The Most Viable Instrumentation

The combination of instruments that make up an ensemble influences everything from timbral palette to literature available.  But from a business point of view, which instrumentations possess the highest potential of appealing to presenters and audiences?  Is it more viable to stick with standard combinations, or go out on a limb with a novel configuration?

A handful of standard instrumentations (i.e. solo piano, string quartet, jazz trio, orchestra) have a proven and established following.  Whether because of nostalgia or familiarity, some people simply love those formations. Similarly, presenters often reserve a number of slots specifically for these acts.  But the more typical an ensemble, the more direct competition exists. Differentiating work can be tough when vying for attention in an oversaturated marketplace.

Less common or unusual instrumentations have an easier time standing out.  But because they’re less familiar, audiences may not pay attention.  Some music fans are even scared away.  Sure, an oboe-bassoon quartet may be fascinating to other double reeders, but probably few others.  Even something as standard as a brass quintet can be a hard sell. 

So which groups are most viable? Answer:  Look beyond instrumentation.

Unless the demand for your traditional ensemble far outpaces supply (highly unlikely), or your wild configuration is fascinating and newsworthy in itself (like the bass saxophone quartet Deep Schrott), don’t build a marketing plan around your instrument(s) alone. Much of the time, you may even want to de-emphasize this element.  Focus instead on the unique talents of players, unusual programming, and other creative aspects of the show.  Sell your story.  Sell your message. Sell your theme.  Sell your charm. 

There are countless string quartets that struggle to get noticed, and I know a euphonium player who has way more offers than he can accept.  Violinists are not the only performers who can thrive as soloists—bad news for fiddlers, glorious news for everyone else.  Build a brand so compelling and engaging that instrumentation will be but a minor consideration for employers and fans alike.

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