Successful concerts are what composers, performers, and audiences all hope for. This not only means the thoughtful programming of quality music, but also a smoothly run performance. There is little that is more frustrating than a concert that runs too long as a result of excessively long pauses between works to reset the stage, or one that begins an hour late due to technical problems, for example. As more and more concerts happen in alternative spaces such as art galleries, bars, and warehouses, it becomes increasingly important to consider the many facets involved in presenting a concert of music.
While writing last week’s post about dealing with electricity in our musical lives, it occurred to me that it might be useful to provide an expanded list of issues that require attention when organizing concerts. Once the music is written, the score and parts are printed and delivered, the musicians are scheduled and rehearsed, and the publicity has been kicked into full gear, there are still lots of moving parts to be dealt with, even if there is a “presenter” (that is, an organization/venue) involved.
Following is a list of questions to consider well before concert time. A venue or presenter may handle a number of these issues, and there may be some that you need to handle as well. Find out as much information as possible ahead of the game!
The Program. Who is writing it? Who is printing it? Who is folding it? Who is distributing it to audience members? And please, I beg of you, remember to proofread it!
Instruments. Will there be a piano involved? Will it be tuned before the concert? Do any instruments need to be rented, such as timpani? Some spaces have drum sets and guitar amps in house. If those are needed, find out what kind they are, confirm that they work properly, and find out if your musicians want to use them, or if they will bring their own gear.
Stage Setup and Musician Accessories. How many music stands will be needed? Where are those music stands coming from? Will stand lights be necessary? Do the musicians have particular needs, such as chairs or tables? For example, if you have a cellist, they might like to sit on a good adjustable piano bench, whereas a double bass player will need a tallish stool, and a percussionist may need a small table upon which to place sticks, mallets, and very small instruments. Will the musicians carry their music onto the stage or will it be pre-set? If the stage needs to be reset between pieces, who will do it? (Note: Although they don’t often come with new music concerts, a good stage manager is a truly beautiful thing.)
Electronics. Is there a laptop or other electronic equipment involved in the concert? Does the venue have a PA system (speakers and a mixer)? How about cables? Microphones? Find out as much detail as you can about what is available, and what you may need to provide. A lot of older spaces have similarly old PA systems that are intended for public speaking rather than music, which means less than ideal mono speakers mounted in the ceiling.
Video/Audio Recording. If the concert will be documented, how will it happen and who is going to do it? Make sure you have permission from performers and from the venue to record audio and video, and take photographs.
Musician Quality of Life. Keeping performers as happy and comfortable as possible is crucial. If there is a setup and/or rehearsal schedule for the day of the show, do your best to stick to it. Schedule more time than you think is required, because, for a myriad of reasons, you will need more time than you expect! Work in breaks and time for meals—Fritos do not fuel a concert! Where will everyone eat? If there is out-of-town travel involved, how will everyone get to the performance space from the airport, train station, or wherever they are staying?
The Money. Is there an admission fee for the concert? Who will collect the ticket payments? (Note: Be sure to have small bills handy! The chance of everyone having exactly $12 is slim.) How will the money be distributed after the concert? Does the venue take a percentage of the door?
Good Housekeeping. Organizing concerts is exhausting, and at the end of the show it’s perfectly normal that everyone involved is tired and wants to go home (or go out to celebrate!) as soon as possible. However, it’s really important to make sure the space is left in as good or better shape than when you arrived (this means pack up and clean up), and to say thank you to everyone who participated, including the folks running the space. And always leave a nice tip for the bartender!
There are other items for more specific sorts of concerts, like deciding on rain dates or alternate venues for outdoor shows and determining lengths for free improvisations. If I have forgotten things that you feel are important, please add them in the comments!