When you were in high school, were you in band class? Choir? Did you take music lessons?
Many of us did, and many of us found and cemented our love for performing and making music within those halls.
That said, high school is kind of a weird place to fall in love with music. For one thing, you may not live in a city where there are lots of working musicians, so you may not know that you can make a career out of it.
You also may be victim to the taunts and teasing of kids who think that music “isn’t cool”.
The irony is, kids in high school listen to a ton of music. And yet kids who spend all of their time focusing on it may not be the cool kids.
This is why high schools need real musicians and artists in the school.
I was lucky enough to have a few experiences and play a few gigs with people who were professional musicians while I was in high school. When I found out that these people didn’t have a “real job” and just played music all day, I was dumbfounded.
Most high schools try to bring in a few artists. It can be as part of the educational curriculum or as an additional cultural experience.
If you are a professional musician/artist, performing and presenting in schools may be worth looking into. It’s a very rewarding and fun way to make a little bit of extra cash.
In this guide, I would like to walk you through why school shows can be worthwhile and how to get them.
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Why Would You Play At A School?
Here are several reasons you might consider performing in school settings.
It Can Become An Additional Source Of Revenue
Schools don’t usually have a ton of extra cash, but they do have budget for extra workshops and cultural experiences.
If you’re solo, you can probably demand up to $350 for a half-day or full-day of workshops and a performance.
How much you charge all depends on how you structure your show. If you’re just showing up for an hour to do an educational performance, you’ll probably be able to charge no more than $300.
If you have a multi-member group, do multiple performances, and have a good resume of other audiences who've enjoyed your performances, you may be charging upwards of $1000.
The point is, schools have a budget, and you have a service. So, there is money to be made.
It’s also perfect, because you’ll be doing this work in the daytime, and still have the nighttime to play other shows and work on other projects.
It Can Be Rewarding
Kids really need people to look up to and admire, especially in the musical sphere.
The people around them in high school probably don’t know much about playing music for a living or writing songs. If you can be the person to help them realize what it is they want to do with music, that’s a pretty cool thing.
I also think it can be less draining than teaching one on one guitar lessons/piano lessons.
If you’re performing or presenting at a school, the kids who are really interested will be there, asking questions, and making the whole thing feel worthwhile.
When you’re teaching one on one lessons, you’ll often have kids coming in that don’t want to be there. When you’re working in a school, you’ll definitely have those kids, but you’ll have a mix. So, the kids that just don’t want to be there won’t participate.
You Develop Interesting Relationships & Valuable Skills
You may run into some kids that have pretty extraordinary talents. These kids are worth keeping in touch with, because you can often connect them with other people that can help them.
Some of my favorite relationships are with younger musicians (17 and 18) that I get to throw gigs at when I can’t perform.
If you ever had older musicians do this for you, you’ll know how important these gigs are. It feels great to be able to pass that on.
Beyond that, you’ll be working on your teaching skills, your leadership skills, and your public speaking skills. All of these skills are important as a musician and as a human being.
All of the work that you’ll put into preparing the educational aspect of your show will probably teach you something about the way you look at music and your career.
You Can Make Some Fans
This is the last point on here because I’m generally skeptical of this.
That said, a friend’s band (Panicland from Winnipeg, MB) went on two school tours with Live Different (an anti-bullying group).
Their demographic was high-school aged girls who liked bands like One Direction or 5 Seconds of Summer, and it worked out pretty well.
They gained thousands of social media followers and some of them have carried over into their current career.
The thing is, schools just aren’t the best place to make fans. Most of the kids aren’t there for music, they are there to get out of class, and many of them will act “too cool” for music.
If you can get on a pre-organized tour like this band did, and you can go out and slay a few songs and make some fans, then why not?
How To Get School Gigs
Getting school gigs is somewhat less straightforward than getting gigs at a festival or bar.
You have to have a show that works in a school setting. It doesn’t need to be educational necessarily, but that can certainly help.
If the music isn’t educational, you’ll probably have to incorporate some other type of educational aspect into the performance.
My band has done a couple of school engagements, and we have tried out a few things. We’ve done sectional workshops (on our respective instruments), songwriting workshops, and a presentation on the music industry.
Any of these things would work. It’s just a matter of picking one and making it happen.
On the other hand, if your music is geared towards kids and has an educational bent, you’ll have an easy time selling the musical act as is.
So, here is a step-by-step guide to creating and selling a school show:
1. Craft Your Show
The first step is figuring out exactly what you’ll be pitching.
Are you pitching educational kids music? Is it just kids music with a positive message?
Or, are you an artist in your own right, going to play a few of your songs and offer workshops with kids on songwriting, instruments, or the music industry?
All of these are viable options. You just need to build a solid show and go with it. You can always edit once you get some feedback.
Always remember that you are performing for children. There cannot be any remotely questionable content in your whole performance. Your demeanor must be professional. You need to be chipper and on top of your game.
2. Rehearse The Show & Test It Out On A Few Audiences
Once you have a show, do a few dry runs by yourself, in front of some friends and family.
Once you’ve done that, reach out to some schools.
I always recommend reaching out to your old high school, if you have a decent relationship and it’s convenient.
High schools love getting their alumni back into the building to show off where they’ve gone with their lives.
Ask the music teacher or whoever is in charge of these events if you can come test out the show. Offer to do it at a reduced rate or free of charge. Explain who you are and what the show is, and go from there!
3. Get Feedback
After the show is done, try to get honest feedback from real educators. Take notes and take everything they say into account.
Also get feedback from the kids. Consider asking students to fill out a basic feedback card.
Take this feedback and apply it to your show.
If you get some positive feedback, take note of it and add it to your resume.
4. Start Pitching The Show & Building A Resume
Once you’ve done this, you can start pitching the show to other schools.
If you have any live video, use it in your pitch. Include other places you’ve taken the show and any positive remarks you’ve received from other educators.
Start with a price in mind, but be willing to negotiate. Different schools have different budgets for this sort of thing.
Once you get going, word of mouth will start to spread. Before you know it, you’ll probably be turning down these gigs because of how many offers you'll be getting!