Why you should be promoting your career now – an agent advises.

2020 has not been a good year for those of us in the classical music business and, as we approach the end of our second lockdown, it is understandable that a lot of us are feeling weary and discouraged.

However, you may be surprised to hear that our advice is now is the perfect time to put yourself back out there and start seeking out those future performance opportunities that have been in such short supply.

At Polyphony Arts we are already seeing an uptick in bookings for our clients; music societies, festivals and other venues are starting to think about programming again as performances once again seem possible, and the news about successful vaccines for Covid-19 has done much to lift everyone’s spirits.

There is hope, but we want to see you turn any new-found optimism into actual bookings. And now is the best possible time to start working on precisely that.

So, even if we are still in lockdown, what can you be doing now to build your career as we leave 2020 and head for 2021 and beyond?

First of all, you need a good mindset. Although it may not feel like it, your career is still active and needs your attention more than ever!

We know that things will never go back to exactly how they were before, but that may be no bad thing. Right now promoters are more understanding than they have ever been of how difficult and frustrating it can be for musicians trying to promote themselves. The people who can give you work actively want to help you. That’s a really important message to hold onto.

But before you start sending out information about yourself, take stock of every aspect of how you go about promoting yourself:

  • Is your CV up-to-date?
  • Maybe you have done some interesting work during the pandemic performing online or working on a particular project at home – have you included that?
  • Do you have a full list of all your online recordings with the right links?
  • How good is your network?
  • Are there more connections you have made online over the past nine months that you can maybe leverage now?
  • How do you describe yourself now?
  • How do you think about yourself as a musician?

This last question is a really important one because unless you have a healthy and positive view of yourself, you are not going to be able to project a positive image to the promoters you hope will book you.

If you have an agent, then they will help you with a lot of that, but if you don’t, there are still resources out there to help you.

We have designed a number of packages which you can access to help you with all these aspects of managing and developing a successful career whether that is professional coaching, materials to help you become your own agent, or even a simple module on how to write the perfect pitch.

And, with Christmas on the horizon, any of these would make a terrific gift from your nearest and dearest  – after all, they’re the ones who have always been your biggest supporters.

Our message to you is: stay positive, be adaptable, take this time to review where you are, and reach towards a brighter future where you can and will perform again.

“Competitions are for horses, not artists”

Blog post by Sandy Clark – Composer

“We’ve really enjoyed looking through all the entries…”, “we’re thrilled by the popularity of the competition”, “…unfortunately your composition was not selected this time…”.

These phrases are all too commonly emailed to any emerging composer applying for commissions and competitions. Not seeing your name on a shortlist of successful applicants can be exhaustingly demoralising, particularly when your blood, sweat, tears, and all important time has gone into your work. You may want to just throw the towel in and think “why do I bother if nobody understands or appreciates my work?”. But fret not!

As an emerging composer myself, and in the final stages of completing my PhD at the University of Hull, I am beginning to realise the importance of self-promotion and determination. Throughout our education, whether at music college or university, opportunities are in abundance to work with peers, write music for visiting artists in workshops, or even compose for large ensembles.

Unfortunately, the ease of these opportunities doesn’t carry on into the real world and we have to look for opportunities ourselves. While competitions do provide a great platform for composers, it is difficult to gauge how a judging panel will receive your music, and therefore whether its worth you putting in the hours of work required to write a new piece.

One distinct advantage to competitions is that they force us to create. In November/December 2019, I unsuccessfully applied for five competitions. Yes, I was very bitter about the “unsuccessful” part at the time, but once I had surfaced from my momentary despair, I realised that I had four new pieces in my repertoire that I didn’t have before (one submission was a pre-existing piece). Now those pieces are ripe for sending off to other ensembles to consider for future concerts!

Bartók famously said that competitions are for horses, not artists. I disagree. The support that competitions provide emerging artists is multitudinous. Firstly, there’s the financial aspect. While some competitions don’t offer prize money, some offer a lot of money, which can help form the bread and butter of any freelance or self-employed artist. If I had won all five of the competitions I applied for in winter 2019, I would be around £4000 richer!

