We recently decided to be part of National Music Day on June 21, joining music makers in more than 500 cities and 100 countries. We needed to get the largest number of people playing music in a way that would attract casual musicians and non-musicians in the community. Our solution: ukulele circles
Uke circles are accessible to people of all ages and levels of musical ability and encourage people with little or no musical training to participate and experience the joy of sharing music with others. Playing in a uke circle also doesn't require a lot of skill or the ability to read music. And ukes are just plain fun.
Uke Promotional Power
Once we decided on a ukulele circle, we began a massive PR campaign in our community and online. We went door to door, handing out posters and postcards to local businesses and fellow Mauldin Chamber of Commerce members. We posted the event on our website and created an event on Facebook to invite all our "Friends." We sent emails to the local elementary music teachers and asked them to forward the information to their contacts. Prior to June 21, every customer who came into the store got an event postcard and a few extras to hand out to friends. Instrument repairs were returned with postcards tucked inside, as well.
We also sent press releases to the local media. One writer posted a story about us and National Music Day on The Greenville News website. Another wrote an article for the local newspaper.
Vendors Pitch In
Our suppliers were wonderful. They provided starter packages for us to sell, method books and personality folios. (Yes, there is a Taylor Swift For Ukulele book.) They also donated product literature, chord charts and other swag as handouts. Our staff made cupcakes, cookies and punch. We had a colorful display of ukuleles (with our Kala uke tree loaded up) and related materials on counters decorated with multicolored grass skirting.
When attendees arrived, they each received a lei and a band folder full of sale fliers, coupons, chord charts and three simple songs: "You Are My Sunshine," "When The Saints Go Marching In" and "Jambalya"—all familiar songs that can be played with two simple chords. Needless to say, all this was free to attendees.
Keeping It Simple
We began with 30 chairs and colored folding stands set up in the parking lot. Before long, we had more than 50 people decked out in leis, strumming away. Many brought their own ukuleles, but we also kept a supply on hand to loan to non-owners. Senior citizens sat beside young children. A family came out that had just moved from Brazil. One eighth grader brought her entire slumber party, which performed its own rendition of "Livin' On A Prayer."
Several members of a local ukulele group, Yesterukes, helped those who'd never played. Before each song, our staff leader, Rebecca Ashe, taught the two chords needed to play that piece and gave people a chance to practice going back and forth between chords. We included extra-large chord charts in the folders. Once people had the motions down, the group sang and played, and sang and played—men alone, women alone, children alone, everyone together. Learning and singing the three songs took about 40 minutes. Afterwards, we served refreshments, and the shopping began.
In the hour following our circle, we sold six ukuleles and several hundred dollars worth of tuners, books, music stands and other accessories. A family's four daughters each pulled out their allowance money and purchased a colorful ukulele. An "extra $10 off tonight only" coupon certainly helped create urgency.
One attendee has since asked to start teaching advanced strumming lessons here, and the Yesterukes sent out an e-mail to all 24 members, letting them know we are the place to buy ukuleles and related gear here in upstate South Carolina. We also know many of our new friends will be back, as they enjoyed their first musical experience "uking" with us. Many asked if the uke circle would be an annual event. I imagine we'll do it much more often than that.