Recently, I received a cold email outreach from a classical guitarist. The body of the email was short—just two YouTube video links with one sentence descriptions each, then the sign-off from this artist’s assistant (maybe manager?). I didn’t know who this assistant was or the performer.
It took me about 10 seconds to read, but I had no idea why this person had emailed me or what to do with it... so I deleted the email.
How many performing artists unintentionally sabotage their chances of getting hired because they don’t stop to think about the person on the other end of the communication?
There are a few key things I’ve learned in my time as Vice President of Operations for a music booking agency, career coach for performing artists, and arts nonprofit consultant:
You will get better results if you 1) do your homework, 2) be prepared, 3) speak to the other person’s needs and 4) always have a call to action.
When I was at the music agency, we would frequently receive inquiries from artists looking for representation. Unfortunately, many of these emails would just end up in an email folder to be reviewed later, if ever.
Because we only did a roster review about once per year, between performance seasons.
Because 95% of the time, we only added new artists to our roster after one of our agents saw them perform or showcase live.
Because, at the time, each person in our agency received 100–200 actionable emails PER DAY related to our current work.
In short, email inquiries to get an agent (at least at our agency) were an ineffective strategy.
(Though we did receive a very memorable one where the lady had badly Photoshopped her head onto supermodel bodies, which did garner some attention and laughs, but we would never take that artist seriously.)
Generally speaking, the fact that we did not respond had nothing to do with the talent of those artists but with the time constraints and procedures in our own company.
Whenever possible, I would acknowledge receipt of the artist’s email and let them know about our timing and process for review. That kind of communication, however, is very rare.
But as an artist, how would you ever know that? All you experience on the other end of the email is radio silence.
Especially if you’ve put a lot of time and effort into an email campaign, it can be very frustrating.
Which brings me to my practical suggestions:
1) Do your homework.
Take the time to learn about the person or organization you’re wanting to reach. Trust me, it will save you time in the long run.
Have you reviewed the organization’s website to make sure that person still works there?
Are they the correct person in the organization to handle your request? Are you spelling their name correctly? Are you using their correct pronouns?
To go even further, IF this is an organization that you’re seriously interested in, is email the best way to connect with them? Or is there a better way to engage them to start a relationship (such as by networking with them in person at a conference)?
This kind of research and preparation can be tedious, yes, but if you do it, your efforts will give you a clear edge. Otherwise, you risk turning off the very people you’re trying to engage.
2) Be prepared.
Before I dive into this one, a little context and mindset reminder: Most artists feel disempowered when they do outreach, but it’s important to remember that as a performing artist, you are a small business owner.
You are providing a service, and the person you’re reaching out to is either your direct client (presenters, venue owners, talent buyers) or someone you may want to hire as part of your team (in the case of an agent or manager).
Some questions to ask yourself or research may be: What do you know about their business and business model? Do you know how you fit into it? In other words, what can you do for them? How would you make them money?
Understanding your value within the creative economy can help you feel more equal in the power dynamic.
Do you have all your ducks in a row to be ready to start working with them if they say yes? (i.e., an organized press kit with high-quality pictures, videos, and other marketing materials.)
Being prepared and organized sends the signal that you will be professional and easy to work with. That goes a long way in this industry.
3) Speak to their needs.
When you’re prepared and ready for the communication, whether in person or by email, frame your words in a way that speaks to their needs and centers their world (not yours), using their vocabulary ideally. This is a key for just about any kind of sales or marketing communication.
What problem do you solve for them? How do you make their job or life easier? You may not be saying those words exactly, but if you know what they care most about, then you can speak to that need. Clearly state what benefit you are bringing them and why you think you’re a good fit for their venue or organization.
Is it a mixed use venue, such as a bar, looking for bands to draw an audience? Then have the stats from your last several similar gigs and say, "When I played at x location, I consistently drew in X% more than the venue’s usual patrons, and the owner said the audience stayed significantly longer on nights I played." If you don’t have those stats or testimonials, ask for them.
If you’re reaching out to potential agents or managers, you need to have some kind of self-represented touring history to prove you have a career for them to manage. They will be evaluating you based on how well they think they can sell you to their clients (likely bigger presenters/talent buyers). Having press testimonials, stats, high-quality materials, funding for touring, and a healthy audience or social media platform will all work in your favor.
A lot of this is about being as prepared as possible, which will be self-evident if you have that in place.
If you speak to their needs in the communication as well, it shows you understand their world and the interdependent business partnership you are inviting them to consider.
4) Always have a call to action.
Chances are, the folks you are emailing are busy. Help save them time by telling them what to do next (in a nice way).
Across many industries, this one piece of advice is universal: always have a clear call to action (CTA).
In other words, what do you want them to do?
Want them to book you? Get to the point about why they should, then tell them what action to take.
Your CTA may be a button that says something like "Bring xyz to your stage" or "Book now" with a link that auto-generates an email. Or for a slightly softer call to action, say "Learn more" and link to your website, but be sure to also include appropriate contact information in case they want to hire you.
Be careful to not include too many live links, otherwise your email will end up in their spam folder.
In a competitive field, do everything you can to give yourself that extra edge.
Don’t make the mistake of sending a pitch email without doing your homework, being prepared, speaking to their needs, or having a clear call to action.
Otherwise, your email may end up deleted in 10 seconds, like the one in my inbox earlier this week.
What has worked well for you when sending artist outreach emails? If it’s something you avoid or feels frustrating, what gets in your way? Leave a comment or message me directly!
Cheering you on,
Cheri Jamison is an Arts & Nonprofit Management Professional with over 10 years of experience in strategic planning, streamlining operations and community outreach. As a Renaissance woman with a diverse skill-set, Cheri is known for her ability to spearhead new initiatives and bring visionary projects to life.