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By Veteran Promoter and Event Producer Hal Davidson

Be a Promoter. Free instructions and advice on starting up a concert promotions or music festival promotions business and what to watch out for. The concert business is a tough industry not for the thin skinned.

Before you dive into the finer points of promoting any concert or music festival, it’s wise to have a reality check first. In speaking to hundreds of promoters or wannabe promoters, common misconceptions have emerged. Almost every concert promoter is in a "I want it now" world. Not so fast.

What are you in such a rush for? Promoting a concert or music festival too soon is a great way to lose all of your money. Take your time. The longer you take, the better your chances of success. Time to align the myriad of details, approach sponsors, figure out the market and most of all, secure proper funding, will all contribute to a more sane experience. Rush and pay more, have less done well and increase your stress level unnecessarily. This business is stressful enough already, making crucial mistakes on the front end will reverberate through the entire promotion.

1. FUNDING: Attempting to pay for a concert only with ticket sales is fraud. Thinking you will secure enough sponsors before you start to fully fund your event is naïve. You need a certain amount of core funding no matter what event you plan. Have you established a company, obtained a Federal Tax ID number (FEIN), secured a phone in the name of the company, opened a company checking account, taking these steps first to put your new company on a positive credit building track. Have you retained a lawyer yet? Promoting without a lawyer’s legal advice in these times is nuts.

SPONSORS: Major money from major corporate sponsors in generally only available to well established concert or music festival production companies. The idea that a new concert promoter is going to completely finance an event with sponsors is dreaming. You need the correct contacts, the right proposal that is professionally written and the ability to provide professional fulfillment for any sponsor assets or inventory you hope to provide. When starting small in night clubs, though you won’t get a dime of the beverage sales, frequently the beverage firms are interested in pitching in to your promotion even when starting.

There are 3 types of sponsors, Cash, media and product or any combination of the 3. You will need to know how to evaluate your assets, (ie. logo on tickets, on advertising, in web site, signage at event, vehicle wraps, cups, and presenting titles.) See www.sponsorship.com

2. COST/ REVENUE SHEET: Do you know the amount of funding you need? The ticket price, the breakeven point, the net and gross potential can only be determined once you complete a cost and revenue sheet FIRST. This book is centered around the Cost and Revenue Sheet or Budget Sheet.


You can’t do a cost sheet until you’ve interviewed the venue manager and determined exactly what the venue provides. An entire list of questions must be first answered before you call the talent agent. We discuss the venue and your relationship with them in detail later on.

What avails. (available dates) does the venue have? Do this out of order and you will reveal to the talent agent the amateur that you are. Are you aware that a large venue requires references from other similar size venues?

4. TALENT: How can you talk to the talent agent until you have the first 3 items addressed? Without doing your homework through industry resources like PollstarPro, how do you know what the act is even worth. PollstarPro research and inexpensive reports tell you the attendance and ticket price trends of a particular act. You can estimate what you should be paying for the act from there. Determining how many seats the act you are bidding on can fill, largely determines which venue you need. Don’t get emotionally attached to one act. Book a cost level of performer instead. All $50,000. acts will generally have a history of filling the same number of seats.

These 4 items need to be decided and acted upon first before you can go to the next step. See a complete Promoter Order of Action at Hal’s informative promoting web site: www.concert-promotions.com and in either promoting book, HOW NOT TO PROMOTE CONCERTS & MUSIC FESTIVALS or CONCERT PROMOTIONS, SIMPLIFIED

Due diligence is the advance research required on every one of the most important components of your event, these include; venue availability and cost, budget, profitability, talent alternatives, ticketing options, funding and permitting Every cost requires some degree of investigation, conversations, continued communication, negotiations, shopping around, and finally, execution. Did you know that general insurance liability coverage on certain rap and hip hop artists makes your entire event’s profitability questionable. Not checking this out before you embark on promoting could present a nasty surprise, you may a losing event before you even get started.

5. TICKETS: If you use a Ticketmaster or most third party ticketing companies, you won’t see any of this money until a week after the show. So if you have no sponsors, you will need 100% of the cost of your show to even start. The books talk about doing your own ticketing. This is an option. If you are promoting in a building, you must first check to see if the building is already contracted with a ticketing company. If they are, you must use them and may not be able to sell tickets in any other way, No matter what arrangement, seek the ability to sell tickets online, by phone and at authorized outlets. The books are very detailed on this subject.

