Let’s have a concert!
Yes, it’s a seemingly innocent statement comprised of four simple words. How hard can it be? What could possibly go wrong?
Assuming you’re still reading this article we can now make two assumptions… one of which will be correct.
(a) You have never been responsible for the production of a concert
(b) You have been responsible for a concert production that succeeded/failed (circle correct word) after hundreds of hours of hard work and sheer determination and wish to travel that road again (having recovered nicely from your visit to the hospital to check on the tightness that suddenly developed in your chest after reading the first line of this article and remembering the details of your previous concert).
Concert types and styles vary by church denomination and size. From a production standpoint, there is a vast difference in the needs of a local quartet with backing tracks or a piano, versus the needs of a traveling high-energy Contemporary Christian group.
We’ll be examining the general requirements of such a group, and how they relate to your current facility, while offering tips in planning for the future.
A successful concert can be best managed by dividing the event into three primary areas: production, promotion, and operations.
Thinking of doing everything yourself? Maybe you should give it some more thought. In the promotion of secular concerts by individuals and organizations, 9 out of every 10 first-time concerts result in failure. Yes secular concerts are typically for profit, and financial loss is the primary cause of failure (primarily due to lack of attendance, outdoor weather conditions, etc), but the second leading cause is inadequate management.
It may sound cliché, but in the world of entertainment events if you’re not in control, you’re out of control.
The volunteers who will be spending countless hours attempting to put the event together are typically church members. Whether your concert is ultimately judged to have been a success or failure, it is vital that it be organized in order to maintain credibility with these individuals and families.
Managing the concert successfully requires delegation of the three primary areas (production, promotion, and operations) to separate individuals. Depending on the scope of the concert, these individuals will then work with additional persons, possibly even larger committees. Remember that this concert is more than an event… it is a form of outreach to the church and community. Organization will be the key ingredient in achieving excellence.
WHERE DO WE START?
“We’ve signed a contract with a band, now they’ve sent me something called a rider. What is it and what do we do?” Here’s an analogy to explain the mysterious world of artist riders.
Imagine a home or apartment prior to moving in. It must be purchased or rented, and then the occupant brings in furniture, appliances, etc. These are the items needed and/or desired to function and to be comfortable… sometimes affectionately referred to as the occupant’s ‘stuff.’
Similarly, you purchase a performance by a group. The group’s rider is their ‘stuff.’ It is a list of items and services that are required by the artist [and their musicians] to fulfill the appearance agreement. The rider contains items that they require to enable them to function and meet your (and their) expectations and to be comfortable.
Larger groups may have both a production and hospitality rider. In addition you can expect to see three other documents… a stage plot, an input list, and a lighting plot. The stage plot provides a visual guide for placement of microphones, backline equipment (personal instruments and amplifiers), power quad boxes, etc. The input list details the various inputs to the house audio console and typically includes information regarding who provides the microphone, type of stand or direct box, whether phantom power is required, and any effects such as compressors, gates or delays. The input list or stage plot will also provide information on the number of monitor mixes and related information. The lighting plot shows fixture type, location, lamp type, and gel color. It will also identify the location of any moving head (robotic lighting instruments) or similar specialty fixtures to be used, and any special effect devices such as hazers or foggers.
So, in answering the question of where do we start, there are two areas to examine… finances and facility.
It is not uncommon for the cost of meeting an artist’s rider to be equal to, or exceed, the performance rate or honorarium paid to the group. Trust me on this one, discovering that fact after signing the appearance contract for the group will not be a pleasant surprise to the church financial committee. You need to request, and fully read, a copy of the rider prior to booking the artist.
Next, take a look at your facility. The primary objective is to determine if the group will “fit” your facility. Do you have what it takes to meet the rider requirements? Examine your sound, video, lighting, and other production related systems. For instance, if the minimum stage requirement is 40’ wide x 24’ deep and your stage is 20’ wide x 12’ deep, you have a problem. However if your stage is 32’ wide x 18’ deep it may be acceptable. Riders can be a complex mix of fact and fiction. There are requirements that must be adhered to, and others that are negotiable. To further complicate the situation, this mix changes from one artist to another. We’ll discuss more about riders, their various sections and terminology later.
Many of the topics discussed in this article are factors to keep in mind when designing a new facility if your ministry has a vision of including productions and concerts. In the design process we routinely design “fly points” and perform weight load calculations for various rigging and lighting plot requirements. We also consider many additional technical aspects such as sound press level requirements.
This is the time to step back and take a hard look at ‘the big picture.’ Do you have the time necessary to make this event a success? Does the church have the financial resources necessary to cover the various expenses regardless of attendance? Are your technical systems comparable with the rider requirements?
