Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Publicizing & Promoting Your Drum Circle – Getting The Word Out

Back in the day before the day without the internet, it was harder to do. I still have my vinyl LP records too. But now, there’s numerous free ways to get the word out about your drum circle. Years ago, it was pretty much just spreading it by word of mouth, posting flyers around, and that was about all I could do. But in reality, word of mouth is still how most drum circles take off and become a really happening scene.

If people had a great time at your drum circle last night, they go to work the next day, and tell their friends and co-workers how much fun they had last night, and word gets spread around very fast. So, just try to make sure it is a positive, fun scene, and it will create lots of talk in your community. In a matter of months the circle will be kickin’ and people will seek it out.

There are some other things you can try, you just have to find the time to do be able to do the work to get the word out there about your circle. Here are a few ideas I’ve tried that have worked pretty well, since the electronic age has taken off. Now, it’s a cinch, if you have the time. And you need to stay on top of the emerging technical breakthroughs that could help you promote things even more effectively. New ways to promote events for free are popping up all the time.

One thing I did that helped, was send a very short press release to all the local papers. Especially the smaller ones, like the weekly free ones you tend see all over the place. They are mostly music, local event, and entertainment oriented, so most are actually eager to post your drum circle event listing for you for free. The big papers also, at least some of them, will print notices for free. Don’t forget the tiny free ones that show up in your yard either.

Most newspapers have a place on the front inside page to send an email, fax, or letter to. Try to contact an editorial person. Try Public TV – Public Access TV – And the college and Public FM Radio stations also. See if they will possibly come by, and run a story on the circle, or at least see if they let you promote a local event, on their site. Most of them will. Drum circles are not just some hippie fad anymore, and they know it.

A very good idea is to make some flyers up to hand out to your friends to give out for you. Try to post them in local music stores, (Say you will send them new customers, because you will.) Look for good old fashioned bulletin boards and put up a flyer there. It’s easy to create a nice looking flyer these days yourself, or at a copy store. Put them in stores, drycleaners, condos, apartments, churches, at work, etc. are all great places to spread the word out about your drum circle. Try other institutions, anything you can think of. Visit any local drum circles, music stores, music teachers, concerts, or any music related events, and give out flyers at a break, or at the end. Approach Tai-Chi and Yoga studios and see if they might like to attend, perform, or at least let you leave some flyers there.

Try to get a few five minute video clips from your drum circle, to post out on the video sharing sites, like YouTube, and there are a bunch more video sharing sites out there now. If you have a video clip, or two, that’s a great way to promote your circle. Keep the excitement going in your community with some good sounding video. Now you can put them on places like GoogleBuzz, FaceBook, MySpace, etc Make sure they sound good, and that people are smiling.

Some try to get email lists of drummers to contact them later to promote circles. My experience is that most people come there to have fun, and drum, not to be asked to sign up on some email list. It’s a bit less intrusive if you can give them a card, or flyer that has your email on it, so they can contact you instead. That way, you aren’t putting people on the spot to give out an email address. This is the method I used, and it worked just fine.

You can post notices for events on drumming newsgroups like Yahoo, Usenet, and Google. And all the other social networking websites like MySpace, FaceBook, MeetUp, Ning, Twitter, and any other social meeting boards you’re on. Or take the initiative and start one up. New sites are constantly popping up all the time. Try to stay up on the ones that seem promising. Join them, and set up a profile. Easy free networking if you have the time. They come and go. Look for local event websites in your area. Most news channels have one. They are always happy to have new content.

You just need to find the time to create a profile for each social site, and that can be pretty time consuming. But once it’s set up and running with one, you can just plug the new information in to the other ones. You can post photos from your drum circle on places like Picasso and Flickr. Do things like putting up the videos I talked about, create a drum circle blog, and do event postings. Try to put some new information out there each few weeks if you can to keep them fresh and interesting. Once you get this publicity “machine” going, it gets a lot easier to maintain, and rolls bigger and bigger like a snowball rolling down a hill. There are dozens of these sites out there now. It just takes some time to set up profiles on all these things.