Some of the best new ticketing companies are: http://fla.vor.us/groovetickets or ww.wantickets.com. Though if the venue you are contracting has a Ticketmaster contract, you will need to only use them. The books have a list of questions to ask of the building GM for you to determine real venue rental costs. This is a business of details.

6. ORDER OF ACTION: The book also details the Sequence of Events: Do you have a concept? What type of show, venue, city, how much funding do you have and do you need? Who’s going to do what? Do you know how to promote or produce a show? Are you aware that this event will consume all of your time and that you cannot hold a full time job while promoting? Your event is your new full time job, day and night, all the time!

A) Decide where you are going to work and what market you are going to promote in. Perform due diligence on marketplace meaning the history of ticket sales and prices, history of various venues and ticket buying behavior. What kind of music has sold well? What kind has not? Why promote rock music in a market which historically does well in the Latin genre? Are you trying to promote music you like, or what will sell tickets and make you money?

B) Establish company, get legal, business cards, start contacting contractors to find out what the itemized costs are. Which direction is your promotions company going in? Don’t just try ideas, know what you are doing stands the best chance of winning. Set up your office and subscribe to industry online and print materials described in the books.

C) Compose a Cost/ Revenue Sheet inside a Business Plan of exactly what you are going to do, even if the plan takes on the look of an Executive Summary (3 pages + 1 page of figures).

D) Contact venues to become expert on the costs and details of every venue you are interested in using in your market. Have alternatives. No sense checking out the stadium when you are starting in night clubs. Organize your research in a binder, not just on your PC.

7. MORE ON TALENT: Don’t get yourself emotionally attached to one act. If you are going to do this well, you can’t let your feelings for one act get in the way. What if that is no longer available on the dates you have venue avails? Check out alternative artists in the same price range.

What if that local act you love can’t draw more than 100 people and you lose thousands of dollars thinking everyone else likes them as much as you do? What if you can’t afford the act once you find out the sticker shock in this industry?

The talent agents and the acts want all of the money, not just some of it. The talent agent’s primary interest is to maximize income for the act and themselves earning 10%-20% of the act’s take.

For concerts, the odds are not in your favor, they are in the talent agent’s and act’s favor. They don’t care about your reasons to pay less. They have a market value and they are going to get it, or you won’t get the act. Just getting them to answer your calls, or call you back is a problem most of the time. The bigger the act, the tougher it is. You have to be a professional promoter with years of experience with big bucks to book tier one performers.

Sometimes it can take many weeks to get a decision from just one act’s agent. Dealing with talent agents today can ruin your whole day. It’s generally not a pleasant experience. If you have a weakness in dealing with the big agencies, consider a third party agency. Don Barnard Agency is fast, honest and knows the true value of the act. His interest is in your interest. Let him negotiate for you and save the stress. Talent buying is an entire career unto itself.

Unless you subscribe to pollstarpro.com and look up that performer’s historic ticket sales and assess the value, you have no idea what that act is worth. You are just throwing darts. There’s allot more to booking bands than that.

Your show’s attendance is mostly determined by the level of talent. National acts draw, local acts don’t.

LOCAL ACTS: 50 local acts may not draw what one- third tier level $10,000. national act does. In general, local acts do not draw sufficiently to gamble on, unless you are promoting in a nightclub or bar, or there is another source of attraction, such as a Chili or BBQ Cook-off or unless it’s just to dress up an existing event.

Mixing local and national acts is allowed, but you’ll have to check the headliner’s contract to make sure that performer will allow it, some don’t. If you do use just one stage, place the local acts in the schedule first, then the smallest national acts working up to the biggest. You may need a second stage, and make sure they are far away enough so there is no sound bleed. Funding, marketing and your energy are the other prime factors determining attendance besides the name of the headliner. In general the name of the headliner determines total attendance.

