Invite a Celebrity to Participate in Your School Concert

Mike Lawson • Commentary • August 30, 2018

Few things excite people as much as being in the presence of a celebrity. Indeed, on many occasions I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand the reactions of people in the company of luminaries and it’s pretty amusing to watch them gawk, get giddy, or otherwise go gaga.

As I once walked down Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan with world heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, hordes of strangers, materializing seemingly out of nowhere, rushed up to him to shake his hand while taxi drivers passing by slowed down and held up traffic as they honked their horns or yelled out “Hey, Champ!” (at the restaurant we went to, diners were sending over complimentary drinks). When a couple of young stars from the ‘80’s TV show Fame were over my house early one summer evening, word got out and all the kids on the block were at our doorstep. Having the good fortune to be on Dinah Shore’s nationally syndicated television show after I published my first book, The Songwriter’s Handbook, I observed people waiting in line to get into the show at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles screaming with exhilaration as each celebrity-guest drove into the parking lot (except for me — as I pulled in behind folk singer Burl Ives I saw people shaking their heads and asking “Who’s he?”)

All this is to say, why not inject some excitement into your music program and invite a celebrity to participate in an upcoming concert at your school? It’s really not so far-fetched an idea as it might sound as famous people have been known to participate in high school radio shows and podcasts and cable TV shows hosted by complete unknowns. Not to mention, who wouldn’t want to support students and participate in a good cause? It just takes the right approach to get  a famous person to come to your school to participate in a worthwhile program. You might start the process by thinking about what celebrities you would want to come to your school and why. Is a particular celebrity known for a style of music that would enhance your concert? Does a particular celebrity have a musical talent that your musical group could complement and showcase? Does a particular celebrity embrace a cause that is dear to your school and student musicians? Would a particular celebrity be a good fit for any other reason? Try to come up with a list of celebrities, not just for the sake of having a celebrity, but for which there is a credible reason to bring him or her to your school. Have multiple names on the list as celebrities can be hard to reach or may turn your offer down because they are busy or for other reasons. What kind of celebrity would you want to invite? It could be a performer, virtuoso musician, duo, group, composer or songwriter from the classical music world; popular music including rock, hip hop, rap, rhythm and blues, Latin, gospel, country, jazz, and dance; and musical theater.

A celebrity could also come from outside the music world. A famous athlete could be invited for a sports-themed concert. A famous movie or TV star could be invited for a cinematic- or television-themed concert. A radio personality could be invited for a concert centered around the music format in which the DJ is on the air. A politician could be invited for a patriotic-themed concert. The students and conductor should think outside the box and let their imagination run away in contemplating what celebrity would make a good guest.

Non-musical celebrities can participate in concerts in various ways. They can participate in the performance of compositions that have narration (think Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland), the theme of which can be a cause or historical theme that is dear to them. If you can’t think of a composition with narration that is a good fit for a celebrity, you could compose or commission a piece with the desired narration. Non-musical celebrities could conduct the school group (with a little tutoring). They can host the concert if it is dedicated to a particular cause. Indeed, no matter which way the celebrity participates the concert can be a fundraising event for a particular cause.

Reaching celebrities can be challenging as they tend to keep their contact information private due to safety reasons and because they don’t want to be continually annoyed by overzealous fans. Certainly, some celebrities may refrain from certain public activities because of those reasons, but there are others who avidly like to be among fans. Celebrities who had their major success in the past may be more inclined to participate although that is a very general statement.

A search can begin by Googling the name of a celebrity to see if he or she has a website, which may then have a contact area.

If not, then you will have to try reaching the celebrity by finding out the name of his or her personal manager or agent or attorney or any other contact who may have a link to the person. Finding contact information may require some detective work, but it is kind of fun. If you have students dividing up the list of celebrity candidates, that eases the burden of the search. Be sure in your initial written appeal to tell about your music group and the reasons why you want this particular celebrity to participate in your school’s concert and what his or her role could be. You should be flexible in the potential dates you offer because of the busy schedules of celebrities and offer several dates well in advance or say you would be happy to accommodate the person’s schedule.

Another consideration is the cost of bringing the celebrity in. Let’s face it, many celebrities are financially comfortable, and the fee will not be an important factor in their consenting to come (if it’s for a cause, the cause may be a more important consideration than the fee). You can offer a modest stipend (explaining, of course, your modest budget) which can be raised through fundraising events like bake sales or car-washing. People in the community or local arts groups may contribute financially, and ambitious students may want to raise funds through a social media campaign. But playing up the cause, if there is one, may be the key to obtaining the celebrity’s participation.

You can even have a day devoted to the celebrity. I teach at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York and in one of my music business classes recently was the daughter of a member of one of the world’s most famous rock groups. The musician was invited to speak at the school, and he came cheerfully and gratis, and was kind enough to let us make a day at the college in his honor. For this honor day, students made a video of the highlights of his (and his group’s) career and I engaged with him on stage in a Q&A session. Afterwards, he was even gracious enough to autograph clothing and guitars or whatever else the students put forward and it was a wonderful and memorable day for all.

On another occasion, a famous concert promoter came to Manhattanville, lowering his relatively high fee. The fee was still a couple thousand dollars, but the college’s music business club raised money as well as got some funding from some areas of the college to pay his fee.

Depending on the nature of the guest’s participation, rehearsals may be required. Giving the celebrity everything he or she needs ahead of time to prepare will minimize the needed rehearsal time, which perhaps could be done a day or two before the concert. As far as lodging is concerned, the celebrity can be a guest at the home of a student or faculty member or arrangements can be made for the celebrity to stay in a local motel. Some celebrities may want to arrange their own accommodations.

Of course, you will want to publicize the concert with the celebrity in the local media. There will invariably be photo-ops, and what better than to have a photo of the celebrity with the school group or a photo in which the celebrity presents a check to a representative of a particular cause that was the purpose of the concert?

If you are successful in arranging for a celebrity to participate in your school concert, be prepared for much excitement at your school. Be prepared for a large turn-out at the concert from the community. Be prepared for barrage of publicity and social media coverage. The experience will surely be one that the students—and the community–will never forget.

If that all sounds good, you might want to start the ball rolling by having your student musicians put together a celebrity wish-list, telling them to let their imagination run away. And if a famous person does come to your school, don’t be surprised if you see delirious reactions where the students—and others– gawk, get giddy or otherwise go gaga.

Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including The Songwriter’s Handbook and The Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guide to Making Great Demos. His Encyclopedia of the Music Business won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism, was named Outstanding Music Reference Book of the Year by the American Library Association and was recommended by Academy Award-winning composer Henry Mancini on the 1984 internationally-televised Grammy Awards. His books have been praised by such music luminaries as Elton John, Aaron Copland, Richard Rodgers, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Morton Gould, and Johnny Mathis. He runs the music business program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.

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