Once you do, you need to add friends as fast as possible. Just do a search on the key words, drum circle, drummer, belly dancer, fire spinner, or Djembe, etc. and you will find lots of like minded people to send friend invites to. You can build it up quickly if you sit down once a week and do it. Mention your social websites on your flyers that you give out also, so they can find you.

Also try lists like CraigsList, other local event, and online musician’s lists, where you can bulletin your events. There are loads of musician boards and groups out there. You should want to attract local musicians and artists, so you have a strong core group.Many of these social sites have specific drumming, or drum circle groups you can join, and then can post an event on. With some, you can post the event, and then bulletin it out to your friends. You just have to have time, and the willingness to do all the work behind the scenes. It can be a bit tedious, but it’s the way to create a buzz about your drum circle in the area. Create your own group for it if you need to.

About 6 years ago with this one circle, after a couple of weeks, I started this drum circle blog up, describing the happenings of the evening each week. It worked better than I thought it would. It helps to promote it just a little bit more, and you can add it to the social networking sites. The search engines do pick blog entries up sometimes.

I made up these colorful flyers, a money saver is to print them yourself. I put two 5 x 7” ones on each page and cut them in half. Then I went out and asked the local music stores if I could leave stacks of them there for people that might be buying a new drum. I spoke to the managers about it first, and explained to them if they would let me leave them there, I would recommend them to drum circle participants who might want to buy a new drum. After all, it’s better to try one out in person rather than buy a drum blindly online. Plus you are helping to support the businesses in your local community. So they sent me drummers, I sent them customers. That was a huge help. You want the younger crowd there, to create a real happening scene for everyone, and to help spread the word. We had like 5 generations of people all together having fun drumming and dancing. Be sure to have a few stacks of your flyers at your drum circle, and ask people to hand a few of them out to their friends.

I then took the flyers around to all the other drum circles, and at a break, passed a few out to people during breaks in the action, that I was friendly with. Word of mouth about it spread around very quickly, that this was a cool place to come and have a good time drumming in A/C comfort! And this new drum circle took off immediately. We were packing the place every week. The owners were in a state of shock at the success of it. They loved the fact that it was so interactive, and that people that just walked in, could be a part of the band, instead of just sitting somewhere and watching one. I think secretly everyone wants to be in the band at one time or another in their lives. You just have to be a bit tactful passing out flyers at another drum circle. If you participate there it’s a bit easier.

I had no idea that this would actually work, but I think the single biggest help in getting people in there was making some “Drum Circle Now” signs up and hanging them outside in conspicuous places, like nearby telephone poles. Make them about the size of the politician signs you see around elections. I made one that said “Drum Circle” “Belly Dancers Welcome” and put them all up on telephone poles where people just driving by would see them, and be curious enough to want to come in and check it out. I can’t tell you how many people told me “I saw the sign and decided to come in, and I love it!” So these drive by drummers started coming in, and bellydancers too. I couldn’t believe how effective that was. Something so simple, like a stupid hand painted 18” sign. Lots of curious first times came in also from those. Just remember to retrieve them at the end of the night. I'd be tired and forget that a lot.

So you’ve got the social meeting, and networking websites, news groups, and drum circle flyers. All of those all very useful tools to get the word out at no cost, when you are trying to promote your drum circle. The only part that costs anything, is getting some flyers made up. Get some printer ink and make something up. All the rest is free. (For now, anyway.) But as I mentioned, the word of mouth is what works the best.

At some point consider getting some of those band size 4 x 5 vinyl bumper stickers made you see everywhere. It’s is a good idea, and you can stick them on all your drums so you can easily identify them because people are bringing their own drums in. This happens a lot if you get into it, and it‘s an easy way to spot what is yours, and deters any from walking off a little bit. It’s not too expensive to have a 100 made. It’s a fun way for people help to spread the word about your drum circle, website, etc. Hand out those stickers.

