If you are a semi-established band or artist, have some money in your pocket, are looking to expand your fan base, and make music that appeals to college kids, then why don’t you go to them, rather than trying to get them to come to you? As part of the music business major at Ferris State University, I worked with everyone from celebrity bands to local acts to newcomers. In each of these bookings, the bands followed a tried and true process to get noticed and eventually booked. You want to know the secret? Read on….
Not all colleges have the same system for deciding on and booking entertainment, but they are similar. Colleges have a campus programming board, commonly called CAB (Campus Activities Board), and this board is made up of a small group of students (usually around 8-15).
These students ultimately have the decision on who and what entertainment to bring to their school. The student with the actual power and knowledge to book an act will most likely have the position of “Programmer”. Another key person of power and influence among this group is the “Advisor”. The Advisor is a student activities employee of the university who guides the students to act as a full service booking and promotions group. At Ferris, I was an executive member of the programming board, so I have routine knowledge of how college entertainment works.
So, how do you connect with this group? The most guaranteed way to do this is by attending a conference called NACA (National Association for Campus Activities). Select executive board members of the campus programming boards from colleges all across the country attend national, and regional NACA conventions to search for entertainment to bring to their campus. I attended the NACA national conference when it was in Boston, and got to see how the conference was organized through my attendance. During the day, the students attend seminars and training sessions to help them be better at their positions, and to more effectively run the operations of their student organization. At NACA there are showcases of entertainment where the students literally sit and watch bands perform 15 minute segments to help them decide which bands to book for their school. This is the most effective opportunity to get on their radar — especially if you put on an energetic and exciting show. These students want to be impressed, so you have to stand out with good stage presence, and get them to interact with you.
After the showcase, there is a convention hall with a trade show style setup where management companies, novelty companies, and all kinds of entertainers are compulsively passing out fliers and free stuff to try and capture students attention to get them to book their act or novelty. It is probably more affordable to get a space on the show floor than a showcase spot, but the showcase spot holds much more value than only a show floor spot. If you don’t have the money to have a slot in the showcase, and don’t have a management company that will represent you, then I wouldn’t recommend spending your money at NACA.
There are many benefits to playing the college circuit. Colleges pay an artist service fee, and normally give the act all the money from ticket sales. Entertainers also have the power to charge a bit more for their services, because they are working with non industry professional students. You will get paid no matter how many people show up, and you get 100% of the revenue made from whatever merchandise you sell. This also means that you will definitely pick up fans by playing at colleges, because they are active to connect with you through social media and buy your music.
I have worked at concerts and various types of entertainment events for three out of the four years I was attending a public college, and have seen people become monumentally successful through playing at colleges. I knew about Hot Chelle Rae, Wale, Wiz Khalifa, Mike Posner, and Big Sean all before they became widely known, because they did college tours. To add to this, as an artist or band, you will often times be booked as an opener for big name acts.
On a final note, you need to have product in stores in that local college market that kids can buy, not just for sale at the show. If you don’t, you are losing money and fans. I hate walking into a store only to find that they don’t carry the music I am looking for, and I usually drop my search to purchase it right there.
All you labels, bands and artists who read this — comment on this post or click over to the “Contact Us” tab to get in touch with Altavoz to find out more about how to put your music in stores and avoid disappointing your fans.