Every time I write about booking shows on college campuses, I get two kinds of e-mail. One burst of e-mail comes from artists who are so frustrated about how difficult it is to nail down dates through college activities boards, especially at schools who belong to the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). The other burst comes from college talent buyers bemoaning the fact that they're usually undergrads who have very little time to sift through the hundreds of submissions they receive every semester.
It's been a while since I've covered the topic, but a post by Steven Kent at WalletPop revived the issue for me, especially as colleges target live music in their cost-cutting measures.
Getting folks to agree on who should get booked on campus is never easy. It wasn't easy when I was in school. It won't be easy when my nieces' grandkids go to college, either. If your school has a really forward thinking activities board, it probably funds a few different teams of talent buyers to pull in a diverse roster of talent. If your school's like most, however, you've got a couple of very stressed-out folks who think they're doing a great job if they can allocate the year's music budget as fast as possible.
That's where NACA comes in. NACA events are like mini-SXSW conventions, designed to expose college talent buyers to as many potential live performers as possible in a short amount of time. Plus, there's booze.
If you're great at networking in person, getting into a NACA event can help you connect with talent buyers before they blow their budgets for the school year. However, there's a new wrinkle: block-booking.
Let's say you're a B-list or C-list act and you've got a very smart booking agent who's a member of NACA. She can get into the regional conference and offer some significant discounts for colleges that sign on to your preferred routing schedule. Tightening up your routing is something I wrote about in More Gigs Now, and it's a great way to keep your touring costs low. A tight, three-week schedule of four campuses per week can net you a lot of cash with minimal expenses. Passing along your savings to college talent buyers makes your act significantly more attractive.
If you're worried that block-booking by agencies and talent groups is costing you some on-campus gigs, learn how to fight fire with fire. In GYBA and MGN, I wrote about gig swaps and gig circuits. Teaming up with similar acts in a region not only keeps your overhead low, it spreads out the workload of booking and promoting gigs. Packaging 3-4 acts as a touring showcase makes your pitch much more digestible to college talent buyers, makes you look more professional, and makes it much more likely that you'll get picked up for a block-booked string of shows.
Even better, if your gig circuit team enrolls a single booker/representative in NACA, you'll save significant membership and promotion costs. There's no guarantee that you'll get booked -- that's going to be up to the person you send to the next NACA event. But you'll have a far better chance of getting college gigs than if you go it alone.
[ photo credit: "Rainy Day Blues" by Flickr user David Clow, used under CC license ]