Promoting 101: Megarant

[Originally blogged 11/28/06]

Alright you screwheads, here it is. It’s by no means perfect but it’s apparently some basic fuckin’ knowledge that “promoters” seem to be forgetting.

In no particular order:

1) YOU’RE HOSTING A PARTY. If you have a party at your house/apartment/cardboard box, would you want to piss off the people helping you out or coming? No. If you’re doing a show your MAIN OBJECTIVE is to show everyone a good time. The crowd is obvious here, but the bands are just as important. HAPPY BANDS PUT ON BETTER SHOWS. A band that feels respected, appreciated, and taken care of is more apt to not only put on a great show, but also to tell other bands that may not normally think of your town (especially if it’s a smaller one) that you’ve got a nice scene (even if small).

Also remember, YOU represent your scene. It’s YOUR town. Accomodate as much as possible. These people are essentially in your house, so be gracious, kind, and organized to make them feel good about being there.

2) EVERY BAND IS IMPORTANT. Even if it’s some shitty local band that begged and pleaded to open, that band is important. Every band deserves a soundcheck, so make sure that enough time is allotted so they can get one. The better everyone sounds the more fun the crowd will have.

Remember, the headliner soundchecks FIRST, and give them the time they need as they’re hopefully the biggest draw.

And a note to opening bands: If you think acting like a primadonna and soundchecking half of your set will give you any sort of “cred” other than being overlong and annoying, think again. Promoters talk too. If you’re known for taking forever it’ll cut down the gigs you’re offered. Be efficient and appreciative you even get a soundcheck.

Also, try and pay all the bands. It’s not always easy, but even gas money is appreciated. Don’t just take advantage of a band because they’re local. And if you can’t pay them, at least know how much it meant that they played.

Finally, DON’T have the audience there when bands are soundchecking. Hold the friggin’ doors. You wouldn’t let fans in an actor’s dressing room before a show, right? Same thing. Give them the privacy to get ready and put on the best show possible.

3) HAVE A RELIABLE SOUND PERSON. A sober, prompt, and professional sound person is a godsend to any promoter. Love the sound person. Respect the sound person. Introduce the bands TO the sound person. A fuck-up for a sound person can destroy a show. If they get there late or aren’t ready (did you send the tech riders in advance? DO IT!) or simply aren’t together it can throw off the whole show and make everyone on edge. Nobody’s perfect, but having a person on sound who can work with the bands and make everyone comfortable is vital.

Also remember– you’re paying them, so they should listen to you. Don’t be a dick, but they’re still getting your money and should be able to at least try and do what you ask. They’re the professionals however (hopefully), so also know when to lay off and let them work. A pissed off sound person can still totally fuck your show.

4) DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO. If you say you’re going to feed the bands, do it. If you say you’re going to get them beer/vodka/cat pee, do it. If you agree to get them a hotel room, do it. IF YOU AGREE TO GET THEM A VISA INTO THE COUNTRY, do it (and start EARLY, as it can be a VERY long process). Budget for it. Don’t skimp as it makes you look cheap, but don’t go overboard if it’s not something you can handle. Acting like a big shot when it’s screwing you financially can make everything worse. Be honest the entire time and it’ll be appreciated.

5) KNOW YOUR SCENE. While it’s great that you’re into whatever genre, not everyone else might be. Don’t constantly get pissed that you bring HUGE goth/ebm/death metal bads for ridiculous sums of money and nobody shows so you always lose money. Bring what the people want. If you want a show that only you enjoy you may end up paying for it as the only person there. Still, take calculated risks. Never hurts to try new things, especially if the band is a strong live performer (sadly, many aren’t tho) and have a reasonable asking price. Just don’t bet the farm if nobody’s listening to goth/klezmer/jizzcore in your area. It only benefits you and the bands that would come through.

