The Real Poop
Pop quiz: What's the best way to encourage concertgoers to buy tickets to your event?
A. Non-GMO corn dogs
B. Complimentary earplugs
C. Self-cleaning portapotties
No matter how much you adore corn dogs, hopefully you answered "D." You could have massaging chair seats, artisanal hamburgers and band members giving away free money at the door, but it still wouldn't matter if the public doesn't know there's a concert this weekend. Concert promoters are on a mission to make sure everybody knows that funk legend Chu-Chu Terrain is playing tomorrow night, and their paycheck depends on it. Event promoters are a similar breed (concerts are technically events, if very, very loud ones) who deal with a diverse bunch of clients and industries, from monster truck rallies to the film festivals to Kim Kardashian's next wedding. (Sorry, little North West.)
Promoters have to be on their game 24/7. If you'd like to join their ranks, it helps to be motivated, outgoing, and have a history in business or marketing. Here's the basic plan of attack: Find an act or event, negotiate a payment contract with the client, book a venue, sell tickets, advertise the show, and stick around during the event to make sure nothing goes horribly, horribly wrong. No sweat, right? Well, we hate to break this to you, but there will be plenty of speed bumps before and during the big day. In addition to possible setbacks like faulty equipment, talent cancellations, and 1,000 flyers printed with a major typo, promoting can be a risky business. You pony up a lot of your own (or your agency's) dough in the hopes that you'll make a killing, and the bill must be paid, even if chirping crickets are the only audience. Other headaches are legal; sometimes artists end up suing their promoters, or vice versa, over contractual disputes. You may even be held responsible for mishaps or tragedies, such as a stage collapse or even the death of a major pop star.
Concert promoters have to be extra scrappy, especially with the current state of the music business. The one-two punch of internet and mP3 file compression has made it super easy to download and share songs, things your ancient ancestors couldn't do with their records and cassette tapes. (Don't talk to us about our 8-track collection, the wound is still raw.) The digital revolution sent the music business scrambling to adapt to this brave new market where users can download or stream individual singles instead of forking over $20 for an entire album. With music piracy plundering their revenues, artists and recording companies are looking for profit in other areas, such as merchandising, or even—gasp—corporate sponsorship.
The good news about all this is that live performances are now a top moneymaker for the music industry. Even the most successful bands must tour to supplement the lack of royalties, and sales from t-shirts, posters, and live show recordings can make up the difference. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, and this is your big chance to grab a slice of your own.
As we mentioned before, a huge part of your job as a promoter is to spread word about the concert. One of the best places to do this is on local radio stations, which offer air time in 30-60 second chunks. You could also hit up television networks to reach a broader audience, or try genre magazines or social media marketing. Lots of concert promoters like to piggyback on venue email lists, too, so their own shindigs will be listed on upcoming events. Feel like going low-tech? Hire some starving college students to hand out flyers on the street. Of course, advertisement costs a pretty penny, but you gotta spend money to make money. Though we bet the college students would work for ramen noodles.
Enterprising folks have been charging for event admission for centuries, but today's concert promotion has its roots in the 1950s rock and roll boom. Back in the day, groups of popular artists would band together (pun intended) to go on nationwide caravan tours, and their swooning audiences trotted right out to buy the records. The success of these tours led to a new wave of regional promoters who set their sights on the crop of talent raising its shaggy head in the '60s and '70s. Many of these promoters started out as club owners, and gradually moved to larger venues after buying into a few hot bands. During the 1980s, some learned to appreciate the beauty of open amphitheater concerts. Grass seating, no roof construction to finance, and a captive audience for concessions? Cha-Ching!
