Concert promoters come in all different shapes and sizes, from someone running a fundraiser in the local GAA club to Live Nation & MCD promoting U2 in Croke Park. A lot of the responsibilities are the same, it’s the scale, budgets and risks that change. Concert promoters organize and present live music events, looking after all aspects of the gig from booking an act, to marketing the event, selling tickets and covering the loss if the tickets don’t sell.
The promoter is responsible for meeting the cost of the venue, the cost of running the gig (marketing, security, ticketing etc) and for paying the artist. Some promoters will agree a fee with an act, some will ask an act to work for a percentage of the ticket sales, and in some cases there is an agreed minimum fee versus a split of ticket revenue (minus costs), whichever is biggest.
Laying out the terms
For both promoter and artist, it makes sense to lay out the terms of a performance in the simplest form possible. This can avoid and unpleasantness after an event. Having a contract is industry standard and even though it may not be common for smaller gigs, it’s certainly worth pushing for one. The contract for a live performance should lay out when and where the event is to happen, how long the artist will perform for and the terms of payment for the artist. Other elements like tech specs and penalties for playing past a curfew can be tagged on to that, but the important bits are when, where, how long, and how much. The terms of the contract should be agreed upon and signed by the promoter and the artisit, providing clarity and protection for both parties.
When laying out payment, it is a good idea to include the timing of payment. Getting a deposit in advance for guaranteed fees is good practice for artists, especially when working with a new promoter. Setting a time limit for the balance to be paid is also a good idea i.e. within seven days of performance. When playing a festival it is within reason to be paid a deposit upon booking the gig and to be paid the remaining balance in advance of the performance. This may not be necessary with larger established festivals, but could end up being essential with smaller festivals that are in their infancy who find themselves short of budget. It’s common for well established acts not to travel to festivals until they’ve been paid fully. It’s a bit more difficult to enforce this if you’re a smaller act further down the bill with less leverage, but I’ve been in a situation where we were on a festival stage, set up, ready to play, but we wouldn’t go on until we were paid fully as outlined in our contract. Make a contract and stick to it’s terms, sometimes it’s the only protection you have.
Below is a real-life example of a settlement statement from a promoter after a gig in a decent sized venue in Ireland.
The agreed terms were a minimum fee of €6K vs. a 70/30 split.
The capacity of the venue was 1280. 1139 tickets were sold at €20 plus booking fee, there were 61 guests. Net ticket sales after VAT and IMRO charges were deducted was €20,272. The promoter listed his cots for the event as €7,068. You may notice that included in those costs is catering; keep your rider modest, most promoters will deduct it from your split! Some of the costs listed in settlements like this are difficult to chase up. Seeing receipts for all listed costs would be great, but this rarely happens. There is an element of trust involved here. Somewhere in there a promoter may be increasing the costs or including things that didn’t happen. Experience will find you promoters you trust. Net receipts were €13,204. 70% of Net receipts was €9,243. That figure exceeds the minimum guarantee of €6K, so that’s what the artist was paid. In this instance, the promoter rounded the artist’s cut to €10K. From that €10K the artist will then pay their manager, booking agent, crew, production costs, transport, accommodation, support act and general running costs. Keeping costs low will keep margins high, but there is a balance to be struck between putting on a show with high production values and clearing a profit.
An agreed minimum fee vs. percentage split works out well for artists who’ll get paid even if there is poor attendance. The artist does need to be prepared to receive only the minimum fee if the gig doesn’t sell well. The promoter takes on a degree of risk when running events, but a minimum fee vs. percentage split provides an incentive to both promoter and artist to promote the gig as much as possible. Selling out the gig works out well for everybody.
The next example of a settlement is from a gig where the venue owner and the band acted as co-promoters. The agreed fee was an 80/20 split of ticket sales in favour of the artist.
You can see that VAT and IMRO costs are the same for this gig, but some of the larger costs are missing e.g. venue hire and advertising. Tickets were the same price and the venue was sold out, capacity 150 people. The cost of house staff is also much lower. The split for the band in this instance is €1,929.70. Costs from the perspective of the artist are also greatly reduced. This venue provided accommodation for the band, production costs were zero, the venue provided a sound engineer, this gig was booked without management/agent, so the only real cost to the band in this instance is transport and minimal crew. The actual revenue from this gig is surprisingly close to the artist’s revenue from the previous example where 1,280 tickets were sold, but costs were much greater. As the size of gigs increase, costs usually increase disproportionately.
