Live performances often look so effortless that it’s easy to forget how much work goes into them.
There might just be one musician, speaker, or comedian on stage, but there’s a whole machine behind them.
In this article, you’ll learn how to oil that machine so that nothing goes wrong during the show. Because there’s nothing entertaining about a badly executed show.
Except for The Play That Goes Wrong.
In this piece, we’ll cover…
- The pros and cons of using a booking agency (and going direct)
- Which rules to cover beforehand
- How to plan a budget
- Who you need on your team
- How to account for delays
- Finding the right venue (and preparing it)
- How to check sound and lighting
Without further ado, let the show begin!
1. Booking agency vs. direct
You should decide which route to go when you’re booking the performer. You have two options: go through a booking agency or book them directly.
Either option comes with its own benefits and downsides, which we’ll go over now.
Advantages of going with a booking agency
A booking agency is a good option if you’re not sure what exactly you’re looking for.
- Can help you find the right act for your event
- Can find a replacement act in case of cancellations
- Will have a marketing team to help with promotion
- Will have a proper hiring procedure and contract
In other words, a booking agency is more professional (most of the time).
Disadvantages of going with a booking agency
A booking agency involves more people, which means a higher cost.
- Will add their own fee on top of the performer’s salary
- Can send a replacement act with very short notice
- Will act as an intermediary, which can delay communication
More people, more problems, as they say.
Tip: The Unsigned Guide is one of the most comprehensive directories for unsigned acts in the UK.
Advantages of going direct
If booking agencies seem too bureaucratic for your style, you can always go direct.
- Will get you the exact performer you want
- Might work out cheaper because there are no intermediaries
- Allows you to communicate clearly ahead of the show
In other words, you save yourself the hassle of having to deal with “account managers”.
Disadvantages of going direct
There are also some downsides to not going through an agency when booking a performer.
- Can leave you with no backup plan in case the performer cancels
- Will make you responsible for all contractual matters
In other words, going direct is riskier. But it can pay off if you do your homework.
2. Get the rulebook out (or write one)
It’s good to have rules in place regardless of whether you go through an agency or book directly.
Some of the rules you should discuss with the performer or agency are…
- How many warm-up acts you need (if any)
- The duration of the performance (including the warm-up act)
- Any restrictions on the language used or subject matter touched on
- Payment (flat fee or percentage from the door or bar)
- Public liability insurance
It’s always better to err on the side of safety when it comes to rules. That way, everyone’s expectations are managed ahead of the show.
Note: Download this cheat sheet for what to discuss when booking a performer.
3. Plan your budget
Never guesstimate. And never use the word “guesstimate”, because it’s not a real word.
Try to be as specific (and realistic) as possible when you plan the budget for your show. Use similar shows to guide your predictions.
You should call and email performers, venues, caterers, and anyone else you need for the event. Get as many specific quotes as possible.
Then compare prices and lay the budget. And expect unexpected expenses. They will pop up along the way.
It’s also a good idea to get a ticketing system that reports back to you in real-time (more on that later). That way, you can adjust your budget as tickets are sold.
4. Recruit a solid team
Many hands are required to make sure that a live show runs smoothly. And many minds work better than one, regardless of how great yours is.
You’ll want someone to…
- Reach out to media outlets
- Promote the events on social media
- Manage the advance ticket sales
- Sort out the technical aspects
- Sit on the door on the night
You can revisit this point once you’ve fleshed out your game plan for the show (see #5).
5. Account for possible delays
As with the budget, you should expect the unexpected when it comes to time-keeping. Many factors are out of your hands.
The performer might get stuck in traffic on the way to the venue. Ditto the catering company and any other people you can’t live without.
The one factor that isn’t out of your hands is preparation. Conjure up a contingency plan so the guests don’t get bored waiting for things to happen.
6. Choose the right venue
The venue for the show should generally match the kind of performance you’re planning. But it can also work in your favour to be a bit unconventional if it fits the theme.
You should make sure that the venue is…
- Accessible and close to public transportation
- Able to hold the number of people you expect to attend
- Lends a bit of credibility to your event
- Has all the facilities you need for the show
- Fits your budget
But that’s not all. You need to prepare the venue and stage area for the performers as well.
Tip:The Gig Guide has a good list of live performance venues in the UK.
7. Prepare the venue
The position of the audience can have a big impact on how well the show goes down.
A rock concert will drown out all conversation. A comedy night, on the other and, might require some audience interaction.
Two common styles of seating arrangement for shows are cabaret (with tables) and theatre (in rows). The former is useful if you don’t plan on selling out the show, because it will look more full.
A dirty trick to make guests sit closer to the stage is to mark the back rows as reserved. You can remove the reserved signs on the night once the front rows have been filled.
Finally, you should make sure that guests have ample room to move around. That means no long rows of seats without a middle aisle.
The stage will be the centre of the evening, so you should make sure it’s raised above the seats. The only exception to this should be an amphitheatre.
If the venue you’ve picked does not have an actual stage, you should try to get one. A makeshift stage is inexpensive to rent and takes ten minutes to set up.
8. Organise stage lighting
Just like the stage puts emphasis on the performer, so will the lighting. Again, there are exceptions, such as a dimly lit jazz evening.
But let’s assume the performance is the focal point of the evening and not just background noise. You will need spotlights pointed towards the stage.
Communicate with the venue staff or your tech team to make sure the stage is well lit. There shouldn’t be any spots where the performer is invisible if they move around.
You should also be able to dim the main lights in the venue right before the performance. That will signal to the audience that the show is about to begin.
Tip:The Stage has a good overview of stage lighting providers in the UK.
9. Check the sound
The sound is just as crucial as the lighting during the performance. If the venue doesn’t have an in-house sound system, then you need to prepare one in advance.
The choice of microphones will depend on performance. Musicians tend to prefer cordless mics with a boom stand. Comedians like corded mics with a straight stand. Actors or speakers may want the mic attached to them so they can move around.
The sound system should include a speaker on either side of the stage and monitors facing the performer. Speakers behind the audience are optional but can be required for larger shows.
Make sure you have a spare everything. Microphones and cords alike can give out at the worst possible times.
Tip:The Stage has a good directory of stage sound suppliers in the UK.
Ready to sell some tickets for the show?
You’ve got the performer and venue sorted. The seating area has been neatly organised. The lighting and sound are prepared.
Now it’s time to fill those seats.
Get your show listed on an event listing site like Billetto and promote it from the rooftops!