Ideas for Funding Musical Arts Programs in School

What toll is the recession taking on state economies?

$ 538,000,000,000

This is the combined total of state budget gaps experienced and projected over four fiscal years (2009-2012) per the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Federal stimulus funds, budget cuts, tax increases and reserves used as gap fillers create a short term illusion of security. We can still drive on roads, expect a response to a 911 call, and our kids go to school. But the underlying cash flow imbalance will continue to squeeze, including key elements within our education system.

School programs viewed as non-essential such as band/orchestra remain cost saving targets. Urgent levies and political changes are unlikely to shield further cuts given the nature of this recession. Such cuts deny our children (i.e., our future society and leaders) the benefits of a well-rounded education. Those benefits are nicely articulated in an April 9, 2010 speech by Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.

This post offers a few “high leverage” ideas to raise net-extra funds to help preserve music making in our schools. They’re about monetizing or tapping into existing material and cash-flow streams. Offered without warranty, but in a spirit of ideation. Something to share with your school/PTA/PTO and booster leaders to assess interest and viability within local rules. Easy links are built into the subtitles.

1. Amazon Associates program – create an Amazon “aStore” on your school’s website or affiliated music program site. Simple and free. Load it with Amazon sku’s that students are going to need or want as part of regular school year purchases … books, supplies, gear for school teams/clubs, school related clothing, any other common items congruent with school spirit. Ask parents to originate their Amazon purchases via the site’s aStore. Amazon will then reward your directed marketing efforts with commissions in the 4-15% range. No added cost to the shoppers!

Enlist a student/faculty team to create the aStore page, keep it fresh. Integrate fun incentives to encourage frequent visit, e.g., create a related YouTube channel on the site featuring clips from marching band performances, concerts, talent shows.

2. Kroger Neighborhood Reward program – similar to preceding concept, this allows your school to earn commissions on purchases made at your local Kroger and affiliated stores (e.g., Ralphs, Dillons, King Soopers). Easy setup. Fill in the application with proper 501(c)3 verification, then purchase loaded gift cards that are re-sold to participating families. Cards can be continuously recharged. When aggregated purchases exceed the $5k per 4-week threshold, your school receives a 4% commission check. Everyone needs to eat, Krogers is a great place to shop.

3. eBay Instrument Resale Program – where do all those instruments go that were played by graduating seniors? Some to college, some to younger siblings, most likely hibernate in a closet. Find a seasoned eBay’er in your parent population, or better yet, a local music shop that would host an “eBay drop off store” capability. They can efficiently refurbish instruments as necessary, and with more shops building online presence (to survive), they have optimized listing and shipping techniques.

The music shop earns a consignment fee and gets to boost their eBay transaction volume and feedback ratings, whereas the school collects net proceeds. There may be some tax benefit for the family donating the instrument … need to check with a tax expert. Think broader than the band/orchestra instruments … all those guitars, amps, music books. eBay is a huge market (90 million traders globally) to monetize value from those closet-destined instruments.

4. Ukulele After-School Club – yes, a plug for my program, but it offers relevant help. Not as much a fundraiser as it is a program to create more incentive to join and support music making. The more students involved, the more parents that see value and give it weight. The enrollment of 8th grade students in band/orchestra across US schools is only 1-in-5. Not every student desires to play or can afford such instruments.

Simple model. Bulk orders from True Joy Acoustics are discounted. The discount is channeled to the school (kits are resold to families at face value), or passed on to maximize enrollment. The music teacher, student or community leader implements a fun and engaging program (ukuleles are easy to learn) … students learn and perform together. This creates a value-added extension to traditional school music programs, reaches more students and stimulates cross-over synergy (e.g., I kind of like playing music together with my friends … maybe I’ll look into joining band).

If you like any or all of these ideas, please share them with the appropriate contacts and forums in your school district. Point a link to this post out there in your social media networks. Perhaps they will invite testimonials and learning from those who already implement them (e.g., my children’s district uses the Kroger Reward Program) or spur on discussion and additional ideas. Let’s keep the music playing!

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

What Others are Saying

A little instrument with a big heart. Ukuleles have a way of bringing joy, community connection and appreciation.