8. TALENT BUYER: Don will take that entire aggravation off you, unless you really want to buy talent. Don’s phone number is: 407-862-5989 in Florida. He can also be reached by email: agent620@aol.com. Don is also expert in sound, lights and stage management, though he prefers to do this part of the show in Florida. He can buy talent for you anywhere.

9. AGREEMENTS AND LEGAL: Every individual and every contractor you work with requires an agreement. This means, workers, employees, partners, and anyone else you are paying money to expecting services to be performed. Every detail of what you expect from them, delivery day and time, what you are expected to pay, and the payment terms, must be listed on these documents. For these docs to be legal, binding agreements, both parties need a signed copy or you may have trouble enforcing them. Just keeping them in your computer is not good enough. You need a hard copy of each document kept in a file and secured so that no other person can get to them or knows where they are. You can only trust yourself in this business.

If you do not have a budget for a lawyer, you will quickly learn that it is far more expensive not having one. It can end up costing you more than money. There is no mercy in the concert or festival business and it is filled with sloppy, stupid operators, some of which will tell you they do use agreements and that they are not necessary, and that they have references and have been doing business without agreements for many years. At that point, you need to point out that you do not do business without contracts and if they continue to have a problem with your way of doing business, don’t do business with them. You must learn to say "no". There are many other reputable companies looking for your business willing to do things the legitimate way.

Without a caring attorney in your corner, it’s just a ticking time bomb of when and how bad you will get screwed. Simply having one tells everybody else that you are serious and that betraying your trust could be a big mistake for them. Lawyers are expensive, budget for them. They should look over and approve your major agreements. Make sure your workers have either an independent contractor’s agreement or are legal employees. Paperwork is required but it’s not hard to figure out.

10. BANKING/ ETHICAL PRACTICES: Start a checking bank account with your operating company’s name and address on the checks. Do not mix your private funds with your company’s funds or this could be interpreted as fraud. Selling tickets to a show you do not have proper funding for, can be construed as fraud. Selling tickets to an event you do not have the venue or acts you are advertising is fraud. You cannot even mention names of acts to anyone at all, unless you have them contracted. Be very careful here. Make your payments on time and stick to your end of the agreement. If the other side breaches your contract, first send them an email, if no response, send a certified letter, if no response or satisfactory resolution, turn it over to your attorney and stop doing business with them. Follow up with your lawyer to make sure you have done everything necessary to inform the other side of exactly what happened, and that you are disconnecting with them, if that is your decision.

The idea that you are going to finance your event with sponsor funds is not realistic. You need core funding regardless of your intention to use funds from other sources. You must have your event 100% financed in advance or the lack of, will show in the lack of confidence you’ll have in delaying payments and down-sizing critical elements of the promotion or production.

Making professional looking, not computer generated business cards, saying who you are, showing that you are professional.

Know whom to stay away from when promoting. It’s getting a little bumpy out there... more like an earthquake!

The most difficult word to say for a new promoter is "no".

Ethics and the lack of it, in potential associates, partners, new promoters and industry contacts, has become the number one criteria for me in deciding whether to get involved or not, after a number of terrible experiences in the concert and festival business over just the last 5 years. The secret is advance communications. Early on, if the critical party you are dealing with is not returning phone calls, emails and documents in a timely manner or incompletely, it is a clear indication of how they intend to do business with you later on, dishonestly, incompetently and uncaring.

It’s become fairly standard to not practice best practices in this business. Most promoters don’t even know what best practices are and they really don’t care. People are signing contracts with no concern of adhering to the terms. They just don’t think you’ll ever take them to court. Best practices are standards in the industry based on logical, decent and professional methods. Of course, if you are not experienced, educated or honest, all of the best practices in the world mean nothing.

Bad operators will do that to good people, and not care about or understand the ramifications of their actions, inactions or destructive words. If a party communicates well in advance, there is no way to find out who the bad guys are until you work with them. So think about a trial period. Their bad habits will show up soon. Deceitful people are good at fooling honest people.

These were all people living in some type of fear which always leads to lies. It’s all dishonest behavior and for those of us adhering to the 10 Commandments, very difficult to deal with.. This topic of lack of integrity and spotting bad behavior early on is emphasized here, because it will prove to be your worst barrier to success in promoting concerts and music festivals. This business is a magnet for unethical people with little ability and lots of unrealistic dreams. Are you one of them? Change or suffer. Learn to be a better operator every day.

