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Michael Cooney


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 -- please send yours.

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-raisers or benefits), so I sent something like this to help 'em get going.


• 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.


• 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 - you can't get one until you can prove you don't need it. But we’ll try to send you as much as you want. You try to use the materials carefully and return to us at the concert anything you didn't use. Please try to use my name as it's spelled on the poster or recording. (Michael, not Mike) And please don't bill me as "New England Traditional Singer" or some such. That keeps people away! Say something that will cause people who have never heard of this performer to want to come. Put yourself in their minds. "Folk music" to some of them may mean long-haired hippies flailing guitars and singing about "sliding down the razor-blade of life" (I've heard it), or it may mean John Denver... Publicity is the single hardest job.

• Directions

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...

• Stages

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 have -- do the best you can." Big sound and lighting systems (and monitors, 'cept for bands) exist mostly to make people feel more important, not to enhance the performance.

• Lights

I have done perfectly good concerts with just a hardware-store clamp-lamp with a plain old "outdoor spot" bulb (complete for under $20). Why get all the fancy (and extremely cumbersome) theatre lights? This equipment is spozed to work for us, not the other way `round!. In most circumstances a couple clamp-lamps are all you need. Lights (on the performer) from each side are better then one directly in the face.

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.


• 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.

• Parking

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-cold, lemonade (not-too- sweet), or cola.

• 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.

• Payment

There are performers, especially non-white ones, who have been “stiffed” more than a few times. When I put on concerts or festivals, I learned to pay them before the performance. Much relaxation.

• 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 p.a.? -- wondering if it got played while you were backstage...)

• 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-recorders" speech, during the opening remarks. Even easier is a standard no tape-recorders policy.

• 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-too-cold) water and whisper, "You're going way over time; please make this your last song." If they don't stop, turn off the sound and lights and pretend you blew a fuse or something.


• After-Concert Parties, Receptions, "Going Out For A Drink", etc.

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-together to feel human, meet the people who did the work and come down from the excitement. Other times we're "peopled-out" and want to be alone. How to predict? Ask us as far in advance as you can, I guess.

• Hospitality

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're over- stimulated, over-talked, over-peopled. We need time to be vegetables, to be rocks, to be logs. If you can put us up at a motel (or how about a "bed & breakfast" guest house, with a fire-place in the parlor, run by a nice old lady to whom we're just another customer, not a Special Guest), that would be nice. In a commercial establishment, the room is ours, the stuff on the bureau and the night-stand and in the closetand drawers is ours, not someone else's. It makes a difference. If you can't do that, then yes, we'll stay wherever you put us. We're used to everything by now. But we'd especially appreciate your understanding our situation, and why we're not always as communicative as you'd like. A few of us have solved the problem partially by travelling in campers. That means wherever we go, we always wake up in very familiar surroundings. But campers are very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. So we like it best if you can provide us with a place to park that's off the street, level, and close to a place to plug in for electricity. Best of both worlds. Then we can come in for a visit, and go out to our "house next door" for quiet time. The best thing is to work things out in advance with performers, understanding that a motel is the first choice of 99% of us. (If you have a regular series, sometimes you can get a reduction.)

• Meals

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-priced, and most of us are on very tight budgets. So, Yes! We'd love to come to dinner, and lunch, and breakfast...

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- pound of ground beef was passed. (But we understand! We're on tight budgets too. *sigh*.)

• 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-in period. We've learned how to say short good-byes. It's better that way. (Like cats - no good-bye, big hello.) After many years on the road, everybody looks a little familiar. (In 3 or 4 weeks one can meet, and get to know somewhat, well over a hundred people!) Try to avoid phrases like, "Remember me?" unless you've had that performer more than a few times. Better is, "Hello, I'm _____________, from the____________, in _____________. You sang for us last _______________." Then everybody's safe.

• Reviews

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.