HOW TO ORGANIZE A SHOW
Step 1 – The Venue
People book me for several reasons: the love of the music; increasing awareness around a community issue; fundraising, political support, promoting membership in an organization, educational programs, celebrations… I play at churches, theaters, community centers, conferences, conventions, schools, union halls, house concerts...
The House Concert: House concerts are a very popular venue and a favorite one of mine because of their intimacy. They often are preceded by a potluck; Or desserts at intermission. The importance of house concerts is that they provide a venue when there is not an established venue available. Many people open their living rooms up to me, entirely to support the music.
Conferences and conventions: When I am asked to play at conferences and conventions, my registration fee is waived and if not on my route, transportation is provided. When I fly, it is with Southwest because of their instrument policy. My music is often used to start the day, introduce panels and plenaries, close them, close the day, and usually have a time slot to do a set of songs. Please do not schedule me to sing as background or when something else is going on in the room. In the business this is called “throw away music.”
Schools: When I am brought to colleges and high schools for concerts, teachers assign my shows to the curriculum. I have done concerts through collaboration with the following departments: international studies, sociology, anthropology, English, political science, history, economics, music, religious studies, ecology, journalism, linguistics, and education.
In classes, I do a workshop called "Music As Social History." This is also offered as a semester, quarter, or J-Term course. It combines the teaching of social issues with the performing arts. Sometimes we write songs. Sometimes we talk about how to use the arts to present social issues, to include race, class, gender, sexual orientation, media, health, etc.,
I have a readers theater piece with music about labor history. It makes a good independent study project at either college or high school levels. It is a very moving and vibrant piece where students take on the roles of historical figures. The speaking roles are interspersed with songs.
Children: I do children’s shows, but my satire is not a children’s concert. The themes of my songs can be very sophisticated for a child. There is playfulness with sexuality, although probably nothing a nine year old hasn’t heard, and for younger kids it is over their heads. I use only one FCC censored word which is “tit.” Children running around are distracting. It is like talking. Other than my high school material, most of my children's music is in the 4-7 yo range.
Step 2 – Make sure the coast is clear; Choose the right venue
BEFORE setting the date, it is important to check the calendar to see if any other big events are happening on the dates you are considering. Be sure to choose a venue with a clearly defined listening space. I avoid bars for this reason, unless they have a designated listening room.
My concerts are interactive with audience participation, and distraction nullifies this connection. Having a quiet space for audience and performer should be a given and understood by all, but it isn’t.
Step 3 – Publicize, publicize
Once the date is set, it is critical to ANNOUNCE it asap to community groups so that another group does not book a competing activity that same night. It may be the most important thing you do. You need to let people know, as early as possible. You can’t wait until 3-4 weeks before the event. By then, other groups have made plans. The sooner it becomes a community event, the better the turnout will be. This is particularly important for fundraisers. The concerts are a great way to have fun, do outreach, build community, and raise money.
If you have a community radio or campus station, odds are they have someone with a program who will play my music and announce the show. I can send CDs to them, the earlier the better. I also regularly do phone interviews. A newspaper interview can double your attendance.
A very effective way to reach people is to announce the concert and/or circulate handbills/posters at other events and meetings preceding our event. Put up posters. Refer people to my website. Coffeehouses have put their menu on the back side of a concert poster. I will send you a sample poster. Please modify it and send it back to me for review, or develop your own if you have the graphic design skills. I will send it out to my contacts in your area who may not be on your mailing list.
My music can be heard on SoundClick at http://www.soundclick.com/tomneilson.
Groups you should contact include peace and environment groups such as Sierra Club, anti-fracking, anti-incineration, nukes, mountain top removal, Quakers, Unitarians, Humanists, Ethical Society, AAUP, Alliance for Democracy, labor unions, AFSC, Jobs with Justice, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Truth Out, Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, United Nations Association, progressive student organizations on college campuses, Raging Grannies, etc.
Most communities have local ministers, imams, rabbis, humanists, etc. and/or congregations with a Peace and Social Justice group.
Step 4 – Financial arrangements
Step 5 – Showtime
I usually do two 45 minute sets. But it is up to you if you want to lengthen or shorten. An intro helps to start the show. Please have someone who can work the stage to intro the first set and bring me back for the second. It is also important to have someone close the show. Sometimes the audience is clapping for an encore. A performer likes to be brought back by an MC. It can be awkward for a performer to bring him/herself back on stage. Especially when a second encore is requested, which has happened.
**Reminder**: The concert may not be recorded without the permission of the performer.
Setup: Barring transportation snafus, I like to arrive 1½ to 2 hours before the show. I need a table for my CDs and literature. A card table will suffice, but a six foot table is much better, as I have literature, shirts, and other paraphernalia. It should be in an area that can be lit and accessible during intermission and after the show.
Stage needs: I know it is not always possible, but is nice to have a quiet room to tune and prepare. I need a chair with a flat surface or small table or stool to put my picks, capos, other props, and a glass of water.
Sound: When sound support is required, it is the sole responsibility of the host to provide. The venue provides the engineer to set up and run the equipment. If there is cost, it is assumed by the venue. It does not come from the performer’s share of the gate if that is how I am being paid. If we are using sound support, I require 2 mics. 3 mics are necessary if I have a back up vocalist, but we will know that well before the show. The sound check should be done before the audience arrives, one to 1 1/2 hrs before the start time. ***Note***: Outdoor concerts require sound support!!! There are birds, dogs barking, cars, lawnmowers, frogs, mosquitos, and the great outdoors that carry sound away. Mosquitoes are very bothersome to the audience and often carry them away.
Lodging: Necessary. I am not fussy. When I'm in my truck, I travel with a mat that I can put in the back of the truck. I have a sleeping bag. A bed is more than enough. This ole bod can still sleep just about anywhere. No smoking please; cats and dogs ok. Noise at night is un-desirable. Wi-fi internet access is becoming more necessary as I manage booking activity from the road.
THANK YOU so much for your support! It is you who keeps the music alive and our (I speak for all my road musician friends) gratitude goes out to you. This will be a lot of fun.
Printer-friendly version: HOW_TO_ORGANIZE_A_SHOW.pdf