This blog post is adapted from an article written by AJ Marino, our Director of Sponsorships and Industry Relations.
When most groups think about starting new projects, the question on every director’s mind is: how are we going to pay for this? If your school’s budget doesn’t have room for recording, video, or travel for your a cappella group, you’re not alone; every a cappella group, scholastic or otherwise has struggled with fundraising. Even the biggest success story you can think of, at some point or another, ran into an issue where they had to find more money to get them to that next step. There’s good news though – there are real life cappella groups just like you out there making money right now, and with some concerted effort, you can too! Once you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some good first steps to get you started making money through paid gigs.
Step 1: Choose (or hire) a dedicated gig manager
It’s important to have a point person for finding and booking gigs, either from within your group (if your students can handle that responsibility), on staff at the school, or from the outside. An ideal gig manager is someone who can devote at least 5-10 hours a week to researching, emailing, and calling prospective gig leads, and who is also personable enough to get along well with clients. That’s a tall order! Personally, I like to choose someone who is hard working, but also very on top of things – don’t choose the person who never texts back or is constantly starting their email replies with “Sorry for the delay!”
Look for someone who has room in their schedule, is business savvy, and is passionate about moving the group forward. They don’t have to be involved with bigger group decisions, and you can even set it up so they run all final decisions through you or another leader with your group or school. The key here is finding someone who can sell you well, and is willing to put in the extra time, regardless of what else they do for the group.
Step 2: Organized prospecting
Alright, so now I’m speaking directly to the person you chose in Step One. You probably have a couple of ideas on who you want to reach out to for potential gigs, but don’t get ahead of yourself and start emailing away. Your group came up with a better title for you, I’m sure, but you are now an a cappella salesperson. In the sales world, the process of researching potential leads and collecting them is called “prospecting,” so welcome to Prospecting 101.
If you’re just starting out, stick with the basics – start organzing your potential contacts into a spreadsheet! To see an example of one, you can download ours. You’ll want to include details like
- Organization/Company Name
- Contact Name
- Contact Job Title
- Contact Email + Phone
- Last Contacted On? (Date)
This lets you keep track, not just of the contact information, but where you are in your outreach process. Most of these people have never heard from you, and their email inboxes get clogged, so you’ll want to follow up two or even three times after your first email and track those multiple touches here. If you’re feeling fancy, take a play from the corporate world and start tracking your gig management with a CRM, a type of sales software. Here are a couple of free options. I’m partial to this one, but they are all solid choices to start with!
Step 3: Decide on your pricing
Once you have a good batch of 20-30 prospects, start categorizing them. What kinds of performances are you expecting to get? A typical a cappella performance can range from high school performances and workshops to corporate holiday parties or private parties, like weddings and birthdays. Community events and festivals are also great options for high school groups – look for events where music teaching studios like School of Rock showcase their students. Make a pricing sheet to finalize your prices for each type of different event, and also make a general pricing formula to help you handle more unique gig opportunities.
Proper pricing is the single fastest way to increase your gig profits, as most groups are not charging nearly enough for performances. I have heard of some talented groups charging as little as $50 for gigs. Want to hear something more shocking? Some pro groups (and I’m not even talking PTX and Home Free) charge as much as $4000 a gig, just to perform!
Now I’m not suggesting you go around and start asking event planners for blank checks, but you’re probably thinking “We know $50 is too little, but we’re not ready for 4K (yet), so what should we charge?” Well, I like to recommend groups start out by charging a base price of $1000 on average per performance, but be willing to negotiate. I do want to emphasize that all markets are different, so you need to be adaptable and realistic about your pricing! You numbers will change as you start to gig more and more and get a sense for what your specific community expects. However, a $1000 starting point will give you room to go lower if the event budget demands it, but it also lets you upsell when you think the prospect has more cash. How do you upsell? First off, always have a higher base price for corporate gigs, where the money usually is, that’s at least 50% larger than your average price, so $1500 if you were starting at $1000. The other big upsell is charging for specific services – custom arrangements if they requested a song, hours spent travelling, workshop fees, having to wear attire different than your usual performance dress. As a rule: more prep time = more time you can charge for.
Step 4: Write a great email (or 2, or 10)
Photo from The Vocal Company.
