Problems with musicians replying to emails

I am giving a short talk to young musicians later this week, giving practical advice about dealing with concert organizers.  One topic I will address will be the importance of replying promptly to emails.  Most musicians do… but some don’t, and it drives me crazy !

To put this in context, I am fixing 140 concerts this year – 100 at St Mary’s Perivale and 40 lunchtime recitals at St Barnabas Ealing.  Each concert requires between 4 and 10 email replies.  The date has to be agreed, usually 9 months ahead, then both the repertoire and biography obtained – usually 3-5 months beforehand.   Then the arrival time for rehearsal has to be agreed, in the week or two prior to the concert.  I suppose this amounts to about 1000 emails per year, on top of all the other work involved in publicizing concerts and arranging the venues.  The whole process depends crucially on musicians replying promptly to emails, rather than waiting a week or more, or ignoring them completely, requiring a further email to  be sent.   Obviously, if musicians don’t want to perform at my venues, perhaps because they command a larger fee or because our venues aren’t sufficiently prestigious, that is perfectly understandable and is never a problem.  I am simply inundated with other musicians who are desperate for concerts. However I do feel very strongly that they should have the courtesy to reply promptly, just as I do to those many musicians who write to me asking for a concert but I can’t accommodate.   This is simply a matter of good manners. Some musicians are notoriously bad at this – no names, but they know who they are !

Paradoxically I have more problems at the next stage – trying to obtain repertore from musicians who have agreed to perform.   This often requires 2-3 emails before I obtain a reply, and this can be rather annoying.  It took 5 emails, sent at weekly intervals, to obtain a response from an excellent pianist earlier this year.   They always eventually reply stating ‘I have been away’, which might be a reasonable excuse in Outer Mongolia but not elsewhere in the world.  I understand the difficulties for musicians wanting to be sure that they have mastered new repertoire before committing themselves to public performance, but they must also understand the need for concert promoters to be able to advertise their concerts.   I now send a standard email saying ‘I am not sure whether this email is reaching you.  Obviously I have the wrong email address’ and this usually elicits a reply later the same day !

I suspect the  reason why some musicians are so bad at replying to emails relates to a level of disorganization in their personal affairs – procrastination rather than rudeness.  I do understand the pressures that all our best young musicians have to cope with, and it may seem rather boring replying to mundane emails immediately.   Yet time management is a crucial life-skill which is just as important for young musicians as for any other walk of life.   I used to give young doctors lectures on this before they started working in hospitals.   Ultimately, a musician’s career will depend to at least some extent on how they organise their lives and handle their interactions with other people, and not just on their musical skills.    I hope to  impart this message (and others) to those young musicians attending the  ‘Talent Unlimited’ day on Thursday.