I’m a workshop nut. If used correctly by venues or artists, they can help far more in building loyalty and community than any advertisement or social media post ever will. You will educate, inspire, and build life-long fans. Workshops we hosted years ago have forged life-long friendships between artists and their followers. One artists tells me she stays in touch with one particular girl that she had in on of our workshops over ten years ago, when the girl was only about 8 or 9. And yes, that girl still makes it to every show she can, dragging along friends in the process.
Great workshops appeal to all ages, and musicians various skill levels and types of instruments. But… they also need to work, and make the attendees work and think and develop new skills. There’s fun in learning tough stuff. If it’s easy, they didn’t learn anything.
What makes a successful workshop? If I were to bumper-sticker the main points:
1: Be prepared well in advance with SPECIFIC SKILLS you want to teach.
2: Don’t just teach a couple of songs. People can learn tunes anywhere.
3: Don’t talk too much, don’t get too philosophical. Do share a funny personal story or two to let them get to know you, and intersperse these as a very short break every now and then. Make them play. That’s what they came for.
4: What makes you special? Teach that. If you’re Andrea Beaton from Cape Breton, you’re going to hammer on those triplets and a hard, driving attack. If you’re Hanneke Cassel, you’re going to work on a Scots fiddler’s toolbox, flicks, chunks and chops. Brittany Haas? Timing, slides, building solos. We want to learn from YOU, not stuff that anyone can teach.
5: COMMUNICATE. Before the workshop, with the organizers. See what they want. Do they host a lot of workshops? Do they want you fit into a theme? Do they want some printed music available beforehand for their regulars? COMMUNICATE. After the workshop, with some of the students. If they comment on your Facebook posts a week or two later, comment back! Don’t let a connection die off because you’re “too busy.”
6: Appeal to all ages. While the adults may be the ones who sound the most “with it”, they can also bog you down with questions that don’t relate to what you’re teaching. Don’t let them. The kids out there may seem unskilled, but five years from now, they’re the ones running up to you at festivals. They’re the ones killing themselves to get good on the fiddle because they want to be just like you. That’s the biggest, best fan you can ever hope for.