Monday, January 19, 2015

Recruit Like A Rock Star!
by Kirby Swinney

Have you taken a close look at your beginning band recruiting practices lately to see if there are things you can do to attract more students? After a particularly disappointing crop of beginners, I did just that and discovered that while the things I was doing were sound, most were either not interesting or relevant to the age level of the kids I was trying to attract. As a result, I stepped out of my comfort zone and did some really "wild and crazy things" that forever changed my philosophy about beginning band recruiting.

Below I am going to outline a recruiting format I have tried in recent years that has been highly successful. This large event gathers all of the potential beginning band students in one place at one time for recruiting purposes. If this is not possible, I hope you can still use some of these techniques in whatever recruiting environment you are limited to and experience similar success.

Planning Your Event

Once you have settled on the format for the event, there is much to be done prior to the event itself to insure success.

Timing is everything. You must give careful consideration to having your event on a day in close proximity to the date your potential students get their hands on their pre-enrollment materials. Ideally, the event should take place no more than one week prior to that time. While this may seem simple enough, you may have scheduling challenges to deal with related to other school activities or standardized testing. Communicate early and often with the administrators from all schools that have students participating in the event to be sure that everyone is on the same page and there are no potential conflicts. You will also need to be sure to secure the use of the facilities where the event will occur (auditorium, gymnasium, etc.) and make arrangements for transportation to that site for your potential students and performers.

Visibility is very important and your event should be publicized heavily in all of your feeder schools. Consider printing posters to hang throughout the schools as well as flyers that can be sent home with the students promoting the event. Often, elementary schools send home weekly folders containing samples of student classwork and other important details. Putting a flyer in these folders is a sure way to get your information to the parents. In addition, utilize the elementary music teachers as an additional resource for getting the students excited about the upcoming event and band in general. Most elementary students have the same music teacher every year and many students have developed a strong relationship with that teacher. A good relationship between you and the elementary teacher can make a huge difference in how your program is perceived by potential students and parents.

The Big Day

You have one chance and one chance only to make a lasting, positive impression on your future students. Make everything you do fun and relevant from the moment they step inside the door until they leave the event.

Establish a fun, high energy atmosphere. While students are coming into the venue there should be some upbeat music playing over the sound system. Get some ideas from your students or use some tunes that are often played at sporting events, but be sure the lyrics are appropriate. If possible, have the lighting reduced and utilize a moving spotlight throughout the crowd to create a "rock concert" atmosphere. Once the students have all arrived, keep the energy going. Pick a song everyone knows (ex: “Best Day of My Life,” by the American Authors) to play over the sound system. Get the audience on their feet, clapping and singing along to the music while you wonder around with a wireless microphone having fun. Randomly stick the microphone in the face of a few kids to encourage audience participation. Don’t shy away from including some of their classroom teachers in this. Their students will get a good laugh out of it and the whole idea is to take a few minutes to have some fun. I used this format the last couple of years that I taught and while it may seem a little strange and may place you out of your comfort zone, it really does establish an energetic atmosphere that will help keep your audience interested. For me, it also resulted in our band program starting the two largest beginning band classes in the history of the school.

Your performing groups should play familiar, interesting music. Use predominantly middle school aged groups for your performing ensembles and when programming music for them please consider your audience. Your audience of elementary age students will not be interested in hearing the latest band overture, patriotic music or some obscure middle school concert march that you played for contest, even if it is performed at a high level. Program fun music; music your students will enjoy playing and music your audience will recognize. You will have to lower your musical repertoire standards but the end result will be worth it.

Have an exciting emcee. If you consider yourself boring or incapable of hamming it up then get an older student from your high school that is an outgoing, high energy person to be your emcee and give them the freedom to make it fun. You need to keep your audience involved and engaged throughout your event. Don’t be afraid to try some interactive activities or play some music that allows for audience participation.

Show the diversity of your band membership. Highlight those students that are involved in other activities and sports so that your potential students can see that it is possible to be in band and still participate in these events. It really helps if those students can wear their school jerseys, cheerleading uniforms, club t-shirts, etc. If your biggest competition for students is sports, try to get your most visible, “coolest” athlete to be your emcee.

Limit your talk time. Don't bore them with details. Have no more than three key points you want them to remember and stress those throughout the presentation in a memorable, fun and concise way. Too much talking is simply boring and will result in losing the attention of your audience. Other key points can be included in a handout that can be sent home through the school’s weekly folder or whatever system your elementary schools use. When you do talk, be upbeat and talk to the students on their level.

Leave on a positive note. When your event comes to a close, it is important that your potential students leave with a smile on their face ready to sign up for band en mass. As they are being dismissed, play some more high energy music over the sound system to keep them pumped up. It is also a good idea to stand by the door as they leave giving them high fives, smiling, saying goodbye and getting in that last bit of contact. You can enlist some of your students to help with this but you should do it as well. Smiles and enthusiasm go a long way in selling your program.

Follow Up

Find out when enrollment forms are due and pull whatever strings you need to pull in order to find out who and how many students have enrolled in band. Numbers are important, but they don't tell the whole story. You need to make an effort to see if you attracted the kids to your program that are likely going to be "band kids." Make a list of the students that enrolled in your program and talk to their teachers, especially their music teacher to find out as much as you can about your future students. Find out who exhibits the most natural talent, who might have the most support at home, etc. You also want to take this opportunity to find out if there were good students that didn't take band that you might want to recruit further.

It is important to remember that you are not only recruiting the students, but also their parents. Sometimes that is a harder sell. Follow up throughout the spring semester and summer if possible with information regarding band. I would also recommend sending home a "do nothing now" letter to your future students so they don’t go out and purchase the wrong equipment. A sample letter can be provided by Palen Music Center upon request. Often, parents get stressed out about money and details and if they know they have some time to address their concerns that usually works in your favor. Finally, be certain to highlight the benefits of music education and its positive effects on other academic areas to your parents. Many of them were never in band and don't know about the positive effects music education has on academic performance.

In closing, I would simply urge you to make the experience fun, exciting and relevant to your potential future band members and let yourself have some fun too. Show the kids your human side, and match their energy level when you interact with them in the recruiting process and I am sure you will see better results from your effort and recruit like a rock star!

Kirby Swinney
Educational Representative - Palen Music Center Oklahoma City
[email protected]

Kirby Swinney graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1982 with a degree in instrumental music education and retired in 2014 after teaching band for 30 years in the Oklahoma communities of Weleetka, Dewey, Choctaw and Shawnee. While at Dewey and Shawnee, both band programs earned their first ever OSSAA sweepstakes award and in 2013 the Shawnee Band Program earned its first ever double sweepstakes award when both concert bands earned superior ratings at the state level contest. Kirby's marching bands were consistently rated superior at regional competitions and were also consistent top twelve finalists at the OBA State Marching Band Championship Contest. Kirby has served as secretary of the OBA Board of Control and also served on the OBA Board of Directors as secretary and president. Kirby has served as band chairman for the Oklahoma Music Educators Association and also served on the OMEA board as band vice-president. He is a member of OMEA, OBA, NAfME and Phi Beta Mu. Kirby has two children. His son Adrian is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and is teaching English in Japan. His daughter Caitlyn is currently a pre-nursing student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.