PO Box 278
Friendship, ME 04547 USA
Now That You’ve Hired A Performer
Suggestions for concert presenters
by Michael Cooney
NOTE: This hasn’t been updated since dinosaurs roamed the earth; it was written before
internet, cell phones, etc. I’m now trying to find time to update it. It really needs
additions and corrections -
These are thoughts which came to me in 50+ years of doing concerts. Sometimes we
get booked by people who have never put on a concert before (doing fund-
• Little Things Mean A Lot
Attention to details can help enormously in the overall success of your event. These details contribute as much to a show as the music. Concerts are like computers, or sewers, or life: you get out what you put in. Things like the encouragement of and attention to performers pay off in a better performance.
• Your Rules
Don't let irresponsible performers take advantage of your hospitality, good nature, or timidity. If you have any rules, please let us know. Be firm. Some of us are quite piggy. You don't have to hold your tongue.
BEFORE THE CONCERT
• Publicity Materials
It's expensive and a big hassle to get good p/r materials, photographs, etc., and
keep it together. Some of us aren't too together about this, and getting a good agent
is like getting a bank loan -
Most of us are good at reading maps and finding our way, but it helps to have good area maps. Perhaps one of your members who belongs to the AAA Auto Club can get a supply of city maps. And/or, make a clear set of directions. (Then try 'em out yourself, on a dark rainy night, or get someone else to try 'em...)
• Send directions, requests, etc., well in advance
Generally, we go out for a whole tour. If you send us directions, etc., a week before the concert, we'll never get 'em. With mail service unpredictable, two months in advance is better...
Some people say, "Folk music shouldn't be on a stage." I disagree. It's good to have the height, so people in the back can see and hear without craning and straining. Four feet is better than two feet; one foot is better than none.
• Sound Systems
You don't need a huge fancy sound system. The object of the game is to get sound
which nobody notices, from as little equipment as you can get by with. If you're
expecting fewer than a hundred people, no amplification at all is best. If a band
demands a big system with 24 microphones, feel free to say, "Gee, this is all we
I have done perfectly good concerts with just a hardware-
Many of us like to see the audience. It need not be terribly bright, but we really need it bright enough to see faces. In some auditoriums, this is almost (but not entirely) impossible.
• Outdoor Concerts
When you sing outdoors, it's completely different. You have to sing louder. People aren't as attentive; they don’t hear (or listen to) the words. Kids run around and make noise. Someone throws frisbees. It can be less fun. But not always. There’s something way more intimate about music indoors.
ON CONCERT DAY
• No News Is Good News
Sometimes it's hard to stop on the road to call and say, "Yes! I'm coming! Unless there's an emergency.
It would be a big help if you could arrange for us to have a parking place as close as possible to the door that's closest to the stage. Some performers (like me) have a lot of equipment, instruments, etc, to lug in. Others use their vans as dressing rooms. Perhaps you could park a car or two to save spaces.
• Backstage Refreshments
There's no need to go wild, but sometimes a "little something" is just what's needed.
Of course, each performer has her or his own likes and dislikes, so this is a difficult
area. You're certainly not obligated to supply booze (especially before the performance),
or any kind of elaborate spread, but on cold nights it's nice to have a little coffee
or tea and cookies to warm and perk one up. In the summer, maybe something ice-
• Mail and Forwarding
It gets lonesome out on the road, and it's more than just nice to get mail. If we have mail waiting, please let us know right away. We try to have it sent far enough in advance to have it there when we arrive. If it comes after we've gone, and if we haven't made other arrangements with you, please send it on to our home address.
There are performers, especially non-
• Sale of Recordings
We realize that often people can't get our recordings unless we bring them to sell. Some performers like to sell it themselves, others hate the whole process. But we have to do it. It helps enormously if you have one or two people to sit at a table out front and sell our stuff. Sometimes the promoters (folk festivals especially) charge the performers for this (50 cents to $1 per recording), often concert associations have more than enough volunteers, a couple of whom would love to staff the record table. We realize this is sometimes a bother, and if you must have compensation for this service, we'll try not to grumble.
It's good to have things on sale from the very beginning. Far more recordings are sold before the concert than after, though the intermission is the best time.
• Security for Instruments, etc.
It seldom happens, but instruments do get stolen at concerts. (I had one stolen off the stage during intermission once.) If there's a way to have someone you know well to keep an eye on things backstage, it helps keep us relaxed. Introduce us beforehand, lest we think he's waiting for an opportunity to snatch & run...
