The Definitive Guide To Coordinating A Show

CCreating opportunities to play is not only a smart thing to do in today’s music landscape for any independent artist – it’s a requirement. Your own success and the success of others rely on having good quality opportunities to play and they won’t always come to you.

You might just have to create them.

Benefits of coordinating a show =

  • Increase your network and add more contacts
  • Better relationships with current contacts
  • Increased knowledge of the scene and players within it
  • Better rapport with venues or promoters
  • Increased professionalism
  • Good human-being karma points
  • and many, many more.

Counting the number of shows we’ve been involved in setting up would be a big task (especially because my ability in mathematics is rivalled by my ability to keep my shirt “salsa free” while eating tacos).

From fully coordinating the show (venue, artists, sound tech, photographer, etc.) or just linking bands up for a gig, we’ve done too many to count and we’ve ran head-long into just about all the issues you could run into.

So in this post (all 3,619 words and 8 hours of dumping my brain on paper), I’d like to take all of our mishaps and successes and turn it into an easy formula for all independent artists to recreate.

Hike up your shorts because here we go…

PREPARATION

“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant

Getting your ducks in a proverbial row is where it’s at when you plan any sort of event. The goal is to showcase your professionalism and earn the trust of the venue, the artists and any needed supporting cast.

In this post, I’m going to call this approach the “Artist First Approach” simply because your aim is to have all the artists lined up and ready to go before you talk to any venues.

This has advantages to newly formed and fledgling artists because…

  1. The sum of all the artists’ credibility is greater than your own
  2. You’re approaching venues with a “take it easy, I have it all figured out” mentality to save them time, energy and money

More established artists can go with a “Venue First Approach” only when you have enough trust and credentials built up. More on this in a later post.

STEP 1 – PICK A RANGE OF DATES

It’s only step one. Don’t screw things up already by picking 1 immovable date. Now isn’t the time.

It is the time, however, to pick a date range (typically a week or segment of a month) that would be ideal for the show you’re coordinating. Remember you’re not just working with your own schedule here so you need EXTREME flexibility.

You’re going to be…

  • booking artists
  • booking the venue
  • booking a sound tech (if they don’t come with the venue)
  • booking support people (photographer, videographer, merch table volunteers, etc)
  • scheduling marketing efforts (if applicable)

You’re going to be working with A LOT of people’s schedules and your own schedule is going to be pretty darn full. The worst thing you can do is pigeon hole yourself with a date that doesn’t work.

Acceptable date ranges are as follows…

  • The last week of August
  • A Friday in September
  • The first 2 weekends in November

If you can’t find a range of dates (for example, you’re left with the 1st and 3rd weekend in January) move on until you can find a range that works. Don’t try to smush your show in when you a whole bunch of other commitments.

Note: To give yourself, the artists and venues adequate time to prepare set the range at least 1 month into the future. 3 months is preferable. Any less than a month and prepare yourself for a bunch of headaches and an Ambien prescription.

Whereas, the further ahead you book the more likely the artists and venues will be available and the more time you’ll have to coordinate the mound of details.

Lay out your dates in a spreadsheet so you can see what you’re up against visually. Here’s an example with a notes section for later use.

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Before you go crazy copying notes from this post, I’m going to give you a bonus spreadsheet download at the end that incorporates ALL the elements we talk about here plus a check-list to take all the stress out of coordinating a show.

STEP 2 – DREAM UP A LINE-UP

The second step involves you, your thinking cap and a dream.

The goal here is to create an ideal line-up for your show.

Consider these questions:

  • What genre of music (generally speaking)?
  • Who is your ideal headliner? (dream big. awesomeness doesn’t happen when you dream small)
  • Who are complimentary artists to that headliner?
  • Lastly, will you leave a spot for yourself and/or your band to play?

In no way are you guaranteed to land everyone you want, but start with a healthy amount of optimism here and you’ll deal with disappointments as/if they happen.

STEP 3 – CHECK ARTIST’S AVAILABILITY

Get in touch with the artists on your ideal line-up and find out they’re availability over your date range.

If they are available the whole time, great. If they aren’t then go back to your spreadsheet and make a note in the days they are NOT available.  If for some reason they are notavailable a lot more than they are available, I suggest moving on to another artist while keeping this one on the side just in case.

Here is my preferred order of contacting artists…

  1. Email – Easy and flexible. I can respond when I’m free to respond.
  2. Text – Here’s my attempt at appearing cool and doing “what the kids do.” However, it works and get’s almost as good of a response as email does from luke-warm and cold contacts.
  3. Phone – If email doesn’t work, this is the 2nd most efficient way. Comes with a bunch of awkwardness if you haven’t met the artist before. And chances are you’ll end up emailing them soon anyways with show details/links so why not just start with email?
  4. Facebook Messenger – Truthfully I like this option better than the phone because it’s similar to emailing, however not everyone checks their Facebook 37 times a day like I do.
  5. Twitter – If you have to go the Twitter route, keep it off of the main feed. Don’t “@artist” them. It’s bad form. Direct Message instead. If you can’t do that, then revisit #1-4 and make one of those happen.