Our company has designed, sold, and installed thousands of technology systems in houses of worship throughout the United States and in other countries. By technology, I’m referring to audio, video, and lighting systems in addition to acoustic treatments, curtains/drapes, automation, and similar items that fall under the ‘entertainment’ umbrella. Our production division works solely with houses of worship in live event production, outreach evangelism, and similar activities. We have learned the five P’s… Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
The moral of this story is that you must determine your strengths and weaknesses before the day of the concert. Identify church members who have talents you need. Do you have an electrician in the congregation? How about a charity fundraiser, a catering service owner, an insurance agent, or a police officer? This is your event…in your community. Use the resources you have to make it a success.
TIME TO TALK TECHNICAL
An artist’s rider will contain a section labeled as technical requirements. Typically it will state that “the buyer agrees to provide at buyer’s expense, the following technical requirements” or a similar statement. It will also generally include a note stating “if any or part of the following technical rider cannot be met, no matter of seeming insignificance, please contact the production manager immediately”.
This statement should be viewed as a flashing neon sign above your head reading ‘dangerous intersection ahead.’ The crew wants the concert to go smoothly for you… and them, but the needs outlined by the production manager, front of house engineer, and monitor engineer are what they have determined are generally necessary for this particular artist. Again, trust me on this one… this isn’t their first rodeo. Nothing will ruin your day quicker than a production manager who arrives on site and learns that you’ve misled them during the advance of performance stage, or haven’t provided what was agreed upon.
Let’s say you’ve determined that your technology system won’t meet the challenge. Contact your provider and determine what is necessary to upgrade the system. Some facilities are simply not designed for large concerts. We classify designs in one of the following categories – spoken word, music quality, concert quality, or rider ready. A facility that is designed for music quality (a CD player and some wireless microphones) will simply not be able to meet the rider requirements using the equipment currently installed.
To cite a church example, Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN (with David Stewart as Associate Pastor for Praise & Worship) knew that they wanted to be a performance venue before they started renovations. This was a priority and other than the need for expansion of seating capacity, a major driving force in the design and decision making process was production related. David’s direction to us was very specific with both acoustic requirements (their current space had a six to seven second decay time) and a stipulation that the design contain rider ready specifications.
Automated and recallable presets for the audio console were a must. Not only did they want to be able to bring in touring artists, but they also wanted the ability to support the artist and worship teams that David had been developing in the church. The bottom line is that they wanted concert level production capability for every service. We specified a Yamaha digital console that was capable of meeting production rider specifications and their own demanding production requirements. The audio sound pressure level was also a factor in that we designed the system (d&b audiotechnik) to operate comfortably at 104db to 112db with plenty of headroom so that even at these intense levels the system could “breathe”.
Daybreak Church in Grand Rapids, MI is another good example of a church and one that annually pulls off a great production and conference. This wildly popular event named “Infusion” is attended by hundreds of worship Pastors and creative directors from across the country every year. The church doesn’t have the electrical service and technology in place to achieve the level of excellence that they want to provide. We provide a NEXO speaker system for both mains and monitors, as well an Aviom personal monitor system for the musicians. Yamaha digital consoles are supplied for the audio engineers. In addition, we provide supplemental power for both the lighting and audio system requirements. If the logistics, cost, or timing to upgrade is an issue, then contact a production rental company and ask for a site visit so they can examine your facility’s structural design, electrical service, etc., and offer a rental quote.
An alternative would be to consider an outside concert. Larger production companies have mobile stages that can be easily erected on a variety of surfaces and come complete with power, audio, video, and lighting. Outdoor concerts require additional effort in planning and infrastructure. Beyond the obvious issue of inclement weather, you must consider restroom facilities, handicapped access and various other factors specific to outdoor events.
At this point, you will have decided to work with a production company to handle the requirements for an indoor (possibly outdoor) concert, determined your facility will meet the requirements, or need to upgrade your facility. Regardless, you need to have a basic understanding of the technical needs so you can plan your new design, verify your existing system layout, or keep a watchful eye on the production company. After all, you represent the church in the eyes of the artist. If the production company fails to comply with the rider requirements, you are the person the artist’s production manager will be visiting with.
Here is a list of some technical sections typically found in a production rider:
Stage Requirements: Expect to see a preferred stage size of 40’ wide x 30’ deep x 3’ tall (the minimum will generally b e 30’ wide x 20’ deep x 16” tall). You will need one or more risers that are typically 8’ x 8’ x 12” tall and carpeted. The stage and drum riser need to be of solid wood with interlocked construction. Stairway access should be lighted.
System Power Requirements: If your facility is ‘rider ready’ power will not be an issue. However, if adding power or using an entertainment generator, remember that two separate services must be provided…one for lighting and one for sound. Big shows require big power. It’s not uncommon to see 400 amps of three phase/five wire service requested for lighting, and 200 amps for audio. This does not include any additional power requirements such as stage power for instruments, shore power for tour buses, motor power for chain motors, and general power for such items as merchandise displays and catering.
