1.2 Running the Project
Now that you know what you want to do and how you would like to achieve it, the actual work begins!
Phase 1 – Generating performance opportunities and income
Make a list of promoters (i.e. venues, festivals and concert series), who are a good fit for your project – they need to have a concert hall of a suitable size and offer an overall programme within which your project would sit well aesthetically. For inspiration look at where similar projects have toured to – there’s no point in offering a venue a contemporary classical programme, however interesting it might be, when their usual fare is pantos and pop. Once you’ve drawn up a list of promoters, put some research into who the decision makers (i.e. music programmers or artistic directors) are and how best to contact them. If you post a generic letter (Dear Sir or Madam) to the venue it might eventually reach the decision maker but not as quickly or effectively as sending information by e-mail to a named person.
Before you start writing to the promoters, make sure you have all necessary information ready. The best way to collate facts and material about a project is to draw up a nicely designed information document, which, in addition to essential facts, should contain some images reflecting the nature of your programme. The document should list the performing ensemble or soloist, the forces, the duration of the programme (one hour or full evening with interval?), the theme (if any) of the programme, and when the project is available (e.g. touring from November 2016). You could also mention any funding you already have in place or might be in the process of applying for, as well as a rough idea of technical required (especially if you are expecting the promoter to provide tech). Last but not least remember to include your contact number and e-mail on the info sheet. It would be premature, however, to include your fee expectation; this can wait until a later stage, once the promoter has shown interest.Your next step is to write personalised letters/e-mails. You are aiming to create a spark of excitement about the project, so it’s vital to write eloquently about why your project is so different/innovative/of high quality that the promoters has no option but to buy into it. If you already know the person you’re writing to, make sure to include a reference to your previous meeting or encounter. In any case, it is useful to show that you know something about their organisation, so you could refer to projects or themes the venue might have featured, with which your programme would link in well. If your programme has a specific angle/topic you could mention local organisations, groups or communities, who might potentially be interested in supporting your project, either by featuring it through their channels or by attending. In the case of the Newt Project, for example, you could mention that the nearby wildlife centre might be interested in alerting their members to the concert. Or if your project features, say liturgical Polish music, you could make a reference to the Polish churches or community centre in the area.
In an ideal world, programmers will respond to your initial e-mail swiftly and enthusiastically. However, in reality most programmers are very short of time and you will have to go the extra mile to get their attention. Their lack of response doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not interested; they might just be busy or away on business or holidays. Follow up your initial writing with a phone call about 10 days to 2 weeks later, to see if you can get a response that way. If the programmer is unavailable, do leave a message with your name, the title of the project and the date of your e-mail, so they can link your call to the e-mail. Lastly, resend your initial e-mail a few days after the call.
Any response is a good response. Even if a promoter is unable or unwilling to take your project, the reasons for the decision (wrong timeframe, project theme doesn’t fit with venue’s plan, etc) will help you get to know the venue better, which will come in useful for future projects, and it puts your name as a producer (and/or composer) on the map.
A positive response, however, is what you are really after. Once a promoter has shown interest, do discuss the finer points of the project. Most vitally you need to discuss potential dates and the financial conditions. There is a range of ways of working with a venue. Ideally, the venue will offer you a guaranteed fee and also cover travel and accommodation. This means they will keep all box office income, but it also means that you, as the producer, do not have to worry about how many tickets are being sold, as the financial risk lies with the promoter. If the venue is only able or prepared to pay you a small fee, they might propose you split the box office income. In that scenario you will have a guaranteed income plus a potential income through ticket sales. They might also offer you the hall (plus stewards) for free and allow you to keep all of the box office income. From the promoter’s point of view, this arrangement will allow them to offer interesting content to their audience at minimal costs to themselves, as you, as the producer, take the risk on box office income. Lastly, in a more traditional rental agreement, the venue charges you a hire fee for the use of the hall and you keep all box office income. This last option provides you with a platform for your project, but also poses the biggest financial risk, as you have to recoup the hire fee charge through box office income before being able to pay for anything else, like concert fees to the performers.
When talking to a promoter about the fee, don’t forget that there are other aspects they might be able to offer. It is useful to establish if, and to what extent, your event will be included in their marketing activities. Maybe the venue is happy to let you rehearse in the venue not only on the day of your concert but also on another day? This would cut down on rehearsal venue hire costs, which you would have budgeted for in the Setting Up and Planning phase. Can the venue provide any technical equipment that you might need, like amplification or a mixing desk? If the performers are rehearsing at the venue all day could the venue provide them with a hot meal? As part of the negotiations you might also want to offer extra aspects to the promoter – Could you or one of the performers give a pre-concert talk? Does the ensemble have an already established, substantial following on social media platforms that could be used to promote the event, thereby expanding audience potential?
As the producer of the Newt Project, you have managed to get three different promoters/venues interested and are now working on a three-date tour. One date is at a festival, which has agreed to pay you a fee plus travel and accommodation; one is at a university, which can only pay a small fee and no travel but will put everybody up in student accommodation; and one is a concert at the wildlife centre in your hometown, for which you will receive no guaranteed fee, taking box office instead.
Once you have established with the promoters how much they will be able to pay or what the likely income from ticket sales will be, you need to go back to the budget you drew up in Setting Up and Planning phase and adjust the figures. There is a chance that your budget will show a shortfall. If that is the case you will now have to start raising further funds ( for details, see Section 2, Budgeting and Fundraising). It’s important to know that promoters are used to this holding phase – the project can only go ahead under the discussed conditions if additional funding can be found.