The following excerpt of text is from the book, Making the Show Go, a work in progress
by Conrad E. Muller and Nora J. Percival.
Who is the promoter or producer, and what does a producer do?
The promoter finds the money, the act, and the hall. The promoter usually also hires the crew, although some performers and halls have their own crews. Most professional crews and performers expect to be paid at the show (or before it), and the promoter needs to be ready for this. Once the production is under way, the promoter has three primary jobs: keeping the show on schedule; keeping the show within budget (good luck!); and keeping everyone working together smoothly. The best way to ensure a happy crew is to see that everyone feels appreciated.
- Choosing an act.
- Many people will already have an act picked out when they decide to produce a show. If you do not have a specific act in mind and you are looking for one, try to choose a performer or group you like. The first time you produce a show will require extra energy, and it will help if you are really looking forward to the show.
- When possible, choose an act which is already performing near your area. This will keep transportation costs down, and it may help you negotiate a lower performance fee.
- Most of the time you will book your act through an agent. Whether you work through an agent or directly with the performers, be sure you get everything in writing. Often you must do a lot of business over the phone. Make sure you and the performers' representative agree that nothing is final until you both have it in writing and signed. Sometimes last minute changes must be made by phone, on faith, but they are likely to be less of a problem if they are based on solid signed contracts. Refer to the appendix for more about contracts.
- When should you book an act? Most promoters and performers like to set dates months, even a year, in advance of the show. Sometimes you hear of an opportunity at the last minute. By all means, consider serendipitous offerings, but be sure to allow enough time to get the show together, and most important, give yourself time for effective publicity.
Choosing a date and time.
- It's hard to give advice on the proper season to have a concert. A well publicized show featuring a popular act could do well almost any time. If the weather can be expected to be good, an outdoor or tent show could be just the ticket to draw an out-of-season crowd. For a typical concert by a typical act, try to choose a date in the fall or spring, well away from holidays and potentially bad driving weather.
- If other promoters have shows on the same date as yours, they might draw some of your customers away. Check with local agencies who keep track of community events (such as arts councils) to find uncrowded dates. Be sure to announce your show soon enough and prominently enough to allow others to avoid schedule conflicts.
- Most events are schedule for the early evening, starting late enough that people can get there after work, and ending early enough that people can get to sleep in time to get up for work the next day. Friday and Saturday evening events often run a little later than mid-week ones, and events geared to special audiences (such as children) should, of course, be timed to coincide with the target audiences needs.
Choosing a venue.
- Availability: Can you rent it on the dates when you need it?
- Capacity of the house: Try to predict the size of the audience. This depends on many factors, including weather, "draw" of the act (how popular it is in your area), how much advertising you do, the ticket price, and competing events going on simultaneously (including other shows, family holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and sporting events. Accurately predicting the size of the audience is difficult, even for experienced promoters, and it takes a bit of luck, along with lots of information, to make a reasonable guess. Find out how big the crowds have been at the act's last few shows in towns in your area.
- Location: Is the venue well known or easy to find? Is it close to the center of population?
- Security: Will the people, equipment, vehicles, etc. be safe? Can you control who gets in?
- Parking: Is there enough parking? Will the cars be safe? Will it be convenient and safe for the crew and audience to get into the hall?
- Stage size: Is the stage big enough but not too big?
- Sound and acoustics: How will it sound? How big a sound system will be necessary? Will it sound good everywhere? Is there enough electrical power available for the required sound system? Is there a house sound system you can use?
- Lights: Are there lighting instruments available? Is there a dimmer board? How many channels? Are there enough circuits to carry the number of lights you want to use? Does the wiring look safe? Are the outlets conveniently located? Are there places to hang lights?
- View (sight lines): How is the view from the corners and back of the house?
- Other facilities and equipment available at the hall: Dressing rooms? Stage platforms? Chairs? Locked storage? Kitchen? Loading dock?
- Price: How much will you be charged to use it? The chairs, stage platforms, dressing rooms, kitchen, and equipment may cost extra. Be sure to ask.
- Publicity is the promoter's responsibility. Professional acts will be able to provide you with promotional materials. They should do this automatically, but they may forget, in which case you must remind them. Be sure to get promotional materials, as well as posters, soon enough to be able to use them effectively.
- When to advertise: The following timetable was developed for use in small cities. Four to six weeks before the show, contact monthly publications which have events calendars for your area. This is also the time to announce the show in publications outside your local area, giving people who will have to come a significant distance time to make plans. Two weeks before the show, put up the posters and start to push your show into the local media. If people know a group they want to see is coming, they will rearrange their schedules to come to the show, if they have enough warning. So if you are promoting a show with a well-known act and want a big crowd, you may want to begin to advertise sooner. In any case, save the big promotional push for the last two weeks to keep the excitement up and draw in the people who are undecided.
