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The College Bound Musician's Checklist

It’s that time again. School is now in session, which means a whole new breed of young musicians are heading off to college for the first time. Whether or not your focus of study is music,  the college experience can be an excellent opportunity for you to hone your chops and establish the sort of demand that will launch your career. 

But as you will soon realize, four years will go by in the blink of an eye. It is critically important that you have something to guide you through all of the important baby-steps that will take you from a dorm room band to the most important act in the surrounding area. Use the following checklist to ensure that no opportunity is overlooked as you begin to establish yourself in your new local scene:

[  ] Create Your Ideal Fan

As a musician looking to establish a fan base, you have to know exactly who and where your fans are. A marketing technique taught in college, one that can be very useful, is to create a highly-detailed description of who your ideal fan is, summed up into one person. Give that person a name, and describe every aspect of that person on paper: what is their background, what clothes do they wear, where do they shop, what are their hobbies, what other music do they listen to, what sort of food do they eat, what beer do they drink, maybe they don,t drink beer but rather drink wine, etc. Once you know EXACTLY who your fan is it will be much easier to pin-point exactly where they will be.

[  ] Find a Local Music Store

It’s important to seek out which music store is the right fit for you - whether it is because they have a specialist who caters to your instrument and your needs or maybe it’s their huge selection, or maybe its because they are open late nights on the weekend. All of these things are important to consider, as you never know when the worst could happen, and you don’t want to have to bail on a gig because two hours before your broke a string without a backup set.

[  ] Find a Printing Shop

This is important for all of the fliers and download cards you will make in the future. Kinkos’ are all over the place and typically don’t charge much for copies. However, if you find a local printing business, they may be willing to work with you to create an unbeatable bulk price if you commit to establishing their business as your regular printers for your tenure at college.

[  ] Update Your Location On Existing Social Networks/ Blogs

Your location must accurately reflect your current living situation as sites like Facebook are based on regional networks. If you go to school in California, but have your location still set to Boston, people who try to seek you out may have a difficult time as they search for your name, as it will first show all of the people with that same name in their own area before branching out further.

[  ] If Your Not Already Utilizing Social Media, Start Doing It Now!

Start a blog, create a fan page on Facebook, create a YouTube Channel, create a Twitter account for the band, etc. etc. etc.
Not all social networking sites are going to be worth your while. Just as it’s important to start using social media as a way to start networking with other artists and new fans, it is as critical to not spread yourself too thin. If you are going to use social media, then you have to use it properly for it to be of any help. Do the research to learn where your target audience spends their time on social media and get involved.

VERY IMPORTANT: If you have no idea how to use these different forms of social media, then do the research and learn how to use them properly. Mashable is a great place to start. They have tons of how to’s guides to many different social media sites and services. But whatever you do, do not spam! This is just a waste of your and everyone else’s time.

[  ] Network With Respected Musicians/ Bands In The Local Scene

This will put you in the position to become the opening act for big upcoming shows. Being a headlining act is great, but if no one knows who you are then it just becomes a waste of time. Use the opportunity to open for established acts as a way to connect with new listeners and establish yourself as an important newcomer to the local scene.

[  ] Obtain Management/ Booking Contact Info For Local Venues

It is critically important that you go out of your way to obtain the contact information of the management and/or the booking staff of all of your local venues. Once you do so, reach out and make a legitimate introduction, ask about the venue and/or the booking process. Giving your unsolicited demo to the bartender is a sure-fire waste of time - you can be sure that the bartender will (almost) always throw that demo away before it ever gets heard by the management/ booking staff.

[  ] Seek Out Local Bloggers

A great way to establish yourself both online and off is to invite local bloggers to your performance. Try to seek out bloggers who actually have a decent following, and are considered tastemakers in your local scene - your feature should mean something. This feature should help establish credibility with new fans looking to discover more great music in their own town and it should be something that you can leverage to get in touch with other important acts in your local scene.

[  ] Seek Out The School Paper

Another great way to establish yourself around campus is to get in touch with the school paper and invite them to cover your upcoming performance. School paper are typically very well read and in many cases are seen as a leading tastemaker across campus. Just the same as mentioned above, make sure this will benefit you - there is no need to seek out the school paper if no one cares what it’s writers have to say.

[  ] Seek Out Bloggers Reporting On The College Music Scene

Establishing a relationship with an established college music scene blog, such as Fresh On Campus or Good Music All Day is a great way to gain credibility as and new fans. Music blogs are becoming the most important taste making filter in the new music industry, so using this to your advantage can help you create some serious  buzz.

[  ] Seek Out School Affiliated Music Clubs and Organizations

Think of school affiliated music clubs as networking events. They may not be able to pull off all they promise as far as ‘putting on the biggest show this school as ever seen!’ is concerned, but if you are looking for a new band mate or writing parter or maybe you are just looking to meet others who are also involved in the local music scene, there is TONS of opportunities here. These clubs and organizations are filled with others who are just as passionate about music as you are.

[  ] Obtain a Calendar Of All Upcoming Events - both School and Otherwise

This calendar will be crucial for two very important things: helping you to cut down on booking events at same same time as other, more widely publicized events are being held, and helping you to take your music to the streets. Say you have a show, but the day before there is a big football game, set yourself up in the parking lot or even better, right by the only exit and start performing! Make sure you have some download cards, fliers, maybe even coupons for a free drink or half off admission- anything to remind people who you are and that could lure them to come back for more.

