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Chris Smith: Words & Music

Instruction: Building a scene or a teaching studio

(Chris Smith)
2005-10-10
I've taught different musics over the years, but Irtrad almost exclusively for about the past 10. Some general suggestions, equally valid for promoting one's self as player, band-member, or teacher:

Being out there playing, as people have said, is the most important thing. Work on your chops, be approachable and friendly as far as humanly possible to everyone who speaks to you at the gig, play in different situations and with different people.

Do schools programs. Particularly in the US (and Ireland), primary and secondary-school teachers are almost always desperate to enhance the arts offerings they are given too little money to teach. Schools presentations not only attract interest from students attending but also from parents and siblings with whom they share information.

Run a regular session. Most of the people I teach anymore are people who've heard me at gigs or sessions, but it's at the latter that they are more likely to approach me--because they see me playing with other people of variant skills, and the possibility of themselves learning the music strikes them as a little more real.

Run a teaching session. I've run "slow sessions" (really teaching sessions) since about 1993 in the US Midwest and Southwest. Though I teach my slow sessions without fee (as a community service, because I was taught the tradition mostly for free, and because, quite frankly, most people can't pay what my time is worth one-on-one), they are a very good way of developing dedicated students who will cough up additional quid for one-on-one individual lessons.

Develop a partnership with a local dance teacher or dance school, and play for classes and feiseanna. This gets your name and skills out amongst the community of dancers, players, and parents who are an important pool for potential students.

Play on the radio. Many public, college, or community radio stations have time slots dedicated to/available for local music. 15 minutes on the local NPR station can do a lot to get your name out.

Develop a web site, even a very simple one: in this day and age, many people find teachers by running Google searches for "irish AND fiddle AND [home town]"; even a simple web site with your contact info will come up in such a search.

Start, develop, and maintain an electronic mailing list. Have a signup sheet for same at every one of your gigs. Use this list to distribute news of your gigs.

When making such an announcement, always include, as an attachment, a simple .RTF poster with the gig, your name, and your contact info, and add in the text message the statement "Please download, forward, and post. Apologies for any cross-postings."

Get business cards and throw 'em around like confetti. Any solid object like a business card or handbill can be passed from hand-to-hand.

Make up handbills and have your friends at local music shops leave them on the counter near the cash register. If you haven't made friends with the local music shop staff, do it now, if not sooner.

Post handbills on local university or college bulletin boards, especially in the dormitories.

Recruit friends, session mates, relations, and current students to pass the word and the handbills.

Make a banner, containing band/your name and contact information, that can be hung behind the stage at gigs or sessions.

Develop a logo and use it on business cards, banners, posters, press kits, etc.