Advice to composers just starting out

How to send unsolicited scores or make first contact with someone you don’t know.

DO:

  1. Research. Does this person/group perform new music and do they enjoy learning new music? (You can still send scores to folks who don’t specialize or perform new music but set realistic expectations)
  2. Be professional and honest.
  3. Ask in your first email (or first meeting/tweet/contact) if you can send them a score or mp3 link, etc. Or include detailed links to pdfs or recordings in the first email. (If you don’t get a response, try a different method like facebook or twitter. Stalk performer/group in a non-creepy way by networking in person at concerts or via social networks…or ask a mutual acquaintance for an introduction. After you make first contact, go to #5, then #3.)
  4. Send a score/mp3 if requested.
  5. Keep in touch. Follow up with an email once a year or once every 6 months (but not too often) with your upcoming concerts. (It can be a personal email or mass 
    email.) Make friends with them using social media if appropriate. Network in person if possible.
  6. Be patient and think long term. It may take a while for someone to actually look at your score and consider it for performance. If you do a good job with points 2 and 5, your music will get considered at some point.
  7. Be a nice person. Unless you’re such an incredible genius that others don’t mind that you have no social skills, you will need to be a pleasant person. If you’re not already a pleasant person to be around, learn how to become one without being fake.

DO NOT:

  1. Burn bridges. It’s a small, small music world. If you don’t know how this works, ask a friend.
  2. Send an unsolicited score to a stranger and then send follow up email demanding a reply. (“Um, I never asked for this score. Why am I being scolded by this stranger?”) Your piece will never be considered.
  3. Be dishonest. It’s a small world, people will find out….and then they will talk about it.

EXAMPLE of a highly effective first email (this is an actual email with identifying info left out):

Hi Meerenai,
I am a composer at [institution name] and have noticed that you are active as a performer of contemporary music. I have several works for flute that might interest you. You can listen to them at the link below by double clicking on the title of the piece. All of the works below are available for you to listen to. You can go to
[composer’s web site] for more info on me.

[link to files]

Works that might be of interest are:
[name of composition] for flute and computer-generated sounds (on CD)9 minutes
[name of composition] for flute and piano (8.5 min)
[name of composition] for flute, violin, cello, and computer generated sounds (on CD) 8.5 min
[name of composition] for flute, viola, and piano (12 min)
[name of composition] for flute, violin, cello, and percussion (one player on hand instruments) 17 min
[name of composition] for flute and percussion ensemble (12 min)
Let me know if you are interested in getting any music and thanks for listening.

Best,
[composer]

RESULT:
I emailed this person back and am definitely looking for a reason to program some of this music. FYI, it’s December 2011 now and I received this email in June 2011, I still don’t know when I will get to program some of this music even though I want to play them. But if a colleague asks me for recommendations for cool new stuff, I can forward this email to them. 

[Update - January 1, 2014 - My flute and percussion duo has commissioned this composer. To find out who it is, check out our blog post about this composer.]

WHY THIS EMAIL IS GOOD:
This composer made my life easier by listing every composition (and details like instrumentation/duration) and offering a link to where the pieces can be found. This email was successful because I was not asked to do more work. Everything was laid out and I could just listen to the pieces that interested me. (Also, the tone of the email made me feel like they meant to send this to me specifically, and they weren’t just sending emails to every flutist on earth.)

Please don’t make someone you’ve never met before spend 10 minutes searching for stuff on your website because they won’t. Best case scenario: the performer/group will just never get around to going to your website and they will forget that you sent an email that did not help them at all. Worst case scenario: you will make them feel obligated to go on a wild score chase around your website and they will refuse to do this or put it off until later…and when you email to follow up, you might make them feel guilty or obligated. No one wants to feel like a jerk. Please don’t make me feel like the bad guy because I didn’t have time to look at your website when I didn’t request any music from you in the first place.

AFTER DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT, you may still not hear back from the performer or ensemble. This sucks and I’m sorry. We have to trust that the performer/ensemble means well but just did not get around to looking at your stuff. Everyone is busy. Or they can’t find a way to make your piece work with their current projects. Or they just don’t like it. In any case, it’s highly likely that they just didn’t get around to emailing you back. This is why doing a good job with “DO #2 #5 and #7” are important – they will know who you are and will either give you a chance, or feedback, or recommend your piece to another performer/group at some point.

GENERAL ADVICE: The most successful people I know in composition or performance are all genuinely nice people. If you are just starting out, do not forget this.

(if you have other good advice I should add to this list, please email me at flutemusic@gmail.com and I will add it if it might be helpful for composers making their first contact with performers/groups.)

UPDATE: Here’s a great article called “Composition Applications for Beginners” written by Jen Wang of the new music collective Wild Rumpus.