Singing may be free, but studio time, touring, attending the big aca-events like SingStrong -and of course, throwing the ultimate after-parties all require cash in hand. You need the green, so here are 27 ways to make it rain:
Alumni are the lifeblood of colleges and some high schools and they can be your lifeblood too -especially if you are a larger group. The key is to stay in touch with your alum. Keep them up-to-date on happenings with a monthly short e-newsletter. Give them discounts or free passes to your concerts. Invite them to participate in a group number at least once or twice a year.
My high school performed the Hallelujah Chorus at our holiday concert each and every year. Our director would invite all the alum to come onstage and join us for that number and the audience would swamp the stage. These are the people, now presumably earning much more money than when they were starving students, that can support causes that are close to their hearts. And you want to be close to their hearts! The opportunity you give the alumni to feel connected, see their old buddies and perform on stage again is priceless, and if they each cough up just a little to help you out, you’re well on your way.
2) Car Wash.
Put on your skimpiest and scrub those cars. Soap and water are pretty cheap and this is a great bonding session for your group members, particularly in large groups. Not only will you make at least some money but you’ll also make some fans as you play your music through the boombox, pass out flyers for your concert, sell CDs and flirt with drivers! Even those who don't purchase your cleaning services will learn who you are and that means they are more likely to come see you perform next time.
3) Sell CDs.
Make sure you always have CDs to sell and make sure everyone in the group has some absolute obligation to sell at least a certain amount outside of your normal gigs. Some people are shy and you need to give them a kick in the pants to let their family and friends know that this year’s stocking stuffer should be your music.
4) Sell Digitally.
Some people don’t have their act together when your concert rolls around and they only decide at 2am that they want to buy your stuff. Thankfully the Internet does our bidding. Sell your tracks on your own site or acaTunes or some other site. The cost is incredibly low and that way you can grab even those with the strangest of schedules. You never know which insomniacs are your best fans! Not sure about the legalities and costs of doing cover songs? Check here for licensing info.
5) Singing Valentines in Person.
People want to show love on Valentines Day and after starting with flowers and candy there’s a giant empty financial void until jewelry starts. You are the perfect middle ground. Charge less than a gold necklace and you’ve found your niche. Plus it’s like you are being paid to practice and promote yourselves. Don’t forget to hand out cards to everyone you sing for. Performances beget more performances.
6) Singing Birthday Wishes by Phone.
They pay you 20-50 bucks; you call a person to leave a happy birthday in harmony. If they are there, they get it live. If not, you leave a message. If you took orders for this service on your website and the only times you made yourself available to call were times in which you already scheduled a rehearsal, you could make money at every single rehearsal all year! If you only did one or two per rehearsal, it could pay for free food all year!
7) Singing Spoof Songs by Phone.
Take a song you have already learned the parts for and offer to rewrite the lyrics of one verse and a chorus. They pay you for a short song. You can charge more for this service since you are writing original lyrics. Or make it easier: you tell them the songs they can choose from and the clients have to re-write the lyrics. You may want to set some language or topic limits on this since your reputation may be affected by the lyrics you sing. Suggestive is one thing; explicit is another.
8) Combined or Multiple Garage Sales.
You all have junk. Sell it and use the money for the group! If you put all that stuff together in one place, it’ll be a big draw. Sing at the sale and you'll get your name out to deal-seekers, again, making them more likely to come support you later.
CDs can get ripped to MP3 and passed around freely by those who disrespect you and your group, but anyone who wants a t-shirt has to get their own; sharing cotton “files” is pretty rare. Remember to keep the very big and very small sizes! People sized at the extremes are always looking for any wardrobe that fits.
10) House Gigs.
Everyone knows to go after big, paid concerts. But many artists also perform in people's homes. These house gigs are typically low key, living room affairs. But they can be lots of fun, help you earn some cash and get you in front of new fans.
11) Bake Sale.
Tried and true. And like the car wash, you can promote your CDs, T shirts, singing valentines and gigs at the same time.
There are lots of funds out there for groups that use their music to give back to the community or groups that help kids stay off the street or that focus on the music of a particular culture –even if only for a given concert. The golden rule of getting grants: apply! You don’t have to be the best in the world, just the best of those who apply! And many, many people and groups take themselves out of the running by never applying at all.
13) Pre-orders and Kickstarters.
Take pre-order money for items that haven’t come in yet, like CDs and T-shirts. Just be sure you deliver the goods when they do arrive.