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Remember that an introduction through a mutual friend (via any of the options above) is always a better route than going in cold.  Scour your contact list for possible connections.

If your list does contain an artist/band that you would say is “more established” than yours (I highly suggest it should) and you have an email address, then reach out with an email like this….

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Note: For more information on cold emailing – including getting to the right people – check this out.

Once you have gone through each of the artists and crossed off which dates will not work, hopefully you still have a good range available.  You might even be able to see a preferred date emerging.

If you don’t have a few solid options, go back through Steps 2 & 3 until you do.

STEP 4 – LIST POTENTIAL VENUES AND RANK THEM

Before you go hog-wild wrangling a venue to host your dream lineup, take a quick second and put a list of ideal spaces together.  With time and experience this becomes second nature.  Until then, jot a quick list.

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Venues range in terms of…

  • Size
  • Capacity
  • Sound System quality
  • The amount of “natural” traffic they bring in
  • “coolness” or “trendiness”
  • Minors or no minors allowed

And obviously availability, which we’ll get into in Step 7.

Select your top 4-5 venues based on a) the type of music and b) the artists you have on the line and always err on the side of selecting smaller venues.  A smaller venue stuffed like a Mucho Burrito always feels better than a big empty cavernous room.

Lastly (and you can do this in the download spreadsheet I provide at the end), rank them from the most desirable to least desirable and then hang on to the list until Step 6.

STEP 5 – MAKE THE SHOW INTERESTING

You’ll do yourself a ginormous favour by ensuring you have an “interesting” show planned before reaching out to venues.

Our good buddies Scott MacKay & The Handsome Devils tried for months to book at an up-scale local venue but couldn’t get in.  In fact, no one was returning their calls, which is weird because they’re incredible.

Scott changed his tactic and created a much more interesting pitch by asking to host their album release party there for their new album “Twin.”

Why did this work?

Because rather than asking for a run-of-the-mill snoozefest show, Scott asked to host a more memorable event.   Venues know that memorable events…

  • are taken more seriously by artists
  • force the artist pull out all the stops
  • make for better marketing in general
  • and (most importantly to a venue) draw more people

What makes an interesting show?

  • Album/EP releases
  • Benefit Concerts
  • Bigger touring bands coming through town
  • Farewell concerts
  • “Hiatus” concerts (last show before taking a 4 month break to write a new album, for example)
  • Reunion concerts (we got a band back together just to play this show)

Here are 2 gig posters.  Which one is more interesting to you the potential concert-goer?

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It’s going to be the last time you’ll see Thrice, but you can still see Lost Coyote another time.

Before you ask, no, you don’t always need an interesting show concept, especially if you coordinate them regularly.  But when you’re a somewhat undiscovered promoter it will get you much more consideration from venues and the general public.

STEP 6 – REACH OUT TO VENUES

If you don’t already have a plethora of venues in your network yet this will be the most challenging part, but honestly, it’s not that challenging.

First, read through this post to beef up your emailing skills.

Second, start reaching out to the venues starting at the top of your ranking list.

My preferred methods for contacting venues is a little bit different than contacting artists…

  1. Email – Easy and flexible.  The venue can respond when they are able.
  2. Phone – If email doesn’t work, I call.  As a professional or business-type person usually these calls are short and to-the-point making them much less potentially awkward than a call to an artist.
  3. In Person – My least favorite way of making an introduction only because it can be awkward as hell (might just be me).  I feel much more confident going in after I’ve made contact on the phone or by email.
  4. Facebook Messenger – Don’t do it this way.  It won’t work.  Most of the people in charge of booking venues don’t have access to the company’s Facebook account anyways.  Best case scenario is that the person who does have access forwards the message on, but it’s completely unreliable.
  5. Twitter – This one is even worse than Facebook.  Just don’t do it. Period.  If it’s your last resort, find another venue.

Someone I admire (but unfortunately can’t remember right now) once said, “Time is the only currency you can spend and not get back.” This is why I personally prefer the email route for business communicating – it’s incredibly efficient.  I can reach out to 5 venues in a matter of minutes whereas phone and in-the-flesh encounters take considerably more time.

Also, it’s important to understand the psyche of a venue owner or promoter.  They care predominantly about 2 things…

  • # of people
  • Total revenue

Sure, they’re people too and they care about much more than the bottom line, but when it comes to making decisions in a purely business sense, these are the two concerns that will ultimately lead to a “yay” or “nay.”