Stage Power: Most stage plots request a minimum of three (3) 20 amp circuits, terminating in a quad box located at AC positions as shown on the stage plot.
House Audio System: It may seem vague, but the typical wording is similar to this “A professional sound system consisting of three way or better speaker cabinets, providing full frequency response, evenly distributed across the sound spectrum and delivered evenly to the entire audience is to be provided.” You get the idea. It needs to sound crisp and clean with even coverage.
Although the full level will not be needed, many riders request that the sound system be capable of delivering an SPL of 110 db to any seat within the performance area. This is to ensure that the system does not need to be pushed to capacity resulting in distortion.
This is generally the point you begin to see manufacturer names appear as “preferred or acceptable” such as NEXO, Electro Voice (EV), d&b audiotechnik, etc. Each artist has a ‘sound’ and the crew has to do what is necessary to ensure that the ‘sound’ is the same show after show. So, the inclusion of some brands, and not others, is a necessary evil. By not being on the list, it doesn’t imply that a company’s products are inferior. It just simply means that this artist prefers other manufacturer’s products to achieve their ‘sound.’
House Mixing Console: A minimum forty (40) channel main house console is generally required. You will always see Yamaha on this list. Whether it’s a PM5000, PM1D, PM5D, DM2000, M7CL, or similar, Yamaha’s large format and digital consoles are known throughout the live entertainment industry as consoles that can be depended on. Riders will often list ‘acceptable substitutes’, similar brands with consoles of equal quality.
House Outboard Gear: If not provided on the console, expect to see requirements for equalizers, digital reverb, digital delay, noise gates, and compressors.
Monitor Audio System: Many artists and groups are now using in-ear monitor systems exclusively or in conjunction with traditional wedges. An artist will not be interested in using your praise band’s personal monitor system. They will either provide their own system or request monitor wedges from you. If at all possible, wedges should be matching, bi-amped and include a 15 inch speaker and 2 inch horn. It’s also common to see a three-way side fill requested on the left and right of the stage.
Monitor Console: A 32-channel monitor console with 8 subgroups is listed as the minimum on most riders. Requirements for your group may differ due to the diverse combination of monitoring available.
Microphones and Miscellaneous Gear: You will find a wide range of brands and types on most riders. Without question, this is the area where brand preference is most notorious. If a Shure SM58 is on the rider, make sure you have an SM58 on the stage. Generally if substitutes are acceptable, the specific brand and model number will listed.
You will find vocal (wired and wireless) and instrument mics along with specialty mics such as those for drum kits. Also listed will be a variety of stands such as straight boom with weighted base, tripod, short tripod, etc.
Every rider will include some form of audio playback unit, the most common being a professional quality CD player capable of playing CD-R discs.
Conventional Lighting: Many riders simply request 120k of lighting. Years ago that was a typical configuration. You would place 60 par cans with 1000 watt lamps on the downstage truss, and a duplicate set on the upstage truss. Add some dimmer packs and a two-scene lighting console and you had a light show.
So, let’s be realistic. Fixtures which use 575 or 750 lamps are widely available, and it’s tough to place 120 fixtures above a 30’ wide stage. Try and negotiate on this issue; if they ask for 120, you offer 48. Regardless of the final count, attempt to aim and gel the fixtures as close as possible to the design shown on the lighting plot.
Moving Lights: Many artists are now traveling with their own moving lights. To create the dramatic effects possible with moving lights a console must be programmed. Imagine sitting down at your computer and not running a piece of software. Just because it’s on doesn’t mean it will do something; same with moving lights-they have to be told what to do, when, in what color, etc.
Moving lights have parameters that are generally located in a library on the console. If you create a program using a certain fixture and then try to connect a different fixture the next night, you won’t be happy with results. So, hope that the group travels with their own lights. If not, provide what they are asking for by specific brand and model number. If budget is an issue, ask to reduce the number of lights.
Lighting Console: A lighting console can vary from a simple two-scene unit to a feature-rich console that rivals the price of a sports car. As with moving lights, the specific brand and model of a console can be of great significance. Equally important is that lighting engineers tend to know the operation of only a select few consoles.
Effects: Gone are the days of strobe lights and mirror balls. Welcome to a dozen flavors of haze and more. While there are many effects available, you will typically only find hazer units on a rider. Their primary purpose is to help accentuate the beams of light from the conventional and moving head fixtures. A word of caution, hazer units can (and have) activated building fire alarm systems. Check on this in advance.
Spotlights: Two is the magic number here. Over 75% of riders ask for two spotlights. If you don’t have them, or can’t budget for the cost of rental units and qualified operators, you can generally negotiate this as not being available. Even one will make a great addition to the performance. Make sure you have a communication system in place between the spot operator and the lighting engineer. Even if you know every song by heart, you still need direction.