A July 2010 article in the local section of The Cincinnati Enquirer shared how a little girl at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center was enjoying FLEA ukuleles donated during our May kickoff event … her mom strumming right along. Click here (TJA Enquirer) to read or download.

Our kit donations to pediatric hospitals are funded by delighting a growing base of marketplace buyers. The more kits we sell, the more we donate. Here’s what early players are saying:

Fantastic instrument & kit arrived safe, saves me from buying it all on my own! – Jim, eBay Store purchaser

Got it. All tuned up and ready to go. I’m very excited! – Betsy, Cincinnati area music therapist, just after picking up her kit at Clovernook

Play it everyday! I can strum the Sunrise chords in many different ways, and learned Over the Rainbow from the internet. – Sarah, middle school student

Awesome! I own all types of acoustic instruments … this is the best ukulele I’ve ever played. My stepson plays it, now my wife is starting to pick it up. – Brian, Cincinnati area barber

These comments are not all that different from FLEA ukulele reviews posted by experienced players on Google and YouTube.

Our program aims to equip any player with a FLEA ukulele … plus the essential gear to learn it fast … enjoy all the FUN and learn some fresh techniques, regardless of personal circumstances or prior ukulele experience.

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

An Easier Way to Learn Music

FLEA ukuleles are fun yet serious instruments.

They also provide an easier, economical stepping-stone to playing guitar and other instruments later.

Learning larger instruments can be a handful, usually requiring help.

Many kids want to jump right into playing guitar. Not a toy, but a real guitar. Popular, versatile and cool to play.

But not so easy once you actually have one. Standard guitar sizes can be a handful. Higher tension strings (made of metal on standard guitars) can irritate the fingers until you build up calluses. Learning chords across six strings and even playing simple notes often requires professional lessons. Lots of practice to play basic tunes.

Guitars are great, no doubt about it. But there is an easier way to get started.

FLEA ukuleles are SIZED RIGHT for any beginner. Four strings made of finger-friendly nylon are easy to play. Many chords (and hence songs) can be played by pressing just one or two fingers down on non-metal frets.

The world of making music opens up quickly after players start and excel with our kits. Just strumming the open strings of a FLEA ukulele makes a pleasant rich sound!

Ukuleles can become a lifelong passion and facilitate learning other musical instruments later. They help you learn musical rhythm, simple and complex strumming techniques, fretting individual notes and chord riffs, how to tune up your instrument, and how to play along with others … even if just accompanying YouTube performances!

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

Now Featured on YouTube

Click here to see 2 minute feature video

What’s special about our ukulele program? See our new 2 minute video on YouTube!

Please share with anybody you know that’s interested in getting a superb ukulele AND the skills to play it.

Playing ukulele is also an easy alternative, addition or smart stepping-stone to playing guitar and many other musical instruments!

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

A Sonnet for Casey

Casey, 5 weeks old, July 2004

An Irish Terrier, my Casey came passing through,
     the truest companion, playful to the night;
So full of mischief, fun and handsome too,
     and never astray from Sunny's watchful sight.

So happy that he knew it, he'd wiggle his tail,
     yes Casey and Sunny were such a happy pair;
A song we strummed, a song we sang and hailed,
     my Casey and Sunny loved a tune to share.

But now our songs ring soft without glee,
     for Casey passed, his soul in God's safe keep;
It's Sunny and I who sing our ode to Casey,
     with joyful thoughts, yet tears shed quick and deep.

     My dearest, best of friend, my Casey soul above,
     Keep wigglin' that tail to strums and songs of love!

Sarah orchestrating a pose with Sunny and Casey, August 2010

If you love dogs, as I do, you know their gift of love and devoted companionship.

They enable us to savor simple joys, heartfelt lessons of life.

This week echoes that big picture loudly with Casey’s untimely passing.

I miss striking up a trio with Casey and Sunning playing a familiar tune:

If You’re Happy and You Know It … wiggle your tail!

Simple verse, simple strum … an ear-raising whistle added here and there for effect.

True music is a powerful connector and healer.

Greg H., True Joy Acoustics founder

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