So, let’s talk about the pitch.

This isn’t a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ proposal.  A good pitch gives a brief high-level overview that inspires them to want to host your show.

For example:

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It’s crazy simple, yet has just the right amount of detail.

Thinking from a venue perspective it answers these 3 questions:

  1. Are these guys prepared? Or is this just a pipe-dream?
  2. How many people can they bring out? (thinking bottom-line here)
  3. What dates do they want? (do they deserve a weekend date or should I offer a mid-week one?)

Keep it short and to the point.  And just like a hipster, try your hardest to make sure it looks casual.

Note: do you have a contact who books the venue you want often?  You might be able to use him/her to help you secure the venue.  This is why you build a network.  Ask them for a favour and remember that warm introductions are a billion times better than cold-calls.

STEP 7 – CONFIRM THE DATE WITH THE VENUE

Once you’ve sequestered information from your venues and you’ve made a choice which one to go with, you’ll need to confirm the date.

Along with the date you’ll need to figure these things out also…

  • Will there be a guarantee or a cover charge?
  • Does the venue supply the door-person or do the artists?
  • What time can you start your show?
  • What time can set up start?
  • Will the venue to any promoting or is completely up to you?

… and any other specific details you want to consider.  Throw all this stuff down in your handy-dandy spreadsheet.

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Note:  Don’t take too much time solidifying Steps 6 & 7.  This should happen in a matter of days (3-4 at most).  A lot changes in 4 days and your desired dates might have been given away while you were doddling.

STEP 8 – CONFIRM THE DATE WITH THE ARTISTS

With a venue confirmed for your desired date, now it’s time to confirm with the artists.  Send a brief email (preferred method) to all involved saying something like this…

Hey All!

The date has been set and confirmed at [venue name] for [insert date and time].  

Please let me know if you are IN or OUT for this show.

Looking forward to it!

– Brandon

If an artist/band can’t make it, you’ll want to know right away to have time to find a replacement.  Hit up more artists in your contacts or ask the band who couldn’t make it for a referral.

Repeat Steps 2,3 & 8 until your line-up is solidified.

STEP 9 – CONFIRM THE DATE WITH ANY SUPPORT STAFF

Just like you confirmed with the artists in Step 8, do the same with any support people, such as sound techs or door people.

A simple email such as…

Hey [name]!

The date has been set and confirmed at [venue name] for [insert date and time].  

Please let me know if you are IN or OUT for [the activity they’re doing] at this show.

Looking forward to it!

 – Brandon

… should suffice.

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STEP 10 – CREATE POSTERS, FACEBOOK EVENT AND ADVERTISEMENTS

Alright, posters and other needed imagery are next.

The types of things we usually do at Apparatus for a local show are…

  • Gig posters (11″ x 17″ or 18″ x 24″)
  • Handbills (5″ x 11″ or 5″ x 5″)
  • Facebook banners (for the top of Facebook events – 851px x 315px)
  • Twitter images (1500px x 500px)
  • Website images (Banners or square images for our website or the artists’ websites)
  • Images for online ads (Facebook, Google Ads)
  • Images for print ads (Newspapers, local magazines)

We do most of our own design work in-house because it’s cost-effective for us to use our own design skills, however limited they really are.

As independent artists you’ll likely want to do this the same way but you can use services like Fiverr99Designs or even a buddy who has Photoshop.  If you don’t have Photoshop or the money to spend on a designer, use Pixlr.  It’s a free online Photoshop-type app that has all the features you need out of Photoshop to make good marketing material. Another great alternative is Canva.

 

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Posters…

For an easy printing option, have Staples print your posters it costs 59c per copy if you make less than 3,000 copies, which I’m guessing you will.

There are other cheaper options online – VistaPrint comes to mind – but remember that they take time to be shipped to you.  Make sure you order these with enough time to spare.

Facebook Event…

The upside of hosting the Facebook event yourself is that you have full control over it.  The downside is that you might not have an awesome reach due a small following.  In the case that you have a small following, allow the venue to host the Facebook event if they can.  If not, host it yourself and just ask them to share it on their social media.

Invite as many people as you can to the event and encourage your friends and other artist to do the same.  Facebook events are nebulous when it really comes to the numbers.  We’ve learned that typically only 25-30% of the people who’ve joined the event on Facebook actually show up, and that might be different for other regions.

Advertisements…

Determine if and where you want to advertise.

Options are…

  • Facebook or Twitter Ads (targeted by location and by target audience)
  • Google Ads (targeted by location and by target audience)
  • Local Newspaper (the ones that people read on Public Transit are the best, IMO)
  • Local Music Niche Newspaper (typically reaches people ages 18-34)

Contact your desired advertiser for specific dimensions and requirements to place an ad.

