Buzz: Marketing your Band’s College Show

Written by Mike Harmon Posted in: Buzz on February 22, 2012

So you’re in a band, and you’re living in an area that is accessible to colleges and their students. It shouldn’t be that hard to book a show at one of these higher learning institutions’ on-campus venues and sell it out, right?

WRONG.

Well, sort of wrong. Marketing your college show is no easy A (pun intended). Though there are thousands of students with all sorts of personalities, interests, and characteristics, a college campus can be an easy place to get lost in the mix. With a lot of noise (or “confusion caused by too many messages trying to be delivered at one time”) surrounding these types of areas, artists need to make sure they’re creating enough buzz around their name to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd.

So how? Before we get that far, let’s get one thing straight. Once you have the booking agent on the phone (colleges usually book 6 months out) and have the show confirmed, ask him or her everything you need to know! You’ll get much more useful and timely information out of this person when talking over the phone then you will over email, and it shows that you care about promoting the show.

Things to ask:

  • Get the direct contact for campus promotions people, and ask if you can solicit a poster or fliers to them. Venue booking and promotions staff often work in close connection with each other. If there is no department available to hang fliers, ask where it is OK for you (or your street team) to hang them so they don’t get removed. If you have the means to promote in person, ask these people where the best student hangouts for doing so are.
  • Get the direct contact for campus press organizations: Arts magazine, Newspaper, Radio, etc.
  • Ask if any Student Groups might be interested in co-presenting your show. If any moderately popular student group hops on board, a certain number of their members will show up and also help promote the show on campus.
  • Get the booking agent’s office mailing address. This is so that after the fact you can send him or her a thank you swag package with some pictures, a handwritten letter, and some other goodies (chocolate goes a long way). People--especially students--in these positions love receiving these packages, and will often display the goodies they receive in the office for years to come, visible to all office visitors in that time period. This marketing ploy will last long after your show has ended!

Do Not:

  • The booking agent or some other university promo person will inevitably ask you if you’d like their students to design the event poster. The answer should always be no. Yes, there is a surplus of talented graphic design students out there, but it’s risky at best to take the chance that one of the talented ones will be designing your creative. If it comes out looking amateur, it will cheapen your impression on campus.

Once all of that information is gathered, then you can get started!

College Radio

Although it doesn't currently enjoy the success it did before the Internet era, radio is still the way that a large majority of people discover music. College radio is especially influential because of the "tastemaker" students that host it and listen to it. Whether you decide to contact the station itself or a host of one of the shows (this is where that direct contact info from the booking agent comes into play), getting rotation on college radio will undoubtedly help your band attract new listeners. To lessen your chances of rejection, be sure to research the individual shows and find one that is the best fit for your audience and music

Once you’re in touch with some DJ’s, see what they have to offer on their shows (interview, on-air performance, music added to rotation, or ticket giveaways), and get your name out there in the terrestrial radio world! You should be sure to contact the school’s radio station at least 4 weeks before the show to setup whatever promotion you can. If you can’t make your way onto one college radio station, remember that, at least in big cities, there are probably a number of other college radio stations that might be worth reaching out to. Check out CMJ to learn more about college radio and what bands are succeeding in that arena.

College Publications (Print or Online)

Back in the old days, colleges would print their arts magazines on a monthly or quarterly basis. That still happens today, but each publication is now augmented with an online dimension. 

With the contact info you got from the booking agent, be sure to reach out and ask for a review or interview a few weeks before the show. If the timing doesn’t work for that piece to be featured in the print edition, at least it can make it online in that time span and an excerpt can be used in your press kit.

Once you have their attention, highlight things that make great talking points in an article to assist the writer in representing you properly. For example, you can ask for them to review unreleased material, conduct a feature interview with the band on something interesting they’ve done in the past, or pick your brains on something totally unrelated.

