How to Promote a Gig
From feeling the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as you witness a new talent for the first time to the unbridled joy of screaming along with thousands of others to songs that have sound-tracked your life, live music delivers truly unbeatable experiences.
Sadly, live music is coming increasingly under threat. Promoters are thinking twice about putting on shows in fear of losing money. And gig venues are closing across the country. In London, the property boom along with aggressive redevelopment has forced some of the capital’s dedicated independent music venues to close. The situation has become critical and the London Music Venues Taskforce initiative has been launched to ‘look at steps the city can take to protect and secure its vital network of live music venues.’
It is for these reasons that, now more than ever, we need to protect and reinvigorate the live scene from the ground up. With the help of some of the best promoters from London and beyond, we have created this guide to provide tips on how to put on an unforgettable gig.
Whether you’re considering taking the first tentative steps into the world of promoting or are an experienced promoter looking for new ideas, this guide is for you.
Promoting a Gig
Why Put on a Gig ?
There tends to be a lot of negativity around putting on a gig in today’s climate. Audience numbers are down, promoters are losing money and venues are closing. Yet every night of the week across the country amazing gigs are taking place and people’s lives, for however short a period, are made better by live music.
Gigs remain pivotal to the entire music culture. Those with a passion for music need to share it to help preserve the scene’s integrity and develop new talent. It takes people with unwavering dedication to get the music they care about out there but it is worth it.
Chris Tipton set-up London live music promoters and label Upset the Rhythm with his friends back in 2003. He set out with a strong DIY ethos and the goal: “to make each event as memorable as possible” and to avoid becoming predictable at all costs. Since then he has put on countless innovative shows, showcasing acts with unwavering dedication for over eleven years.
Chris is aware however of this negativity that exists around live promotion and may deter new promoters from putting on shows. He says:
The first bit of advice I’d offer up if you’re thinking of putting on a DIY show would be to hardly listen to other people’s advice. Most people will flag up all the reasons why your event won’t work, most of these will focus on lack of experience. When you step through the DIY mirror glass, you have to come to terms with the fact that what you’re really dealing with is a sort of translatable self-belief. It becomes a case of mind over matter. If it’s important to you, it’s important to other people too, the only skill comes with the linking of that up.”
To help with the ‘linking’ up, we look at each aspect of live music promotion in turn:
Putting on a gig
Knowing your market is essential in gig promotion. Do the bands you want to put on have a market? Are there people out there that want to see them perform as much as you? It’s good to look at where they have played in the past and how it went – which venue? was it well attended? how much were tickets?
It can also be beneficial to check out other promoters in similar genres and see what they do well and areas that you could approve upon. It goes without saying that before finalising a date that you do not have a clash with another competing show – this could prove to be disastrous. By gathering all of this information, you will be in a much better to promote your event effectively.
If the right people don’t know about your gig then it will not be well attended – it’s as simple as that. It is your job to make sure everyone that might be interested is aware of your show. This often requires some research into where these people spend time both online and physically, and target them here. Create a poster and flyer that you are proud off. There are illustrators out there that may be willing to design a poster for exposure alone or a nominal fee. You should also take time to flyer similar gigs and set up a Facebook event page that can help you further promote the show and share information. You can also submit your gig to relevant free listing sites, get an email list and send them details about the show when tickets go on sale.
It is essential that you put on quality acts but you wouldn’t be reading this unless you already had amazing bands that you wanted to promote. The important thing is to focus on a bill that makes sense. It is no good having three incredible acts if they don’t make sense together.
As Adrian from Bristol-based label and gig promoters Howling Owl Records explains:
Curate the line-up properly – put together a bill that is interesting. People are more likely to go to shows that have an interesting ‘themed’ lineup. There is nothing worse than watching a bunch of bands that really don’t suit each other, and it reflects badly on the promoter. Don’t be lazy, get experimental.”
Types of Gigs
The freedom of choice you have as a promoter is genuinely exhilarating, and not something to consider a burden. Chris from Upset the Rhythm explains:
As a promoter you can choose the date, time, venue, bands, ticket price etc. Have fun with those options, set up a breakfast show for £3, put on a gig in a crypt for a Japanese noise musician! Book all the bands/artists you’d like to see! If you plan a party that excites you then you won’t fail in bringing everyone along with you.”