Kickstarter and similar sites can also allow you to raise large amounts by putting your plea in front of a much wider audience. Just remember that the site takes a cut and so does Amazon and the monies are usually taxable. So if you raised a gross of 100k, you could have to pay 5k to kickstarter, 5k(ish) to Amazon and 25k(ish) to Uncle Sam, leaving your net at about 2/3 of what you thought you raised. That's still a good deal for many groups. Just be careful that you don't promise "rewards" that cost more than you'll actually net. Getting input from an accountant can save you a bundle here!
14) Help Others.
Raise money for a more attractive cause than your group and split the proceeds. You offer an organization with a performance space a performance where you will split the door with them. They promote to their own organization and contacts. You help them and help yourselves at the same time.
15) Corporate Sponsorship.
Big corporations have millions to spend on getting their name out there. That’s done through advertising, but also through association. They want to be associated with good things and you can be one of those things! You need to write to them and demonstrate why you’d be a good match and what you need from them in terms of support and how they’ll benefit. It can take a while, but it’s not an impossible task. Corportaions want to get in good with communities and specific demographics. If your audience is 99% high school or college students, that’s a valuable demographic. You may get cash, performance equipment or other valuable support. But stick with it. Go both locally and nationally.
Become a federally recognized not-for-profit organization, or a program organized under an already existing not-for-profit organization and accept tax-free donations. This process is time-consuming and you'll have to file tax forms and register in your state and federally, but it opens you up to receiving donations from Foundations and grants that would otherwise not have considered you at all. Plus, fans can support you and take it off on their taxes!
Represent your school or town, officially. Negotiate a fee to perform at every one of their functions. Better learn a good arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner!
18) Commercial Work.
It’s not easy to come by, but it is lucrative. Contact every casting agent, recording studio and advertising agency around your area and make sure they have high quality samples of your music. Your low rates, the fact that a cappella groups are almost always non-union and your youthful exuberance, combined with how different your sound is compared to individual singers or bands should land you something!
Music makes audiences thirsty! So sell concessions at your shows. These can be marked up heavily and people are just as happy to buy from you as from the candy or soda machine.
Sell Starbucks Coffee at your shows. People are addicted to that stuff and there’s a large mark-up.
21) Back it up.
Sing back-up harmonies for singer-songwriter’s demo tapes for a fee. There’s not that much of this work, but there is some.
22) Nobody Home.
Sell individualized outgoing messages for people's cell phones (or anyone who still uses a landline or actual answering machine). You could even record a high quality version with a space for someone's name to be added in.
23) Call Me!
Sell ring tones. There are many programs that allow you to make your own.
Teach people at a lower level than you how to do what you are good at. That can be singing, arranging, choreography or anything at all!
Parents are accustomed to paying for their kids. They’ve been doing it since you were born. If your group puts together a written proposal with a budget for how you’ll use the money responsibly, and if all the member’s parents put in equally, you’ll have a good shot at getting a "parental grant" or at least a no-interest loan.
If you write or record music that others want to use, you can earn money. Income streams include: (1) royalties from printed music you've written; (2) mechanical royalties from others recording compositions you've written; (3) performance royalties from the performance of the compositions you've written or recordings of your group used on stage, tv, film or internet; (4) synchronization royalties from using your songs or recordings along with any picture or video; and (5) the digital rights from streaming and downloading via internet radio or on-demand services. You'll need to learn what payments you are entitled to, and register your composers and group with the organizations that track the use of music and collect payments for you. This is complicated, but it can be well worth the effort!
27) Membership Fees.
Just like fancy private clubs, fraternities or sororities, many a cappella groups have membership fees. These fees might come due once a year, once a semester or just once, upon joining. The fees are almost always non-refundable. And while you don't want to charge such a high fee that talent is kept away, you also need to send the message that membership is a privilege worth paying for. Plus it allows the organization to make advance plans and budgets. If you know you'll have a minimum of X in the bank just based on membership fees, then group leaders can afford to do plan ahead and and buy SingStrong weekend passes before the price goes up or they sell out.
Another plus to membership fees is that people tend to commit more strongly to the organizations that are harder to join. It's a bit like hazing, only it's not cruel or embarrassing. Finally, every group has quitters, people who drop the ball and then drop out. That can be a drag on groups. But at least those people will have already paid in, and therefore helped out before they checked out.
Try these tips and keep your eyes on the prize. You’ll have the coffers full in no time!