a world premiere? Have you arranged something from scratch? Is it something you’ve commissioned?
Whatever these answers are, this is the basis for your ‘elevator pitch’ when talking to media. This is your sales pitch. A common statement I hear is, ‘I’m no good at selling myself’. Well, you're not doing that. You need to sell the same reason you’ve committed to doing the concert.
So, where does this audience come from? Low hanging fruit first. Write a list of everyone who has ever asked you about your career. Your doctor, your barista, your elderly aunt, your friends at your local community radio station, your grandmother’s friends, your dog walker, your piano tuner. You spend your valuable time in the practise room, so you deserve to spend a fraction of your time asking people to listen to you. Write a personalised email to everyone in this list, or print out a handmade flyer with all the details of the concert. Give it to these individuals, and use the same format when approaching press (we’ll talk about it in a moment).
At the end of the day, we are all too comfortable fobbing each other off, but when was the last time someone said to you ‘I really want you to be there.’ I always think about it from the audience's’ perspective. They will be sacrificing at least two hours of their time (driving there, sitting through the concert, driving home... sometimes even getting a babysitter). The least you can do is invest five minutes individualising the ask. Invest in your audience, and you’ll always have one.
It’s the same (if not worse) for press - even community and volunteer positions! So how do you approach them? First, write a list of media outlets who might be interested in covering your concert. Think broadly, and don’t be afraid to stalk to steal ideas! (It’s what social media was invented for).
Here’s my list:
Free arts noticeboards - they are surprisingly effective... and free.
So you’ve created your hit list. The next step is to go out and get em! As a prior colleague of mine used to say: spray and pray! If you get a 10% success rate of people picking up your story, you’ve done really well.
When contacting companies - pick up the phone. Most people email, and although the phone is an outdated piece of technology, it’s amazing how connected people feel to someone they’ve spoken to. If you pick up the phone, you’ll be ahead of the pack. (A handy hint - I still script my phone calls. They make me anxious, and it’s just what I have to do to get through them.) I always prioritise phone calls over emails, it’s just the way it goes.
Start seeing this as a long-term project, and start a spreadsheet. Keep track of who you’ve contacted. They might not say yes this time, but maybe next concert. As a presenter, I often keep track of people who’ve reached out for an interview, especially if we’ve had to knock them back. You are always curious if you’ve missed the ‘next big thing’.
So you’ve got an interview? Practise, practise, practise. Go back to those initial thoughts of why you’ve put on this concert, and write down the clear reasons for Why, What, Who, When, and How. Buy a friend coffee and ask them to ask you questions, and practise answering them clearly, and concisely. Don’t have any friends? Sorry. Watch Breakfast TV and try to answer the questions they ask the guests. Sadly, most interviewees aren’t Leigh Sales (though we try). Listen to the radio, or if you are especially clever, listen to previous episodes or articles written by your interviewer.
Then the rest is just good behaviour. Be on time. Radio is my performance, and I do get really nervous. A guest turning up late is my equivalent of a performer turning up after the piece starts (even though they only come in at bar 354). Yeah, it still works, but it’s not great and I’m in a bad mood.
Be prepared to be flexible. You might be fascinated by the relationship of the chord structures in bars 35 and 36, but my audience might be wondering why the cello has two holes that look like an f. Stay true to the mantra, there are no stupid questions! I try to think of an audience like that family member who asks me at Christmas how ‘the whole music thing is going’. Well meaning, and occasionally off the mark, but I need to be friendly so that Mum doesn’t give me side-eye over turkey. No matter how off your questions are, you always come off worse. Cara Delevingne got trapped with this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWQDGTTY6W8&t=185s
Oh, and someone asked me - how do you thank your interviewer? The honest answer is support the work they are doing. A social media share to your friends brings the program to new people and helps build our audience. Otherwise, I could count the number of genuine, ‘thanks for having me’ notes on one hand, so if you do that, you are also in good company.