Promoter: an organiser of concerts; the person who has the ability to say ‘yes’ to booking you for a gig…
From international festivals to local jazz clubs, not all gigs are created equally and that concept extends to the promoters too.
If you’re looking to be more persuasive in your gig pitching, a large part comes down to how well you personalise your pitches. Having a better idea about the motivations of each of these types of people is very useful in doing that.
So whilst there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to this, here are 9 different types of jazz promoters with some generalisations about what they’re looking for and, more importantly, how you can work that into your pitch.
Keep in mind that these are generalisations and that each club, venue, festival and promoter has their own unique circumstances. The more you can understand about each one the better!
Jazz club owner-promoters
As we all know, a large part of the jazz industry is supported by passionate individuals who are in it primarily for the love of the music. A great example of this are the people who own and run their own jazz clubs.
The ‘about’ section on the website of New York venue Smalls includes a great example:
“Borden, a former Navy submariner, registered nurse, philosopher & jazz violinist, founded the club with an initiative to create an environment that was conducive to Jazz Music and its culture. Borden, who booked and managed the club, approached business from a stance of generosity rather than profit.”
For this type of promoter, something which perhaps started out as an occasional hobby has developed into something more concrete, with an owned/rented premises which has a near-daily programme of jazz music.
From the outside, they may look the same as established company-owned jazz clubs, but the ‘owner-run’ angle makes a subtle yet important difference.
Whilst they most likely need to turn a profit to survive, their passion for the live music scene means you can connect with them by showing them not just the high-level artistry involved, but also how it matches stylistically with their tastes.
Showing a healthy dose of respect for what they’ve built up is not just polite, it can also make it clear you’ve done your homework and are pitching to them directly, rather than from a copy/paste template.
Examples: A-Trane (Berlin), Unterfahrt (Munich), Sunset/Sunside (Paris)…
Do say: I was just reading about the amazing history of your club…
Don’t say: Dear sir/madam…
Volunteer jazz club promoters
Visit any country in the world and, especially outside of the key media cities, you’ll find volunteer-run jazz clubs.
Maybe happening in a local sports hall, bar or even theatre, these are occasional gigs (weekly, monthly…) hosted in a space which is rented for the occasion.
Managed by a small committee or individual volunteer, these types of clubs often provide a valuable service in bringing national (or even international) artists to a smaller town or city.
The promoter(s) are not running the concerts as a business and the goal is generally to break even. That could be via ticket sales only, or with some form of funding, governmental or audience-led.
Often, the ticket buyers are regulars and the venue size small, so the promoter will have a relatively fixed budget for the show which doesn’t tend to change greatly depending on the artist in question.
That of course first means you need to be aware of what sort of budget they are working with and that it matches with your needs and expectations.
After that, though, the promoters’ #1 priority will most likely be bringing music that his or her audience (read: friends and neighbours!) will love. They will quite literally see these people on the street and so the artistic success of a booking takes on a very immediate and personal touch.
With that in mind, doing good research into their past bookings and highlighting musical similarities is a must for successful pitching.
Do say: I also work with xyz musician who you booked last year
Don’t say: look at my streaming figures
Large/established club promoters
Whilst running a jazz club is not famously the most lucrative enterprise in the world (cue “how do you make $1,000,000 running a jazz club” joke) there are many successful venues around the world run as businesses.
Usually presenting daily shows with a strong focus on ‘international’ names, examples which spring to mind include Blue Note (New York, Milan, Tokyo…), Ronnie Scott’s in London and the Duc Des Lombards in Paris.
Of course, running as a business, there is a certain expected importance on turning a profit in the long run.
That doesn’t mean they won’t take a punt on less-established acts from time to time, but it’s likely that they will at least partly consider the question: “how many tickets can we sell with this artist”?
As such, when pitching to this type of promoter, you probably need to focus on convincing them of sellability, as well as just the style of music.
Common strategies would be past sales in that city or expected promotion boosts through PR, an album release and/or connecting dates.
