Getting Noticed in the 21st Century

By Edna Landau

How does one begin a performing career in today’s incredibly competitive music world? A legendary manager tells all.

It was September 1979 and I was spending my first week of employment with Hamlen Management at the Western Alliance of Arts Administrators conference in Seattle. My mission was to get as many concert bookings as possible from a large group of presenters I had never met, for a list of artists that no one had ever heard of. Charles Hamlen and I had memorized the names and affiliations of all the conference attendees in advance. We parked ourselves on either side of the main elevator so that we could pounce on people as they exited and engage them in conversation without having to strain to read the small print on their name tags. The best way to get noticed? Perhaps not, but certainly memorable.

Emboldened by our strategy, I took things to the next step at a cocktail party. “Excuse me,” I said to a Seattle presenter, “I have a problem. Perhaps you can help. You see, my parents live in Seattle and they don’t really understand what I do. If you would book Carol Wincenc for a concert, they would certainly get the picture.” The presenter smiled wryly and took me to breakfast the next day. I got the concert and so began my career as an artist manager.

How did Hamlen/Landau Management grow from a staff of three in a one-room studio apartment to the largest international management agency? Hard work, blind faith, passion for the cause of promoting young artists, incessant networking, and a vision that refused to be tarnished by naysayers. Our mission was to give excellent service to both artists and presenters. We exuded excitement about what we were doing and our energy was infectious. What we didn’t have was money! We borrowed from everyone we could think of and networked our way to James Wolfensohn, who made the match with Mark McCormack and IMG in 1983. We never dreamt that Itzhak Perlman would adorn our roster three years later.

Fast forward to 2010. Having concluded a very happy and fulfilling 23-year tenure as managing director of IMG Artists in September 2007, I am now entering my third year as director of career development at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. How wonderful it is to again be discovering and guiding young, gifted musicians with their whole professional lives ahead of them. Surprisingly, the management playing field is much the same, with relatively few new companies, generally founded by entrepreneurial individuals who left the larger agencies to venture out on their own. The tough reality for today’s emerging artists is that these companies are probably less likely to take a chance on an unknown than Charles and I were. Furthermore, they cannot hope for the kind of collaboration and promotion that a record company afforded in those days with long-term exclusive contracts. The likelihood of debut recitals being reviewed is likewise dramatically diminished. What impact does this have on today’s young, hopeful musicians?

In my view, the impact is significant but also exciting. Instead of waiting to be discovered or favorably endorsed by the press, today’s emerging artists have the opportunity to introduce themselves to their potential audience and build that audience in many meaningful and creative ways. With the myriad opportunities provided by the Internet, they can share news of their career via a personal Web site or Facebook page, distribute their own recordings, post samples of their work on YouTube, build and communicate regularly with their fan club, and possibly attract additional attention via a blog. They can share a prize-winning performance in a competition with a worldwide audience live or within a matter of days. The Internet also offers a wealth of information on how to accomplish almost anything that could be relevant to building a career. Those wishing to embark on orchestral and teaching careers can consult Web sites acquainting them with job opportunities around the world and learn about a wide range of excellent training and professional development programs available to them.

Does this mean they no longer need a manager? Not quite. Anyone aspiring to an active performing career in prestigious venues in major cities (with the exception of orchestral players) will, at some point, need to pique the interest of a management to secure the desired engagements or hire an experienced personal representative with connections. However, such young musicians represent a relatively small percentage of today’s graduates and there are many other meaningful ways to pursue a performing career. The most important thing for all young musicians is to ask themselves: What makes me special? What is my passion? In what do I excel? Once they have identified what is truly meaningful to them, their chances for success will be greatly enhanced.

The next step will involve strategic thinking as to what will help a particular musician or ensemble stand out in a crowded field. This might entail unusual programming, interesting collaborations with other artists (perhaps of other genres), commissioning new works, creating a concert series or festival, performing in untraditional venues, pursuing new avenues of outreach or founding a non-profit organization to make their particular passion a reality. Then they will need to network with everyone they know and everyone they can get to, so as to learn from their experience and gain their support. Throughout this time, they should take advantage of every opportunity to perform. The confidence and experience gained from each performance is invaluable and no one can predict who will be in the audience.