Budgeting is a crucial part of any gig you put on. Put simply you cannot afford to make a loss – at least, not more than a couple of times. Knowing your breakeven point is essential and helps you with ticket pricing and knowing what you can afford. You have several costs to consider including:
• Venue hire
• Artist/band fee
• Equipment hire
For smaller acts, you may be able to approach them and discuss fees directly. More often that not you will need to deal with an agent. The agent’s priority is to secure as much money as possible for their act. How much they care about you as a promoter and the quality of the show will vary wildly from agent to agent. Prices are not always fixed for acts so this means you need to be prepared to negotiate. You want to be able to pay for the artists out of ticket sales and not out of your own pocket so ticket pricing is vital when it comes to knowing what you can afford.
How to Set Ticket Prices for your Gig
Ticket sales need to cover your overheads – the artist fee and the venue hire in particular. You don’t want to overprice or under price your tickets so again you need to do your research into similar acts and shows as well as keep breakeven points in mind.
Veteran promoter Jim Driver suggests in this article to set your ticket pricing so that you breakeven with the venue at 60% to 70% capacity. He also offers this tip: “Don’t price tickets on round pounds (or 99p for that matter): if someone’s prepared to pay £15 for a ticket, they’ll pay £15.50 without blinking. The difference is, is that if you sell 300 tickets and you’ll have an extra £150 to play with.”
Ultimately, if you trust in the quality of the acts and have taken time to plan an interesting and varied bill, then you should have the confidence to charge what you need to charge to make money.
It’s hard to express quite how important a venue is to the success of your show. When it comes to finding a gig venue, you are of course going to be limited by budget and availability. Remember there are venues available for all types and sizes of gigs, you just have to find them.
Chris from Upset the Rhythm explains how important a venue can be: “Opening up the idea of where a concert can take place is an invaluable tool in capturing people’s imaginations, as well as intensifying how the audience responds to the band and vice versa.”
This has seen Upset the Rhythm put on concerts in Elizabethan theatres, Norman churches, Georgian ballrooms, railway arches, disused shops, community centres, fire stations, art galleries, as well as established music venues and clubs. Unique venues don’t just present themselves to you, they often need to be discovered.
Chris offers the following advice: “Pavement pound and discover all the interesting spaces that are on your doorstep, try those first before doing what you think is expected. By making events memorable you can accomplish more than just hosting a band, you can help inspire others who can in turn inspire you.”
Adrian from Howling Owl Records knows from experience that unusual venues can be the key to making a show truly special: “Don’t stick to normal venues. We were never comfortable with putting on a ‘normal’ show in a venue, so when we were forced to look elsewhere, we started to think outside the box.”
Creative thinking and putting the gig-goer first is critical to a show’s success. The attention to detail is what makes a show live long in the memory. Adrian explains:
“It is important to for us to make our events as memorable as possible, so we go all out in the decoration, how we curate the show and where we do it. Don’t just settle for the easy option, if you can put a gig on in a bell tower up a mountain, then do it.”
Just Jump In
We’ll leave Chris to deliver the final words of inspiration: “If you’re reading this and are already questioning whether or not you should set up show, just jump in and set up a show!”
“Through promoting DIY shows you will make innumerable friends, you will not make loads of money, but you will support underground music in a tangible and vital way and will never be bored again.”
Here at 20 Bedford Way, we specialise in putting on world music, acoustic gigs and classical recitals. Without a dance license, we focus on those performances that excel in our 933 seat theatre Logan Hall – if this isn’t the right fit for your show, continue the quest for the music venue that is. Our rates are very affordable when compared to similar-sized venues in London. A grand piano is included in the hire of Logan Hall as well as a green room, full PA sound rig and lighting rig. Call us on 020 7612 6143 for more information.
Top image of Shelly Manne, Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, and Bob Gioga, 1947 or 1948 via The Library of Congress on Flickr.