A month ago, I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, shivering and chuckling in equal measure, changing from jeans and thermals into a velvet, forest-green gown with sweep train made by Calèche. Pianist-goddess Kate Johnson was occupying the back seat for the same purpose, both of us seeing the funny side of wrestling with layers of clothing in freezing temperatures.
Greta Bradman and Kate Johnson
It’s eight shows into a 16-concert tour across regional and metropolitan Australia and we’ve hit the coldest and – while the church is utterly beautiful – humblest backstage conditions yet, which has relegated preparations to the car. At times like this I relish the phrase “think of the stories”. It’s my fifth self-produced regional tour, although for the last two I’ve had help from Universal Music Australia, who came on board as I wanted to show them how tours can both support albums and artists.
With planning and a relatively small amount of capital to begin, it is possible to self-produce small to medium regional tours. But why bother? These tours are a unique proposition; they don’t sit neatly in the world of today’s primarily digitally-marketed and operated, larger scale offerings. Nor do they necessarily work in standard theatres with costs that may render the risk untenable and aesthetics and audience interactivity more suited to venues with blurred stage-audience differentiation.
Such tours contribute to building a diverse community around you of people of all ages and walks of life. Amazing music festivals might allow an artist or ensemble to interact and develop relationships with, and gather feedback from, a relatively small group of audience members across multiple programs, but on tour, feedback comes from multiple audiences in diverse locations around a single concert program (notwithstanding minor repertoire changes). It’s a unique opportunity to ask for honest feedback and suggestions; to learn what resonates, and how best to communicate with your audience.
As performers, we’d be wise to consider what kind of feedback is meaningful to us, and to continue exploring our motivations to perform the music we do. It needs to be deeper than “it deserves to be heard” or “JS Bach’s awesome” – which of course he totally is. What is it about the music that elicits a response in us, and how can we communicate that deeper story to an audience so as to take them on a shared journey across both a concert program and indeed our career? It’s not enough to rely on well-known composers as the primary draw-cards, especially if we expect audiences at some point to join us for works by lesser-known composers. We need to cultivate trust and rationale.
I believe that it is essential to communicate to potential audience members in a deeply pervasive way (through posters and publicity, as well as in-concert) the answers to three questions: Why now? Why this? Why you?
If you’re a solo performer or you have a small ensemble then I commend to you the idea of embarking on a multiple concert tour of small, esoteric venues in regional Australia and the outer-metropolitan parts of our capital cities. Begin planning 18 months out. Investigate venues with an overarching continuity across a tour – for instance, all churches or town halls, or all lighthouses, or disused warehouses, or sheds full of shearing machinery, or whatever. What is important is that they should ring true with the story behind your show. Research costings and aim for consistency relative to capacity as well. Research capacity for yourself – I’ve often found well-meaning folks at churches can be 100 to 200 bottoms out when it comes to pews, especially factoring in sight-restricted seats.
Think about merchandise that is sincere and in keeping with the story of the tour – a CD or concert program sure, but do you have drawing talents, for instance, that you might call upon to offer your audience something different that helps them get to know you? This is an opportunity to offer up who you are, with music at the centre, and invite the audience to join you in your career, not just the concert. Schedule talking time with your audience – ideally during (that’s you talking) but also after each performance (that’s being conversational).
These audiences are generous, honest, take no bullshit, and often have wonderful stories and suggestions to offer. Listen with an open mind. There’s so much of Australia to explore as a classical musician. The more we get out there and demonstrate and communicate our passion, the more contagious our love for this artform will be.
Greta Bradman’s new album Home is out now on Decca Classics