Having the right people to reach out to and knowing what you charge are important, but I’d argue sending the right email is the most important step in getting more paid gigs. So many groups waste their research by sending a robotic, extra long, impersonal email, and scratching their heads as to why they aren’t hearing back. There are a LOT of resources out there on how to write a good email, but as a beginner’s checklist, make sure your email is:
- To the point (no longer than 3 blocks of sentences)
- Sounds like it came from a human, and
- Is NOT asking for a gig, but for a reply
To elaborate: think about how you read an email, especially on your phone where most people read them these days – if the email is long, best case scenario you skim it, worst case, you delete it immediately. To help you write an email that won’t get deleted, record yourself talking to an imaginary event planner who you met at a party – how would you pitch your group? Listen back to that, and make it into an email, then cut it down until only the essential bits remain. An event planner does not care about your ICCA awards, or your “diverse repertoire,” or that you are the “premier group on campus.” They want to know what to expect from your performance, how you’ve been successful at similar events in the past, and why you think a performance by [your group name here] is exactly what their event needs.
Most importantly, your goal with these emails is NOT to get a gig opportunity. I know, that sounds counterproductive, but when was the last time you bought something the first time you heard about it? You are selling a big ticket item, you can’t do it with only one email. Your goal with every email is simply to get them to respond, and to turn that response into a 15 minute phone call. End your email asking if they have time to talk this week about their event needs, or how your group can make X event a success. Sometimes they’ll email back just to say no, but that’s okay! Getting to the no saves you time to move on to another prospect.
Step 5: Set a Goal
The whole point of going through this whole process is to see results, but what defines a good result? That’s up to you to decide! Maybe you are fundraising for an album, or you are trying to break even on tour, or you just want enough money to buy merchandise and pay for a retreat. Setting a goal is important so you know what you are working towards, and can figure out how many gigs you need to get there. Set at least three goals: an easy goal, a realistic goal, and a stretch goal, and see which one you are able to hit. Before setting any time limits, do note – gig booking can be a bit seasonal, being bigger during the holidays and peak tourism season in your area. Try making goals no shorter than 3 months, or a semester/quarter, and no longer than 6 months, or an academic year.
Step 6: Start Outreach
It’s time to finally make use of all your preparation and start sending some emails and making some calls! Set aside time for outreach each week, and give yourself a goal. 10 emails a day, 10 high schools and 10 companies, 5 calls and 5 emails – you want it to be attainable but targeted. When prioritizing your outreach, think about the goal you have in mind. Go for the gigs you think are a really good fit first, or ones that are time sensitive, like an upcoming conference or outdoor festival. Like I mentioned earlier, send first emails, and be very thorough about following up! It can anywhere from 7-13 emails, phone calls, or meetings before you’ll get a gig, so don’t give up too easily. But air on the side of caution – multiple emails a day or even an email a day is obnoxious, and you don’t want to be a bother. You are trying to help make their event a success, and no one likes an annoying salesperson.
Step 7: Analyze, adapt, repeat.
So you’ve done some great outreach, gotten a couple of leads and performed at some pretty sweet gigs! You’re all set…..right? Wrong. You can always be learning and growing, and every batch of outreach you do is a learning experience! Analyze the results of your efforts. Ask questions like:
- Where did you get the best contacts from?
- What gigs paid the most? The least?
- Which were the easiest to get? The hardest?
- What month did you see the most success?
- What email worked best?
- How many times did you have to reach out before you got a gig?
- What kinds of gigs did you like the most?
There are dozens of things you can look at, but these are a good place to start. You want to grow from the experience – hone in on the things that worked, and cut/change the things that didn’t or were inefficient. It gets easier as you go along, and soon, your group will have a book of annual events and contacts to keep you going every year!
If you can believe it, these tips are just scratching the surface on all the ways to book paid gigs! They are, however, an excellent place to start, and just putting the time in (or even reading this blog) puts you leagues ahead of most groups out there. Hopefully you get some cool opportunities and learn some tricks along the way that even I don’t know about – and then you can share YOUR newfound knowledge and discoveries! Taking yourself more seriously and bringing in some extra cash will help your group get to the next level, whatever you want that to be.
Do you want free arrangements, expert advice, and access to professional a cappella events? You can have all of that and more by becoming a member of the A Cappella Education Association. Join us today and help shape the future of a cappella.