In recent years, we have seen huge growth in the number of chamber ensembles pursuing careers with great success. Some have been particularly effective in building an identity and enhancing their profile through distinctive programming. The Kronos Quartet set the example through its identification with new music and the constant stretching of boundaries that has inspired so many younger quartets. Its mantle has been picked up by groups such as Brooklyn Rider, which regularly collaborates with an exotic array of virtuoso performers, and Ethel, whose latest CD, Oshtali, represents the first recording of works by American Indian students. The San Francisco-based Del Sol Quartet has twice won the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming in recognition of its very creative cross-genre collaborations. (Check out its delightful Stringwreck for quartet and dancers.) Fifth House Ensemble, based in Chicago, has built a strong local audience and garnered impressive press attention around seasons that are based on a single theme which may involve a visual component or incorporate elements of theater, dance, and high fashion into the musical whole. A multi-faceted ensemble with creative ideas and a great sense of communal responsibility, Fifth House is currently self-managed, making its achievements all the more remarkable.

Ensembles may gain recognition more quickly if they identify themselves with specific composers in whose music they excel. Witness the Pacifica Quartet’s recording of Elliott Carter’s complete string quartets, a remarkable Grammy-winning achievement. Similarly, the Calder Quartet has closely identified itself with the music of Christopher Rouse, who wrote his Third String Quartet for the group. The Chiara Quartet, which celebrated its longtime friendship with composer Jefferson Friedman by commissioning two string quartets from him, has recently embarked on a more ambitious collaboration with leading young composers called Creator/Curator. Beyond string quartets, the brilliant sextet, eighth blackbird, has exclusively championed new music to cheering audiences throughout the world, closely aligning itself with composers such as Steve Reich, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet it commissioned. Imani Winds has made a significant contribution to the chamber-music literature through its five-year Legacy Commissioning Project, which will give birth to ten new works for woodwind quintet.

I have spent considerable time over the last two years interviewing young artists and ensembles who regularly crop up on concert series, asking what obstacles they faced early on, how they kept themselves going, and what proved to be their “big break.” In all cases, I heard: “I took every opportunity to perform that came my way,” “I was passionate about my mission,” and “I asked for help from everyone I knew.” Here are a few memorable examples:

♦ Conductor Alondra de la Parra successfully obtained $50,000 in sponsorship for an orchestra that she had dreamt about but that didn’t exist at the time. She subsequently formed the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas and raised over a million dollars from the same source. Her resourcefulness and mission to introduce audiences to new music and musicians from the Americas quickly established her as an artist to watch.

♦  Many of Simone Dinnerstein’s early concerts were for the Piatigorsky Foundation, including the first ever classical-music concert in the Louisiana State Prison system. Simone had a passion for Bach’s Goldberg Variations and wanted to record them. She raised the money from three donors and then sent the first five tracks to a group of managers and record companies. Several were interested in hearing her perform it live, so she organized a New York recital; funding came from an “angel” in Israel who had heard about Simone from a friend who attended one of her house concerts. He found an audio clip of a Goldberg performance on Astral Artists’ Web site and was so moved that he even bought her gown!

♦  Time for Three was relatively unknown on the night when two members of the ensemble were performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Music Center and the power failed. They spontaneously volunteered to entertain the audience until electricity was restored. The story was immediately released by the Associated Press, earning them the recognition that their creative programming and hard work hadn’t yielded up to that point.

♦  Cellist Matt Haimovitz saw an opportunity to cultivate a fresh new audience for classical music by playing in intimate, unusual venues and by launching his own record label (Oxingale). His 50-state Anthem tour in 2003 celebrated living American composers and prompted the San Francisco Chronicle to comment: “Haimovitz has been busy reinventing the classical recital for the new millennium.” His recent CD with his all-cello band, Uccello, Meeting of the Spirits, was just nominated for Best Classical Crossover Album.

♦  While still at Oberlin, flutist Claire Chase applied for and received a grant from the Theodore Presser Foundation to commission five new pieces for the millennium. Not long after, she was instrumental in co-founding the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Over the past 10 years, she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for the flute, many of them written expressly for her.

♦  Violinist Rachel Barton Pine is the first woman to have her compositions, arrangements, and cadenzas included in the Carl Fischer Master Collection Series. She is the president of the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation, which assists young artists through various projects, including an instrument loan program and education and career grants. 

All of these artists have management today. While their abundant talent and high level of accomplishment still may not have been enough to initially secure them a manager, it would seem that their undeniable creativity and initiative enriched their profile and made them more attractive. Managers have an easier time securing engagements if an unknown artist has an interesting story.

What is the significance of all this for today’s educational institutions? It is the realization that excellent musical training will only take students so far. They must be presented with inspiring role models who can verbalize and demonstrate how they achieved success. They must be taught a wide variety of skills that will enable them to succeed as the individual businesses that they are. Robert Sirota, president of Manhattan School of Music, speaks about the need to “create individualized toolboxes for students.”

