How to book your favourite artist to play in your yard or on your street
Earlier this summer, we here at Roots Music Canada published the results of our music fan survey, where we asked you how your music consuming habits had changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – and what kind of music events you would or wouldn’t be comfortable attending.
One thing I wasn’t expecting when we launched that survey was just how many of you would be interested in promoting concerts with your favourite artists – be it in your backyard or on your street for your neighbourhood. In fact, when we offered you the opportunity to give us your email address in exchange for information on how to do this, a lot of you did – so many in fact that I decided to put together this article to provide some guidance.
So if you’d like to support your favourite regional artists and enjoy some great neighbourhood entertainment at the same time, please read on.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking to artists and industry people over the past six weeks or so, it’s that there is really no rule book for putting something like this together. The only way to know whether or not you could make a concert happen with your favourite artist is to approach them or their agent to ask. Just look for the booking contact on the artist’s web site and reach out to that person – or if there is no booking contact, reach out to either the manager or the artist themself.
Here is what to prepare for:
- Some artists are very interested in playing private or neighbourhood concerts, and some are not. But the difference between those who will and those who won’t is not necessarily based on how established or successful they are. Some artists simply have other ways of earning revenue when they’re not touring and have stepped up those activities to keep them afloat during COVID-19. Booking agent Frank Hoorn of Near North Music said his clients likely wouldn’t play small, community-like gatherings because they are heavily involved in teaching and collaborating in ways that will keep them going during the pandemic, so he is not focusing on smaller shows. However, some very established artists, such as Juno-winner Stephen Fearing, veteran Canadian musician and producer Ken Whiteley, and Guelph-based singer-songwriter Tannis Slimmon all said they’re all over fan-presented concerts.
- People’s expectations in terms of payment are extremely varied. In the pre-pandemic world, different types of gigs paid very different amounts. A house concert might net an artist $300. A folk club gig could fetch a solo act anywhere from $500 to $2,000 or more, while a group could command even more. Large folk festivals could pay established acts thousands. On the flip side, artist playing small coffee houses, clubs and university pubs could play for nothing more than the cover charge collected at the door – which could sometimes lead to some very lean nights. Since COVID-19 hit, one company has started hiring out artists for street concerts at $300 for a 45-minute set. When I asked artists what they would like to get paid for garden parties or street concerts, I got a multitude of possibilities. Stephen Fearing, who is accustomed to headlining folk clubs, theatres, and other high-end venues, would love to play for larger crowds – say 50 people on a residential street at $30 a head – and come away with, say, $1,500. Ken Whiteley figured that around $300 would work for him as a minimum fee in the Greater Toronto area where he lives. Tannis Slimmon said she’s happy to play for $20 a head and didn’t stipulate a minimum number of attendees. Fiddler and pianist Emilyn Stam and her husband, John David Williams, played a couple of 30-minute sets for $150 each after posting the proposal on their web site. However, Emilyn said they ended up feeling they would rather play for a bit more. If there’s a takeaway from all of these diverse opinions, I think it’s this: figure out what you can realistically afford and make the best offer you can. There is clearly no right or wrong offer in this climate. Some artists love connecting with their community and will gratefully accept any opportunity that is cost-effective. Others worry – totally legitimately – about devaluing their music long-term if they accept too little money for a show, so they are more resistant. This, however, is not a reflection on your offer, and no artist or representative worth their salt will look down on you for making an effort to support the arts in this climate.
- Whatever fee you agree on will likely have GST/HST on top of it. After all, they don’t call it the music business for nothing. Artists are businesses just like so many of us now.
- Strictly speaking, anyone promoting a public live music event is required to pay a license fee to the Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), which results in royalties for the performance being paid to the artist. I recommend discussing with the artist or representative whether or not your proposed concert would be seen as a public event. If it is, the SOCAN fee is three per cent of either the artists’ fee (for a free show) or gross ticket sales (for a ticketed show), and the minimum fee is $35. Paying is very simple. Just look for SOCAN form 4A1 online. It’s very easy to fill out.
- You may also need to pay part of the artist’s fee as a deposit up front to secure your performance date, particularly if you’re dealing with an artists’ agent. This is relatively standard practice, and the amount of the deposit is negotiable.
- You will need to discuss an artist’s sound needs with them or their representative. The ambient sound of the outdoors is sufficiently loud that an artist is going to need amplification no matter how quiet you think your backyard is. Many artists have their own small PA systems that they can bring with them. Others will need you to supply this equipment. Don’t worry though. You only need the simplest of set-ups: a mixer, amplifier, speaker, and a couple of mics … perhaps a DI box for a guitar. Some set-ups combine much of this functionality into a single unit. If you live in a big city, you should be able to rent this equipment for under $50 for a single day’s use. If you have a Long and McQuade or a similar rental outlet in your city, the staff will likely be very good at helping you pick the right gear for the size of your show and the environment.
- You will also need to discuss what to do if it rains the day of your concert. All the artists I talked to said they would be happy to agree to a “rain day” in their performance contracts – an alternative date for the concert should the original one get rained out. Of course, if you plan to rent a giant marquee and hold the show underneath it – or if you otherwise have access to a large, covered area for your show – this may not be necessary.
- Given the risks posed by COVID-19, artists may not expect you to provide them with any food or beverages, but pre-COVID, most gigs provided at least bottled water and snacks to an artist to keep them hydrated and energized.
- There’s no need to go to a lawyer to draft a performance contract. You can just as easily put into place a letter of agreement between you and the artist to spell out matters such as: the time and date of the performance, how much the artist will get paid for the performance; how long will the performance be; will there be an intermission? What will the ticket price be? How many audience members are expected? What safety precautions will be in place against COVID-19? Who is providing the sound equipment? What if any sound equipment does the artist need the host to procure for the event? And what is the rain day? If you’d prefer to use a proper performance contract, you can generate a pretty decent one using the tool here. You will be able to view and copy the contract for free, but if you want to print it off, there is a fee involved. Standard performance contracts typically have two attachments: a technical rider, which outlines the artists’ requirements in the way of a sound and lighting system, and the hospitality rider, which spells out what the promoter is expected to provide in the way of hotel rooms, food and virtually anything else the artist desires to be comfortable (this is where those legendary stories about diva-like requests come in). If you use this contract you will need to add those details in.
Once you’ve considered all of these factors, it’s time to reach out to the artist or their contact person about booking a show. I recommend sending a brief email containing a forthright inquiry: “My neighbours and I would like to book a show by John Smith on such-and-such a date and such-and-such a street. We’d like John to play a 45-minute set on the sidewalk. We can afford to spend about $450 including taxes, fees, and equipment rental, if needed. Is this an arrangement that xyz artist would entertain?” Don’t hesitate to follow up with a phone call if you don’t hear back, and please don’t be discouraged if you aren’t able to book the artist you wanted. Your support of artists during the COVID-19 pandemic is very much appreciated. Simply by making an effort, you’re one of the good ones.