Remember that these publications are run by students who are eager to learn the ropes of arts journalism, especially music journalism. Getting any coverage shouldn’t be too difficult. You can always invite them out to the show as well so they can write a concert review follow up, especially if it wasn’t possible to write a review before the show.

As put by Asher Roth, “Do Somethin’ Crazy”

This can be anything in terms of Guerrilla Marketing, but the most important thing is to BE ORIGINAL. You’ll just look like an asshole if you’re stealing other people’s tactful and witty ideas on how to attract fans. So whether you’re circling a college campus in your branded Van, heckling people via loudspeaker about your show that night, chalk stenciling your band’s logo and show info on a student activities building, or you’re promoting a Valentine’s show by hosting a kissing booth in the center of campus, come up with a cool marketing tactic that can attract the eyes of young people and will set you aside from the people on the street trying to get you to “Save the dolphins!”

Another common tactic for Guerrilla Marketing is chalk stenciling. After making sure that it's OK with the school (you don't want to vandalize their property and end up with your show being cancelled!), create a cool idea for a chalk stencil installment in a heavy-traffic area that students will see while passing by on their way to class. Be sure to include all relevant info about your show on campus, as well as a way for people to find you online to check you out beforehand.

Play a Party

This idea is really only viable for local groups or national groups with an off-night on a weekend the night before a campus show, but it’s worth exploring nonetheless. One of the most important things you can do is expose college students to your music in a quick, easy way. If you’ve got a show coming up on campus, you’re going to want to give the students a chance to see what you’re all about beforehand. What better way to do that than to perform at a house party?

Although it may be tough to make sure that no one spills a solo cup full of PBR onto your pedalboard, it’s important to capitalize on performing for students in their natural weekend environment. Learning a song or two that the crowd will be able to recognize could set the mood for the party and you could end up with a very receptive, captive audience. Be sure to promote your upcoming show while you’re performing, and do the best you can to make sure that the attendees leave the party that night with some kind of reminder about your show coming up on campus. For example, you may want to create some kind of promotional giveaway that party goers can take home (flier, sticker, handstamp, etc.), so that they haven’t forgotten about your group when they wake up with a dreadful hangover the next day.

Host a Listening Party

If you have a budget, you can book a room on campus or a bar off campus for a listening party (released or unreleased material), and make sure to give some bonus to people who come (pizza, drinks, merch, download codes, etc.).  If you don’t have a budget for this, then partner with a (relevant) brand that does. You can pitch the fact your fans will be in attendance, your data shows they’d be interested in their product, and they should foot the bill for the room to be exposed to targeted customers through banners and product placement. If you play your cards right, you can get away with producing a successful event with lasting impressions for between $50-$200.

Students are much more impressionable than the rest of us, and will surely be excited about the opportunity to meet a favorite musician of theirs and experience the band’s music together. If the student at the listening party has a great time getting to know the band and hearing the music, they will probably tell the whole wide world.

Film a University-Specific Promo Video

Upload a 30 second commercial video for the show (the apps that make this easiest are covered in our mobile marketing tools post), that is very pointed towards the university’s student population and gives a shout out to the school. Spread it on social media, and tag the school. Social media interactivity like this that makes colleges look “cool” and begs to be re-posted by official school and school press accounts.

Conduct a University-Specific Ad Campaign

Launch a Facebook ad campaign a week or so in advance that is targeted towards the school’s Facebook network. If you sound like any of the bands at the top of CMJ’s Radio 200 chart, don’t hesitate to call that out in the ad copy.

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Though there are thousands of things you can do to promote a show on a college campus, you need to make sure you promote properly across all channels to ensure that your show will be a success. Winning over an audience of college students can be a tough feat, but if you can set yourself apart from the crowd by taking a proactive approach to promotion you will see direct results for your campus show. Although they may be busy, college students are the tastemakers of today's music industry and can be a great market to tap into for musicians looking to spread their music to a wide audience. Do the best you can to get your music into the hands of students in your area, and make sure to use some tact when promoting your show on a college campus. Happy booking!

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