Note: We’ve seen very little benefit to advertising more than 1 week out from a concert.  In fact, many companies spend as little as 20% of their advertising budget prior to the week before launch.  The 7 days before your show should be where you spend your money.

Free Advertisements & Classifieds…

We’ve seen good success with websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that promote local events.  For our 2014 Showcase, we used (almost strictly) local classifieds, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and brought out more than 250 people through those means alone.

Typically these sites use your City’s airport code (LAX, YVR or YYC, for example) in their name.  Do a Google search, Twitter search and Facebook search for “[airport code] events” or “[airport code] music” and you’ll soon discover where they’re hiding.  Surprising enough they typically have a lot of engaged followers who like to get off their behinds and out to events.

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Now, plug this all into your spreadsheet…

 

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STEP 11 – RECONFIRM WITH ALL INVOLVED

One week out, reconfirm that everyone is still committed.  If, for some reason, an artist has to pull out you still have 7 days to find a replacement.

Challenging yes, but impossible, no.

STEP 12 – FINALIZE THE ROSTER

Make sure you have your artists in the order you want them in.  Typically (for a 3 artist show) it’s opener, opener, headliner.

Make sure artists know their set length and the importance of sticking to it.

The sets can vary depending on a ton of variables but – if we again used a common 3 artist show scenario – here are common set lengths…

  • Opener #1 – 30 mins
    • Transition – 10 mins
  • Opener #2 – 45 mins
    • Transition – 10 mins
  • Headliner – 1 hour ( or 1.5 hrs if they can sustain that long)

Again, you can really play with these lengths to find what is comfortable for the venue, artists and concert goers.

For more on crafting a great setlist (including setlist templates), read here.

STEP 13 – ASK ARTISTS TO HELP PROMOTE

I know asking the artists to help you promote won’t make you popular.  There’s a weird misunderstanding around that the venues have to do all the work to promote.  Realistically, both the venue and the artists have to do their fair share.

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There is nothing wrong with asking artists to help push the event on social media or to their mailing list.  There’s even nothing wrong with giving each group a bunch of posters to plaster around town.

A couple things you can do:

  • Send an email to each artist with a PDF of the poster so they can share it digitally to their fans.
  • Invite all the artists to the Facebook Event and ask them to share it.
  • Provide any marketing images for them to use on their own sites or social media. (I like to put a bunch of images into a Google Drive folder and give everyone access to it.)

STEP 14 – PUT OUT THE POSTERS

Plaster your posters in the areas where your target market hangs out (for most independent artists this will be between 25-34 but your fans may slide in either direction) and do this 6-8 days before the show.

In our experience it doesn’t help if you put posters out any earlier than 8 days; they just get torn down or covered up.  Concert-goers also see any local artists playing more than a week out as irrelevant – these types of shows are often spur-of-the-moment decisions.

Don’t forget to give a handful of posters to the venue itself to put up in the building and over top of the urinals (best advertising spot, I’d say.  Anything to keep you occupied the awkwardness of urinating around strangers in silence.)

Lastly, make sure your artists have posters to distribute as they see fit.

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STEP 15 – SHOW UP, SET UP AND ROCK OUT

The last thing you have left to do is show up, have a good time and don’t forget to network.

All along the way, be flexible.  Be ready for sh*t to go wrong because it will at some point.  Working with other people’s schedules means that something will come up, so just expect it and you’ll keep your blood pressure down in the safe zone.

Sit back and relax because you did an awesome thing.  You created the opportunity for the independent music scene to thrive.

BONUS CONTENT

What would you do if you didn’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity to come to you?  What if you could create it?

I took a few minutes and whipped up some bonus material to help you…

  • A fill-in-the-blank spreadsheet for setting up a gig
  • The complete “Coordinating a Show” Checklist so you don’t miss any details.

Go ahead and grab those bonuses here.

About the Author: Brandon Waardenburg

Founder of Apparatus (an artist accelerator providing music advice and coaching to independent artists and DIY musicians) as well as a musician, songwriter, “musicpreneur” and consultant. After receiving his music degree back in 2011 he began working alongside independent artists, songwriters, producers and engineers in their quest to retain creative control and grow their careers like heck.  Sign up for his free email newsletter here and get open-source ideas and actionable advice for your career.

Website:  www.apparatus.ca
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/teamapparatus
Twitter: www.twitter.com/teamapparatus or @teamapparatus
Instagram: www.instagram.com/teamapparatus

Comments

  • Jean Rodrigues Couto

    I was speechless by the blog

    Jean Rodrigues, Apaixonado por Tecnologia e profissional na área de Peças em MDF, São Paulo – SP