Conrad Muller
Seattle, Washington

Email: conrad at
dot com

Planning an Event

The following excerpt is from the book, Making the Show Go,
a work in progress by Conrad E. Muller and Nora J. Percival.

  1. Planning
    1. Introduction
      1. Choosing an act.
        1. 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.
        2. 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.
        3. 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.
      2. Choosing a date and time.
        1. 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.
        2. 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.
        3. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. Predicting the size of the house (audience)
        1. The size of the audience 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.
        2. 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.
        3. You can try to find out how big the crowds have been at the act's last few shows in towns in your area.
      5. Choosing a venue.
        1. Availability: Can you rent it on the dates when you need it?
        2. Capacity of the house: Try to rent a hall that is large enough for your expected attendance, but not so large it will be uncomfortably empty with your smallest projected crowd. This is tough, but someone has to make these decisions.
        3. Location: Is the venue well known or easy to find? Is it close to the center of population?
        4. Security: Will the people, equipment, vehicles, etc. be safe? Can you control who gets in?
        5. Parking
          1. Is there enough parking?
          2. Will the cars be safe?
          3. Will it be convenient and safe for the crew and audience to get into the hall?
        6. Stage size: Is the stage big enough but not too big?
        7. Sound and acoustics
          1. Is there a house sound system you can use?
          2. How will it sound
          3. Is it big enough for your event?
          4. Will it sound good everywhere?
          5. Is there enough electrical power and outlets in the correct areas?
        8. Lights
          1. Are there enough lighting instruments available?
          2. Is there a dimmer board?
          3. How many channels?
          4. Are there enough circuits to carry the number of lights you want to use?
          5. Does the wiring look safe?
          6. Are the outlets conveniently located?
          7. Are there places to hang lights?
        9. View (sight lines): How is the view from the corners and back of the house?
        10. Other facilities and equipment that might be available at the hall
          1. Dressing rooms
          2. Stage platforms or a stage
          3. Chairs
          4. Locked storage
          5. Kitchen
          6. Loading dock
        11. 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.
    2. Publicity and Advertising
      1. When to advertise: The following timetable was developed for use in small cities. You will need to plan further ahead in a larger city.
        1. Put your event on your Web site as soon as you have a date.
        2. At least eight weeks before the show, contact monthly publications which have events calendars for your area. This is also the time to announce the show in emails, if you have a mailing list.
        3. Two weeks before the show, put up the posters and promote your performers in the local media. This is also the time move the event top-and-center on your Web site and send another email.
        4. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. Announcing your show at other events can be very effective, if you can arrange it.
      4. Posters
        1. 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 contact information 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.
        2. Posters can also be designed and printed locally. You will need to have a photo or art work. We usually desk-top publish two sizes of posters. For large posters (usually 11"x17"), we use desk-top publishing and give the file to a copy shop for printing on card stock. These go up in locations where there is enough space for them.
        3. Smaller posters (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 Word and printed on your own printer. 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.
      5. Web and social media: If you have a Web site, use it and put the URL on your posters and tickets. See if other organizations will give you space on their sites. Use social media if you know how. Selling tickets online can really boost sales, but also has some costs. You'll need to check it out.
      6. 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.
        1. 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.
        2. 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.
      7. 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.
      8. 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.
      9. Direct snail mail is not usually effective.
      10. Overall, the rule is for your intended audience to see your ads as many times as is possible. More exposure = more ticket sales. It's a law of nature.
    3. Ticket sales.
      1. How much to charge for tickets: Price the tickets about the same as similar shows in your area.
      2. When to sell tickets:
        1. Tickets should go on sale when the ads appear in the papers and the posters go up.
        2. If you advertise online, have tickets available online before you start your advertising campaign.
        3. If you begin to advertise before tickets are available, be sure to include in your ads the date tickets will go on sale.
      3. Where to sell tickets
        1. The sponsor's locations
        2. Your Web site
        3. At the regular online ticket outlets
        4. By snail mail
        5. In local stores and arts organizations, especially if they know you.
      4. Printing tickets
        1. The tickets should be attractive, distinctive, and of a reasonable size.
        2. 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.
        3. Graphics are nice, but not if they make the text too small to read.
        4. 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.
      5. Number all the tickets and keep track of who has them. Tickets can be numbered by some printing companies or in a Microsoft Word table. You can also buy a special, self-inking hand stamp that advances one digit each time you stamp with it.
      6. Treat tickets like money, because that's what they are.
    4. Budgeting
      1. 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.
      2. Expected income
        1. Ticket sales
        2. Refreshment sales
        3. Posters, CDs, and tee-shirts.
          1. Performers usually get most or all of the money for CDs and tee-shirts, especially at small concerts.
          2. At large concerts, the house often takes a percentage.
          3. There is usually sales tax.
      3. Expected expenses
        1. Performers' fee or percentage
        2. Performers' expenses
        3. Your personal expenses (meals, transportation, etc.)
        4. Advertising
        5. Cost of printing, distributing, and selling tickets
        6. Hall rental
        7. You may have to make deposits on the rental of the hall and equipment. You also might have to make damage deposits.
        8. Wages and personnel expenses (pizza and soda)
          1. Stage crew
          2. Security
          3. Front-of-house staff (ushers, box office, ticket takers)
        9. Equipment rental
          1. Sound equipment
          2. Lighting equipment
          3. Stage platforms, chairs, barricades, etc.
        10. Costs of selling refreshments, including food and/or drinks, ice and condiments, serving supplies (cups, plates, forks, spoons, napkins, warmer fuel, etc.)
          1. Supplies:
            1. Food and/or drink, ice, condiments
            2. Serving supplies: cups, plates, forks, spoons, napkins, warmer fuel, etc.
            3. Clean up supplies: soap, paper towels, trash can liners
          2. Equipment:
            1. Coolers, warmers, tappers
            2. Tables, chairs
            3. Cash register or cash box and change
            4. Clean up equipment
            5. Trash cans
            6. Mops, buckets, brooms
          3. Wages:
            1. You may have the choice of doing the refreshments yourself or subcontracting it to someone else. You expect a percentage of the profits or a percentage of the gross.
            2. If you choose to do the refreshments yourself, you will need people to serve and clean up.
            3. You probably can get volunteers to work at small concerts for free admission. Otherwise you must hire people and keep books. You may not have to withhold deductions for casual labor, but you must keep records.
        11. You will need change for both the ticket sales and concessions.
        12. Taxes
        13. Permits
        14. Bonds, you might get this money back, but you do have to provide it up front.
        15. Insurance
        16. Contingency funds, you may not need to spend this extra money, but you had better have it if you need it.
      4. You will need change for both the ticket sales and concessions.
      5. Don't forget that you may have to make rental deposits on the hall and equipment. You also might have to make damage deposits.
      6. 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.
    5. Hospitality for the performers
      1. 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 band to be in a good mood when they go on stage.
    6. Stage passes and complimentary tickets
      1. Stage passes and complimentary tickets are ultimately the promoter's responsibility, though the box office manager may actually give out the comp tickets. The promoter will probably be busy with other things.

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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