One really good idea for promotion, or for building up your press pack, is to try and document your events, whenever you can. Photos are powerful tools, snap pictures whenever it‘s possible, or ask a friend to do so for you. Without annoying people too much of course. Be sure to ask permission, it‘s the right thing to do. And photos of kids are a no - no. The other photo’s are great for your social website profiles, and your press pack. The same thing with videos. Mostly it’s the other people who take the photos, and email them to me. I’m busy playing.

Drum circles at events, clubs, and most paying gigs love to have good press and free publicity. Later you can make up a nice flyer, poster, a letter, card, pictures, and maybe a brochure. A letter of recommendation from the owners is a very useful tool also, later down the road.

But at any gathering or event, make sure it is appropriate to video or take pictures before the event, some groups are very sensitive to their images being released into the public. (Especially special needs groups.) But if the event is in public, it is a lot easier to get permission. Be sure to get it in written form, just an email will do. The rules with video are somewhat more relaxed.

Making that blog about your drum circle helps a lot to promote it. It can be tedious to do it week after week, but it gets the word out there, and people really seemed to respond to it. They couldn’t wait to read what happened last week, or what was coming up this next week.

Odds are that if you live near a metropolitan area, there are some dance teachers, even belly dancing teachers, near you. Take the time to invite them out to dance at the circle. A few of our local dance teachers started to bring their students out for a “field trip” once or twice a month to the circle. They will enjoy it, and it will make your scene all the more “talked about” around town, and at the water cooler. Some entire dance troupes would come in, hula hoopers, various object spinners, tapestry wavers, all kinds of creative types will start coming out once they hear about it.

Also, keep an eye out for openings and events, like the movie, “The Visitor”, which had a little about drum circles in it. We arranged with the theater to have a drum circle inside the lobby before the opening of the movie, then got free passes to go watch it. Approach big cultural events, art fairs, or store openings. Anything where the owners want to create some buzz and draw attention to their business can be an ideal opportunity for you, or your drum circle group.

For thirty something years, I have seen lots of drum circles start up and flourish, and other ones wither and die off in a few weeks. Most people think the drum circle is all about the drumming. It really doesn’t have that much to do with it. The drum circle is not primarily about the drumming and music that is being created. It is more about building a community, the people genuinely finding out who they are, and their self discovery, as they go through this process without even realizing it is happening to them. I know this may sound like some sort of psychobabble, but you will see it happen over a period of months at an ongoing drum circle.

Many successful open public drum circles have started by just having two or three people gathering at a public spot on a beach or at a park, and start drumming together. The word spreads, or you help spread the word about them, and they take right off. Just like that. It’s that simple.

One thing I’ve noticed is people like variety in the rhythms, and like to see a different program from week to week. Otherwise it can get boring. You don’t want the pros to be bored playing the same old beat all night long, or have it too complicated for the beginners either. I offer a 2 hour DVD called 101 Drum Circle Rhythms, that includes a free drum circle CD for $15. It makes a great source of reference material to keep your drum circle fresh and interesting. I think that is the real key to keep people wanting to come back for more week after week. You can pick it up at my site or Amazon. (No free CD at I try to offer a good value at a fair price to fellow musicians. Please also consider picking up my book, the proceeds from sales of the DVD and book help me to fund work in our community. Helping others along their drumming path is what it's all about for me.

Ideally you want everyone to be engaged and having a good time. It’s an art form to lead without leading, mix up the rhythms, some up tempo, some slow and grooving, especially for the dancers, without making it too obvious. Whether it’s you starting out the rhythms, or anyone who wants to start one out, or a combination of both. It’s a good idea to really mix up that set list, or at least have a couple of things ready to go, so you can just “go with the flow”. I hope some of this helps your circle to grow!

shannon ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

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