6) IN TERMS OF PAYING BANDS, PROMOTERS, THE “ASKING PRICE” IS ONLY ASKING. Yes, that means negotiable. I can only think of 1 artist who ALWAYS has a set fee, no matter what the venue/scene, big or small. The rest simply give you the “I hope they can afford this” fee, and most ALL will negotiate lower. Don’t screw yourself by immediately agreeing to whatever price, EVEN if you love them, EVEN if you’re competing with another city/promoter/whatever. If you can’t afford it and they won’t budge PASS, cuz you’re probably going to lose money. There’s no shame in saying your scene can’t handle that kind of guarantee. Most bands are very cool about lowering their asking price if they get a (and remember this, kids) BACK END DEAL. A back end deal is simple. You give them a certain set amount of money, plus, AFTER YOU’VE RECOUPED ALL OF YOUR OTHER EXPENSES (advertising, food, sound, beer, kittens), they get a chunk of the door and you get the other. This covers your ass and, if you’re a good promoter, they may still get what they originally asked. If it doesn’t work out as well they won’t, but at least they know they’ll be getting something. And, in some instances, they could ideally even get MORE that way, which is always nice.

7) PROMOTE THE SHOW. Don’t sit on your ass after you’ve mentioned the show to a few people and dropped off some fliers at the local cool music store. Get people excited. If they don’t know the band toss together some sampler CDs. Send out press releases to ALL the print media. Get DJs copies of their music and ask them (ASK, don’t tell) them to play it, and if they help put them on the guest list. If you need help (it’s always nice), DON’T work with someone who won’t take it seriously. A potential crowd needs to be reminded, sometimes a lot. Everyone’s busy and has a million things they can do, so make the show sound as fun as possible. Get different DJs in to spin at the event and have them tell their friends.

I mean, if you’re throwing a great party you’d make invitations, right? Make LOTS of “invitations” so people don’t forget. And yes, I’m going to beat this comparison to death.

USE THE INTERNET!! This scene (being goth/industrial, and no I’m not separating the two) is extremely tech-savvy. Use Yahoo groups. Use Livejournal. Use local newspaper forums. Use MySpace. Use rec.music.industrial/alt.gothic.hotpants. Even if only 5 people see it, it’s FREE and only takes a second. Plus those 5 people may TELL someone. Word of mouth is the best, especially when you’re throwing a great party.

Be cool to people, too. Don’t get mad if they say they aren’t coming. Don’t get in people’s faces, as that immediately turns them off. Being nice and friendly is a lot more conducive to getting a good crowd. And let’s face it, a good show can STILL happen with 20 people, but people remember shows with 200 more, so every person counts. Building a reputation also makes people more likely to check out shows you do even if they don’t know the bands, because you ALWAYS throw a great party.

And don’t blow a million bucks on full color, diamond cut, gold coated fliers if your show is costing $200. Know what you can afford and if you aren’t a whiz in design or Photoshop, find a pal who is. Get them in free to the show as appreciation. The more professional you and the show look the better chance people will take it seriously and come.

Unless it’s a punk flier, then do it in Sharpie. You think I’m kidding?:)

8) BREAKING EVEN IS A SUCCESSFUL SHOW. Think I’m wrong? Promoting in these genres isn’t generally a moneymaker. If the show costs you $500 and you make $500 and threw a great party then you’re a success. Hell, if you made $450 it’s STILL a success, because parties cost a little sometimes, but you do it for the fun (believe me, if you don’t get out now) so suck up the cost and don’t go bitching to everyone if you lose money. YOU WILL SOMETIMES LOSE MONEY. It’s not an exact science, and no sure thing, so keep that in mind every time you book something. You have no right blaming anyone but yourself for booking it, so take the responsibility and never make anyone feel bad for not showing.

9) APPRECIATE THE CROWD. Without the crowd there is no show, whether it’s made up of friends, people you’ve never seen before, or total assholes who ate your dog. If people don’t show to a night/gig, guess what? It’s probably your fault. Did you push the show hard enough? Did you remind people without being annoying? Did you let ANYONE know (hello, Club Anything!)??? Thank them for coming, even if it’s 5 people. You only have yourself to blame for booking a show that either nobody wants to see or nobody cared about.