Happily, in the past decade there has been a proliferation of courses and workshops at most conservatories and music schools, developed to stimulate entrepreneurship and to teach students the skills they need to stand on their own feet during the difficult years that usually separate graduation and the beginning of a formal career. At the Colburn Conservatory, Dean Richard Beene has expanded the school’s curriculum to include three required courses entitled The Working Musician, The Teaching Musician, and The Healthy Musician. At Colburn and at other schools including Bard College Conservatory, students must secure off-campus performances and handle all of the arrangements themselves. At Juilliard, the noted public relations expert Mary Lou Falcone has been offering “Completing the Singer” for the past 15 years; for even longer, Robert Sherman has been teaching “The Business of Music.” The most recent schools to establish entrepreneurship centers are Manhattan School of Music and the New England Conservatory, joining earlier programs that include the University of Colorado, University of South Carolina, and Eastman School of Music’s “Institute for Music Leadership.” The new Director of Manhattan School of Music’s program, Ed Klorman, came to the school’s attention partly as a result of his having co-founded the Canandaigua Lake Music Festival (New York). Hopefully, his experiences will inspire some of their students to create their own concert series and festivals.

Today, students are fortunate to have excellent resources and reference materials to aid and guide them, such as “Beyond Talent,” a widely used text written by Angela Myles Beeching; New England Conservatory’s online “Bridge Worldwide Music Connection”; Rice University’s “Navigating Music Careers,” a Web site series of about 150 videos on important career topics, produced by Janet Rarick; Eastman’s, a treasure trove of information about orchestras, in particular, and David Cutler’s (Duquesne University) practical book/Web site, “The Savvy Musician.” Eric Booth, the guru of audience engagement, offers much to today’s and tomorrow’s music educators in “The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible,” as does Bonnie Blanchard in “Making Music and Enriching Lives, A Guide for All Music Teachers.” Chamber Music America offers a free career seminar series in New York City with many of the sessions appearing later online, as well as a weekly e-newsletter with valuable grant and residency information for chamber ensembles. The League of American Orchestras offers programs that assist conductors in developing professional and leadership skills, and its Bruno Walter National Conducting Preview is an important showcase for top emerging conducting talent. Arts Presenters, in collaboration with the Sphinx Competition, which showcases black and Latino musicians, hosts the Young Performers Career Advancement (YPCA) Program as part of its annual conference in New York. Fractured Atlas offers a variety of valuable services to artists, such as fiscal sponsorship, affordable insurance, and online courses in the business of the arts.

It should be pointed out that students will thrive the most if they find themselves in an entrepreneurial environment where they are encouraged to identify their personal mission and apply their acquired skills in a community outside their schools. Today’s students seem to relish the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned in their outreach courses, taking their artistry to hospitals, hospices, retirement homes, and schools deprived of arts education. The Juilliard School provides grants for students to use during school breaks to teach in places as far away as Tanzania and South Africa, thus helping to instill in them a real sense of vision. Joseph W. Polisi, its president, explained: “The profession is looking for multifaceted people who can be articulate beyond their instrument in spoken word or action.” In speaking about The Academy, jointly founded with Carnegie Hall in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, he said: “Our goal is not to train them to be teachers but to get them out of their comfort zone and teach them how to use their art to influence communities, principals, and parent organizations.” At University of Southern California (USC), Midori has established the Midori Center for Community Engagement. As an extension of this, her International Community Engagement Program, now in its fifth year, has taken instrumentalists selected through auditions to Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia to play chamber music in hospitals, orphanages, and schools for the disabled.

But opportunities also abound closer to home for students to flex their educational muscles and obtain valuable teaching experience. Many recipients of Juilliard’s Morse Fellowships, who were afforded opportunities to teach once a week over the course of a year in elementary and middle schools, have gone on to become teaching artists and education directors in the orchestral world. With the Colburn Conservatory’s proximity to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where the spirit of El Sistema is pervasive, students are serving as additional mentors to young musicians in Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) by teaching weekly private lessons and assisting in ensemble rehearsals, while concurrently benefiting from professional development offered through the orchestra. Colburn’s president, Sel Kardan, stresses the significance of this program, which, in his words, “reinforces the importance of assuming civic responsibility from the very beginning of our students’ Colburn experience.” In the future, some might choose to apply to the Abreu Fellows Program at New England Conservatory, which offers training to outstanding graduate-level musicians in developing the leadership skills needed to direct music-education centers internationally.

