15 Keys To Family Concert Success
Over the years I’ve been performing in schools and libraries as well as at other events and gatherings where unlike in-school assemblies, attendance is NOT guaranteed. There have been successful events where the house was full and the organization even made a profit. There have also been events where my drums and I outnumbered the audience. The successful events did certain things to ensure their success. While I don’t believe in “failure”, (one of my mottos is: “There is no such thing as failure there is only feedback and an opportunity to learn”) the feedback from the events that did not meet their goals was pretty clear:
There are things you can do to attract an audience as well as keep them from trickling out before the event is done.
In today’s busier than ever lifestyle, enticing people to leave their cozy home nests to come to an event voluntarily can be a challenge.
First I want to share with you a few “disasters” and what might have averted them.
Disaster #1: The Library From Hell
Okay it wasn’t really the Library. It was the librarian. Now please understand I love librarians. I’m one of those “library kids” who took out stacks of books and read every single one of them then came back for more. I grew up going to Library programs. I LOVE librarians. I think they are some of the greatest people on earth. So When I share this story please remember it wasn’t the person it was the situation. I was booked by this lovely woman to perform as part of a summer concert series which took place out on this beautiful lawn in front of the library.
We picked a date and I sent her a full packet of promotional materials including a bunch of 8 1/2 by 11” posters with my colorful DrumSongStory collage. My job was to show up, bring my sound system, and do a great performance. Her job was to tell her peeps about it so that they would come. I had a strange foreboding when I arrived at the library and there didn’t seem to be any poster or announcement board about my show. Also the library staff seemed surprised that I was there. Then the children’s librarian handed me back the packet of promo materials I’d sent, so that I could “use them again”. I got concerned.
Sure enough, come show time there was 1 woman and her child. There was me. Oh and the good humor man. He was there. That was it. Imagine an expanse about the size of a football field with only 2 audience members. It was a shame. It was also a drag to perform a full hour show for such a tiny audience. But I did it. And I did it with a smile on my face. The good humor man even participated in the show.
I made the mistake of asking the librarian why she hadn’t sent the promo packets to the local newspapers. I know I should have just kept my mouth shut. But what was frustrating to me was that once I had accepted this gig, I had turned down another performance opportunity that would have really helped my career. So I asked her. Her answer? “Well your pictures seemed too nice and expensive to send out”. Huh? Oh well.
Such is life. The only strange thing was even though she was the one who dropped the ball, and I thought I did a great show considering the circumstances, she gave me a horrible review which got permanently added to my record at the Library Association. So the moral of the story is… If you hire a storyteller or musician to play for your event or organization, there are just a few other things you need to do to make sure somebody actually shows up to hear/see them. One of the key actions you can take is #5 of this article, let the local news media know about your event in plenty of time for them to include it on their calendar.
Disaster #2: When The Media Outnumbers the Audience
Actually it wasn’t really a disaster. The librarian in this case was lovely and had done her part by passing along my promo materials to the local paper. The paper showed up with a reporter and a photographer. So that was 2 in the audience. The Librarian made 3 and a friend of mine who’d come along to see the show made 4. It was looking a bit grim when a family of 4 showed up.
Well to be honest? The 8 of us had the best time! And the newspaper photographer got lots of great close up action shots that I still use in my press kit today. The library got a great article and big photo spread in the next edition of the local rag which did a lot of good to keep the library in the minds of the residents. So it was only a disaster in numbers. Sometimes that’s the breaks. The weather is bad or so nice that no one wants to come indoors. There is some huge sporting event or competing event that sucks potential attendees away and you get a small crowd. The lesson here? Make lemonade out of lemons and focus on what went right.
Success Story #1: Mother/Song Night
A PTA/PTO outside of Boston Massachusetts had me perform for a Mother/Son night. The place was totally packed. Prior to the show, conversations flowed as community was being built right and left. It was a joyful thing for me to see. The local press was there. There was a pizza dinner before the show and make your own ice cream sundaes for AFTER the show. The whole idea was togetherness so the boys sat with their moms. The audience was responsive and appreciative and it was a blast to get mother / son teams up on stage to help me with the drums and sound effects instruments. After 15 years of performances most of them are a blur to me but this one? I still remember it as being one of the best events I’d ever experienced. And I had almost as much fun as they did.
Lessons? Gimmicks work. The Mother/Son night was a great idea. The local press was there. They had food before the show and dessert after the show. An ideal way to keep people there.
Success Story #2: Father Son/ Night
Similar idea to above. A rural school district somewhere in Northeastern Connecticut. The PTA hired me to perform “The Drum of The Elephant King” for a Father and Son night. This was soooo different from the Mother/son night. The dads and their sons all shuffled in and sat down in the gym-a-café-torium and silently waited for the show to begin… It was such a contrast! The place was totally packed yet you could have heard a pin drop. It was hysterical. Evidently men and women really ARE different. Definitely socially different.
Again, the local press was there. Again there was food before the show as well as dessert after the show. Again the dad’s and their sons sat together. The PTA was out in full force demonstrating an amazing amount of teamwork and delegation. There were posters up all over the school. There was a big sign out front.
Once the show started. The dads all loosened up and we had a great time. Guys bond by doing things together so handing out over a hundred sound FX instruments was just the thing for dads to bond with their sons. Again. A huge success.