[  ] Seek Out Student Event Committee

A well-run Student Event Committee can do quite a bit to set up multi-band festivals, or may even be responsible for booking some big name acts to come perform on your campus. Establishing a relationship with someone within the Student Event Committee could be a foot in the door to performing in the festival or as an opening act for a major event.

[  ] Establish a Proper Mailing List

College is a time to learn all of the life lessons that you may not be able to get away with in ‘the real world’. One of the most crippling ‘life lessons’, aka mistakes that any musician can make is to not properly set up a mailing list, as it is the ONLY real way to establish direct contact with all of your fans. Don’t make this mistake! Fanbridge and MailChimp are excellent services that offers both paid and free subscriptions that allow you to upload and manage your mailing list, as well as send out newsletters or updates to all of your fans.

[  ] Seek Out Non-Traditional Venues

The most obvious venues in the college music scene are the bars and clubs, but what about all of the restaurants, coffee shops, and other well-attended hangout spots? Non-traditional venues have a lot of potential to be an incredible source of new fans. However you have to make sure you do your research and seek out your target audience. Booking a show at a restaurant is a waste of time if your fans are all at the coffee shop…

[  ] Learn Covers!

Most college circuit shows will be at bars, small clubs or coffee-houses. In any and all cases, your music will most likely become a backdrop to the scene unfolding at the venue. A great way to punch through and become a focal point is to sprinkle in some well-executeed covers that no one saw coming.

Tip: Pick songs that are of general interest. You may be a contemporary indie rock group, but if you perform your own rendition of an 80’s rock tune, say ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, you are bound to get the attention of much of the crowd.

[  ] Take A Business Writing Course

While this may not directly relate to sales or growing a fan base it is critical that you understand how to write an email. Vague or unprofessional emails will be tossed out almost immediately. If you are going to reach out to people about your music in the future, its important you know how to do so.

College is a great opportunity for you to learn as a musician. Not just learning how to better play your instrument, or to write more advanced songs, but to learn how the music industry works- to learn what is expected of you as a band leader. Use this checklist as the guide to establishing yourself as a respected musician within your local scene, but understand that there is always more you can be doing and that this checklist is just a jumping off point for you to think pro-actively. 

Written by Jonathan Ostrow (@miccontrol); he is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a social networking platform. This article originally appeared on the MicControl Blog on Sept. 21, 2010.

Were You A College Bound-Musicians? Are there any important tips left off this list? Please leave a tip, suggestions or personal experiences in the form of a comment below. All input is valuable and helpful!


Reader Comments (9)

[] Utilize Your Teacher's Resources. A good music school should have teachers that are very well-connected. Your tuition is not only paying for the content of the courses, but for the resources your teachers have. Utilize them!

September 22 | Unregistered Commentermrkwhlbrk

I agree utilizing teacher's resources. But you have to be careful. Sometimes the college music scene isn't really--well, it can be really nurturing or really cut throat. I just told my guitar teacher that I had booked a gig in town, and I honestly think he was a bit pissed. I just got to the area and had a concert, and a few of his students (better than I am at guitar) have done nothing in the 1+ years they've been here. The conversation made me feel like this gentleman would try to hinder rather than support my growth in the local scene.

So you have to watch out. Sometimes your private lesson teacher is not the person to network, and sometimes the folks teaching your academic courses are people to watch out for. Feel it out first, then start utilizing connections.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Great Advice! Thanks for contributing to the checklist!

September 22 | Registered CommenterJonathan Ostrow

Going to college also means you might not be able to get out and tour as much as you want. Take learning covers, and go another step with it by getting a weekly cover gig at a local bar.

This is a great way to earn some much-needed cash, and hone your chops over the 3 or 4 years that your stuck in school.

If you don't plan on dropping out and hitting the road that is...

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterMike Venti

Having an in-depth understanding of your fans is really important and isn't something enough musicians do. Thanks, very useful.

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterChris Ecclestone

Great tip Mike! To add to yours a bit... in addition to earning some cash and honing your chops, it will give people an extra chance to hear you, but will add the much needed variety from just playing the same set all the time.

September 23 | Registered CommenterJonathan Ostrow

Very well put! I guess that my former mentor Tom Hess would disagree about some points... Or even will he say that college teachers are only recitating what they read in books and don't know about the music industry at all.

My opinion is that you should always, say, on a daily basis, stay ahead, do research and EMPOWER yourselves. Not all information is worth, but by finding a common denominator to every glimpse of info you get, you can't be on a wrong path. If there's no common denominator, you will lack in congruency. Being congruent is the most important thing ever!

I'm a inspirational hip hop artist currently in college studying media arts (web design, video, graphics...etc)

I think getting together with other music acts on campus to put a talent show on, is a great way to showcase what you got and if all acts involve contribute to getting the word out, it just might turn into a decent turn out.

Also, I think if you find the local school music editor and surrounding campus school editors to write a review in the school paper, a buzz may start, include you web site, so people can check you out and connect with you.

October 7 | Unregistered CommenterSTREET SPIRIT

Hello Jonathan!

Very useful first day of school tips you've got there.

You may want to share them too with other music teachers and students over at Expert Checklist It's a new web app for professionals working in difficult and complex environments where users can work together to create and discuss very effective checklists for their fields.

They can also customize checklists for their own personal needs and download them in a convenient PDF format . Applications include medicine (for example WHO safe surgical checklist), aviation, adventure sports, and project management. The site was inspired by the book 'Checklist Manifesto' by Atul Gawande.

October 21 | Unregistered CommenterJoevye

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