This brings me on to the E-word. Exposure. The topic of many a meme centred on artists being paid with exposure rather than actual money; competitions usually do both for composers. Exposure shouldn’t be overlooked, though. The ensembles and organisations offering competitions are often some of the wealthier and better-attended ensembles. Therefore your music has the potential to reach quite a lot of the right people, and you never know who might be in the audience.

Exposure (and competitions in general) also has the potential to lead to repeat performances, recordings, publication and further commissions. Of the five competitions I entered, all were offering at least one public performance, two were offering a professional-quality recording, and one was offering publication.

From the perspective of an ensemble, competitions can also bring people into contact with new music. Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme was instrumental in connecting dozens of composers with dozens of amateur music groups around the UK, most of which likely consider Stravinsky and Shostakovich the pinnacle of contemporary music. Schemes and competitions such as these are an excellent way to connect music creators with music makers, and in turn, music listeners.

Usually when applying for competitions, residencies or schemes, a composer is asked to provide a CV including a list of awards and prizes. Generally, the longer your list of awards, the more impressive your application looks against others. This brings me back to my first point, which was that your chances of actually winning competitions might be quite slim. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with your talents, but more to do with personal taste. Generally, I like to write music that people enjoy playing and listening to. That’s what gives me satisfaction as a composer.

Some people (a few of whom have been fairly vocal about it) consider this to be “selling out” and “inartistic”. But what is art for if not to be listened to, seen, observed, or appreciated? But you can’t please everyone, and this is something that hits home when you put your artistic heart and soul on the line in applying for competitions. 99 times out of 100 a rejection will not be because they didn’t like your music, it will be because they liked someone else’s better. But that’s the crux. They liked it. The music itself isn’t necessarily better – it just suited the judges’ tastes better. Chances are, if you send it to somebody else, they’ll love it and want to perform it!

So when applying for competitions, residencies and schemes when you don’t have a massive list of prizes or awards under your belt, how can you possibly make your application stand out?! I believe the answer is in commendations. Just as I will later this year when winter comes back around, befriend a musical director of a choir, orchestra, brass band, you name it. Get them to perform your pieces, and then get them to write a testimonial for you about your work.

On your CV you can then replace the awards and prizes section with real words from real people about how fantastic they think your music is, or how great it is to work with you. Show them that your music spreads joy and connects with people. That kind of feedback can be just as powerful as the credentials of any competition.

Sandy Clark

Visit Sandy’s Website

NEW ARTIST! A warm welcome to award-winning composer Edwin Roxburgh!

Polyphony Arts is delighted to welcome Edwin Roxburgh to the Polyphony Arts team!

Distinguished composer and virtuoso oboist, Edwin has won numerous prizes and Fellowships. As a student, he was recipient of the Elgar Trust Award through a BBC Symphony Orchestra commission, as well as a British Academy Award for his Oboe Concerto, An Elegy for Ur, and a Cobbett Medal for Services to Chamber Music.

Edwin’s musical works encompass a broad range of instrumental setting, adventuring through a variety of sophisticated, fascinating sound worlds. His work Saturn, with a tribute to Holst, explores the mythical characters of its moons and satellites, in “an epic orchestral and electronic space-scape effortlessly blending Roxburgh’s understanding of Boulez and Stockhausen with a Birtwistle-like sense of ritual” (The Wire). He awaits a performance of his opera Abelard (libretto by Edwin and Julie Roxburgh), published by United Music Publishing under the auspices of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Other commissions include How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear, for narrator and orchestra, produced on ITV’s Aquarius with Vincent Price and Diana Menuhin as narrators. Recordings of Edwin’s works are available on various prestigious labels, including NMC, Naxos, Warehouse and Metier.  

Beside his busy career as a composer, Edwin’s artistic activities include performing, conducting and teaching. He is currently a visiting tutor and researcher at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, where he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship, and has conducted numerous premieres – originally with the Twentieth Century Ensemble of London, which he founded, and later with several other principal orchestras of the UK.

You can read more about Edwin here: https://polyphonyarts.com/edwin-roxburgh/

What a pleasure to have you with us, Edwin!