Selections from The Concert Book: The Fund Raiser's Detailed Guide for Arranging Special Events by James Hollan (Chicago, Il: Bonus Books, 1999)

"I'm blessed with a friend who is one of the best stage manager/production specialists I've ever known. She has worked with the biggest and best names in the business as well as legions of unknowns. She worked in the finest concert halls and absolute dumps. She comes with an incredible range of contacts in unions, concert halls and the press. She knows where to find a Hammond organ at the last minute or specialized spotlights when some are required. She knows how to read a technical contract and ask if the performer can live without a piece of technical equipment. That request alone may save a few thousand dollars. She knows what can and cannot be done in a union hall and she can make friends with all the technicians rather than create enemies. Believe me, You want the technicians on your side when you are staging a show. My friend, McShane Glover, agreed to sign on for this concert and gave me a very reasonable price to get us off the ground our first year out." (Page 98)

Interview (Page 131 - 136)

TALKING TO THE EXPERTS

The nice thing about writing your own book is that you get to express your opinion about everything and anything. If someone out there wants to disagree, well then, they just have to go and write their own book, don’t they? I’m originally from New York City, which means I pretty much know everything about everything; however, on the rare chance that someone might have another point of view, I’ve asked some experts in the field of concert production to share their views with you. I’ve explained to each that this book is designed primarily for non-profit organizations considering a concert as a fund raising event. This book does not say that non-profits should or should not hold such an event, rather, it is an inside look at what is involved in staging a concert so that the organization can make a more informed decision. My bias is that I love concerts and I think that they often have a place in the mix of fund raising tools available to organizations. I also make it perfectly clear that concerts are not for everybody. In that framework, I’ve asked these experts to share their thoughts on a few key elements so that my readers will have a better sense as to what the professionals think.   

McShane Glover is the president of Noteworthy Productions.  She is a theatrical agent in addition to a production specialist and she has been involved in staging everything from major city arts festivals and parades to concerts featuring some of America’s top performers. She was involved in the first nine Cystic Fibrosis concerts and helped move that event from a small local festival to an annual concert featuring super stars like Kenny Rogers. We’ve shared a number of concerts from small start up local events in tiny halls to city wide festivals to The Ray Charles Concert featured in this book. She is a concert jack of all trades, able to step in at any level of production from promotion to booking but she is particularly a specialist in the myriad intricacies of stage management and production. Her point of view comes from a slightly different perspective than a promoter.

Jim Hollan - “Let me ask you to toss out some advice for those non profits considering an annual concert as a fund raising event.”

McShane Glover - “The first thing that you need to know is what you have and where you’re going with it. In other words you need to know what your resources are and set some kind of goal, otherwise, you can endlessly discuss what you might be doing. The whole entertainment industry is so fascinating that committees often get together and talk about fun things when they need to focus on some concrete elements like how much money they actually have available to work with. The answer to that question makes a whole batch of other decisions for you. For example, what venues and performers are available in that price range. From the base figure, you ask yourself what other dollars might we raise, then you balance the potential and available dollars as you try to come up with a budget.”

“You set a goal based on that budget. For example, do you want to just make your money back and settle for a lot of positive publicity? Perhaps you want to make a profit of $50,000 above your costs. I think people need to strive for something and goals help shape the framework of an event, otherwise, you just sort of limp along doing nothing.”

Jim Hollan - “If a local non profit is committed to trying a concert as a fund raiser and they have the funds to start small or actually start with a larger venue right off the bat, what would you advise them to do?”

McShane Glover - “My two cents is to invest as much as possible. In other words if you have $50,000 to invest, try to make the most of it. Create a memorable event. If you have an “in” with a venue that allows you to knock five grand off the price then great, but don’t go to a venue that isn’t quite right in order to knock five grand off the price. I guess what I’m saying is that you want to use your money wisely, but if you want to present a high ticket event it is going to cost. People don’t pay a lot of money for an okay event, they pay a lot of money for a great event.”

“Interestingly enough, I find that many event sponsors undervalue their VIP events. It is a big mistake and hard to rectify later. It is also very difficult to move the VIP price up when you’ve started low. Part of the problem is that some committees fail to think big. They become terrified of their own event. You can’t let it intimidate you because it has great potential. I will add that it’s okay to be nervous and worried but the committee cannot allow that nervousness to get out of the committee room. Your public image must always be -“This is a great event and everyone will love it.” You must be enthusiastic. You must be cheerleaders. All the while, you must also do your homework.”

Jim Hollan - “What do you mean by that?”

McShane Glover - “Reading the newspaper. Watching what other people are doing. Checking to see if other events are booked for your potential dates. What are their ticket prices? How are they setting up their ads? Picking up the phone after an event and calling the folks who did it to find out how things went. Calling around to check on the costs of different venues. It’s all common sense research and it’s all stuff you would do if you were planning on spending this kind of money to renovate your house. You must use some of the trades to answer technical questions like how to locate agents for performers. You need to get Pollstar or Cavalcade of Acts and Attractions. If the organization doesn’t know about these basics then they need to find someone like me to get them pointed in the right direction.”

Jim Hollan - “Where do they find someone like you?”

McShane Glover - “You start calling people who’ve just done shows that you’ve read about in the paper. As you call around, you’ll start to hear some names repeated. Call the venues and ask for the names of any producers they can recommend or not recommend. It’s not really rocket science, it’s common sense backed up with hard work and persistence.”

Jim Hollan - “I’ve focused on the VIP reception and “Meet & Greet” as events within the event. How do you use these events and how important are they?”

