Band programs have experienced a steady rate of decline in their recruitment, due in large part to a lack of modernization in the band curriculum. This typically results in a lack of funding and value put into fine arts programs, which feeds the lack of recruitment even more. Band directors are often asked to wear a lot of hats: musician, educator, administrator, and counselor. Often, this means that things like marketing and recruiting take a backseat; sometimes band booster programs can pick up the slack, but they might not be an option for all schools and it can be difficult to come to an agreement between directors, parents, and administrators. If directors are using outdated recruitment and marketing strategies AND their program itself is outdated, it makes sense that no one is eager to join.
Using Data Collection and Research Methods to Understand Your Demographic
A lot of issues can arise because the program’s values, events, and needs conflict with the community it serves; not taking the time to think about these can be detrimental for a program’s success. An absence of consideration for parent’s work lives and schedules can mean low attendance at concerts and ability for students to get rides. A lack of understanding of the socioeconomic statuses in the community can result in students being unable to afford many musical experiences offered, including instruments, field trips, and extracurricular ensembles. The home life of the students can determine their ability to practice for performances, listen to music for homework, and be present during classes or rehearsals.
Taking the time to create surveys, talk to students, hold booster meetings, and create opportunities for the community to express their opinions can boost the appreciation for the program, as well as boost the numbers within it. There is something to be said about taking too much criticism to heart, but ultimately as educators, it’s important to be able to provide the best education we can, which is only possible when all factors in their education are understood.
Promoting Performances Using Updated Marketing Strategies
The extent of band marketing is often pretty limited, because a lot of band programs have a weak online presence, lack of funding, and experience with marketing. As also stated in Keith Kelly’s blog on Instrument Hub, band directors are known for using online resources in more of an ‘in the moment’ way, instead of utilizing it as the asset it can be. Typical strategies include: posters/flyers around the school and community, word of mouth (mostly from students to family), and Facebook. These techniques are primarily director driven, without real input from or consideration of the students. Incorporating marketing techniques that appeal to the technological age will increase the school and community’s ability to interact with the program.
Bands could use other social media sites like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram; students can promote events in their other classes or participate in a ‘social media takeover’, using the social media sites themselves to talk about the program, show what rehearsals are like, take their own pictures of their musical experience. According to a survey from the blog Band Directors Talk Shop, hundreds of band directors already rely heavily on the use of older students in recruitment efforts; seeing the program through other student’s eyes is more likely to appeal to prospective students. Live-streaming events are really helpful for those who can’t drive out to the performances in person.
Changing the Way Bands Fundraise
Many band fundraisers are products sold via students and their immediate circle: Yankee Candle, mattress sales, Butterbraid (pastry) sales, etc. These often result in lost forms, unclaimed products, difficulty getting all the money together and all just to get a handful of students that sell a couple items. As a subject that is already underfunded, fundraisers are essential, so this can make or break a program. Using the program itself is a great way to help show people where their money is going; fundraising performances, both full ensemble and small group, paid gigs (depending on the situation), and selling band merchandise to family and students. Restaurant partnership fundraisers often bring awareness to the community, and with little effort in terms of actually collecting money and coordinating the students.
In short, music programs need to modernize if they want to be an exciting arts opportunity for the school and the community. Utilizing community input, trying out novel social media based marketing for events, and changing the way programs fundraise to maximize the amount of money brought in for the program are all great ways to bring band programs into the new age. Hopefully, band directors everywhere can understand the necessity of this in order to preserve the opportunities that music programs give students.
MacKenzie Sheppard is a senior music education major with a thematic focus in Arts Management at Miami University. She is a firm believer in the power of the arts and arts education to inspire empathy and creativity among students. She has served as the Music Director for Tau Beta Sigma, and is excited to start student teaching in the spring.