10) IF THE SHIT HITS THE FAN, DEAL WITH IT. You’re in charge, no matter who you “delegate” to, no matter who you ask for a “favor”. You booked it, you handle it. If the person you delegated to prefers to get a blowjob in a bathroom stall than carry out what you ask, it’s your fault. If the sound guy doesn’t show when he/she’s supposed to, your fault. If all the people think the show’s in a different club across town, your fault.

Why? You booked the show and should have KNOWN. Fair? No. True? Yes.

YOU get all the credit for a fun show, or at least some, so the thankless portion of this is dealing with all the bullshit– bands getting there late, drunk soundpeople, keeping out ugly groupies. It’s all on your “capable” shoulders. Stay organized. Keep to the schedule and let people know as ahead of time as possible if that schedule has to change. Most of all though, don’t take your frustrations out on everybody. Remember: It’s a party. And a grumpy promoter acting like a dick because things aren’t going well is still YOUR PROBLEM. You also don’t need to share it with the whole crowd. You make the calls, make it as seamless as possible, and don’t be afraid to take suggestions. You’re not omnipotent, just a promoter.

11) THE SHOW IS NOT ABOUT YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!! Yeah, this may come as a surprise to some promoters, but the show is, in all actuality, about EVERYONE. The crowds, the bands, the DJs. It’s not about you and your ego, because your ego doesn’t play a hot club track people never thought they’d hear live. Your ego doesn’t prance and preen around stage. Your ego doesn’t sell merch. So make it about the whole crowd, all inclusive. And make things run as smoothly as possible for the best possible show.

Personally, I like introducing bands to an audience. I do it for a few reasons:

-So people know who is coming on and what label they’re on/where they’re from,

-To thank the crowd for coming; and most importantly

-To give the people a quick chance to move up/quit conversations/grab another drink so there’s an actual crowd WAITING for the band when the band takes the stage.

But that’s just me. I want everyone to feel at home and am comfortable getting in front of them. Not totally necessary, but I think it works. Even getting 10 people up closer before the bands get on stage means they aren’t playing to 110 people AT THE BAR TALKING STILL. It’s a little push, but one that is appreciated.

Here’s a few REALLY IMPORTANT POINTS:
You shouldn’t promote a show if you’re just doing it to get laid. You shouldn’t promote a show so people will suck up to you (it’s actually kinda uncomfortable, to be honest). You shouldn’t promote a show to fuck another promoter because he banged your sister on your birthday.

The point is, you should promote with the right intentions: Because the music is awesome and you’re willing to sacrifice a LOT of time to get the word out on deserving bands. Because your scene has great and supportive people in it and they truly appreciate the music you bring through. Because it is, in the end, actually an EXTREMELY rewarding job to have and seeing 200-300 people (small scene here, remember) freaking out to a band/bands you brought is one of the most unique and cool feelings on earth. Being gracious, humble, and friendly should be par for course. Believe me, stick around long enough and you’ll hear about the assholes who promote and think they’re big shit or won’t book “little” bands anymore, even though carefully chosen those bands end up BIG bands, and unsurprisingly people LOVE mentioning “I saw VNV Nation when nobody gave a fuck about them and they sold 20 copies of their disc total.”

Promoting isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not necessarily easy at all. But just because you pulled off a few shows without losing money (a victory unto itself), don’t get cocky and start turning down local bands to play (or ONLY playing a few, dividing the scene) if they’re deserving of an opening slot or headlining or whatever. Don’t play people against each other and just BE COOL about shit. No matter how “big” you think you are, people STILL may not show up to your next event. Being appreciative and humble is the easiest way to make sure they’ll at least not show up because you’re too big for your black britches.

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