McShane Glover - “I think the “Meet & Greet” fits well into the high ticket item series. If you are looking for big sponsors then you are going to have to treat them very well before, during and after the event. Part of what they are paying for is the chance to press the flesh of the performer. The “Meet & Greet” is an absolute necessity for your client and I certainly recognize the need to do it. From a production point of view it’s an annoyance. Most performers recognize the need for it but they really don’t want to do it. Some performers don’t give you a lot of latitude so make sure you negotiate it with management before you sign the contract. You can’t always cover all your bases and you will find that some details are floating right up to the moment the “Meet & Greet” happens. I also think that a lot of people starting out try to reinvent the wheel. They do one concert a year and they want the program to fit into their preconceived notion of a “concert.” Much of the time they would be better off going to the performers representation and asking what their format is. The performer probably puts on over 250 shows a year and they are likely to have a format already laid out. If you are flexible your needs can fit into their format. Ask. It’s not true in all cases, but it does fit in from time to time and life is a whole lot simpler when it does.

Jim Hollan - “Talk about the details of planning a bit.”

McShane Glover - “Groups don’t recognize the level at which they have to control things. Control parking. Control security. Control crowds. Make sure you have a solid, reliable team in place the day of the event. Every member should be clear as to their role. Also, the team needs a way to communicate in a larger venue. People really do try to sneak backstage. Venues and performer management will raise the issue of security and it must be addressed. I’ve run into very dangerous situations trying to move people back for a “Meet & Greet” when large stage equipment was being rapidly moved up and down a hallway they had to cross. It wasn’t until we had those people backstage and I had to grab a kid about to get run down by a hand truck filled with lights that I realized how dangerous it was. It was just a tiny detail and it could have been a disaster. I thought I’d done it all and here was a new piece that we overlooked. I can tell you that it is always on my check list now. In fact I walk through every traffic pattern before I put it down on paper. You must manage details.”

“Sometimes you catch on an idea and it seems like a good idea at first but then it starts to go wrong. For example you might have a special presentation during your reception that requires more and more time to make work. There is a tendency to just soldier on rather than re-asses the value of the presentation. There is a difference between persistence and “beating your head against the wall” and it’s a wise person who knows it. If you are starting to feel a certain element is becoming a major struggle and you’re swimming up stream you may need to readjust and say this is not as important as I think it is.”

Jim Hollan - “What works and what’s important?”

McShane Glover - “I remember the Spring Festival we put on for Annapolis. It was very successful and drew over 65,000 people and it basically all came about because we had some very enthusiastic people involved. I think that is a key to successful events. You need some enthusiasm, some “Gosh, Isn’t this wonderful.” I think if there is going to be magic it happens because you have a performer who is open to helping it happen.”

Jim Hollan - “What do you mean? Give me an example.”

McShane Glover - “Alabama. They are a real family unit. They have cousins in the office, an aunt driving a truck and an uncle handling merchandise. That sort of community approach to performing carries through in everything. Everyone associated with that show is fully professional but also downright friendly. They are clear about what they want and they are very knowledgeable but on top of that the people themselves simply went out of their way to be nice. They made the event more than a business transaction. It comes through in their performance. Everyone is working for a great show. That’s the way it is when it’s right. A team of people coming together with a common goal of creating a great show.  It’s magic.”

“My basic advice to the person getting started in the concert process is to focus on the details, read the riders to contracts, ask whom you should talk to about key issues such as lighting or promotion or housing details. Ask questions. Contracts are usually written for worse case scenarios and can contain all sorts of extras not needed. I’ve called to find out if a rug was mandatory for a stage set up in a concert hall and was told “Oh, no. We just write that in for open air stages. We don’t need that for this show.” Confirm conversations afterward in writing so everyone is clear.”

“My job is to keep expenses down and put on a good show without jeopardizing the quality of the show. If we can get by with 10 stage hands instead of the 14 they call for, that can save us a ton of money, but I don’t want to take it down to 8 if that means we are going to do a bad show. Gosh, what a concept, as always, communication is the key!

Jim Hollan - “You’ve done everything from small concerts to very large ones. What are some of the differences and challenges?”

McShane Glover - “Moving up to very large concerts I had to go back and do a lot of research. I’d developed good relationships with the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees) stage hands over the years and that really paid off. I was faced with things I’d never done before like “flying the sound.” Suddenly I had to think about riggers and climbers and forklift. If I hadn’t been working as a team with the people who do this everyday, I might not have been able to do the job. Instead, the people in the arena were willing to educate me since we had worked together on other, smaller events. Overall, I can’t emphasize enough how supportive our local #19 have been - real pros and I respect them for that. Interestingly enough, larger venues are often easier from the production end since you deal exclusively with professionals who do this everyday.”

“When you step down to smaller venues, local halls that seat many hundreds not many thousands, you are often dealing with amateurs. Many of them are very knowledgeable but I ask a lot more questions. I expect to do a lot more myself. I assume that I am going to have to take care of more details. I find it is harder to contact people in smaller venues. When I call the arena there is someone there every day, it’s a business. When I call a smaller venue I may get an answering machine that is cleared once a week.”

“Regardless of the size, you need a visionary somewhere and you need a visionary who is very high energy. If you have a disinterested or disconnected board of directors backing you up, then go for the little concert since you won’t have the promotional support you need for big concert success. If you have a team willing to do their part to make your event a success, then I believe you should stretch and go for the bigger event. I believe that good organizations grow by stretching. Enthusiasm is contagious. This whole thing is entertainment! This is show business! When you do it right it’s an easy sell.”