My name is Paul Williamson, founder of www.Band-Stuff.com, musician, singer, and promoter. In the past 2 years I have worked as a promoter, putting on events in London, working with a variety of bands and artists ranging from small garage band acts, to international touring acts.
In this article I will go through the bare essentials behind being a promoter for your own shows. This is mainly to cover the nitty gritty essentials of putting on a show and not so much detail into the promotion side of things (since that is an extensive topic I will cover in another article at a later date!). This is by no means the only or best way to go about things, just one way.
To make this easier, let’s come up with a hypothetical situation. You’re in a band, you have decided you want to cut out the middle-man so to speak, and you want to be the promoter for your own show. Good on you! If it’s done right, it is very rewarding (mainly on a satisfaction level for most) accomplishment and can be a lot of fun (and stress..).
Step One – When?
Now the first thing I would personally do is figure out when you roughly want this show to happen. You have to keep in mind a number of factors for this:
1) Venue availability can be an issue, you need to be thinking of this 3 months+ in advance to be able to secure the date you want (dependent on location such as a city or a village).
2) Marketing time in the lead up to the event.
3) What else is going on around the date? Will this have an impact on who will go to your show? (Think big festivals such as Download, or Glastonbury).
Step Two – Where?
Make a list of venues that you would want the gig to take place at. Depending on availability, hire fee, and whether they will let you put on a show there, you need to have options to progress forward, particularly when things don’t go forward with the venue you initially choose.
You also need to find out the contact details for the relevant person at the venue. This person can be anyone from a Landlord, to a Venue Manager/Assistant, or even the Council for some venues. The best way to find these details is by phoning up, checking their websites, and emails. My advice is phoning up since getting a reply can sometimes be like drawing blood from a stone!
Make sure you find out about the following:
1) Hire cost
2) Venue capacity (the amount of people legally allowed in the venue at one time)
3) PA system (if it doesn’t have one, you will need to hire one)
4) Sound Engineer (same as above)
5) Stage (If it doesn’t have one and you want one, you will need to hire this)
6) Curfew times (for when you are choosing the line-up and set times)
7) Box office (Does it have one? Do you need to hire someone to man it?)
8) Security (If needed)
10) PRS licence (All venues that play live music need one!)
11) Age restrictions (a lot of venues are 18+)
12) Earliest time you can sound check
There are probably more things you might need to consider, but these are the main points. Some of these won’t apply for some venues such as O2 Academy venues usually have their own Box Office staff, security, lighting, etc, whilst a Village Town Hall might not even have any of the above!
A lot of this information will be covered in a Venue Specification or ‘spec’ for short. If it’s a venue primarily used for music (such as the O2 Academy venues), you can be sure that they will have a spec.
Remember, if you’re not sure, ask! You will avoid the embarrassment of getting to your gig only to find you don’t have a PA system and nothing to amplify the vocals!
Step Three – Pencil a date
Most venues work with a booking system that involves pencils and confirmation. Typically, a promoter will contact a venue and ask for their venue availability during a certain time period or on certain dates. Upon receipt of this information, a promoter would then request to pencil a date in which they hold claim to for an event they’re putting together.
If another promoter is then interested in the already pencilled date, they can either:
1) Challenge the pencil – This gives the promoter who owns the pencil 24 hours (sometimes 48 hours) in which to confirm a line up and commit to the date, or give the pencil up and allow the challenger to confirm and commit to the date. (Usually if you confirm to a date, you will have to pay at least half the hire fee there and then, sometimes the whole fee).
2) Take 2nd / 3rd pencil – This means the promoter will have next in line ownership to the date. When someone wishes to challenge the pencil, and the promoter with the first pencil can’t confirm the night, the promoter with 2nd pencil will then have 24 hours to confirm a night or give up the pencil. This is only if the first pencil can’t confirm however.
Step Four – The event programme
This step can be done before step three, I just generally like to sort the date out first since you may get the issue of sorting a line up, but then not being able to find a suitable date that all can commit to.
With the venue curfew and earliest sound check time in mind, you need to think of how many bands you can/want on the line up. This is more than just set lengths, you also need to consider how much time you have to set up the equipment, sound check each band, and time between the doors opening and the first band comes on (otherwise the first band plays to nobody as people are coming in!).
Here is a typical event programme that I would run on a four band night for a venue requiring no setting up of PA / Lighting / Stage:
15:00 – 15:30: Set up equipment
15:30 – 16:30: Headline sound check (First band always takes the longest)
16:40 – 17:20: Main support sound check
17:30 – 18:00: Support sound check
18:10 – 18:40: Opening band sound check
19:00: Doors open to public
19:30 – 20:00: Opening band set
20:15 – 20:45: Support set
21:00 – 21:30: Main support set
21:45 – 22:30: Headline set
23:00: Sound curfew
You may notice that I have left a space of time between each sound check, set, and between the headline and the curfew. This is to allow time for equipment to be switched over (such as drum breakables), and also space at the end just in case things go wrong (which they do!), or to be used as an encore or extended set for the headline act.
Always prepare for the worst! Technical difficulties do happen, amongst other issues, so always leave that space at the end otherwise you risk cutting band sets short or altogether!
Please remember to give the sound engineer and first band time between sound check and the start of the gig for a break / warm up.
This is by no means a definitive way to run the night. You could have less bands, longer sets, longer set up times between sets, etc. This is just a rough guide to a potential night.
Step Five – The line up
Time to start contacting other bands about playing on your night!