One way of increasing the revenue is by increasing the ticket price. Should audience members be charged the maximum they are willing to pay for a gig ticket or should they be given value for money, being offered tickets at a reasonable price? That’s your call. It’s worth remembering that artists have a say in how much tickets should be. If an audience is treated fairly and they’re given value for money it will breed a sense of community, The Clash managed this really well during their career, keeping some of their punk ethic even when signed to major labels. If fans of a band feel they are being over charged or treated as a cash cow, they will not remain fans for long.
Consideration of Scale and Cost
For both promoters and artists, managing costs is key to running successful and sustainable events. Many artists approach a performance as a ‘show’, which means there will be production costs involved in staging the event. It’s often the case that large tours will not start making a profit until the latter half of the tour when all costs have been met. As the size of the gig increases, the costs multiply. Many artists run tours in new territories at a loss, in the hope of breaking in to a new market. This needs to be planned carefully as it can be the making or breaking of a band. If an act spends €20K to tour the UK, is there actually going to be an audience there to see and hear them? It was surprising to hear Steve Wall from The Stunning say in an interview in 2017 that they were still spending money on trying to break into the UK market and ended up playing to 10 people in London. Timing these kinds of tours is important and making sure there is a healthy streak of realism cut through the enthusiasm and determination to succeed will help.
There follows a description of some promoters working in Ireland, but it’s by no way a complete list. There are promoters operating in every county in the country, this is just a selection of some of them.
Sometimes concert promoters also own and/or run venues and festivals. The three main players in Ireland in terms of concert promotion are Aiken , POD and MCD/Live Nation.
Live Nation own and promote events in the 3Arena and The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Caroline Downey and her husband Denis Desmond (Chairman of Live Nation UK) operate Gaiety Investments, the company that own The Olympia, The Gaiety and The Academy. Live Nation took over management of The Olympia and The Gaeity in 2017. In 2018 MCD was sold to Live Nation; Downey and Desmond have a stake in both Live Nation and MCD. In early 2019 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission began investigating that transaction. It’s safe to say that there is a lot of cross over in concert promotion by MCD and Live Nation in the venues mentioned above. One thing that you can be sure of is that Aiken Promotions or POD won’t being running any events in The Olympia.
MCD promote Longitude Festival, they are also involved with Electric Picnic (through Festival Republic), Sea Sessions, Indiependence and are working on a couple more. As mentioned by Neil Dolan in one of the TIMI interviews, MCD co-promote gigs all round the country. The other big players based in Dublin do this too.
Aiken Promotions operate Vicar Street but it’s owned by Harry Crosby. Aiken also promote events in The Button Factory, Whelans, The Sugar Club, The Workmans Club and some other venues. They got involved with promoting Castlepalooza in 2016, but that didn’t stick. They promote Live At The Marquee in Cork, Live At The Iveagh Gardens and the Vodafone Comedy Festival
POD are best known for starting Electric Picnic (in partnership with Aiken). Aiken’s share in EP was purchased by Festival Republic in 2009, after POD Concerts went into liquidation. 49.9% of Festival Republic is owned by Gaiety Investments i.e. Desmond and Downey. After a court case between John Reynolds of Pod and Festival Republic in 2014, Festival republic eventually took majority control of Electric Picnic. Pod promote Forbidden Fruit, All Together Now and Metropolis Festivals. John Reynolds, founder and owner of POD sadly passed away suddenly in 2018. POD’s big three festivals were still running in 2019.
To say that those three promoters are competitive is an understatement. There is no love lost between them. It’s not unheard of for a band that play in a venue run by one promoter to be excluded from playing at the festival of another promoter. It’s a political minefield and artists need to be conscious of who they are dealing with and what gigs they would like to secure in the future. The music industry is a free market, based on making profit, even if that isn’t the primary motivation for the artists creating the music that fuels the industry. Large concert promotion companies exist to make profit for their shareholders. If they fail to do this, they will eventually cease operating.
