The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association moved from VHS madness to the comfort of the cloud.
The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), a nonprofit organization devoted to music development and education, listens to thousands of festival and conference auditions each year from individuals, small groups, bands, orchestras, and choirs.
It was a gargantuan task that involved VHS tapes, CDs, hundreds of volunteers, and the postal service—until the group discovered Submittable.
The thing I love most about Submittable is the number of people who have gotten involved.
Executive Director, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA)
You may get tired even hearing about the old way PMEA processed their audition tapes.
According to PMEA executive director Abi Young, the virtual audition process started with thousands of VHS tapes and CDs arriving at their office in the mail, along with paperwork. Depending on the festival or conference, the various reviewers would have to gather to listen to the hard copies together in a room and share their opinions. Finally, a coordinator would organize the review comments in an Excel sheet, make selections, and then inform everyone who submitted over email.
"It was craziness,” Young says. “We’ve come a long, long way."
The group wanted, first and foremost, to ditch the audition hard copies. But they also wanted to save energy spent sorting applications, processing comments, and informing everyone of the results. At the same time, if they bought software, it had to be user-friendly enough that volunteers of all kinds could be comfortable learning the ropes.
In 2015, they landed on Submittable, and haven’t looked back since.
Perhaps the biggest benefit PMEA has found from using Submittable is the ease with which they can coordinate their reviewers—and they have hundreds. Many of their judges are retired teachers scattered around the state, all of whom volunteer their time.
Submittable’s platform allows them to review auditions from wherever they are, whenever they want, and to leave comments free of group influence.
"It’s great because reviewers don’t have to get it done in a day," Young explains. "In most cases now, we give people two weeks. It allows them the ability to listen at their own pace, and it makes it much more fair. It’s not like by the time you get to Group 18, you’re thinking, I’m done with this. We’re avoiding the burnout that comes with marathon meetings."
Making it easy on the volunteers also makes it easier for PMEA to find volunteers and keep volunteers coming back. Since reviewing can be done from home, without downloading huge files or carrying stacks of tapes, people return year after year. And since the software isn’t intimidating, even less tech-savvy reviewers can be trained in a few minutes.
One issue with audio and video auditions is that the files can fill up hard drives in no time at all. Especially when reviewers have older devices, this spells trouble. But with Submittable's platform, users can review files without downloading them, completely avoiding the issue.
And students can upload dozens of different types of files, making uploading and downloading easy on both ends of the process.
Besides saving the reviewers time, Submittable also frees up administrator time through its reporting features. In fact, the more Young learns about the features of the software, the more time she saves with each passing year.
"I’ve learned that you can customize the reports and get all the data you want in one place, exactly how you want it," Young says. "The amount of time that saves is astounding."
Between auto labeling, customized email templates, and reporting, Young has much more time to develop her program, organize her festivals and conferences, and strategize for the future.
"Tasks that easily would take a day or multiple days are now down to a couple of hours," she says.
Since adopting Submittable, PMEA has seen an increase in submissions as well as a more diverse pool of submitters and reviewers.
"The thing I love most about Submittable is the number of people who have gotten involved," Young says. "This is a fantastic way for us to utilize the expertise of so many of our music educators. Teachers typically retire after 30 or 35 years of teaching, but they still have a lot of knowledge to give. So even though they may not be actively in the classroom, this is a great opportunity to get them involved, and they get value out of volunteering, too. And they really love using the platform."
In addition, virtual auditions help give a more diverse pool of kids the chance to audition in the first place. Kids who might be intimidated by a live audition can do so from the comfort of their own home. Kids who might have trouble traveling to increasingly far-away opportunities, due to the economic burden or after-school jobs, can now quickly apply with the rest of their classmates. It levels the playing field for an activity that has often put privileged kids at an advantage.
For a program that holds dozens of live performances and thousands of live auditions each year, the COVID-19 pandemic could have completely devastated PMEA's festival schedule—not to mention stealing opportunities and accomplishments from kids who are rising musicians. But since PMEA was already using software that made going remote easy, they were able to pivot quickly and keep going.
"Submittable was an absolute lifesaver when COVID hit last year," Young said.
Because the software makes virtual auditions easy, they could quickly shift their in-person auditions over to video or audio auditions even in the midst of regional or statewide festival selections. And because the software is easy to teach people to use, they could onboard many more reviewers with a quick training.
And Submittable's support team was there to help them through any tight spots.
"Submittable support has been fantastic through all this," she continued. "They get back to us so quickly. We were thankfully able to pivot and complete all auditions."
PMEA has also utilized Submittable's Collaborative Submissions tools to make auditioning even easier for kids. When more than one person can work on submitting an audition tape, directors can work with their students to collect all the information they need. This is especially helpful for younger students who might need help or encouragement navigating the process.
Young still keeps her eye out for new software options—it’s the only responsible thing to do—but she hasn’t found a platform that checks all the boxes she needs checked for Submittable’s price. Many platforms charge per submission instead of an annual fee, and with the mountain of submissions PMEA processes, the a-la-carte pay structure will never work.
"I've investigated what platforms are out there," she says. "Every platform is different, but as far as the costs are concerned, Submittable is the best value that I've found."
So much for VHS tapes, and so much for other platforms.
"It does what I need it to do," she says. "It does what our musicians need it to do. It does what our reviewers need it to do. We couldn’t be happier."
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