Rand and Cindy Cook of The Candyman Strings and Things know a thing or two about rock camps—through research, hard work, and trial and error. The result is a summer rock camp that took home a NAMM Top 100 Award. At the 2015 NAMM Show, the Cooks shared their knowledge and paid it forward at a NAMM U session, “How to Host a Summer Rock Camp From Start to Finish (and Beyond).”
Here are highlights from their session, touching upon their best practices, tips and hints. Watch the video for the complete session.
How to Get Started
• Create a task force of people in your community. Consider other rock camp directors, musicians and educators.
• Determine your camp hours and days. The Cooks host two-week camps. They have two ensemble studios, so they can host two camps in the morning and two in the afternoon.
• Schedule camp dates. Consider dates for June, July and/or August.
• Look into legalities. Check with your insurance company and lawyer to protect yourself, the business and the kids.
• Establish band classifications. Determine your age groups, such as 8–12 year olds or 13–17 year olds. Playing experience is also important—beginners (three months playing), intermediate (done a rock camp before) and advanced. The Cooks take band placement seriously, so each student can have the best experience.
• Create a camp schedule. This should include all the activities. “Think about setting the kids up for success and not overwhelming them,” Cindy said. “Give them that experience that’s going to culminate in the concert finale but also life lessons they can take with them after the camp.”
• Host an orientation. It’s key to get parents and kids in the same room. The Cooks made a whimsical orientation video, which doubles as an advertisement for their rock camp and store. They substituted orientation with a Group Sunday event, which includes icebreakers and games, so they get to know the students better before camp starts.
• Instructors are the backbone. The Cooks have an anti-bullying instructor and vocal and performance coaches. They also use team mentors. “We don’t use a canned curriculum but trust our instructors to teach the kids their way, and we give them creative control,” Cindy said.
• Rehearsal space and equipment. “There are a lot of manufacturers who offer ways to get equipment into the space and make it easy for you to provide equipment for the kids,” Rand said.
• Band assignments. Assign categories—drums, keys, guitar, vocals, bass, other. The Cooks use color-coded Post-It notes to move around on a wall, so they can see the overall schedule at a glance, including students on a waiting list.
• Songs. Ensure you have songs appropriate for each age group. Kids can also bring song choices in.
• Create Web pages. You need to create rock camp Web pages. Add them to your existing website, or create landing pages.
• Marketing collateral. Use free online resources and calendars.
• Getting sign-ups. You know how to market your own business. Keep it targeted.
Putting It Together
• Open registration. Parents start planning for summer long before it starts, so open your rock camp registration early.
• Schedule assessment auditions. They’re helpful for teachers, students, parents and staff.
• Order printables. T-shirts, folders, pins and giveaways are all part of the rock camp experience.
• Approach sponsors and partners. There are plenty of opportunities for community sponsors and support. Get out and ask.
• Fill slots. There will always be last-minute slots to fill, so be prepared.
• Prepare your studios. Kids provide their own instruments, and the Cooks provide everything else.
• Confirm campers. Email and call all enrollees. Make this a priority—it cuts down on no-shows or missed days.
• Orientation/Group Sunday. This event is the first step in hosting a rock camp.
The Rock Camp
Day 1: This includes teambuilding exercises, kids getting to know each other and the staff, tours of the facility, introductions to the other instruments, and a discussion on bullying (zero tolerance). Kids can pick their band names and songs in a democratic, fun process.
Week 1: “We think it’s really important that the bands practice having their own identity, including creating a name and logo,” Cindy said. Pick Monkey is a great way to create a logo, or the kids can draw a logo that Cindy digitizes on the computer.
Week 2: This week is about refining songs and dress rehearsals. Two different studios in town sponsor the camp, so all students record their songs in a day. They also create a concert poster that the kids sign and hand out T-shirts. Each band performs for the other bands to get peer advice, followed by more pizza, ice cream and fun outdoors. There’s a final Q&A with the campers.
• Load-in. Many parents want to help out and will volunteer.
• Setting the stage. Key ingredients are sponsor banners, a good sound guy and a videographer.
• Backstage experience. Give your students the full experience, and be waiting to congratulate them.
• Care for the audience. The Cooks invite a food truck to feed the audience.
• Open the concert with the teacher band. This takes the pressure off the kids.
• Kids emcee. Parents love that the kids are responsible, and so do the kids.
• Lineup. The older kids are the headliners.
• Certificate. Each camper receives a Rock Camp certificate to proudly display and in honor of their achievement.
• Band photo. This is an absolute must to capture memories and as a memento.
• Thank sponsors and partners in writing. Make it timely and a habit.
• Follow-up questionnaire. The Cooks use an automated online survey for feedback and planning.
• Cost analysis. Take the time to review and calculate how it adds to your bottom line.
• Staff celebration. Reward the staff and use this as an opportunity to debrief and get ideas and input to improve for next time.