The ethical deterioration of America is amplified in the concert and festival business, more than in most other endeavors, which has always drawn dysfunctional dreamers with a common thread of dishonesty, incompetence and acute stupidity.

Stated earlier, THE TEST: Watch for signals in early communication. New contractors and potential associates should be filtered.

1) Do they respond immediately, within a few hours, by the end of the day, within 24 hours, within a week, not at all? Everybody reads all of their emails. If they are business people, they read them frequently. If people claim they do not respond to emails at all, but they read them, it’s a dishonest relationship and uneven playing field from the start. They have everything you say in writing and you have nothing. Move on.

2) Do they respond to your emails selectively only answering certain ones, or only answering select questions or answering your questions incompletely? When the respondent frequently only gives part of an answer, it’s telling. Do you see it?

3) Do they provide a signature on the bottom of their email with their name, title, company, location, phone and web address if they have one? Think this is old school? It’s called "professional netiquette. What are they hiding?

4) Do they answer your phone calls, call you back in a timely manner, leave messages with their phone number and time? They should and you should if you care about quality communication.

5) Do they not return documents, are reluctant to sign agreements or deliver information agreed quickly? And if they don’t do these things, do they attempt to contact you to explain when they are not going to do what they said they would?

Do you leave phone messages or just hang up? Do you leave your phone number, the day and time you called, say the phone number twice slowly?

Professionals or those trying to be, are more willing to work with people they perceive as professional. They watch your advance communications.

Pay attention to failures in early communication because how your communication starts is how it’s going to end. Wishing the other party will change and become more concerned with providing you with the answers you need, when you need them, is not going to change. Give them a few chances and if you are becoming uncomfortable, it’s an internal alarm going off trying to tell you to stop and depart. If there is no signed agreement yet, you have nothing to lose. Just disconnect and don’t argue with them about it. Psychotic people, corrupt from their own power and will never get it.

Dishonest concert and festival operators notoriously: 1) Communicate poorly whenever they feel like it, or ignore you completely 2) Live in fear which leads to pathological lies 3) Conveniently remember only facts and manufacture scenarios that fit their self-centered need, edit out factual chronological circumstances.

Experiencing this behavior, you need to wake up and realize these people do not respect you and your business. Spotting this behavior is an early test failure. Move on, but make note of who they are. If the experience was bad enough, the right thing to do is for you to make others aware of their evil.

Researching someone on the web: Just because nothing is said about someone on the web, doesn’t mean they can be trusted. Most victims will never post anything on the internet, which is dishonest behavior in itself. Keeping "wrong doing secret, is contributing to it, and assures it will happen to the next poor sap. Conversely, the internet allows anyone to post any unsubstantiated claim they want. We live in a dishonest world and bad people are posting spurious comments without fear of reprisal. It’s expensive to sue for defamation of character (online slander).

As far as taking legal action to seek damages from a Breach of Contract, Attorneys have said that there is only justice for those that can pay for it. It’s probably the biggest downfall fall of the American justice system, small operators getting crushed by larger ones with little ethical concern, knowing the small operator cannot sustain a protracted legal fight.

So having a lawyer before you start on your first concert or festival is as important as securing the funding. Most promoters not even suing, spend at least $10,000. a year just for standard legal work required inspecting contracts, legal advice, composing and sending letters and notices, and it’s not a bad idea if you can afford it, to have them backstage to deal with surprises that pop up the day of the show, (if your event’s budget can afford it).

Promoter’s ethics isn’t just about obvious right and wrong. It’s about character quality and taking action regardless of what everybody else is doing. Ethics is spiritual and philosophical. How were you raised?

Surviving leaders see situations for what they really are, ignore their own selfish desires and take action. Report the bad guys based on facts.

Ben Sherwood’s The Survivor’s Club, talks about Situational Awareness. Sherwood says "Know the threat and prepare yourself. Identify exactly what the problem is and ask yourself, who can I rally confide in about this. Will my comments to anyone adversely affect my plan to keep this project on track." Have a Plan A and a Plan B Sherwood says. "Listening only to those in authority without using your own personal logic could get you in serious trouble."