- Posters are sometimes provided by the act, in which case all you have to do is add the date, time, location, ticket price, and promoter's name at the bottom. Find out if the posters are included in the performers' fee, and be sure you are going to get enough for every location you want to cover. Posters can also be designed and printed locally. You will need to have a photo or art work, and you will need to typeset the text. The traditional way is to use press-on letters and paste on the graphics to make your original, or have a printer do it for you. These days most people use computers. We often desk-top publish two sizes of posters. For large posters (usually 11"x17"), we use desk-top publishing for the text, which we then paste up with graphics and give to a copy shop for printing. These go up in locations where there is enough space for them. Smaller ones (8.5"x11"), which are all that some stores and bulletin boards will let you put up, can be made completely on the computer, using generic graphics, or can also be printed at a copy shop, using a reduction of the large poster. Make extra posters. You will often find a few extra places to hang them, and sometimes they will get pulled down or defaced, and you will have to replace them.
- Radio advertising is effective and not too expensive. Ask about special package prices. TV advertising is usually too expensive for small shows, and not noticeably more effective than radio. Some cable systems have inexpensive advertising space on a bulletin board channel. If the sponsor is a non-profit organization, local public radio stations may give you some spots. Even commercial radio stations sometimes will let non-profits use their community announcements program. Also, try to arrange a live radio interview with the main performer on the day before or the day of the event. These can be done in the studio, if the performer is already in town, or can be done by phone from wherever the performer happens to be. They are most often possible on public radio stations.
- Daily newspaper advertising can be a good investment if you can afford an ad that is big enough to catch people's attention. Weekly newspapers often provide a better cost/benefit ratio. Check out the smaller and special purpose papers in your area.
- Announcing your show at other events can be effective, if you can arrange it.
- Magazines and seasonal publications can be a good way to reach people if your show is planned far enough in advance (and you have the money and a good looking ad). A display ad in the sponsoring organization's newsletter should be free and can be very effective.
- Direct mail is usually expensive and not usually effective, but you might want to do a direct mailing if you have a mailing list that looks like it has a lot of names of people who would come to your show.
- How much to charge for tickets: Price the tickets about the same as similar shows in your area.
- Where to sell tickets: Make sure it is easy for people to buy tickets. Find conveniently located places that will sell tickets for you. These might include book stores, regular ticket outlets, and the sponsor's location(s). Stores that don't usually sell tickets may be willing to sell them for you to get people into the store or to help your sponsoring organization.
- When to sell tickets: Tickets should go on sale when the ads appear in the papers and the posters go up (about two weeks before the event). If you begin to advertise before tickets are available, be sure to include in your ads the date tickets will go on sale.
- The tickets should be attractive, distinctive, and of a reasonable size. They should be printed on good-quality paper, so they will still be in one piece after being carried in a wallet for a couple of weeks. Graphics are nice, but not if they make the text too small to read. It is easy to print tickets on a computer with a word-processing program. Print multiple tickets on heavy, colored paper and cut them out yourself, or print up one sheet of tickets and have a copy shop print them on colored card stock and cut them out.
- Treat tickets like money, because that's what they are. Number all the tickets and keep track of who has them. Tickets can be numbered by some printing companies or with a special, self-inking hand stamp that advances one digit each time you stamp with it. Ours is a Cascade Numbering Machine M4-C327. Most office supply stores have stamps similar to these or can get them.
- Once you have estimated ticket sales, set a ticket price, and tentatively chosen a hall, you're ready to develop a budget. This will tell you if you can proceed with your event as planned or if you need to drop back and try another approach.
- Expected income: You have the potential to make money from ticket sales, refreshment sales, and sales of posters, tapes/CDs, and tee-shirts. Performers usually get most or all of the money for tapes and CDs, especially at small concerts. At large concerts, the house often takes a percentage, and in all cases, there is sales tax.
- Expected expenses: You may have to spend money on any or all of the following: performers' fee or percentage; performers' expenses; your personal expenses (meals, transportation, etc.); advertising; cost of printing, distributing, and selling tickets; production costs, including hall rental, security and front-of-house staff (ushers, box office, ticket takers), equipment rental (sound equipment, lighting equipment, stage platforms, chairs, barricades, etc.), and crew wages and expenses; costs of selling refreshments, including food and/or drinks, ice and condiments, serving supplies (cups, plates, forks, spoons, napkins, warmer fuel, etc.), clean up supplies (soap, paper towels, trash can liners, etc.), equipment (coolers, warmers, tappers, tables, chairs, cash register or cash box, trash cans, mops, brooms, etc.), and wages; taxes, permits, bonds, and insurance; and contingency funds.
- You will need change for both the ticket sales and concessions. Don't forget that you may have to make rental deposits on the hall and equipment. You also might have to make damage deposits.
- Plan to keep close track of everything you earn and spend. Ideally, you should use a spreadsheet, listing the budgeted amount at the top of each income and expense category column. As you collect money and pay expenses, record it in the appropriate column. When the show is over, you will know how much you made and spent, and how close you came to your budget estimates. This information will be extremely valuable when you do your next show.
Hospitality for the performers is the promoter's responsibility. Usually, the act will let you know what they expect in the way of refreshments. This is often negotiable, so if their requests seem unreasonable or difficult, don't just quietly accept them. However, be gracious. You want the performers to be in a good mood when they go on stage.
Stage passes and complimentary tickets are ultimately the promoter's responsibility, though the box office manager may actually give out the comp tickets.
All of Conrad Muller's work on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
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