• Music Played Before and Between Sets
When you're setting up the sound system or playing music over the system to "fill
the void", could you please make it some sort of "background" music? This means something
quiet and instrumental–classical music, or soft jazz, or instrumental folk music,
etc. Just not rock & roll, or songs with words (that need attention) or anything
noisy. (What's worse than hearing a song you were about to sing being played overthe
• Tape Recorders
Most contracts state that it's the promoter's responsibility to keep people from
using recording equipment. It infuriates some performers to see tape recorders in
the audience. We come to sing to people, not to do a recording session. Some of us
tend to be less relaxed if we know our mistakes are being recorded forever. It's
our right to not be recorded. It's easy enough for the Host of the evening to say
a short "No Tape-
• Starting On Time
Start on time and people will show up on time.
• Introductions and Extroductions
Introductions and Extroductions are the visible and audible "marks" to signal the beginning and end of the concert. They are equally important.
Your introduction need not be anything more than one small sentence. ("Please give a warm welcome to...") If you really want to say more, feel free. But you probably shouldn't tell people why they're going to like the performer. They'll decide for themselves. If the performer or group is unusual, and it would help the audience to know something about where they come from and why their music is like this, and why it's valuable. Try to say it succinctly, though.
Be ready to come up at the end and fill the void after the applause is over. Say thank you for coming, be sure to come to our next event, there are still recordings for sale (and come back to get 'em autographed!), etc. The end needs a marker.
• Opening Acts
This is a tricky question. Sometimes an opening act means less of a show from the person you hired. (I once sang in a place on a Wednesday night in the winter, that was advertized to begin at 8:30. We started at 9:15, with an opening act who went until almost 10:30! People were angry.) On the other hand, local performers need exposure and encouragement. I suggest you keep 'em short. If you tell them 15 minutes, they'll take 27. Tell 'em, "Three songs or 10 minutes, whichever is shorter," (or 4 songs/15 minutes). If they can't handle that, they're not ready for the stage.
• Noisy Audience Members
Nobody wants to deal with them, but we (of course) think it's the promoter's job to go over and quietly ask them to be quiet or go out front to talk. This applies to children and parents of those children.
Here's a very useful trick for parents to make kids be quiet: NEVER threaten. [They know when you're bluffing.] First, take 'em outside, and then tell'em you understand that they need to be noisy, so "...out here's the place to do it. You let me know when you're ready to be still and quiet, and thenwe'll go in again..." If they act up again, parents have to be ready to go out again, maybe for the rest of the night. Generally once a child learns that the parents are serious that he can't be unruly at a concert, he doesn't try again.
Sometimes the parents are part of the problem, though. Try to nip it in the bud; noisy people spoil the concert for everybody.
• How To Stop A Performer Who Is Going On Too Long
First, have an understanding about set lengths, etc., and you do your part to start
on time. Then if there's an ego problem, take him or her a glass of (not-
AFTER THE CONCERT
Sometimes they're nice, sometimes not. If we're on a long hard tour, then it could
be a grind. The object of a good tour is to play two concerts a day for three weeks
and then go home for a couple of months (it hardly ever works that way, though).
Sometimes we need a little get-
If at all possible, most of us want to drive home and sleep in our own beds, even
if it means driving for three hours after the concert. Many of us can't bear to pay
all that money for a motel. Who wants to pay a big chunk of tonight's income for
a place to sleep for six or eight hours, and get a shower? But motels are often better
than staying with strangers. To stay with strangers is to have to entertain them
by letting them entertain us. (They don't like it if we don't want to come out and
"be sociable".) Except we just can't bring ourselves to put up the money. We're not
making enough to justify it. So we're at your mercy. What we need is private time.
We do certainly get tired of restaurants. But as with motels, we don't have to be
scintillating for anyone in a restaurant. But restaurant food is over-
Most of us have learned to eat anything. Some of us in musical groups wish we could
get real meat sometimes. It's almost always some cassarole near to which a can of
tuna or a half-
• On Meeting Lots of People
It's a joy and a difficulty at the same time. We've learned to keep to ourselves
in many ways, and we've learned to be best friends without the breaking-
We need reviews, of course. It helps a lot if you can persuade the papers to send reviewers. And most of all, if there's a review, please send us a copy or two. It's best if you send the whole page the review is on, plus the front page of the section, and the front page of the paper. (It's nice if they aren't folded too much, but don't go out of your way, either.) We need reviews.
I would greatly appreciate your additions, corrections, comments, suggestions, etc.