Gugai McNamara is the promoter and booker for The Roisín Dubh in Galway, he also works on the Big Top gig for Galway Arts Festival and he previously worked on Westport Festival. He also promotes gigs in Leisureland and The Blackbox. Gugai manages Daithí, and Daithí talked about their working relationship in episode 2 of the podcast.
Tom Keating owns Fred Zepplins in Cork and promotes gigs there. He also promotes gigs in venues around the city including Cork Opera House. If you’re looking over the programme of Cork Jazz Festival, most of the events will have been booked and promoted by the festival themselves (Festival Director is Sinéad Dunphy), but some of the late night gigs in The Opera House will probably be promoted by Tom.
Stephen Butler runs Labyrinth Management and Events and he started put promoting gigs in interesting venues around Waterford city and has since graduated to running things like Villagers in The Set Theatre in Kilkenny, Talos in Pepper Canister Church Dublin and Daithí in the Sounddome in Castlecomer Kilkenny. Labyrinth’s events usually have a left of mainstream feel to them.
Homebeat run alternative space focused music promotion and heartfelt event production (that’s their description). They’ve promoted tours for I Have Tribe and Sun Collective. They’re promoting Fehdah in The Pepper Canister Church Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Festival 2019, in conjunction with Labyrinth Events. Homebeat also run and promote Another Love Story Festival. As the name suggests, Homebeat started life by promoting concerts in people’s houses, starting with the house of Homebeat founder Emmet Condon. Dermot Sheedy talked about promoting concerts in his house in Co. Clare in episode 5 of the podcast and the Hendy brothers from TPM have been successfully running gigs in their house in Dundalk for a while now too. It’s definitely a thing.
In an upcoming episode of the podcast, Michael Murphy discusses Hope Collective, a live music cooperative that ran from 1988 to 1999. Hope Collective promoted gigs around Dublin, bringing independent acts like Fugazi and Greenday to appreciative audiences in Dublin. The promotion of these events was built around the punk ethos and steeped in DIY culture. Although Hope Collective are no longer promoting events, they certainly provide a template for how a not-for-profit community led concert promotion can be realised. You can read about Hope Collective HERE.
Getting a Start as a Promoter
A recurring theme in the interviews carried out for the podcast is the influence that becoming involved with the Entertainment Society in third level institutions has had on the career of many music industry professionals, Una Molloy discussed this in episode 5 of the podcast. Although the Entertainment Society may not be the force they once were (MCD now promote and run the Trinity Ball instead of the Ents Society), it’s still a great place to get experience, build some knowledge and establish network of connections. In this very informative article called “How to Become a Concert Promoter”,Robbie Kowal talks about the importance of building up experience, among other things.
It’s not very difficult to find a band that want to play a gig, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a suitable venue to run a gig, especially mid-week. Once you find those two things, you can try promoting an event. The smaller the event, the lower the costs, and it’s better to have a sold out small venue with all the costs covered and a profit made, rather than hiring a large expensive venue that is no where near capacity. Implementing SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) for an event is recommended. Putting on an event that you believe in, that will pull a crowd, in a venue that will suit the event and the audience, at the right ticket price should be the primary concerns of a promoter.
Honesty and Communication
If you’re looking to start working as a promoter, build up some experience and a decent CV before contacting a large promotion company looking for work. Ask yourself why they would want to have you work with them. BIMM aand other industry course are churning out graduates every year, it’s experience that will help you stand out and make you more employable. If you’re an artist, make sure you time your approach to a promoter well. Build an audience, make they see you as someone who fits in with the type of events they promote. Most importantly, show them that your gig will make a profit. The stuff contained in press releases is not what a promoter will want to hear, they’ll need facts about ticket sales from previous gigs and evidence that you have an audience. To make what you’re doing sustainable, be honest with yourself and other music industry professionals you are dealing with. The longer people work in the music industry the more finely attuned their bullshit radar becomes. At all times…
Just be sound!
www.careersinmusic.com, “Become a Concert Promoter”, https://www.careersinmusic.com/concert-promoter/ (22/02/2019)
Paul, Mark, “Competition watchdog to investigate MCD deal with Live Nation”, https://www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/competition-watchdog-to-investigate-mcd-deal-with-live-nation-1.3747076, (17/02/2019)