Asking for a Friend: Selfie Videos & Elusive Second Performances

Welcome to the first installment of “Asking for a Friend,” a new music advice column where arts administrators Rachel Sokolow and Carol Ann Cheung address questions about working as a composer or with composers.

Want to submit a question for the next installment of Asking for a Friend? Click here to send in your question by June 1st.

Dear Asking for a Friend:

I keep getting requests to record videos of myself talking about my compositions for presenters’ social media channels. But these “quick two-minute videos” always wind up being really time-consuming and super awkward to record. I find myself wanting to turn them down — is there a tactful way to handle these requests, and is it okay to ask for an honorarium?

Camera Shy

RS: First off, I hear you. These past couple years, we’ve all had to be so much more visible and available than ever, and it’s creating major burnout. It’s especially the on-camera stuff that gets tiring—the interruption to work, getting dressed, working out decent lighting, etc.

CAC: Definitely. And as for the “super awkward” point Camera Shy brings up, I think there’s room for improvement for how these video ideas come together in order to effectively generate interest in the music. Like, how interesting really is a video where someone says, “Hey [random city], I’m so excited for [ensemble] to play my new piece. See you soon!” But there are also ways artists can (and should) take this into their own hands and provide compelling promo assets — which ultimately benefits all parties involved in a big way.

RS: And, importantly, solidifies your relationship with the folks who are presenting, performing, and promoting your music! Relationships are vital to growing your career, so even in these small details of creating selfie videos, it’s good to consider how to nurture these positive ties.

As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind.” So, first, get clear with yourself about what your needs are, so you can draw some healthy boundaries around these requests. Think about how long it’ll actually take to set up, prepare, and record (and re-record). Then set a guideline for yourself about how much notice you need to be comfortable creating this asset (one week, two weeks?).

It’s 100% okay to share with presenters the actual time you’ll need to carve out to create a short, effective video that both you and the organization will be happy with. If the timeline is too tight or you aren’t able to make it happen for whatever reason, you can provide some context around why it’s not workable for you, and then offer a great, creative alternative as a solution. More often than not, it will be greeted with enthusiasm!

Photo by Catherina Schurmann on Unsplash

Photo by Catherina Schurmann on Unsplash

CAC: YES. If you’re not making a video, presenters will appreciate it if you are able to provide other assets: program notes, short quotes that can be turned into social graphics (Canva is a good app for this), audio excerpts of the music, pictures of your marked up score. Also, to save time in the future, consider creating a library of pre-recorded evergreen video intros for frequently performed works that are ready to send out when requests come in. (Bonus: Upload these videos to your YouTube channel and website, making it really easy for presenters to find and use.)

It’s a good idea to be helpful — it’s in your interest to be easy to promote. The better (and more available) your promotional assets are, the more presenters will use them. And the more presenters use your photos, videos, statements, etc, the more publicity you’re getting on a presenters’ channels, which likely reach a larger or at least different audience than your own accounts.

Now, let’s assume you ARE creating a video. Ultimately, the goal of recording short videos is to give audiences a chance to see a human behind the music and to build curiosity about the piece. If you’re not sure what to say and haven’t been given a specific prompt from the presenter, focus on an aspect of the music or creative process. Is there a story behind why you wrote this piece? Were you fixated on a tiny kernel of a musical idea? Were you influenced by something you read, saw, heard—and how did that translate to your music? (Pro tip: It can help to have someone else ask you questions so you can respond more naturally. )

RS: Now going back to the honorarium question, which can be an uncomfortable topic. Yes, it is completely reasonable to ask if a modest honorarium could be offered as compensation for your time and energy. (If it’s in your contract with the organization that you will participate in press and promotional activity around a performance, it’s worth bringing it up when you’re reviewing the document, and to have a more detailed conversation about their expectations.) Here’s a suggestion of one way you could open that conversation: “Thank you for reaching out to me about this opportunity—I’d be happy to do this in promotion of the concert. I estimate that it will take me approximately X hours to create the short, customized video you’re looking for on this timeline. Is it possible to offer an honorarium for this activity? Looking forward to your thoughts, and thank you for considering.”

