Composer’s Toolkit: 3.1 Setting Up

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3.1 Getting Your Work Performed Live (the DIY way) – Setting Up

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To demonstrate how producing a project works, here is a practical example:

You have written a fantastic piece of about 30 min duration, scored for voice, flute, electric guitar, percussion and electronics, and you would like to hear it performed.

What do you do now?


Ask performers within your network if they might be interested in playing at the concert you’re setting up. Ideally, they will have a genuine interest in your work and will be keen to perform it, as their enthusiasm will make your project go much more smoothly and bring more energy to it.

The musicians could be part of a pre-existing ensemble or you could assemble them especially for your concert.

Once you have established which musicians are going to be involved, you need to consider the basis on which you are going to collaborate. Are they college friends happy to play for free to get another live performance in a professional setting under their belt? Or are they more seasoned musicians who will expect a fee? If they expect a fee, which level will it be at? And will there be fees for rehearsals, as well as for the concert? If you don’t pay a fee to the musicians, will you reimburse their travel expenses? Any option is valid, as long as all parties are in agreement.

Don’t forget to think about special circumstances. Will more specialist percussion instruments have to be hired in? Will the percussionist provide his/her instruments free of charge? Will there be porterage? Equally, will the electronics person provide tech? Might he or she deserve a larger fee, as they will have to come earlier for set-up? If you are planning to record the concert for archive/promotional purposes, are the musicians aware of this and have they given their consent?

For clarity, and because it is good practice, you should draw up a written agreement. If you have assembled individual musicians for the project, you need to have an agreement with each of them. If you are working with a pre-existing ensemble you need to draw up only one agreement. The agreement can be in the form of an e-mail, outlining point-by-point everything you have agreed on.

Book/Contract a Venue

Your next challenge is to find a venue for your project. There is a range of ways of how to work with a venue. In an ideal situation, a venue is interested in your project and offers you a guaranteed fee. Depending on the size of the fee, box office income might then be kept by the venue or split with you as the producer. If the venue is interested in your project but not able to support it financially through a fee, you might be offered the venue for free, either splitting the box office income with the venue or being allowed to keep it. Lastly, in a more traditional rental agreement, the venue might charge you a hire fee and you will keep all box office income.

As part of your negotiation with the venue, establish what else they might offer. Will your event be included in their marketing? Can people book tickets through the venue’s box office? Can you rehearse in the venue all day, before the concert? Might the venue be willing to let you rehearse in the venue on another day? Can the venue provide any tech, like amplification or a mixing desk, for free or at a charge? Regardless of the type of collaboration, the venue will in all likelihood ask you to sign a contract about the arrangement. It is important that you make sure you read it through carefully to avoid any last-minute surprises.

Curate the Event

This is the fun part! Your work is 30 min in duration, which is not enough for a full concert, so you get to select other compositions to complement your own work and complete the programme. Skilful curating is an art form in itself. Aim to give your work the right framework and to create a strong identity for the event as a whole, but bear in mind practicalities, too. There might be another composition which complements your own work perfectly, but if it is scored for clarinet, harp and piano (while your own work is for flute, voice, electric guitar, percussion and electronics) your costs will soar.

Marketing and PR

Giving your event a strong visual image will help make marketing and PR activities more effective. You could ask a friend to design an image or use pre-existing photos to create a flyer, which can be distributed electronically. Ask the venue what their requirements are – some venues now only engage in digital marketing, while others still like printed flyers and posters and might ask you to supply them. Remember that all marketing needs to include your funder’s logo. Social media is another platform to promote your event. Make some noise on Facebook and Twitter and link in your social media activities with the venue’s.

It is worth emailing a press release to the arts desks of local and national newspapers (GuardianIndependentTimes, etc.) and magazines (The WireTime Out, etc.) and to individual journalists you might have in your network, to entice them to preview, review or list your event.

If you have set-up a large scale concert and feel there might be strong media potential, you could consider hiring a PR specialist who would use his/her long-standing connections to individual journalists to promote your event. PR specialists can make a real difference in terms of media attention but bear in mind that one day of PR work costs from £200 upwards.

Lastly, writing personal e-mails can be very effective. Draw up a wishlist of people who you ideally would like to attend your event and write to them individually. The list could include friends and family as well as performers you would like to work with or artistic directors (obviously, this works better if you have had at least some minimal previous contact). Sending a personal invitation to individuals from the organisation funding your event is a must.

Create a Programme Leaflet

A programme leaflet is an excellent way of providing your audience with further information. In addition to the list of works to be performed, you should include your biography (no more than one or two paragraphs), your website address and possibly information about future events featuring your work. It might also be interesting to include programme notes for your work as well as the other works in the programme. A biography for the ensemble (or information about the individual musicians) is another important item. Lastly, don’t forget about your funders. As they made your event possible financially, it is vital to credit them for their support. Often funders would like to be credited in a specific way and with a specific logo, and it’s important to get the details right.


Two documents might help with the practical organisation of your event – a timeline and a schedule. For your own purposes, right at the start of your project, you might like to draw up a timeline of what needs to be done (and when) over the next couple of months. For example, whilst you need to establish conditions with the performers first, you will only be able to confirm and issue agreements some weeks later once funding is in place. The timeline can also serve as a checklist for all tasks needing to be taken care of before the performance, so you won’t have any last-minute crises. Secondly, a schedule for the rehearsal and concert days will outline timings, venue addresses and order of works as well as mobile numbers for key people involved in the project and should be e-mailed to all parties a week or so in advance of the first rehearsal.


Any performance is an achievement, so make the most of it! Ask friends to take photos at the rehearsals and performance, or to make a video or audio recording. This will enable you to send out materials to people who were interested but unable to come to the performance. Collect flyers, posters and brochures for your archive, and remember to print out listings and online material about your event before they get taken down.

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