The word “entrepreneurship,” in a more traditional sense, is at the root of the success that has been achieved by schools such as the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina, which bring together arts and business school faculty in order to help students articulate their personal vision and take first steps to launch their dream projects. One such project is Vinyl Records, a student-run record label that received a $25,000 grant from the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative. At the University of Michigan, the entrepreneurial culture spawned a student-run venture, Arts Enterprise, which now has seven chapters around the country. Founded by two bassoon players, Nathaniel Zeisler and Mark Clague, it heightens students’ awareness and feeling of empowerment to find new avenues of expression for their performance skills and creativity, while having an introduction to existing successful business models. Among its activities, Arts Enterprise mobilized a group of students who traveled to New Orleans, where they engaged in various outreach projects designed to aid the artist community in recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. At schools including Oberlin and Eastman, special creativity and initiative grants encourage students to undertake innovative projects with potential long-term impact.

The responsibility for training tomorrow's performing artists doesn’t rest solely with the schools. Students have a rich array of summer programs from which to choose, including Music Academy of the West, the Perlman Music Program, Music at Menlo, the Yellow Barn Music School and Festival, and, in Canada, the Banff Centre. Conductors can gain valuable extra-musical training at the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen, where participants are given practical advice that demystifies the process of building their careers. Aspiring orchestra musicians can gain a wealth of experience and information that goes beyond traditional orchestra training at the New World Symphony, the National Orchestral Institute, and the National Repertory Orchestra. At NOI, students are engaged in discussions about new orchestra models such as The Knights and A Far Cry, experimenting with alternative formats for programming and undertaking occasional conductorless concerts so as to have maximum involvement in shaping the musical performance. At the New World Symphony, whose goal is to lose players to professional orchestras (!), part of the training includes introductions to marketing, fundraising, and public relations, and exposure to donors through interaction at post-concert receptions. Similarly, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS II program introduces its artists to the fullest range of activities that typify the life of a performing artist, involving them in concerts, outreach, recording, donor events, and radio interviews. These types of opportunities, as well as Carnegie Hall’s professional development workshops and ACJW Ensemble, provide an excellent avenue for exceptional artists to be noticed.

Since young emerging artists can rarely afford a publicist, mention should be made here of the generosity of the veteran publicist Jay K. Hoffman who, earlier this year, offered a free consultation to any artist or ensemble “seeking their unique voice within the arts community and the skills needed  to cultivate a sustainable and successful career.” Recognizing this need in emerging artists further advanced in their careers, 21C Media Group acted on the initiative of its marketing director, Sean Gross, to create “Artists to Watch,” a program directed by Wende Persons that offers a platform for awareness and visibility for “rising star” artists at greatly reduced fees. Artists fortunate enough to be performing in southern California benefit immeasurably from the great dedication of Jim Eninger, whose Clickable Chamber Music Newsletter is published weekly online as a free community service and particularly highlights emerging young performers.

Now comes an overarching question: With artists doing everything they can to gain visibility, will concert presenters actually notice them? Do they need to enter a competition in hopes of winning a top prize? If they can perform well under stress and are ready for the prizes afforded to them, the answer for some may be yes. Christopher Beach, president of the La Jolla Music Society, presents a sold-out Discovery Series of three concerts, consisting solely of first-prize winners. However, he also spends considerable time scouting and presenting other extraordinary young talents, as do Leila Getz, founder of the Vancouver Recital Society, and Neale Perl, president of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Both also try to attend the finals of the Young Concert Artists Auditions to acquaint themselves with the highly promising young talents chosen by their jury. They are not deterred by the challenge of attracting an audience for an unknown artist, having developed a solid bond of trust with their audience and excitement over the joy of discovery. They are always on the lookout for attractive, new, intimate venues, suitable for showcasing younger talent. In Washington, D.C., Neale Perl recently started an Encore Series to present artists returning after stellar debuts. At Pepperdine University, Rebecca Carson makes a point of presenting an artist each year who doesn’t have management but who caught her eye from among the hundreds of press kits she receives. Ruth Felt, founder of San Francisco Performances, presents two “gift concerts” to subscribers each year, showcasing emerging young artists. (In 2000, one of them was Lang Lang.) All find YouTube to be a valuable resource, so musicians should take great care to ensure that they are represented at their best.

