By Victor Gonzalez, Nov. 2004


I received a call from Michael Laskow, President and CEO of TAXI. We talked for a bit about business in general before moving onto the subject of how lucrative the college market can be for bands and artists. I was extremely excited when Michael asked if I would contribute an article on the College Market so the TAXI membership could be made aware of this underexposed market niche.

Let me begin by saying that it IS possible to make a great living, a six figure living if you're good, working the college market. Let me also say, that I am a businessman, and I'm all about making money pursuing your passion.

A while back I was asked by a friend to help his band get booked who had just finished recording their first CD in Nashville. They were out of the recording studio and needed gigs to begin showcasing their music. I use to be a musician and always wanted to try my hand at the music business. But nothing in my past business ventures prepared me for the challenged I faced promoting a band.

I remember the first night I went to see the band play. After they were done and the band had 'loaded in', I recall asking the singer how much money they had made that night. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a $20 bill.

"This is what we made tonight. Split five ways that's about four bucks a piece." he said. He laughed sarcastically and jumped into the van shaking his head. Does this sound familiar?

It was then that I began to look for alternatives and eventually heard about the College Market. I asked other bands and booking agents for some insight but they didn't seem to know. And guess what? The ones that knew were not sharing the information.

Let me fast forward; nine months later I had the band booked at 60+ colleges throughout the United States. The average fee they received per gig was $1,700 with expenses paid; hotel and airfare/mileage. Do the Math! Add to that CD sales which range between 25-50 at $10 a piece. Do the Math! Now add T-shirt, Hats and other items for sale. Do the Math!

The band's total sales in their first year? Are you ready? Almost $200,000 and it was their first year…no lie! Our group was listed third in the TOP TEN grossing acts on the National College Market. Not bad for a band who was only making $20 a night nine months earlier!

Here was another bonus: SoundScan. If you want a record label's attention, you better know how to submit CD sales information so you can start 'charting'. How else is anyone going to know you exist? The college market can be a great boost to your CD sales numbers.



So how does this all work?

Well, every year colleges hold regional and national showcases. This is where colleges gather under one roof to hear bands play. If they like you, you get booked. If you're really good, you can get what are called, 'block bookings'. This is where several colleges want to book you around the same time. By booking in blocks of 3 or 5 gigs at a time, the colleges negotiate a better price and share YOUR traveling expenses.

So where do you begin? Like anything else, you begin with a plan because the Music Business is just that, a business. It's unfortunately less about talent and more about marketing and NUMBERS. And, anything you can do as a performer to increase your presence in the market can only help. So why not the college market?

Here are three things you should have if you want to be considered a player in the college market:
  1. Have your music ready on CD
  2. Need a great performance video
  3. Well done demo kit
  4. Website

Music on CD: Make sure your music is mixed professionally along with a well designed jacket and label. One of the most common mistakes I've seen is an artist burning their CD on their home computer and then using cheap labels that peel off easily. Or worse, submitting their CD with their name scribbled with a marker. Bad move. Spend the money to get them done right; production costs have come down significantly. We pressed up 500 units using DiscMakers who also threw in some FREE posters at the time.

Great Performance on Video: Do not, I repeat do not simply point the camera at yourselves and record. What students want to see is your band in action and the crowd's reaction to the performance. With the band I promoted, we contracted a local video studio to come out and do a two-camera shoot; the cost $400. A cost saving suggestion would be to hire some students from your local film school who are looking to build their film portfolio. We also used a third camera (personal digital handheld) to capture the audience's reaction which was later mixed into the music video. We then took three songs and edited them down to about one and half minute clips of each song to keep the video moving. The total length of the video was under five minutes; high energy, short and sweet, that's the trick.

Well done demo Kit: We started out using basic black folders from OfficeMax with the band's logo sticker on the front. Inside we had bios, newspaper clippings, an 8"x10" black and white photo and a copy of the CD along with a VHS videotape. Later on we decided to change format and put all this material onto one CD-ROM. When the students slipped the CD-ROM into their PC, a menu would come up with the following options: videos, band bio, photos, testimonials and contact information. The CD-ROM was a hit; the college students really seem to like it better than the standard press-kit.

Web Marketing on the Cheap

There are a lot of great tools to create simple, yet cool websites without going broke. I recommend you go to www.godaddy.com where you can register a web domain for less than $9.00. Then, buy the WebSite Complete 5.0 software package that costs $14.95 and comes with over 400 pre-designed templates. The software is easy to use; if you know how to 'click-and-drag' and 'cut-and-paste' you can design a cool an inexpensive website. I've used this service and product and highly recommend it.

What about Marketing?

How you market, and to who, will determine your success in getting booked. Our initial strategy was to mail out the standard press kit. We quickly found out that it can get very expensive (e.g., buying folders, printing up the bios, copying media material and including photos, CD and video and then postage). This was another compelling reason for us to go the CD-ROM format which was more cost effective when it came to doing mass mail-outs. A cost effective way to create a CD-ROM is to use simple software package that converts your website into an auto-run CD (i.e., a CD-ROM). It allows you to put your entire website (videos, bios, etc.) onto a CD and create a CD-ROM automatically. So when a student inserts the CD-ROM, even if they're not connected to the internet, your website comes up as if they were surfing your site with all the links functioning. For more on this software, go to www.6bytes.com.

Final marketing note; flyers won't work. Simply sending a flyer to a college and letting them know who you are isn't going to cut it. And if you think they're going to take the time to visit your website based on your flyer, you're mistaken. Remember, the students making the booking decisions are just that, students. And with their class workloads they don't have time to check out every band or artist who faxes, mails or emails them. This is especially true if they've never heard of you.

Getting started in the college offers you a better and more secure route to getting into the music industry. Even if you don't get signed right away, you can still make a lot of money... just make sure you have the right tools to start with.

You can find out more about the college market at www.getcollegegigs.com.











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