I have also performed at Mother / Daughter events and Father / Daughter events all of which have been wonderful successes. Other cool audience attraction gimmicks that seem to work well are
- Reading marathon kick offs or culminations
- Awards dinners
- Multi-Cultural awareness pot luck dinners where families bring traditional dishes from their culture to share
- One school had an “Art Opening” just like a lot of professional galleries do. The student’s art was on display and there was a silent auction for pieces that were donated for the purpose of raising money for the arts programs. I was on the bill as part of the attraction.
Any cool ideas that you’ve done in your school or library? Let me know I’ll add it to this report.
Here are all 15 groovy guidelines to get a great turnout at your next family concert or fund raising event:
15 Keys To Family Concert Success
- Serve Food! Ideally, serve a simple dinner (pizza seems to be the easiest) followed by the performance. Hold the dessert until after the show. Warning: Serving food during the performance is extremely distracting! In other words Don’t do it! By providing food before the show You get most people there on time, plus you handle one of the typical stressors in a busy family’s life—”What to do about dinner?”. By holding the dessert until after the show you also guarantee that most people will stay for the entire event.
- Encourage Parents and children to sit together. This avoids two problems: First, misbehavior by kids who are out of their parents reach. No parent wants to disturb the program even more by grabbing Billy who is kicking his sister. Secondly it keeps the incidence of parents yacking in the back to a minimum. The benefit? A wonderful shared experience where parents and kids can connect while the performance entrances them. I will always, always remember attending a wonderful family concert by Pete Seeger when I was 8. I was sitting between my Mom and Dad and we were all singing our hearts out. It is one of the reasons I do what I do.
- Use the occasion to kick off or culminate a reading marathon or “Turn off the TV Week” or other school project. Give out awards or prizes for the most books read or least amount of TV watched or best original story written. Have art or science projects on display. In other words stack the reasons for the kids and parents to be there. One caution: Avoid handing out a gazillion certificates individually! It can take a long time and wear an audience out.
- Find an experienced solo performer or group who can provide enough content so that the concert is a step above “mere entertainment”, yet is engaging and interactive for children as well as the adults. A really good storyteller can assist an audience of diverse ages and background to totally forget everything except the tale. In my own experience, I’ve found storytelling combined with music to be a tremendously successful combination. Then when I added drums and cool sound effects instruments it shifted everything to an entirely new level. By using audience members for my “band”, I keep costs down and participation up. Ask around. There are many, many amazing creative performing artists in your area.
- Let the local news media know about your event at least 3 weeks before hand. In addition, since most newspapers depend on future generations of readers, it’s in their interest to sponsor the event! Ask them for money! They will usually say “no” but then you come back at them with a request for free ad space “to give back to the community”. You’d be surprised what you can get if you simply ask. Worst case scenario is that they send a reporter and cover the story.
- Blog about it! In this age of blogging and social media you might be surprised how many of your parents have blogs. Ask them to do a blog post about your upcoming event. Bloggers are always looking for content. There may be a teacher in the school who could use the event to teach students about blogging. Yet another educational opportunity.
- Facebook, Twitter and Online Events Listings in your Community. I know it seems like just more work. In that little space where you get to tell your friends what you’re up to, tell them! “Working on PR for Brookside School’s upcoming family concert. Hope to see you there!”
- Use the School PR machinery. Make sure your event is mentioned in the school’s daily announcements. Send home a series of flyers (not just one).
- Have a poster contest and put them up all over the school. Ask the performer to provide a free CD to the winner or winners (You can be more inclusive if you have three or four winners).
- Put at least one large sandwich board out in front of the school or in the community with the basic info in big letters.
- Sell (or give away) tickets. Even if the point of your event is not primarily as a fundraiser, selling tickets, even for a dollar or two, commits people more. It also gives you an idea of how many are coming.
- Have a Drawing. If you offer a prize to one of the lucky ticket holders, you can even add to the attractiveness of the event. Remember “What’s In It For Me” or WIFM is what’s going through your audience’s mind.
- Get help! This is a big project and you’re going to need some help. Be bold. Ask! Possible source of help: High School students often need to complete community service credits. Promoting and staging an event like yours probably qualifies. They learn. You get help. It’s a win/win. Is there a local college with a marketing or graphic design department? College students often have to do internships. If you plan enough ahead you can get some great Promotional help. But probably most of your assistance will come from other parents as well as the teachers and administrators of your school. They all have a vested interest in the success of your program and the positive reputation of your school in the wider community. Ask!
- Be Considerate and Appreciative of the Custodial Staff. Your event will most likely be more work for them. Let them know ahead of time you appreciate their extra efforts. Make sure you invite them to share the food. Thank them publicly, write them a note afterwards. You can even mention to their supervisor what a great job they did. Trust me on this one. You want the Custodial staff to be on your side.
- Most Importantly Have fun. You are in the powerful position of creating an event that will likely be remembered for the rest of your audience’s lives. Seriously. As I mentioned before I still remember the family concert I saw with my parents when I was 8 featuring folksinger and storyteller Pete Seeger. I remember it so vividly that in an instant I can be right back there holding my dad’s hand, feeling the exhilaration and joy of being invited to participate and sing along. That was 40 years ago! It was a PTO event. It deeply influenced my life and has resulted in a career that touches the lives of thousands of young people every year. Someone like you created that and the ripples continue to move ever outward into the world. That’s pretty cool. Thank you so much!
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