Being a member of a string ensemble is a fun, creative, and challenging way to advance your musicianship. If you're not in one yet, consider forming your own string ensemble.
If you want to push the string ensemble experience to its limits – you need to get your ensemble out there working – playing gigs. To achieve "paid gig" status, you need to market your musical group.
How much marketing time, effort, and money you invest should correlate to the group's goals. If you got together for summer enrichment (of the musical, not financial sort), then you can take a more relaxed approach. If your goal is to establish the ensemble as a serious professional group looking to find an agent who can book tour dates and sign record contracts, then you'll have to be more aggressive.
Regardless of the intensity level, the basic framework of marketing remains the same:
- Clarify who the ensemble is and what makes it unique
- Understand who your audience is, where they are, and how to reach them
- Understand who your competition is and how they impact your own business and marketing decisions
- Get your ensemble in front of the right people through the right channels
It's not a group if it doesn't have a name
The ensemble name is essential, but the name is more than just a name, right? The ensemble name is the most visible manifestation of your brand. Before you can name your group, you need clarity on what your ensemble is about and what makes it unique, where it wants to play and what types of audiences, and how it wishes to be perceived.
If the goal is for the group to be a successful side-gig group that plays weddings and formal events – that's great. If your ensemble is going to focus on a classical-rock-pop sound to get young kids excited about a broader range of music, that's great too. However, these are two very different types of ensembles that will need significantly different brands, ensemble names, and target markets.
So figure out who your ensemble is, so you know how to present to the right audience.
Understanding who your audience is and where to find them
Researching your audience goes together with clarifying your brand. You want to be sure that the type of audience you think you can find in your area is actually there.
A large part of the research you do on your potential audience overlaps with researching who your local competition is. If you do a simple search on Google for "wedding string ensembles near me," you'll start to get a sense of the scale of your local market for wedding performers. Different audience types may take more thoughtful research. For example, a children's ensemble will want to research children's entertainment more broadly.
If there is a local musicians' union or professional association, they may be able to help you conduct your audience and competition research. Researching social media is also critical because this tells you more than who's out there – it gives you insight into where your audience can be found, which is invaluable as you start to market your group. You'll also see how other string ensembles are marketing themselves.
When you do audience and competitor research, you want to be able to answer these questions:
- How strong is the demand for what we want to offer? If there doesn't seem to be any demand, that doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck, it just means you have a tougher row to hoe.
- What's the fee range in your local market? How does this impact the fees you set?
- Where is your potential audience looking for entertainment?
- What are the types of venues, events, or organizations that also cater to your audience?
- What types of music or songs are popular? How will this impact the type of program and song list you offer?
Getting your ensemble heard by the right people
Armed with an ensemble identity and your market research, you now need to take the practical steps that get your ensemble on people's radars.
The first step is to get some marketing collateral together. Again, how much you put create and how much you spend to put that marketing collateral together depends entirely on how high your professional aspirations are for the ensemble. At a minimum, you should have:
- A website
- A presence on key social media sites, which may include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and/or Instagram
- Video and audio recordings of performances, which could be the ensemble performing privately. For obvious reasons, you need to give potential gigs the ability to hear what you've got.
To get your first gig, each member should reach out directly to their network. These people will be your best, quickest opportunity to get a job and testimonial. Word-of-mouth marketing is gold, so always ask for a referral or testimonial.
You may also consider giving a free or charity concert to which you invite key people who are either in a position to hire you or work with the people who do. If you're a wedding ensemble, invite wedding planners, florists, bakers, and the like. If you're a children's ensemble, invite managers at kids venues, libraries, local camps, or leaders of local kids organizations. If you're making this a charity concert – which can help boost attendance – coordinate with a local charity that also intersects with your audience.
Last, there are numerous sites where people search online for musicians, such as GigMasters and GigSalad. Create profiles on such websites. Even when people do a Google search for a musician, these gig aggregation sites are the ones that show up at the top of the Google page.
Marketing right will also take some practice
The research portion of marketing is vital because you don't want to waste your efforts on the wrong people or wrong social media channels. However, marketing is also a process of trial and error. Pay attention to what's getting you the attention and gigs you want and what's not, and adjust accordingly.
Have fun creating your musical ensemble and let us know how your marketing efforts have worked out in the comments below.