This is the gist of what I had to say at the Folk21 East Midlands Discussion Day.
Promoting a gig is a partnership between the venue or folk club and the artist. There are some things that the artist can do to help and some things that are much better done by a local promoter on the ground. It’s unrealistic for an artist to expect the venue/folk club to provide a ready made audience without any help and it’s unrealistic for a venue to expect an artists to bring an audience with them.
If you want a full house it should be a joint effort. Organisers should remember, however, that an artist spends a lot of time on the road, away from home and away from any office facilities that she or he might have. There’s only so much can be done with a dodgy phone signal or Costa Coffee’s wifi connection.
I always think that the arrangement that best promotes partnership between a venue and an artist is to negotiate the fee as a guarantee versus a percentage. The percentage is calculated after expenses and there’s a good explanation of how it works here on my help page at: http://www.jacey-bedford.com/helpfiles/help-percent.html
Basically, the artist has a guaranteed minimum, but it’s not what she/he ultimately wants to make from the night, it’s the minimum that means they are not out of pocket on the trip. If there’s a good crowd they are going to get more – in some cases considerably more – and that’s going to help pay the grocery bill at the end of the week.
The venue has a guarantee to find and therefore they have to work hard to promote to cover that fee (at least) and hopefully of the artist gets into percentages the venue will also make a clear profit. But it’s not such a huge guarantee that they risk losing their shirt if (say) it snows or if they clash with the cup final night.
A guarantee versus a percentage shares the responsibility and shares the profit. The ideal is that both the artist and the venue should make a profit.
So on to promo…
An Artist’s Responsibility
- WEBSITE. Have a website with a URL that reflects the artist’s name
- MAILING LIST. Maintain an active mailing list – not just adding email addresses to it at every opportunity, but making it interesting for your followers.
- PRINT. Printing well designed posters and flyers for an agent to distribute to venues in whatever quantities are required.
- ADVERTISING. Take out national advertising for high-profile tours (fRoots/Living Tradition/Rock & Reel – R2 – etc.)
- PROFILE. Send out review and radio copies of albums to establish and maintain a visible profile. Seek out promo opportunities in local folkie magazines and websites
- INTERVIEWS. Seek out opportunities to do radio interviews in conjunction with the venue – which can often be done the week before by telephone in addition to sending a CD. A radio interview a week before the gig is MUCH better than one on the day when people have already made their plans for the evening.
- SOCIAL MEDIA. Maintain a presence on social media: facebook, twitter, tumblr etc. (though perhaps myspace is over, but if you want to leave no stone unturned, it doesn’t hurt to have a page there, too.) In all cases the object of the social media is to get people to your web page. Yes, have a page on facebook and get as many likes as you can but this is NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A WEB PAGE – please excuse me for shouting.
A Venue/promoter’s Responsibility
- WEBSITE. Have a website. The same thing applies here as applied to artists. Don’t just have a facebook page or a convenient page on someone else’s site. Have your own dedicated website and keep it up to date. Make sure your contact details are on there and if you want to have your club booking policy displayed, then do so. It saves you being contacted by the kind of artists you’ve specifically said you don’t book, i.e. singer songwriter if you’re strictly trad or the other way round..
- MAILING LIST. Maintain an active club or venue mailing list. Try and get an email address from everyone who steps through your door. Make it interesting for your followers. Your mailing list will probably overlap with your artist’s but that’s OK. Hit them in a pincer movement.
- LOCAL ADVERTISING. Take out local advertising in whatever local folkie print magazine covers your area (or more than one if like me you live on the border between two great little magazines). Send them interesting news as well. Angle it to make it interesting – just a paragraph or two will give them something to use.
- LOCAL PRESS. Get local interest stories into the local newspapers. Build up a rapport with your local rag, send them interesting stuff and they’ll print it.
- RADIO. Make contact with local radio programmes for incoming artists and pass on contact details. If the artist can’t appear, how about once a quarter – or as often as you can – getting a radio interview yourself and taking a selection of CDs from upcoming artists. Talk about the club/venue with passion. Enthusiasm is catching.
- PRINT. Use the posters and flyers the artist has sent you. If you run a club you should be putting the flyers out on seats for several shows before the upcoming one. Posters are difficult to find a home for these days, but try your best. A shop or library that won’t take an A5 poster will often put up an A5 flyer instead. If you are going to ask for hundreds of flyers then please use them. Don’t overprint them and then try and give the spares back to the artist on the night. (You don’t know how disspiriting that can be – and it does happen!) Don’t ask for 50 posters and then poster the foyer with all of them. (Windsor Arts Centre I’m looking at you! 498 flyers out of 500 left standing on the counter and 50 poster pated on one wall of the foyer. Are you surprised there were only 32 people in the audience, who’d all come from our mailing list and should have been the icing on the cake?)
- SOCIAL MEDIA. Use social media: facebook, twitter, tumblr, (But as with the artist, this is no substiture for your own website or mailing list.)
- WORD OF MOUTH. Employ word of mouth. Talk up the event and get your friends to talk it up as well.
And What Does the Agent do for her Money?
Always remember that it’s the agent’s job to look after the artist’s diary, to find and get the gigs for the artist, to negotiate the contract. In addition the agent will:
- Send out whatever physical publicity the artist has had printed.
- An agent should also have a website where a promoter can download images and text for a press release. (This may also be on the artist’s website.)
- An agent will supply a CD for radio, or will pass the request direct to the artist.
- An agent will forward all requests for interviews direct to an artist (or their management).
An agent is not a publicist. An agent’s job does not include sending press releases to local newspapers and websites. An agent does not keep an artist’s mailing list. An agent does not print posters and flyers for an artist (though I will do this for an incoming foreign artist at the artist’s expense because sending posters and flyers from abroad costs more than printing them in the UK).
Phew, did I manage to say all that in a ten minute speech. Good job I printed it here as well.