How to Plan and Promote a Christian Concert Gary Bradshaw October 10 Think back to the first Christian concert you attended. Do you remember where it was held? Or how much you paid for your ticket? Did you reserve your seat early to get a discount, or did you pay at the door? Did volunteers work the event, or were there paid staff? Chances are you don’t remember most of the details of the first concert you attended. You probably didn’t think a lot about the work that went into organizing such an event. You might not even remember the names of all the artists who performed. And now that you’re on the other side of the ticket counter, you’re probably wishing you’d paid a little more attention to what was going on in the background. Planning and promoting a Christian concert is hard work. Ahead are many difficult choices, financial roadblocks, and other setbacks. However, if you stay the course and aim for excellence, planning Christian concerts can win hearts for the Kingdom and be a financially sustainable business. It Takes Work Every concert, whether Christian or secular, takes lots of work in lots of different areas of expertise. Some of these areas include: Researching the market Researching the various artists that are available Locating the right venue (even if you are at a church) Email marketing Social media marketing Radio advertising Posters Press releases Motivating people to help you succeed Understanding Your Target Market The differences between promoting Christian and secular concerts begin to arise when you recognize that you are targeting a smaller subsection of the population within an already narrow market area. Not only are you targeting the Christian population, but you’re zeroing in on the small percentage of Christians who like a particular genre of music and, specifically, the artists that you’ll have at your concert. Take a look at the Venn diagram. Think about the people who like the genre you’re promoting. Think about the number of those people who go to concerts in that genre. Then think about the number of those people who are Christians. That tiny triangle in the center is your target market: the few people who fit all three categories. Once you’ve defined your target market, you are going to want to figure out which artist or artists will be featured at your concert. Sometimes artists are packaged together on a tour, and sometimes you can choose each artist on a program. But no matter which artists you choose, you should let each artist’s booking agent know who else will be on the program to make sure it’s okay. Then you’ll have to decide the order in which the artists will appear at the event. When you choose an artist, it is very important not to choose an artist based on which artists or styles you personally like. Choose an artist based on how many people they can actually draw to the event. Crowd size may not be your only goal, but since it is a Christian concert and you might be looking for a certain worship style, you must still be realistic in estimating attendance. Your budget comes from that estimate. The Hardest Part of the Process The hard part is determining which of the artists you want to feature are actually available in the time frame you want to hold the event. Your goal is to connect the following: The right artist(s) The right venue The right time frame (avoid competing events in the marketplace) You can’t just choose any combination of artist, venue, and event date, and expect to have a successful concert. The word “right” implies several criteria. For example, a venue at a great price that is too small for the number of people you expect to attend is not the right venue. An artist whose music fits in the genre you’re looking for, but whose price is a bit steep is not the right artist. Resist the urge to settle for anything that is not quite right. It’s going to take prayer, patience, and persistence to get everything right, but in the end it’s worth it. Not only will your event be a success, but your ministry will survive to hold another! Let’s Start with the Artist(s) Artists are booked by booking agents (sometimes just called agents). Some artists may be booked by a manager or even book themselves. But whoever is booking the artist, their goal is to make the artist money. Making money should be your goal too—yes, even if the event is primarily a ministry event. After all, you want to be able to do it again, right? The price you will pay the artist for their performance is far from the only cost directly associated with the artist you have chosen. Almost all artists require additional expenses like hotels, food, or sound equipment. Some require travel too. Those costs can be quite high, as some artists have a whole team that travels with them to support the show. When you first call the artist’s agent, they will quote you a price or a price range. Feel free to bargain and try to bring the price down. An agent might be willing to lower his cost if the concert will be on a weeknight, or if the artist needs to fill a date during a tour. For example, an artist headed from St. Louis to Columbus, Ohio, might be willing to make a stop in Indianapolis for a Thursday night show. You can likely get a discount for taking that date. But also know that you might attract fewer attendees on a Thursday night. Choosing a Venue There are many things to consider when choosing the location for your concert. They include: The acoustics The location The price of the venue Whether volunteers are included with the venue costs The number of seats Sometimes the technical requirements of the artist you choose will help you eliminate some venues. In most cases, churches are great for concerts because the cost is lower than that of a commercial building and you can use volunteer labor. But if your artist needs an especially large stage or an unusually elaborate configuration of sound and lighting, for example, you might have to look for a venue other than a church. The location of the venue relative to the market area is also a big factor. People will be less willing to drive a long distance to a concert on a weeknight than on a Friday or Saturday. It’s also a good idea to choose a venue that is used for similar concerts so your attendees are familiar with the venue. The venue should be large enough to accommodate the expected crowd but not so large that you end up with lots of empty seats. Artists and attendees prefer shows that are sold out or almost sold out: the energy in the room is much higher when 90% of the seats are filled. If you’ve ever been to a concert where there are only 300 people in a 1000-seat room, you know it’s not as much fun. The Ticketing Process Most people don’t give ticketing much thought. They choose a vendor, a price for