Things to consider when… booking a live performance

There are lots of great reasons to create your own live music event. Maybe you’re wanting to boost the profile of an up and coming artist or host a festival for charity.

For 16 years, Danni Brownsill was Music Promotor at the Sugarmill in Stoke-on-Trent City Centre. Now a Promoter at SJM Concerts, Danni shares her wisdom of basic things to consider when booking a live music performance.

Why are you booking the show?

Is the objective to make profit? Perhaps that profit is going to a charity or a cause you are fundraising for.

Maybe the goal of your show is simply to break even, and you have a wider purpose such as introducing a new artist to a market they’ve not played before, helping to build an artist  profile, engage new audiences or introduce existing audiences to a new space or genre.

It is important that you have a clear, defined objective before you begin planning and programming your event. It could be more than one of the above, but having clear aims from the outset will help you to know how to budget and plot your event.

Who is your audience?

Who are the people that you are aiming to engage? Who are you promoting this event to? Which artists will fit the bill appropriately? What venue or space works best for this artist and this audience both in terms of spec, location and capacity?

You need to do your research to make informed predictions on how many people are likely to attend your event. How many tickets does the artist usually sell locally or regionally?

Knowing what type of artist you’re booking and what sort of audience you’re expecting will help you choose the most appropriate venue to host your show in. You also need to have a rough idea of the size of the event so that you can budget appropriately for marketing and production.

Image credit I Andrew Billington

How will you finance the show?

Paid-for tickets are not the only way to finance a show. It may be that you have an event sponsor or multiple sponsors who will fund the event. If you do, it is important that you discuss this with the artist or the artist representative (booking agent or manager) during the booking process.

They will want to know in advance who the sponsors are so that they can decide if they are happy to perform on an event associated with said sponsors. In most contracts it will state that there can be no sponsors without the artists permission. This could be for a number of reasons – they may have existing deals in place with competing companies, or it may be that they don’t wish to be associated with the sponsors you have in place. It’s better to discuss who your sponsors are during the booking process rather than encountering problems further down the line.

Your event may be funded from sources of public funding, such as Arts Council England. Again, it is important to share this information with the artist.

Costing is King

The most important part of planning a live music performance is creating your budget. Your budget should be based on projected ticket sales or projected income from other sources such as sponsors or public funding. Here’s what you’ll need to budget for:

Your venue – If you’re an outside promoter looking to hire a space for your show, you will need to agree a hire price with the venue and ask what this price includes e.g. use of an in-house PA, box office staff, etc. If these costs are not included in the hire price then you need to budget for those separately. You may need to consider whether you will need pit barriers and/or additional security to keep the audience and artist safe.

PRS/PPL – These are the agency who collect and distribute royalties to its members (songwriters, composers and publishers) for registered works used. Speak to the venue as they will be the ones responsible for paying this over to PRS/PPL, and you will be obliged to pay this over to them on top of the venue hire most of the time. Any licensed music played during your event, even if it is just background music in between bands means that PRS/PPL licensing needs to be paid.

Other costs that you need to budget for would include (but not limited to) headline artist fee, support bands, catering, marketing, stage crew and depending on the deal you have with the artists, possibly transport and accommodation. In terms of deciding what you can afford to pay your headline artist generally it is 80% of the net after costs is a standard deal at grassroots level. It is important that you read the Musicians Union Fair Play guidelines to ensure that artists are paid fairly.

Headline artist rider  Riders are not just about how much beer and houmous the band want, but often contain important information about what specification of equipment is required for them to deliver the show successfully. If the venue does not provide what you need for this artist, then you will need additional budget to hire this equipment.

An acrobat is doing a hand stand on a metal apparatus on a stage outdoors. There is a crowd of people sat down below. The acrobat is dressed similar to a mime and is wear mime-like make up.
Image credit I Jenny Harper

Be prepared for all scenarios

Even the most established promoter working with the most established artist will always have a plan in case something goes wrong and the show gets cancelled, or if it doesn’t sell as well as expected. You need to consider what your strategy will be if the show looks like it’s going to lose money.

Once you have a contract with an artist, you are obliged to pay that artist fee as agreed even if the show underperforms. Contingency plans could include things such as downgrading to a cheaper/smaller venue or speaking to the artist representative in advance of the show to see if there is anything on the rider (whether it be catering or technical requirements) that they could be willing to compromise on as a cost saving measure.

Some promoters have cancellation insurance in place for specific events if this proves cost-effective. You need to ensure that you can meet your financial obligations to the event, even if you don’t have enough income from the ticket sales to meet them.

Just remember, a contract is a legally binding document and any breach of such could lead to legal action. Any reputational damage is very difficult to recover from, so make sure that all of your dealings are beyond reproach.

All promoters lose money sometimes, it is the nature of the beast. This does not mean that you should give up trying. It often takes time to establish a new venture. Just remember the reasons why you wanted the event to happen in the first place. Whether you were trying to add to the cultural offer in a specific region, whether you were investing in talent you believe in and helping to grow an artist in your market or whether you were trying to raise money for charity – just because one event didn’t work doesn’t mean the next one won’t.

Learn from your previous mistakes and adapt as you go. Where there is passion, persistence and perseverance will succeed eventually.

Written by

Danni Brownsill

Promoter, SJM Concerts

The image shows a picture of a person taken from above. They are looking into the camera, wearing a spotted top and hooped earrings.

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