If you don’t have that sort of information to use as a tool, it might just be that there is another ‘stepping stone’ gig needed to build your profile in that city first.
It’s worth keeping in mind that many clubs like this have jam sessions, opening acts and themed-strands of programming which might provide an easier ‘in’.
Do say: last time we played in Chicago we sold 300 tickets
Don’t say: we feel like this would be a good first gig in your country
Local festival promoters
The jazz world is full of smaller towns and cities with vibrant local jazz festivals, often run as not-for-profit.
Without the budget of an international festival – and perhaps run by an individual or small team of volunteers – both the programming and the decision making is subtly different.
Whilst there will probably still be a ‘headliner’, these types of festivals tend to have a less pyramid-style programme and more flat, meaning the sales and success of the festival is shared between the artists, rather than on the shoulders of one or two acts.
With that in mind, not only should you showcase why your music is a great fit for the festival, it’s important to also display the tools that you can provide to help promote and sell tickets.
Ways of doing this could be through:
- recent press coverage in that territory
- past experience in the region
- a selection of great promotional materials which you can make available to the promoter
Whilst these types of programmers are not primarily in it for the money, they are often managing extremely tight budgets and last-minute funding responses, so picking between multiple great bands can easily be swayed if one of them is in a different league in terms of promotion and proactivity.
Do say: I saw xyz band on your programme last year and thought our music might be a similarly good fit
Don’t say: please confirm which 5* hotels are within walking distance of the venue.
International festival promoters
Perhaps the top target for most musicians given the financial support and built-in promotion, large international festivals are an important consideration in your gig-booking strategy.
Of course, that also means competition is high as many other musicians are targeting the same thing.
Whilst these festivals are usually run by large teams and companies, there is still often one person – the promoter – making the final booking decisions. So who are they and what do they need?
At the top of the festival pyramid, headline acts are generally booked to provide that big-name ‘hook’ to motivate people to buy tickets.
These artists are undoubtedly booked not just for their artistic prowess, but for the fact that their name is known in the wider jazz world.
If that’s you, great. You can demand high fees and excellent conditions as the hook for which the whole festival is built.
But look down a level, and these promoters book a wide range of acts to provide that special and carefully-curated festival experience that will get people coming back the next year.
If you’re looking to snag one of these slots, finances are likely to be of slightly less importance than what you’re offering both stylistically and in terms of performance.
Of course, no festival wants to book acts that don’t sell tickets, but if you can show that your project would be a great addition to the festival experience, it’s a persuasive angle.
Do say: we have three shows in your country booked around the festival period already
Don’t say: we can give you a super cheap price
Salaried classical concert hall promoters
The world is full of well-funded concert halls which were built as a ‘home’ for the city’s symphony orchestra.
But whilst the large part of their programme is dedicated to various concerts featuring the ensemble itself, the space is also used for other styles and strands of programming, including jazz.
So who’s making the decision?
Depending on the size of the operation, there may be one ‘promoter’ booking all concerts, or someone with a dedicated role like “jazz, world & contemporary music”.
Usually a salaried employee, their focus is likely an artistic one first. Given the nature of the venue, the programming often prioritises originality, forward-thinking music and perhaps even a concert that cannot be seen anywhere else.
With just a handful of slots across a season, and an orchestral-sized budget, money is potentially less of a consideration.
The size of the space, however, does throw up a connected issue.
In venues where the ‘small’ space is 400+ seats, and the large one nearing 2,000, even if a badly sold show doesn’t damage the venue financially, it’s still going to look pretty embarrassing.
So for that reason, there will certainly be some concept of ‘how can I sell this’?
Some of these promoters have built up such regular support (such as via a subscription-type model) that there is a level of built-in audience anyway.
But whatever their set up, giving them not just an idea of the music, but a way for them to sell it to their audience is an important angle.
It’s also worth considering that these types of venues often book far in advance, one season at a time.
Do say: limited edition XL version of our latest release
Don’t say: do you have any slots left next month?
College/university concert hall promoters
Not dissimilar to classical concert halls, colleges and universities typically have a multi-use venue which is used to programme outside concerts too.