Video: The video will be in color, but this is decisively a gray area when it comes to who provides what. With media servers and various other forms of content available, many artists simply choose to provide all required gear. Those who don’t will provide the content and include a laundry list of components. Keep in mind that while video is exciting, it is expensive.
THE BEST OF THE REST
One article can only cover so many topics, but let’s touch on the other key points of producing and promoting a concert.
Advertising: Use photographs supplied by the artist, the booking agent, or the artist’s management company.
Sponsor advertising (such as banners) within 50’ of the stage is generally a no-no.
Plan an effective advertising strategy. Want to know the best advertising product? It’s word of mouth. Start early and mention often. Contact other churches, print flyers, work with local media outlets (especially radio), partner with bookstores, and try your luck with direct mail.
Preparation should start months in advance, with the actual kick-off roughly three months prior to the event.
Approval of other acts: The headline artist (specifically their management company) must approve any opening act. The local young lady may have a great voice, but don’t plan on her being allowed to perform without such approval. There are many factors that will affect the ultimate decision.
Backline: Backline is generally keyboards, guitar amplifiers, and support equipment such as stands. Some groups travel with all equipment, while others need backline provided locally. Artists always travel with actual guitars or other specific instruments that are easily transported by air or on a tour bus.
Billing: Your group will typically need to receive equal or headline billing in all advertising and publicity.
Dressing Rooms: You will generally need to provide one or more clean dressing rooms with table, chairs, and mirror. Ideally there will be access to a restroom or better yet a bathroom (including showers and a clothes rack).
Hospitality: Hopefully the artist’s hospitality rider is less than 12 pages (I’m not kidding). Most riders ask for hospitality (water, light snacks, and other drinks) from load-in through load-out. When it comes to meals, you may be given the option to provide a cash buy-out. If you want to provide the meal (or are required to do so) remember to keep nutrition in mind. Most artists prefer to eat light or not at all prior to their performance… having a full meal afterwards.
Remember to have some clean hand towels and room temperature water available for the group to place on stage prior to their performance.
Hotel: Artists may or may not require overnight accommodations; however, they will need some ‘clean-up’ rooms to shower and rest during the day. This will be discussed by the tour manager during the show advance and will greatly depend on the group’s travel schedule.
If providing rooms, ask the hotel management and your key staff not to divulge room numbers (and even the hotel location if possible) to prevent guests from disturbing the group. A rooming list should be prepared and available for key staff, your runner, and each room occupant.
Legal: There are a variety of sections within the production rider dealing with legal issues. These include legal warranty, contract alteration, tickets and ticket counts, personal appearances, pre-emption of concert, event insurance, and liability insurance for accidents.
Meet & Greet: Most artists gladly provide autographs to fans after the concert. This typically occurs at the merchandise area. Plan to provide proper security and barricades to form orderly lines. Failure to do so is the primary cause for artists not making a post-concert appearance.
Merchandise: Generally the church does not receive a percentage of sales of CD’s and other merchandise. You will need to supply two or more tables and some chairs, plus at least one responsible volunteer to assist in this area.
Photography and Recording (audio and video): This is fairly straightforward. Most artists are under exclusive recording contracts. No audio or video recording should be allowed. Flash photography can be a distraction to the group and to other guests. Check on allowable photos with the tour manager during the show’s advance.
Prayer Time: Groups ask that your staff pray for the concert, the guests, the artist, and any specific needs for the event. The artist will gladly meet with you and your staff in prayer shortly before the concert begins.
Runner: This is a volunteer assigned to transport the group from venue to the hotel and to make local trips to obtain needed items or services (think dropping off same-day dry cleaning, etc). While driving, this volunteer should not use a cell phone or transport persons other than the artists. It should go without saying that a valid driver’s license and cell phone are mandatory.
Security: You will need at least one uniformed security officer to be located in the general area of the artist’s tour bus. Additional security should be considered for outdoor events where controlling access is difficult.
Stage Hands: Typically this will be four or more persons available for equipment load-in and load-out. This is not negotiable, and a fee is generally associated with failure to comply based on each person and each occurrence.
Tour Bus Shore Power: Buyers are generally asked to provide a 220 volt, 50 amp service within 50’ of the bus. This service may be in the form of a ‘disconnect’ (most bus drivers have a pigtail available) or as a four blade outlet. This is negotiable and is typically found in larger venues.
Transportation: If the group is flying, they’ll need local ground transport. Possibly a 15-passenger and a cargo van will be required. Even if arriving by tour bus or other means a 15-passenger van will be required to transport the group between the hotel and the venue.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Do you realize that on average 70% of a performing artist’s gross income is derived from touring? Another 10% is from the merchandise sold while touring, and the remaining 20% is from recording contracts and similar sources. Live performances are big business in the entertainment industry and an essential ingredient in the financial success of an artist or group.
Good luck in making your next concert a success!