In the past few decades, promotion has become big business for a few conglomerates. Robert F.X. Sillerman (we want middle initials like that!) changed the game by cornering the market on concert promoters, including the venues they controlled. As you may have learned in the game of Monopoly, owning buildings is a good thing. In the concert biz, it means that you have leverage in negotiating with artists, who may be willing to discount their fees in exchange for the perfect location. In 2000, Sillerman sold his army of promoters, called SFX, to Clear Channel, which created the well-known brand Live Nation. Other heavy hitters in the tour arena include Anschutz, C3 Presents, Jam Productions, and Palace Sports & Entertainment. With these corporate giants playing the most cutthroat game of musical chairs ever seen, new promoters have a hard time making a name for themselves. Still, there are opportunities in smaller venues, and many promoters choose buy their own club or venue, to exercise further control.
But is concert promotion profitable? Let's take a look at the math. Say your wildest dreams come true, and you book heavy metal gods Goat Attack for a sold out show at Nosebleed Stadium. (Remember, when we say "sold out" and "stadium," that this is an unusually optimistic and colorful dream.) Sixty thousand rabid "goat heads" have shelled out $100 a piece to worship at the altar of GA. That's six million bucks, baby! It's tempting to grab the cash and run, but a second look at the drummer's tattooed biceps convinces you otherwise. So, to business, after the 20% fee from Stubmaster, the online ticket provider (-$1,200,000, ouch), you get your guaranteed expenses fee of $600,000. Don't pocket those greenbacks, yet, though, because you'll need them to pay staff and plug leaks in your bank account. Remember all that dough you coughed up to rent the stadium (-$400,000)? Then, because Goat Attack's crowds have a reputation for being a tad rambunctious, venue management wanted insurance (-$60,000), ample stage security (-$30,000), and a cleaning crew to mop up all the spilled curly fries and vomit (-$10,000). And all those ads you placed in biker bars and Harleyheads magazine set you back another fifty grand (-$50,000). Goat Attack isn't the only one with a stake in their music, so you'll need to pay a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) for permission to use songs like "Head Butt to the Face" (-$3,000). And finally, an extra thousand to rent the surprising amount of equipment required to create a rafter-shaking show (-$1,000). Hey, look at that, you still have $46,000 left over! But wait, wasn’t there more money on the table? Where does the rest go?
Weirdly, the band may want to get paid as well. Goat Attack has a "versus" contract, which means they get either a flat fee of $3 million, or 85% of the gate, minus what went to you and Stubmaster. Lucky Goats, the concert was a smash success, and the band walked out with $3,570,000 stuffed into their leather vests. And the remaining fifteen percent ($630,000) goes to the hardest working promoter in the biz! Add that to your guarantee leftovers, and you’re $676,000 richer! Now you can build that giant money fort you've always wanted.
Sadly, not every band can reach Goat Attack's dizzying heights of success, and plenty of promoters count their ticket sales in dozens instead of hundreds. Which still beats the turnout at your cousin's nose flute recital.
Now let's take a moment for those who are not all about the rock. Event planners serve a variety of clients, but one thing they all have in common is the need to get feet in the streets and butts in the seats. And so they come to you, sweet friend, to make their dreams come true. Event promotion carries many of the same problems as concert promotion, i.e. unpredictable attendance, limited budgets, and finding the right demographics to target.
A lot of event planners develop a specialty, which is a good idea, because each type of event has a wildly different to-do list. A mixed martial arts promoter might be required to submit documents to city government, including blood tests for HIV and Hepatitis, and the results of her fighters' neurological exams. (How many fingers are we holding up?) A consumer-driven company like Red Bull Energy Drinks might send employees to scout international locations for local athletes, musicians, or personalities who can partner with Red Bull for a buzzworthy event. To bring off a huge charity event like London's "Animal Ball," a promoter must secure appearances from high end celebrities, and solicit art and design contributions for innovative events like the Great Faberge Egg Hunt. Closer to home, community fairs and festivals require deals with local sponsors, hired street performers, and a centrally-placed stage for the Miss Kumquat Pageant.
Looking for careers which are fraternal twins to concert and event promotion? Try out life as a marketing manager, entrepreneur, or talent agent, all of whom share a promoters willingness to go out on a limb to reach big rewards.