This article originally appeared on Performer Magazine.
What is the secret to being successful in the college entertainment market? Here we provide tips and tricks to assure that you're playing to a full house, and that your name is spread positively to potential repeat business, or better, recommendations!
Know your role
There is clearly one large mistake that many musicians make once they've landed that coveted college gig: once they secure the gig, they think their work is done. Sadly, this is not true. You cannot assume, or worse, rely on the school to promote your act. Remember that you are dealing with students who work in the campus activities department part-time. They're not professional event planners, and for the most part, are learning the proverbial ropes themselves. Although they may be well-intentioned, their ability to successfully promote your event is like a crapshoot. Therefore, your job is to promote yourself, both on and off campus. (Read that again.) You're also well-advised to make the job of the campus activities staff easy, and when possible, educate the students on how to complete certain tasks, especially surrounding promotion of your event.
On-campus promotion is characteristically an area where artists fall short. You'd be wise to turn yourself into an on-campus promotional machine. Granted, this task may seem a bit daunting, so here's a great list of effective on-campus promotional techniques.
1. Posters – puts lots of them around campus
Before your event, send a bunch to the campus staff and ask them to hang them up around the school. A few noteworthy items about the posters:
- If an alcoholic beverage company sponsors you, make sure that you have two separate sets of posters printed: one for alcohol-acceptable events and one for non-alcoholic events. Promoting alcohol on a college campus is a big no-no. Colleges are very risk averse; anything "of questionable content" will be disallowed.
- When the posters are printed, make sure to leave a blank area at the bottom, at least three or four inches, so the students can write the dates of your appearance. It's okay to go low-tech on campus – there's no need to invest a lot of money in expensive, elaborate posters. If you're tight on funds, you can even go so far as to have your info printed in large letters on an 8.5"×11" piece of paper. Think "poor-man's poster."
2. If possible, make sure your appearance on campus coincides with important dates on campus
For example, orientation week, spring fling, recognition day, homecoming, "fill in the blank" event, etc. Colleges tend to book events that correspond to themes or special days on campus.
3. Target specific groups or clubs on campus
Email and ask them to attend your event. Visit the school's website and look up fraternities, sororities, first-year students, RAs, peer groups, student leaders, student government, and athletic teams, since they're all great candidates. Granted, contacting each group is time consuming, but worth the effort. Send promo CDs to those who respond as a thank you.
4. Depending on your niche, sometimes you can make the program mandatory, since some schools mandate certain events to specific groups
This is a blessing and a curse. Students are not too fond of required events, but if your program is a hit, you can increase your exposure in a positive way.
5. Try your best to have your event happen around orientation or Welcome Week
This time frame is considered prime time since the first week of the semester is jam-packed with events. Market yourself as a Welcome Week, orientation event act, etc. as well.
6. If the budget is tight in the Student Activities office, reach out to other departments to see if they would be willing to share expenses
For instance, have Student Activities and the Greek life departments share the costs.
7. Promote the program for both men and women (again, this applies to your niche)
8. Place table tents or small displays on each table in the cafeteria or student center
9. Advertise in the campus paper and/or run an ad with the campus radio station
Bonus – get the station to interview you prior to the event.
10. Make the event open to the public
11. Contact the local newspaper, blogs, alt-weeklies and 'zines
Invite them to run a press release promoting your event.
12. Invite other schools to attend
Or promote on nearby campuses if possible.
13. Invite faculty and other school employees and encourage them to bring family members
14. Some schools offer students extra credit for attending events
Check with the student activities office to see if this is applicable and what protocols are used.
15. Encourage RAs to bring the people in their residence hall to the event
Promote the event as a "dorm night out."
16. If you can afford it, or work it into the event budget, provide pizza, snacks, or other freebies as a way to entice people
17. Send a bunch of free T-shirts to campus before the event, and ask people to wear them
Think of it as turning people into walking billboards. Plus, college kids love free shirts (less laundry).
18. Even though this point is similar to #14, make the event eligible for reward points if the campus offers point-based accreditation, or an incentive system
19. Get your event promoted on campus social media
Make sure you ask the school to promote your act on their student activities blog, link to any YouTube content, etc. Subsequently, professors often have Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. If you're feeling brave, hit them up and ask them to bring the class.
20. Get your event posted on the event calendar for the school
Despite being a no-brainer, this is often overlooked.
21. Use pre-event (ethical) email guerilla tactics
An email strategy is worth its weight in gold. When you play it right, you can pack the house, and in turn, the student activities office will adore you since you've played a big hand in helping them achieve their goal of hosting successful events. Giving them ready-made materials will score major points as well. Bear in mind that schools will not give out the email addresses of students, but they will, however, forward emails on your behalf.
Below are some sample pre-event emails you can use for promoting your event. The campaign should begin at least three weeks prior to the performance.
Email 1 | Three weeks prior
On MM/DD/YY, a great up-and-coming band will be on campus. The event will occur in [event venue]. Visit [your website] for more information.
Email 2 | Two weeks prior
In two weeks, don't miss this awesome event! [Band] will be visiting our campus for one night, so make sure to come out and join the fun. Visit [your website] for more information.
Email 3 | Week of the event
Coming this [day of the week], [band] will be on campus. The first 50 students will receive free [promotional items here]. Don't miss out!
If you're fortunate enough to get a college gig, make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity. The people who book acts run in tight circles, and they know people at other schools and often recommend acts they feel are worthwhile. Creating a reputation of someone who does some of the grunt work will pay dividends down the road. Take some time, read, and re-read this list again. There's a lot of beneficial information contained in the bullet points that, when leveraged properly, increase the odds of playing to a packed house. The more turnkey you can make event promotion, the more they will appreciate you. Bear in mind that the Student Activities office has a vested interest as well, since they, too, are under pressure to put on a packed event. So in the end, your inconvenience is their convenience, which, in turn, can only help to get you booked at other colleges. Best of luck!
Want more ways to promote shows and reach new fans? Check out these articles:
- 5 Incredible Gig Posters to Inspire Your Own
- 4 Ways to Connect With College Students and Grow Your Fanbase
- 10 Free or Insanely Cheap Marketing Strategies Your Band Should Use
- 4 Ways to Get People to Your Shows That Actually Work
- How a New Band With No Fanbase Can Start Building Local Buzz
Dave McCubbin is a veteran of the collegiate entertainment circuit as a guest speaker for educational institutions across the country. He has also worked closely with countless student activities departments to assist with quality bookings and turnkey event promotions.