Whilst most of the promoter-focus will be similar to the classical ones we discussed, there are a couple of extras to consider when pitching…
Given the education-connection, some university promoters are also required to build in workshops or other teaching elements to their work.
As such, if you have a neat offering which connects your own concert with a specific skill or type of learning you can do in the day(s) before, that’s worth flagging up.
Similarly, these types of promoters are sometimes keen to tie in student performances with outside bookings. A great example would be using a student string section for an expanded version of your latest project.
Of course, it’s not worth developing a special offering just to pitch to one venue, but if it ties in with your upcoming release or tour, it’s certainly worth exploring…
Do say: The South American elements in our music work well as an educational segment
Don’t say: We’re touring during the summer school holidays
Traditional pop/rock style promoters
Outside of the jazz world, the term ‘promoter’ more commonly refers to a slightly different job role.
Rather than being employed (or owning) a specific venue, the more traditional promoter role was to book a band, hire the ‘right’ venue in their city and then promote it well enough to cover their costs (band fee, tech, venue hire, marketing) and make some profit.
Perhaps given the relatively small audience size for many jazz concerts, this type of promoter is less common before you’ve reached a certain level of notoriety.
It is still, however, worth considering these promoters when pitching.
On the down side, the fact they have to rent a venue adds more expenses into the deal and squeezes the possible earnings for all involved. Often these promoters will offer base-level guarantees with a % on top once their costs are recovered. As such, it’s only worth getting into an arrangement like this if you’re confident about your abilities to push ticket sales from your side too.
On the flip side, though, their need to sell tickets often means they have extremely well-developed audiences and developed good strategies for promoting a show.
With that in mind, perhaps the most important thing to highlight to this type of promoter is not only your music or your selling power, but how similar you are to other acts they’ve successfully promoted.
This – combined with a great set of promo materials – can give this type of promoter the confidence that they could replicate the ‘wins’ of a previous gig.
They will, however, need and expect to work with groups who can contribute something to the sales, so past sales info and/or a solid audience on social media or Spotify can also be useful ways to persuade them.
Lastly, this type of promoter often prioritises long-term relationships so that they grow with the band. As such, communicating a broad plan for progression, including knowing which venue(s) might be a good fit for you, can be extra persuasive.
Do say: we have a good mailing list of fans in your city
Don’t say: we can’t afford to self-promote another show; do you want to book us?
The live jazz scene is full of entrepreneurial musicians who’ve taken their frustration with getting gigs and turned it into a successful venue, night or concert series.
This might (from a practical point of view) be the same as a volunteer jazz club, local festival or successful owner-promoter style venue, but knowing their background as an artist can also allow you to adjust your pitch accordingly.
Whilst the majority of promoters place a large importance on developing a recognisable style for their programming, an artist-promoter is rolling their professional reputation into one and almost using the gigs as an extension of their artistic persona.
With that in mind, connecting with them on a musical level and showing the similarities with your project and their work is important.
Many bookings in this type of setting come through personal connections or friend-of-a-friend introductions. It comes back to the value of networking as a musician.
If you’re looking to book a venue like this in a distant city of foreign country, it’s worth brainstorming whether anyone you know can help you get in.
Aside from that, it’s worth keeping in mind that, like you, this musician would probably rather be practising or playing than dealing with marketing and admin. So showing them great promo materials and a proactive approach to selling tickets to shows can be very effective.
Do say: I loved your last record
Don’t say: we don’t have any decent promo photos or use social media
So there you have it: 9 different types of jazz promoters and some of the specific thinking-points for each one.
Of course, each gig has its own specifics and if nothing else, I hope you will take away the importance of personalising your gig pitches.
Not only is it more convincing, it also leads to interesting discussions and more bookings in the right places.
And remember: almost all of the info you need about a promoter – from their name and email to their booking history – is out there on the web if you look in the right places!
Looking for more specific strategies and feedback on your gig-booking efforts? The 9th edition of the How To Book More Jazz Gigs online course is open for registration until this Sunday (June 18th).