This can be a tricky business, or as easy as pie, it depends on who you are and who you are asking. You have to bear in mind not everyone will want to play your gig due to a number of factors such as:
2) Location (they may only want to do certain venues)
3) Their band schedule (might be recording or going on tour soon)
4) Your band’s popularity (bigger bands definitely won’t support you, even if they’re bigger by just a fraction and they might not want you to support them either).
5) Ticket prices (they know what their bands pay, or what value they are setting themselves at to fans)
Payment is a common deciding factor on whether a band will play or not. Your small garage band acts might play for free or at least petrol money, but the bigger acts will certainly want payment. Here are two ways to sort this:
1) Agree a split of the profits or revenue
Established local bands would likely accept this sort of offer. Essentially you would split either the total money made from sales, or the profits after costs, between the bands. Example:
Promoter – 30%
Headline – 25%
Main Support – 20%
Support – 15%
Opening Support – 10%
Generally, the more financial risk involved, and the more value your brand brings to the night, the more money you would take. So this should be considered if you are doing a split from the revenue (which means if the gig flops, you’re out of pocket considerably more than the bands). If the promoter is taking the full risk, they usually take up to 50% or more of the revenue.
2) Negotiate a guaranteed fee payment
More established bands will work under this payment rule, especially if they have a booking agent working for them. This payment is paid no matter what, so long as the artist fulfils their end of the performance contract. So if you make a loss, you still have to pay the band.
Rule of thumb when offering a payment for negotiation:
Always start at a fee more in your favour than you are willing to go. Professionals always negotiate and will push it more towards their favour. Allowing this room for negotiating will help out with keeping costs low.
Another thing you should consider is equipment share. Many venues don’t have a back line (amps and drums) and you will need organise who brings what with the bands. Headline acts are mostly responsible for bringing this when one isn’t available from the venue, the other bands will then share the drum shell, and amps (or at least the cabinets).
Also worth mentioning: Exposure isn’t payment, and Performance Contracts help keep things organised and simple.
Step Six – Confirm the night
Pretty much as the title says. Once the line up is confirmed (or mostly confirmed), you can go ahead and confirm the night with the venue to secure the booking completely.
Step Seven – Tickets (skip if it’s a free gig)
Its worth noting that some venues will handle the ticketing side of things for you. You might be able to make changes such as price, allocations of tickets, etc.
The first thing to figure out is the price you wish to sell tickets at. You want to be setting this price to be at a level that creates value, but not too high that people won’t buy them. Consider your target market, the combination of bands on the line up, the venue, the date (weekend?), etc.
If yours and the other bands’ following is made up of students, setting a ticket price at £10 might be off putting unless you are a more established act. If you have a more hardcore following, that price might actually be cheap! One question you should ask yourself really is are these people who come to your shows fans, or are they just your friends, family, and familiar faces showing support?
You can also set the pricing different for Advance sales to be cheaper than on the door to try and coerce people to buy tickets in advance. This can help relieve the stress of the last few days before a gig when everyone is worried if it’s going to flop. If your following is mostly just friends and family however, you won’t sell many advance tickets without asking them directly to do so… (a good way to know if you have any proper fans or if your proper fans have been reached in the promotion!)
For selling online:
There are various ticket outlets you can use, each with their own benefits, and booking fees (the amount they take as a cut per ticket sale). You will usually have to sign up for an account to use these outlets, or ask if the venue already has one to allocate tickets to. The bonus of using these outlets is that they have their own mailing lists and other promotional tools that helps market your gig. Whether this marketing reaches your fans is another thing entirely.
Some of these ticketing outlets may also list your gig for free without an allocation of tickets.
Bear in mind, you can only sell the amount of tickets that does not mean you will go over the maximum capacity of the venue, this includes band members, guest lists, and all personnel.
Step Eight – Marketing
I won’t go too much in depth with this since it’s a huge topic in itself. One of the things I will say though is to make sure that all the bands involved are also promoting the event through their channels. Most tend to forget about it until the last few days.
Once when I was promoting a gig, I had a band turn round to me saying “It’s the promoter’s job to promote, and the band’s job to play”…
This couldn’t be any more untrue. The promoter has access to the channels which targets wider audiences, so posters, flyers, listings online, and such, HOWEVER!! The band have sole access to their own channels of which they use to engage with their following (facebook, mailing lists, twitter, etc). Even big mega giants like Foo Fighters promote their own shows.
Step Nine – The gig
Ok, so hopefully you have managed to get through to this part.
A week or two before the day of the gig, make sure you get in contact with all parties involved to ensure they know the schedule, when they need to be at the venue (usually you will get one band with a member still at work for sound check despite having months to book the time off…). This is important because for all you know, they could have completely forgotten about it. It’s recommended you keep a constant contact going through the entire process but particularly closer to the date.
On the night of the gig, you need to be the one running the show, for if things go wrong, you will be the one that takes the brunt of it and most likely the blame. That means pressuring people to be in the right place at the right time, making sure they’re not taking too long sound checking, make sure they’re ready to get on stage at the right times, coming off at the right times, etc etc. This can be a stressful job which is why sometimes a venue will provide a stage manager to oversee this.
It is the night of a gig where things most often go wrong in some way or another and it is down to you to make ad hoc decisions to find solutions. Keeping calm and focused is a must since if you start panicking, you won’t be able to think what to do and then everyone else will start getting stressed and panicking also.
Also, make sure you introduce yourself to the bands, sound engineer, venue management, and all personnel involved with the running of the gig. Good impressions creates good contacts, which in turn creates much better opportunities!
Hopefully this guide has helped you get a grasp on how to put on your own show in an organised and professional manner.. Or put you off altogether! If it has put you off then don’t worry, its better to turn around now than to get halfway through the process and shut it down. For those who do go forth and gig, best of luck!