Stephan and Greg's Guide to Putting on a Show
by Aine O'Hare
Promoting shows is the most thankless job you can find. It's right up there with school janitors, moms, and dishpigs. Besides the hours spent stressing out about details the day of a show, weeks of preparation are needed to book bands, get a venue, put up posters, acquire gear, and promote the event beforehand. It's not as easy as simply asking a band to play (and that only happens when you're lucky enough to avoid managers and agents) then having the show magically happen. The hassle of finding a venue for a show alone has been enough to make potential promoters bail out on shows days before they were supposed to happen. But having a show blow up in your face is avoidable. Here are some tips.
Chances are that the bands you want to organize a show for are probably not going to call you out of the blue and ask for help. Yet once word gets out that you put on shows, the bands you don't even want to hear will never leave you the heck alone. Show promotion is not always about getting only the bands you want to see. The majority of shows occur because a band happens to be touring in this region and they want to play as many shows as they can between their gigs in Edmunston and Glace Bay. Help these bands out if they call. Music scenes become stagnant when promoters only pick bands they want to see and don't take risks on touring musicians. If it wasn't for people taking chances on away bands they never heard of, the same bands would play every show and the music scene gets really dull. That doesn't mean you should agree to put on a show for any idiot who finds out your email address. But you should be open to bands that are good, even if their music is not your cup of soy chai latte.
Good luck finding a venue. Due to the unnecessary bureaucracy involved in booking the Arts Guild and unrealistic costs of halls in Downtown Charlottetown, it is next to impossible for an independent promoter to put on a show within city limits. And let's not even get started on how bar managers in Charlottetown seriously undervalue the talent that look for bar shows by not paying them enough money and not taking chances on new music.
Picking a date for the show will make or break it. First you have to CONFIRM the date with both the venue and the band. Make an agreement with the venue. Get that shit in writing. Venues are notorious for breaking promises with young promoters. On the other side, bands are also notorious for changing their confirmed dates. This can screw you up if you have already booked the venue. If a band cancels and you can't get the venue to change your booking to another date, don't pretend like the show is still going to happen until you actually have another venue. If not, cancel the show.
Find out what the band needs for sound. If they show up with three keyboards and a brass section, and you're not prepared, the show will suck. Have enough mics, mic stands, and a decent PA system. If you don't know anything about sound, get someone who does to help you. You can't assume the band will do sound themselves. And if you're doing sound don't assume the band is completely incompetent when it comes to sound either. Simply ask what the band needs and supply it.
Make sure gear is sorted out before the show. Find out if bands are sharing gear and who is bringing what. Although it doesn't directly affect you, it is your responsibility as a show promoter to make sure gear is sorted out. Get a set of drums and have every drummer bring their own snare, cymbals, and sticks. If you book a DJ make sure he brings his own turntable or at least records, if you got a turntable for him.
If a show promoter does not promote the show, it should be no surprise if nobody shows up. Posters and flyers with date, location, price and a snazzy design are great. And using email, and peilocals.com to spread word of mouth doesn't hurt either. Hand out flyers and tell people at other shows about your concert. It is necessary to put in a lot of foot work to promote a show.
Even though the show should be relatively easy once all of these other things have been accomplished, it is the hardest part. You need help. Get volunteers to work the door, manage the stage, take care of sound and lights, and have some friends keep an eye out for idiots that may cause damage at the show. Although most shows require ridiculously overpriced security guards to stand around by the door, in many instances security has proven useless when fights or damage occurs. After the show make sure the venue is left in the same condition as when you arrived.
When all is said and done, make sure the band has enough money make it to their next show even if that means taking a loss for the show.
If it was not for people taking the time and effort to organize all-ages concerts, many of your favourite bands would not be playing on PEI. Try organizing a show yourself and help make sure the plug doesn't get pulled on the all-ages scene.