Dear Asking for a Friend:

I’ve got a piece that was just premiered by the commissioning artist. How do I convince other musicians to give it a second (and third, etc.) performance?

One Hit Wonder

RS: Relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s part of your responsibility as a composer to cultivate relationships with the people you work with (and especially treasure those people who are enthusiastic about your work), and keep them informed on your activity and projects.

Think about the incredibly complex ecosystem of getting a work commissioned, written, and performed — so many people are involved at every step! When you’re thinking about next performances for a work, spend time researching artists and presenters who could be a good programming fit for your work so you can be strategic about who you’re reaching out to and why.

CAC: Right, it doesn’t work to just throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. What other music does this artist/ensemble perform? Is it similar to your style? There’s little point in trying to convince someone with 98% conservative programming to take a chance on your 45-minute piece for ensemble with live sampling, video, and interpretive dancers. (No shade to live sampling, video, or interpretive dancers.) You can also reverse engineer this process and research where other composers who are writing in a “similar” style (I say that loosely) are getting programmed.

RS: Then, when you make that pitch over e-mail, be sure to personalize the message and explain why you’re reaching out to them specifically. If you have someone in common, perhaps ask that person if they are willing to make an introduction. Or maybe the conductor or soloist who just premiered your music works with other ensembles, and you can reach out to those organizations and mention this connection.

Above all—keep your message short. Include a link to your website, a recent work you’re proud of that fits their programming style (i.e., if you are reaching out to a string ensemble, don’t send a work for wind band), and, if possible, a link to a future performance of your work happening in their region.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

CAC: Ah, the long play! I agree, the work for generating future performances should ideally begin before your new piece premieres.

RS: Yes, whenever you have a premiere or other performances, invite others from local arts organizations. And don’t be shy to extend invitations to people who live further away but you want to be aware of what you have been up to. You never know where it could lead — this habit plants good seeds and lets people know you are thinking of them.

And in general, it’s a good idea to regularly share information — like in a quarterly or seasonal newsletter — about premieres, residencies, and performances to raise awareness of your activities.

Along these lines, I cannot underscore this boldly enough: A well-maintained website is a form of career self-care and sends a quiet indication that you are accessible. People often have limited time to comb through your website, so you want it to make it as easy as possible for interested parties to check out your work and find what they’re looking for—NOT dig around multiple pages of extremely outdated information, and then give up looking.

CAC: Yes, this is important. Websites are essential ports of discovery, keep them tidy. Here are things to prioritize:

  • Events: Keep these up to date, and listed in chronological order (upcoming at the top). Include links to event pages.
  • Work list: You want this to be easy to navigate (organized in a way that someone who knows nothing about your music can understand) and ideally populated with resources like program notes, press quotes, audio clips or Spotify links, video intros, or online scores.
  • Audio/video: It’s really nice to have a separate “Watch & Listen” page on a website so people can just get a quick sample of some of your most important works, and get a sense of your musical style and who you are as a person. I advise artists to keep this limited to a handful of curated assets—not the kitchen sink of all media available.
  • Contact info and newsletter sign up: Yes.

Want to submit a question for the next installment of Asking for a Friend? Click here to send in your question by June 1st.

Have questions that you’d prefer to speak directly with someone about? Submit your inquiries to American Composers Forum’s Help Desk to get in touch with an ACF staff member and connect to resources and support.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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Rachel Sokolow is an Artist Manager at MKI Artists and maintains a freelance consulting practice. She is passionate about collaborating with and developing special projects for composers and performing artists.
Carol Ann Cheung is the Director of Publicity & Marketing at Boosey & Hawkes, where she promotes composers through strategic communications.