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Both sides of the stage

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Both sides of the stage

One of the big talking points at this year’s Trad Talk conference was the exchange between musicians and promoters about what each can and should expect from the other. Musician turned promoter Bruce MacGregor shares his thoughts from both sides of the stage (on-stage and back stage).

One of the big talking points at this year’s Trad Talk conference was the exchange between musicians and promoters about what each can and should expect from the other.  Musician turned promoter Bruce MacGregor shares his thoughts from both sides of the stage (on-stage and back stage).

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Having been involved with Blazin Fiddles for 15 years, and now organizing gigs at Bogbain and running our own Northern Roots Festival, I’m in a good position to see how things operate from the artist’s and the promoter’s point of view.

I’d like to point out before I start that I’m in no way preaching or indeed taking sides!  I’ve had my ‘moments’ with Blazin Fiddles where perhaps I wasn’t as professional as I should have been (a certain Caravan Incident at Cambridge being one), and when I started putting on gigs I maybe wasn’t as spot-on a promoter as I could have been (especially when it came to understanding band PA requirements!).

Do’s and Don’ts for Artists

1. Know your venue Know the size of it, know how many people go to trad acts in that area, work out who is touring at same time – will it affect you? Could you work with them? Actually find out who the promoter is and make contact with them. Maybe even try a telephone conversation rather than just an email. Many are doing it as a hobby and require as much help as possible. You might find some (quite often council-run venues) don’t really care about promoting the gig as they don’t rely 100 % on gig income. These are the ones you really have to work on.

2. Band Promotion  There is so much competition out there in the entertainment world that you have to do everything to work in association with the promoter to get the crowds in.

Make sure you deliver good photos, good posters and make sure you do your social media correctly and your web site is up to date. Create your own press release. Find a peg to make you relevant to the audience. You have to give the promoter as much ammunition as possible for this to work.

Ensure your website and the gigs match in detail and that all contact information for the gig is correct. It is quite amazing how often it isn’t.

A lot of American acts really show us the way to work as co-promoters. They arrive willing to do all sorts of interviews, and they have interesting things to say. They are far more commercially savvy – not in a brash salesman type way – but with a belief that you have to work unbelievably hard off-stage to earn the right to perform on it. That’s not just practicing your instrument – that’s knowing your brand and developing it.

3. Don’t take the piss with the rider/guest list How many other jobs do you turn up and you are offered alcohol? Most promoters are delighted for you to have a beer or a glass of wine at dinner. Some riders seem to have been pinched from Spinal Tap! Same goes with guest lists. I have seen lists for 30 or 40 people in a venue that takes 200. If they like you that much I’m sure they wouldn’t mind paying.

4. Show loyalty  This is the one that REALLY gets me! If you’ve had a great gig in a venue don’t immediately look to jump to the next venue up in the same town. This is important for agents to understand – it’s not just about money, it’s about developing audience along with the promoter.

5. Be nice  You have no idea how good it is for a promoter to deal with a nice, helpful and polite band.   Never believe your publicity. You probably wrote it yourself.

Do’s and Don’ts for Promoters

1. Be up front and honest  Make bands aware how many your venue can take, what people usually pay for a ticket.

2. Ask for help  If you need help promoting an unknown band tell them that at the beginning – not two days before the gig when no-one has bought a ticket. You will know yourself if it requires extra work.

3. Make sure you agree exactly what is being paid Clearly point out what expenses are to the promoter (accommodation, sound-engineer, PA requirements, meals etc). Artists just like to see where the cash goes.

4. Guest lists Yes its nice to be able to offer a few guest tickets but it should be clearly explained to the band that it affects their split.

5. Provide bands/agents with local radio and press contacts so they can get in touch Local press like to hear someone different.

6. Read the rider and if need be discuss it! This is REALLY important.

When a band says they like their accommodation to be near by there is probably a reason they’ve requested it.  If a sound-check runs over because the PA is faulty (a major, major, major issue which I’ll come to soon) the band don’t have time to travel 20 miles at rush hour to the cheap Travelodge you’ve booked them to get changed, showered etc. They end up tired, grumpy and in all probability smelly! The result is that there’s a chance the gig won’t be as good, or in the worst case scenario they go to the accommodation and end up being late coming back.

Meals on site – also makes a big difference for much the same reason. Bands going to restaurants might well be late back if orders are late. It all adds to problems.

The PA – if you don’t have what’s been asked for at least discuss what can be done in advance. This is the most stressful part of the day which 99.9% of musicians hate. Try and get a sound engineer who knows what they are doing. Good equipment = good sound. Then there’s no excuses!

7. Feedback and communication post-gig Promoters should give feedback to agents on the bands  and bands should invite this.  Only by finding out how they are being perceived from an impartial viewer will they develop. It can sometimes sting but it has to be done.

A promoter told me that we were spending far too much time talking on stage. It stung us but we have sorted it out. It was a problem we were slightly aware of but that comment stung us into action and we changed our show to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Summary

It really is difficult for both partners in this equation. The best feeling for a promoter is a full house, happy musicians, happy punters, everyone happy. If the musician gets the same then everyone goes home happy.

Bands – work with your promoter. Is there anything you can add to your show that will make it newsworthy, encourage new customers in, add value to the whole event? Constantly question what you do and why people would want to go and see it. It’s not good enough to be ‘just good’ any more.

Bruce MacGregor is a founder-member of the award-winning band Blazin Fiddles and also runs Bogbain Farm and its associated festivals.  He is also known to audiences across Scotland and beyond as presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Travelling Folk’.  The views expressed are his own.