When we asked around for guest bloggers to do a post over here on Modern Rosies, Justin was one person that we KNEW we wanted to have around the MR halls. He is smart, schooled in many DIY arenas, and has a wicked sense of humor. His blog is well known in the underground music scene, so who better to give us the run-down on DIY concert promotion?
When I was asked by the second most kickass Brooke in the world to blog on something DIY, I began scrolling through things I’ve made or created. I’ve brewed kickass hard cider, mediocre apple wine, and piss poor hefeweizen… I’ve made beer soap for Christmas gifts and Mother’s Day… I am currently making my own tie tacks that I plan on selling on Etsy in the near future… I used to write and produce a ‘zine… but, my DIY ethic is most closely tied to the music scene.
While some of you know me at “thepaintedman” of thepaintedman.com, that’s only my latest in music related endeavors. When I was 13 years old, I got heavy into the North Jersey punk scene. Punk, ska, hardcore, and everything related seemed to be flourishing in the NYC suburbs and I wanted to be a part of it, trouble was that I have little musical talent (I can’t sing horribly well, my piano/keyboard skills are mediocre at best, I suck at guitar, etc. etc.). I realized that since I was a good planner and hard a little bit of smarts and some okay connections, I could be a concert promoter.
I rocked together my first show when I was 14 with the help of Danny Papa from now-defunct Tooth and Nail Records band Element 101 and it was a huge success: 300+ kids, a hefty donation to the church used as a venue, and well overpaid bands. From that point forward I promoted shows on and off until about 3 or 4 years ago, which (seeing as I’m pushing 30 in a few months) is a solid decade of DIY show production. Through the years I’d worked with all types of acts and a bunch of different venues in NJ and PA… but today, in a scene that seems to need a DIY injection that could rejuvenate the glory days of the all ages underground, I present to you my short “How-To-Be-A-Concert-Promoter” in a few easy steps:
1. Secure a venue
The best bet with venues as a newcomer to the show promotion gig is free or super cheap places. Often churches are willing to lend their halls for the opportunity to have their youth group handles refreshments or just put out some info on the church. Sometimes fire halls and other community centers are able to lend their halls for a modest fee, other times they can be pricey.
Unless working with a touring act (which I would not advise as a first time promoter, as it tends to include guarantees, contracts, and set dates), I recommend working with the dates that a cheap or free venue is able to give you, especially a free venue. While location is most certainly a consideration, cost is concern #1 for a DIYer (especially if you are a broke high school/college student as I was).
2. Secure needed equipment and help
You need a PA. Most venues I worked with had PAs available, though I had my own through getting it used from a church that was upgrading.
3. Book bands
As noted before, this step may come earlier if working with a tour.
That said, the important thing here is that you choose at least 1 band with a local draw, though more than 1 is ideal. Bands from local high schools and colleges help to bring the kids out to the shows... they also often act as your best way to handle step #4.
Consider what bands ask for as guaranteed money when making decisions, paying bands is always a good thing, but locking into guarantees can be tough for the wallet. Trust me, it's a tough lesson to learn when you barely have gas money and you work for minimum wage at your university's campus food services...not to mention that keeping ticket price down increases the number of kids at a show.
Not sure where to find bands... just hit up Facebook, MySpace, etc. They'll come a'runnin'.
4. Promote the show
I was an old school guy... flyers, flyers, flyers... bring them to local concerts, local record stores, schools, and anywhere kids hang out.
Nowadays, the Internet can be your best friend. Social networking can be especially helpful. Facebook event scheduling seems to be a great advertisement for a concert. Concert listing services and sites can also be a great tool.
No matter what, word of mouth still seems to be one of the most effective promotion avenues... using the "street team" concept can benefit you greatly... offer kids some free swag or a free entrance to the show in exchange for their efforts in helping promote.
5. Be prepared for the day of the show
Make sure you alert the bands on what times (approximately) they will play... always tell them to be there much earlier than their set list. Your biggest draws (even if they aren't the "best" bands or acts) should play at the end, so the kids don't leave and have your last bands playing to no audience.
Have sufficient change in your cash box at the door as this will prevent the annoying 711 or Wawa run where you attempt to get change in the middle of the show.
Get there early enough to make sure you are set up and everything works. Even if you are using their equipment, this is essential!
6. Start the show
Starting a show "on time" is a rare occurrence, so give yourself a little leeway. If doors open at 6pm, assume you will get started between 6:30 and 7.
Be flexible during the show... if a band is late, the order can be switched. Don't let other folks dictate the rules to you, you are the promoter! That said, don't be the promoter Nazi, either.
The keys to a good show are being prepared, being able to direct traffic, being flexible, and MOST OF ALL having fun. Why run the concert if it's not fun for you?
7. Pay the bands/venue/etc.
As a show promoter, I was never in it to make money... but I did make sure that I re-payed myself for what I put in the cash box and snagged a coupled bucks to purchase some swag from the bands for my helpers and myself.
Pay the bands according to how much it cost them to get there, then their draw... in the spirit of the DIY ethic, bands should understand that those coming a longer distance need gas money. If you have guarantees involved, you must pay them first, obviously... but I still contend that avoiding them is best if possible.
8. Clean up
Last, but not least, leave you venue in better shape than when you got there. You don't want to lose your valuable connection, especially if it's a kickass free venue (like St. Michael's Church in Wayne, NJ or Summerfield United Methodist in Philly - both of whom used to let me use their halls all of the time for free).
So, there's my abridged version of how to run your own concert. Want more advice? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.
And check out thepaintedman.com for music reviews, beer notes, faith discussions, and a hodge podge of everything else I'm into!
Justin lives in Pennsylvania, and is daddy to two rockin' boys, and husband to Brooke, of Brookiellen Designs.