Sunday, September 9, 2007

Booking the College Market

The College Market
So you want to break into the college market, eh? Have all the rumors of campus riches gone to your head? Perhaps, you feel that performing a college tour is a sure sign that you’ve “made it”? Don’t let me be the one to dissuade you, but how do you do it is as important as why you might want to do it. If you want to know the skinny about college booking, from what to charge to how to get yourself booked, read on!

The College Market Reality
Before you start to imagine yourself in a large arena filled with a thousand screaming post-pubescent fans, you should know that chances are good that you’ll be booked in a corner of the student hall. You’ll get paid of course, but you could be performing for less than a dozen apathetic students who are sitting around doing their homework, playing pool, and more concerned about why they got stuck on campus for the weekend watching a half-rate performer like you in their student hall.

You should ask yourself, why you’re seeking the college market demographic. Is it important to your career that this particular age group be receptive to your work? If so, why?

How College Bookings Work
Even if you locate an individual department (say the theater department) or come across a special event (National Library month) or find a specialized student program (Hillel), to host your performance, you should know most of this money has been earmarked for a long while. This years schedule is sometimes booked two to three years out.

You’ll have better luck and most likely be referred to the Campus Activities Board. This is the student organization that holds the purse strings for the entire college (and by purse strings I mean purse ropes). The purse can often be mammoth-sized depending on the school.

The Campus Activities board is the organization that brings in bands, student workshops, speakers, magicians, etc. The board is run by student representatives and different students are elected to be the individual booking agents for different genres of entertainment. For instance, the areas of comedy, multicultural events, musicians, and workshops, may all be booked by different students. If you’re making an initial search, you can start by calling a school and saying, “I’m looking for your NACA representative who does the booking for [musicians].”

It’s important to remember that these NACA reps are just college students. They live in the dorm, party like everyone else, and have a full load of college stuff to do besides looking to book you on campus. They don’t sit in an office all day and think about this stuff. To them, it’s just a club they belong to. And, as you might imagine, (being the artistic person that you are), the NACA types tend to attract those who are a little more reclusive and introverted than the norm – think the D&D crowd.

What is NACA?
NACA is The National Association for Campus Activities and there is a smaller association known as the APCA or The Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Everyone uses the term NACA though to refer to college booking, the same way a lot of people use the word Coke to refer to any soda that is brown.

There is a difference between the two, but they both basically run on the same model. NACA and the APCA organize trade shows where performers and/or agents of performers can meet the college bookers all in one place.

The organizations break their trade shows up into separate regions. For instance, I attended the “NACA-South” conference and met with all the colleges at once from that particular region. Each region has a 3-4 day trade show and then there is a large national one.

Of the two, NACA is larger, more expensive and harder to break into. As an investment, with fees and travel expenses, you should plan to spend roughly about $1,000 on the trade show. Is it expensive? Well, consider that if you book one show you’ve made your money back and that expense suddenly looks a lot like an asset, yes?

My first NACA experience?
Your first time at a NACA or APCA conference should be as a learning experience. Talk to as many other artists as you can, find out what a NACA demo reel should look like, meet the agents who represent the artists, just be curious. It’s an investment, really, in an educational asset that may not pan out for a couple of years. I recommend that you do your first one close to home to keep your travel expenses down.

At the Conference 2+2 = ?
At the trade show there are two types of people and two types of events.
There are college representatives (the students who are authorized to book shows for their campus) and the artists (known as associate members).

Artists set up booths, stand in their booths, hand out promotional material. The college representatives walk around looking lost, drinking like its summer camp, and thinking of ways they can spend their campuses activity budget on acts.

Booth sitting and booking takes place each evening of the conference for about 90- minutes. The rest of the time is set up so artists can showcase their talents on a huge stage in front of thousand of student reps.

At a NACA conference only a select number of acts are selected to showcase (or perform). At APCA everyone that applies gets to showcase their act. Is it an important difference? Definitely!

The NACA cancel
The showcase is so important that when many artists and their reps sign up for a NACA conference and don’t get accepted to showcase (perform) they’ll cancel out. Why? Because it’s extremely hard to get your show booked in the colleges at a conference without a showcase.

If you cancel out, sure you’ll lose a chunk of change, but you’ll lose more than a chunk of change if you consider the cost of travel, food, and lodging for the few days that you’re there.

How much can I charge?
Just Beginning - $650 - $850 + sound, lights, room, meals, travel
Medium – $1,000 - $3,000 + sound, lights, room, meals, travel
Advanced – $5,000 – $8,000 + sound, lights, room, meals, travel

Just so you know, adding on the (+ sound, lights, room, meals, travel) is pretty standard in the industry.

What is Block Booking?
Block booking is the technical term for offering a college a discount. If a college books you for more than one show within a 3, 5 or 7 day period or if the college helps you get a show at another venue while you’re in town or even at another college while you’re in town, it’s standard to offer them a discount . The discounts range from $100 - $700 depending on the artist.

Can I make bank at a NACA trade show?
Sure, you’ll hear of artists booking $30,000 - $80,000 worth of shows during one trade show, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

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