For most independent touring bands, live performances account for a major portion of their income. With most clubs or local venues paying very little, the lucrative college circuit offers an attractive opportunity. Unfortunately, breaking into the college entertainment circuit is often a difficult and challenging process. But for bands that make it through the gauntlet of auditions and screenings, it can mean an incredible boost to their tour schedule and income. This article will provide some basic information on the applications process and some useful strategies for getting your foot in the door.
Assemble a band press kit. This package should include glossy photos, a demo CD or copy of your latest release, a band fact sheet or bio, references from club owners or promoters and any live-performance reviews that you have. Place these materials in a folder to avoid losing individual pieces.
Become associated with either the National Association of Campus Activities, the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities or a booking agency that is a member of these organizations. The NACA and APCA represent the major points of contact between bands and the college circuit. Although you can attempt to book gigs directly with colleges, it is a much easier process to work through the NACA or APCA.
If you wish to join the NACA or APCA, you will need to submit an application for your band. This can be accomplished via the organization's website, for a fee. Check the website for current membership fees and renewal periods. An easier step is to become a client of a booking agency with ties to the NACA or APCA. Lists of booking agencies that specialize in the college market can be found on the Internet or in a number of publications available in major book stores. (See the list in Tips.) These publications break down agencies by region and booking specialties.
Contact several agencies that match your band's genre or specialty and inquire about becoming a client. Typically, the agency will at first ask for a press kit. They will later follow up with requests for further information or material, and possibly an in-person interview. Be patient, as this can sometimes be a long process.
Once you have an agent, inquire about a slot in one of the regional booking conferences presented by the NACA or APCA. These conferences offer a wonderful opportunity to showcase your band to lots of colleges at one time. It is also a great way to make contact with college buyers and let them get to know you.
Continue to promote your band as usual. Although you may have a booking agent, much of the promotional responsibility will fall on your shoulders. Keep playing, sending out promotional material and working with your agent to develop a working schedule of college gigs.
Be patient. This is not an easy undertaking. Only apply with booking agents that specialize in your style of music, or you will simply be wasting a press kit. Professional appearance and communications will go a long way toward establishing a good business partnership with your agent. Perform non-college gigs near the colleges you are interested in contacting, to build a following and "buzz" about your band. Publications that list booking agents: Songwriter's Market, Music Row Magazine, Pollstar Booking Agency Directory, The Music Phone Book (regional editions are available) and The Musician's Atlas.
Don't be pushy or overly aggressive when communicating with your college contacts. They are usually student or volunteers. Never go around your agent and contact gig representatives yourself. This is a great way to alienate your agent. Don't expect to get a solid schedule of gigs until you've been on the circuit for several years.
Jeff O'Kelley is a professional photographer and writer, currently based in the Tampa, Florida area. His images and words have been featured by websites and publications such as CNN, Creative Loafing and Tampa Bay Times. O'Kelley holds associate degrees in telecommunications and website design from St. Petersburg College.