tickets bought in advance, and a slightly higher price for those bought at the door, and that’s the end of it. But if you, like most people, do not have a thought-out ticketing process, how will you know if ticket sales are on track or not? If you say tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door, then 80% of people will wait until the last 24 hours to buy tickets in advance. The other 20% will buy them at the door. This will increase your stress as the event approaches and give you no information about how ticket sales will go. People love discounts. Once you set a ticket price you can always offer discounts, but you cannot raise prices. So start high and discount as needed. This next part will be controversial with some people but I need to share it anyway. Trying to make your tickets affordable so more people can buy them will usually result in a financial loss. Notice I said “usually.” Winter Jam proved that lowering ticket prices while still profiting financially is possible, and yes, there are sponsorship options that concert promoters can use to offset more expensive tickets. However, in most cases, trying to make your tickets more affordable so more people can attend won’t have positive results As a Christian concert promoter, you’ll often encounter the tension between ministry and business. Your ministry might be to share the gospel, lead people to Christ, or improve the spiritual lives of those who are already a part of the Kingdom. But if you offer free admission in hopes that more people will hear the gospel, you don’t have a sustainable business model, and you won’t be able to hold even one more event. So how much should you charge for admission to your concert? Here are a few tips to make the decision easier for you: Don’t worry about people who complain about a $25 concert. They are often the same people who think a $5 Christian concert should be free of charge. Ask the artist’s booking agent or manager how much tickets should be, but take their answer as a suggestion only. Add $10 to whatever price you were considering and then use discounts to encourage early sales and to track your advertising spend. You can create a coupon code and only offer it on Facebook; another code could be used for radio advertising. Is It Concert Promotion Time Yet? I know what you’re thinking: more than halfway into the article and we’re just now getting to the promotion part? Yep. Here’s the thing: laying the foundation that I’ve just shared with you is absolutely critical. Without it, the rest of what you do is likely not going to work. Once you’ve got that foundation in place, you should gather all your advertising ideas and come up with a plan to reach as many people as possible for as cheap as possible. This means cutting co-promotion deals with everyone you can and getting some sponsors on board. It isn’t just about buying advertising; it’s about creating buzz around your event using any means possible. Here are some ideas to help you get started: Pick a good Christian radio station in the area and tell them they can be a presenting sponsor for a great advertising deal. Create a video promoting the concert and play it at churches in the area. Pass out fliers at other events leading up to your concert. Produce and send out email campaigns. Use social media marketing. Hold contests. Get local Christian-owned businesses involved. Never stop brainstorming ways to promote, promote, and promote some more! As you promote, keep these two tips in mind: Never, never, never let a ticket outlet run out of tickets—online ticketing will prevent this dilemma. A rumor that the event is sold out will kill your concert! Never simply hope that ticket sales will improve at the last minute, and don’t wait until the last minute to implement a new marketing strategy. You must give people a reason to buy and buy early. It’s easier to keep ticket outlets stocked than it is to avoid last-minute marketing, so let’s talk more about getting people to buy early. The Psychology of Selling So far, your life as a concert promoter has covered artists, venues, market demographics, social media, and advertising. Now it’s sales technique time. People will buy tickets early for a few reasons. They might buy early to snag a better seat, to make sure they’ve reserved a seat in case the event sells out, or just to save money. Better seating options are a great incentive to buy tickets early, and it’s easy to offer attendees this option. Who says that general admission events can’t have multiple seating choices? Why don’t you offer Gold Circle seating in the first five rows, Silver Circle seating in rows 6-10, and the option of floor seating or balcony seating for the rest? You’ve just created limited supply! Now create demand: offer $10 off your Silver Circle seating for those who buy during the first 10 days tickets are on sale. Keep this group elite by limiting the number of tickets to 25 or 50. We want those seats to sell out early. Putting “sold out” next to a seating type on your ticket sales page will drive people to buy your other tickets faster! The earlier you can sell a ticket, the more friends the ticket buyer will tell about your event—which means free advertising for you! Think about it. How many people do you tell if you’re only thinking about going to a concert? Maybe two? Once you’ve bought tickets to the show, how many do you tell now? Maybe three or four each week? In most cases, the earlier people buy their tickets, the more people they tell. Can you see now why we need to sell and sell early? Finally, It’s Showtime! Once you’ve worn yourself out with all the promotional work, it gets harder. The artist has likely given you a document (called a “rider”) indicating all the things they need done at the concert. It’s important to pay attention to detail here. This helps ensure that your preparation for the day goes as planned and the show itself is flawless—or at least as close to flawless as can be expected. The doors should open on time, all the volunteers should be in place, the temperature of the room should be right, the box office should have its signage up, and the attendees should be greeted professionally. If everything goes well, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when the last volunteer has left for home, the lights are turned off, and the venue’s doors are finally locked behind you. And if everything goes really well, you’ll hop out of bed bright and early the next morning to start planning your next concert. Gary Bradshaw owns AttendStar, an event ticketing and promotion company based in Nashville. He has promoted hundreds of concerts since 1980. You can contact him with your comments and questions about concert planning and promotion at Attendstar.com.