Hannah Winkler is the president of the The University of Michigan Dicks and Janes, a wildly successful mixed group with a long tradition of entertaining performance and high achievement in competition. This week, Winkler shares her unique insights on how to publicize an a cappella group.
It’s certainly not easy being one of fourteen a cappella groups on the University of Michigan campus. A thrifty student, no matter how a cappella-crazy, just can’t make it to all the shows; many of them fall on the same night and all cost between five and ten dollars. It becomes impossible in terms of time and money to support all your friends, and unfortunately, it’s the a cappella community members who have to be at their own performances who most want to support their aca-friends in other groups at the same time. No group can simply count on an unquestionably large audience. So the objective is clear: in order to have your voices heard by a packed house, publicize your concert to the most people you can reach in the most effective ways possible. You’ve put in hours and hours of rehearsal and planning to make the event a success—it would be a shame to have it sparsely attended and for only a handful of people to hear your songs! In addition, you’ll make less money from a small audience, and more often than not, a cappella groups need money. As a member of the Dicks and Janes (one of the ten co-ed ensembles on our campus, a group that receives no funding from the University, and a group that travels all over the country,) I’ve learned some helpful hints when it comes to the very important task of publicizing.
Your concert is coming up in three weeks: hit the ground running by using word of mouth. Whether you go to a small school or big school, it is essential that all the members of your group start chatting up their friends and encouraging them to attend your upcoming performance. They tell their friends, and they tell their friends, and already you’re forming your audience. Make ticket prices cheaper if bought in advance from a group member. You increase the hype and have guaranteed guests. You’ll want to then extend beyond your groups of friends to the larger school community. Put up flyers everywhere! Your flyers should be eye-catching and attractive, and should clearly state the information that is essential to the event (group name, event title, date, time, location, and price). Students, teachers, and community members tend to look at campus kiosks, bus walls, coffee shop bulletin boards, bathroom stall doors, student posting walls, and restaurant windows. Don’t be afraid to stand in a central location or common area on your campus and hand out small flyers (quarter sheets) to people passing by, to write your event information on your classroom chalkboards, or to announce the concert to your classes! You should also try having your group sing on the street between classes or in the evening, writing with chalk on sidewalks with a lot of class-to-class traffic, creating a Facebook event (and an ad!), and singing/announcing your event on local radio stations. In the days immediately preceding your concert, really push your publicity—follow through with what you’ve done and amp it up.
If you want to extend your a cappella group’s network and performance opportunities, it is important to publicize more than just your concerts. You need to publicize your group and get your name out beyond your campus bubble. The best way to do this is to maintain a professional website. A MySpace page, Facebook group, and Wikipedia article can’t hurt either. The website can include (but is not limited to) the group’s description, repertoire, calendar of events, sound clips, videos, and contact information. If you are able, you may want to sell CDs and other merchandise from your site and also generate an email list to inform your fans of your activities. Ads in local newspapers can help get your name to the community, and posting videos of your performances will allow potential clients to check out your material.
If your group is just starting out, simply getting exposure is critical. You should start singing in front of a variety of audiences—sing for free on the street or in a park, ask local businesses if you can perform in their establishments, and serenade students in their dorm hallways. Reach out and talk to people. Maintain a professional attitude, but brag a little! Bottom line: don’t be shy to put your group out there. Remember, you’ve worked hard to put together a talented group with a good sound. Now you just need to share your passion with the community.