Several nationally famous secular bands and comedians started their careers playing on college campuses. There is certainly some money to be made and some exposure to be gained on campus. But playing college campus gigs, as everything else in life, it’s not always as wonderful as it appears to be. Before your Christian band spends quite a bit of money and time trying to book shows on college campuses, let’s look at how it works and what you should realistically expect.
There are two major bookers on most campuses:
• The Student Activities Center
• The Performing Arts Center
Identifying which venue your band fits into (if either) is probably the most important step to take in determining if booking college campuses is right for your Christian band.
These venues are looking for particular types of entertainment. No amount of time or money that you spend on attempting to book your band into these venues will produce results if your band is simply not a good fit for their needs. These venues are run differently, have different goals and different needs than almost any other venue your band might play. So, it behooves us to gain a little understanding about them before we hit them up for booking a show.
The Student Activities Center provides entertainment for students on campus. They are funded by fees collected from students for campus activities. The total of these fees determine the budget for the activities for the year. The Student Activities Committee can increase their budget if they sell tickets to the events, but many schools do not want or require them to do so. Student Activities are booked by a student committee which is overseen by a staff member. These students are not necessarily music lovers. Most often they have signed up to be on the committee to build their resume or get credits from a class. Although there are always some students who choose this committee because they have an interest in the entertainment industry, in my experience, it seems that many students choose this particular committee because they want to be associated with something cool and popular.
The Performing Arts Center is interested in the cultural advancement of performing arts such as theater, dance, classical, international groups etc. This center is usually booked by the Director of the Performing Arts facility. Often they are a full-time staff member who is also a Music or Theater Professor. The Performing Arts Center can be funded by grants, and usually receives an additional budgeted amount from the school. Ticket and concession sales add to the total amount they can spend each year.
It is important to note that unlike most other venues your band might play, both the Student Activities Center and the Performing Arts Center are more interested in spending their entire budget than in making a profit.
The reasoning behind this is that if they do not use their entire budget this school year, they are unlikely to get the same amount or more next year. This one difference is why many performers believe that playing school campuses can be much more lucrative than other venues.
There are several organizations that both serve and unite the different campuses:
Performing Arts Centers are united by one main national organization called the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.
Campus Performing Arts Centers are included in this group along with every other type of Performing Arts Center. Most of these centers are nonprofit organizations funded primarily by grants and donations. Performing Artists and their managers or agents as well as an assortment of vendors also join this group to network with the Performing Arts Centers.
CLICK HERE to go to their About page.
Annual Membership Fees for artists range from $300 to $2,475 depending on your bands income.
There are also several Regional Performing Arts Organizations:
Each of their membership fees varies but is slightly less than the national organizations.
Student Activities Centers primarily use two organizations that are devoted exclusively to college campus activities.
Performers, managers or agents and the campus booking committees join these organizations, as well as an assortment of vendors.
• National Association for Campus Activities (oldest and most well-known organization)
CLICK HERE to go to their Associate FAQ’s.
Regional Associate membership (for Indies) starts at $240. National Associate membership (for Indies) starts at $586
CLICK HERE to go to their About page for artists and agents.
Basic Package starts at $299
All of these organizations offer a variety of resources and advice for their members. But, the big deal for bands is the showcases at the conventions, also known as booking conferences. These organizations each hold at least one major showcase per year (many hold several smaller ones as well) at which performers do a short set to an audience full of bookers from campuses all over the country. Almost every school sends at least one representative to the showcases to check out which performers will be the best fit for their venue. So, one short set has the potential to net hundreds of booked gigs.
All this sounds great so far doesn’t it? More money and more gigs all from joining one or two organizations and playing a short set… who doesn’t want that?
Now let’s discuss reality…
General Problems with Booking Campus Gigs for Christian Bands:
• The number one problem bands face with trying to book gigs on campuses is that the music they produce is not a good fit for the campus. If your band’s music does not appeal to college students, you will not be booked not matter how much time or money you spend. Know your band’s audience before you start booking.
• Christian Bands have an especially difficult time getting booked on campuses because schools do not want to get involved in religion. Your band must be willing to drop the Christian speak and focus your marketing and stage show on wholesome entertainment. Some bands feel this eliminates their Gospel message; other bands view it as a way to start a conversation with non Christians. You need to do what is right for your bands ministry, but do not waste your time and money trying sell a message that schools will not pay to hear.
• All the showcases at booking conventions are EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to get into. Being accepted into the showcase seems to be a combination of producing an exceptional video to submit with your application and the current whim of the judges. Your band cannot control the judges, but the importance of spending a large amount of time and money on the video cannot be understated. Your band’s video will be up against the very best and out of hundreds of submissions the judges will choose about 20.
• Showcases at conventions are expensive. Some of the costs involved are: joining the organization (membership fees), producing an amazing professional quality video, paying the organization to play at the showcase, booth fees at the convention, travel to and from the convention, housing and feeding the band during the convention, and all the promotional materials you need to stock your booth. All this will cost the band thousands of dollars.
• Campus gigs usually have small audiences. Remember that your band will not be working with bookers who must make a profit. They are not as concerned with the audience size as with spending their budget. So, even though the band may be paid well, in the long-term playing too many poorly attended campus gigs can be detrimental to growing your bands fan base.
Problems with Booking Campus Activity Center Gigs:
• Student committees have a high turnover. Most students do not stay on the committee for more than a year. Many of these committees do not have or keep specific office hours. So, contacting the student committee at any time during the booking process is a challenge in itself. Contacting them to re-book is nearly impossible. The best option is to ask for the name, phone number, and office hours of the staff person who oversees the committee. If after several attempts you cannot reach the student committee, you should be able to contact the staff advisor.
• Student committees are the least experienced promoters you will ever work with. They do not know how to advertise the concert. They also have very little knowledge of even your most basic needs as a performer (think electricity or a stage area). You must ask specific basic questions during the booking process and be ready for chaos when you arrive.
• Student committees are usually run by voting. This means that only the most popular styles of music and the bands with the most fun stage shows will be booked. Extreme music styles or overly artistic bands will not be considered.
Problems with Booking Performance Arts Center Gigs:
• Your band’s music must be an artistic and cultural experience to be booked. This may be a great venue if for example your band plays Celtic music and most of your band members are classically trained instrumentalists. But if your band plays an extremely hard style of music you will not be considered for booking.
• Performing Arts Centers typically host very few concerts because they prefer to keep their roster diversified with all the performing arts. This means that the centers are very difficult to book even for the best musicians because there are so few openings to be filled.
• Performing Arts Centers booking are most often decided or predominately influenced by one person. This one person has their favorites, their likes and dislikes and if your band is not it you will not be booked.
Understanding how the campus venues handle booking, what kind of musicians they are looking for and the problems of working with these venues should help your Christian band decide if campus gigs are right for your band’s ministry. These venues can be very difficult to book and to work with, but they also can pay more than most of your band’s other gigs. So, the extra time and up front expenses may be worth it for your band.
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