On 911, one WTC survivor said, "As soon as we reached the concourse level, the security guard stopped us and said, `Where are you going?`" (Stanley) explained about seeing the fire in Tower One. According to Stanley, the guard said, "Oh, that was just an accident. Two World Trade is secured. Go back to your office." That one comment and advice from someone in authority got many killed.

Do you know when to leave? or are you going to be just another cow following the dumb cow in front of you to the slaughter? Do you know where all of the emergency exits are, or just the one you came in through? Have a backup plan from the beginning. Being a promoter means always being aware of your position and immediate situation. You are in charge. Look ahead even if no one else is.

When things start to go sour, think ahead and understand what might happen if you proceed on your present course. Learn to be a better leader by taking strong, uncompromising positions on things that matter most. Also realize the ramifications by people close to you if you lie to them and deceive them. Take action, but make sure it’s honest and not a direction you will later regret.

Dr. Tim Irwin, PhD an organizational psychologist and author of Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership says that failings by corporate or political leaders are due to:

  • A failure in their character
  • Failures of self
  • Hubris focused on self. (Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance)
  • Dismissiveness: (A form of denial, characterized by either passively showing indifference or disregard, or actively dismissing or rejecting ideas.)

Dr. Tim Irwin believes that "these leaders suffer from failures of character that are common to each of us--even the most capable individuals. Deficits in authenticity, humility, self-management, and courage become more dangerous as we take on more leadership, and can cause us to ignore glaring signals that might otherwise save us from catastrophic demise.... finding that derailment actually happens long before the crash and can be avoided. Dr. Irwin explains the character qualities that are essential for successful leadership."

No matter what the resume, how great the credits or how everybody else proclaims someone’s achievements, unchecked power in the hands of corrupt, supremely confident, arrogant pigs will destroy the best of projects and companies. Go ahead, make lots of money regardless of the ethics.. Ruthlessness and being proud of crushing the competition is bad karma. It comes back to you.

It’s not all about you and what you want. If you look out for your own interests, lie to the media to defend the screwed up situation you got yourself into or defend your stupid and selfish actions, you’ll have to invent more lies to continue to protect your dismal lack of character. Respect the other side’s interest. Giving gets dreams.

If you don’t return selected phone calls, are a slave to caller ID, don’t return emails, continue to speak to people disrespectfully, talk down to others in lower positions, make false assumptions without bothering to check the truth, align yourself with other unethical operators, don’t be surprised when your final plan is derailed.

The right idea is to get the most out of people and cooperate or disconnect with those who are proving continuously to be potential trouble sources. Do all you can to infuse people around you with positivity and reasons why they should support the greater plan. What’s in it for them and negotiate so that both sides get a good deal. If not, they might steal, undermine you or derail your entire effort.

Offer to take people to lunch. Contractors, workers, associates, they all like to eat. Buy a pizza for the crew and tell them in advance it’s coming so they don’t make other plans. Make sure you don’t forget the details; paper plates, napkins, cups and beverages. Show you care about them. Give to a food bank or shelter. It doesn’t take much to make yourself feel good about doing something good for others. Keep giving and watch your promoting dreams come true. Make it a point of visiting and donating to a food bank near you.

Remember that big money corrupts. When you get to a place of worth, be very careful about the decisions you make that affect other people. Then stand up for right, no matter what. Stand up for your friends and business associates and be heard. You’d want the same. Have courage to do the right thing and to tell the absolute truth. Get on the web and write about it. You’ll feel better.

Incompetent management is actually the rule rather than the exception in America. If you want to know why this country is bankrupt, with so much division, it’s because of unchecked corruption allowing management to continue poor practices, the opposite of best practices.

Bad people drive good people out and away. Be positive, spot the bad ones, move through them or around them and be an island of sanity no matter what others around you are doing.

Disconnect with dishonest, incompetent or stupid operators!

Good projects will find you and you will discover them. Just don’t stop developing that plan, modifying as you learn. Sometimes it takes a life to make a life.

Now enjoy the books and prosper with a tactical edge on your competition!


How Not To Promote Concerts and Music Festivals book cover



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