Since a good number of presenters look to Young Concert Artists, Concert Artists Guild, and Astral Artists to stay up to date with stars of tomorrow, aspiring soloists and chamber ensembles should consider auditioning for these organizations, which also provide professional engagements, outreach training, and career advice at reduced or no commission. They should also give special consideration to where they spend their summers since so many industry professionals visit opera apprentice programs and summer festivals, such as Aspen and Ravinia’s Steans Institute, to discover new talent. They should familiarize themselves with series around the country that have a record of presenting emerging talent such as Wolf Trap’s “Discovery Series at the Barns,” William Jewell College in Kansas City, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts in Chicago, the Gilmore Rising Stars Series in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Miami International Piano Festival, and—if suitably prepared—not be reticent about writing to presenters directly.

To be truthful, I think there is room for many more concert and orchestra presenters to take a chance on young emerging artists, with the potential for taking pride later on in saying “we engaged them before they were famous.” In looking at orchestra seasons around the country, I was particularly taken with the Baltimore Symphony’s subscription series, which chooses to introduce its audience to a large number of charismatic young performers, instead of a steady cavalcade of stars. Surely this should be part of any orchestra’s mission, regardless of size or budget. Perhaps more orchestras might also consider a subscription concert entirely dedicated to concertos performed by emerging artists or winners of auditions held for local conservatory and music-school students. Or why not feature such artists in pre-concerts, the way Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival does? Finally, why not give an audience a voice in selecting a group of appealing young artists? Presenters, more likely non-orchestral, could e-mail their subscribers a list of artists they are excited about, accompanied by YouTube clips. Subscribers would vote for their top three or four choices to comprise this “People’s Choice Series.” Anyone who voted would be invited to receptions with the artists following the concerts.

What of our responsibility to the thousands of students with performance degrees who will not end up with full-time performing careers, or who wish to apply their artistic gifts to improving our society? Peter Witte, Dean of the University of Missouri–Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, rightly told me: “A portfolio career is not a badge of shame.” We must educate and inspire them, by way of example, to believe that their dreams can become a reality and that their passion is critical to the future of arts appreciation, regardless of their particular career path. I am particularly inspired by the following examples: 

♦  While maintaining active performing careers, sopranos and Juilliard graduates Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus still devote much time to Sing For Hope, an organization they founded that mobilizes more than 600 professional artists of all types in volunteer service programs benefiting schools, hospitals, and communities.

♦  Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos, a cellist with a B.M. degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and former member of the American String Quartet, is chief operating officer and co-founder of, a popular classical-music platform providing 21st-century tools for artists and arts organizations to harness the power of the Internet. She is passionate about helping them gain the exposure they deserve.

♦  Juilliard graduate, violist Nadia Sirota, an active freelancer and co-founder of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, has a mission of “always bringing new music to new audiences.” Her latest vehicle is “Nadia Sirota on Q2,” a weekday show devoted to contemporary music on WQXR’s (New York) new Internet radio stream.

♦  Pianist Yana Reznik, a graduate of USC and the Colburn Conservatory, upon hearing that the owner of the Hermosa Beach (California) Comedy and Magic Club wanted to offer classical music in the lounge, introduced herself and shortly thereafter became Artistic Director of “Classical Live at the Lounge,” a weekly concert series that attracts a broad variety of younger and more established artists.

♦  Pianist Andrew Russo, who holds degrees from Juilliard and is an educator as well as active performer, largely in the area of new music, was a 2010 candidate for New York State Senate.

♦  The runaway success of New York’s Le Poisson Rouge as an alternate venue for music and the visual arts is attributable to the vision and determination of two Manhattan School of Music graduates, composer/violinist David Handler and cellist Justin Kantor, who dreamt of reaching a broader, more receptive audience in a less formal concert environment. Armed with business skills gained at New York University and a conviction that investors would buy into their passion, they enlisted the services of visionary programmer Ronen Givony and succeeded in achieving their dream of “making accessible and relevant the music to which they felt an almost religious devotion,” while substantially contributing to cultural life in New York City.

These excellent role models, and so many more, serve as evidence that today’s graduates have a rich array of choices for how they will impact and improve the world through music, all of which can include performance as an essential ingredient. The path may not be clear from the start, but industry awareness, hard work, serious networking, a willingness to take risks, and maintaining an optimistic attitude are sure to make a huge difference.

When I left IMG Artists, I had no idea what my next step would be. Everything I have learned since then was accomplished through voracious exploration of the Internet and one-on-one meetings with artists and industry professionals. I hope that I serve as an effective example for my students and take pleasure in realizing that as I help them navigate their way along their career path, I am teaching them the very same techniques that have allowed me to achieve recognition and derive great joy from two very fulfilling careers in the arts. •

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Edna Landau had the inestimable pleasure of building and developing the careers of innumerable young (and established) artists during her 23-year tenure at IMG Artists. She is now passing on her experience as director of career development at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.


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