By: Erin Stevie

Before You Begin

Take a deep breath and be flexible. Remember, this will be hard work and planning is essential. Ask for help and advice wherever you can. Anyone who has been involved in planning large events knows what you are going through and will be happy to help. Here are some tips to get you started. Enjoy!

Finding The Right Artist

Choosing the right artist can make or break your event, and there are many ways to choose. Attending an APCA programming conference is a great way to get started. You and your students can meet the artists and agents, begin forming relationships, and the cooperative buying at these conferences allows you to form blocks and save money. Agents are valuable resources in matching an artist with your particular student population, budget, and venue. There are agencies at APCA that focus on college artists and may know of someone appropriate for your campus situation that you would never have thought of yourself.

Ask Them What They Want

In choosing the talent for your big event, you may even want to survey the students on your campus as to what genre of music is most popular rather than asking for specific artists. You may even want to consider creating a selection criteria and timeline to help keep your planning committee on track.

Pick a Friendly Artist

Generally, you want artists that are willing to interact with the students and create a fun experience for everyone. A good rule of thumb is, if an artist isn’t personable and you have to sneak them on and offstage, you probably should not book them. Contacting friends and associates on other campuses is another great way to get feedback on an artist. If no one you know has worked with the artist then ask the agent for references from other schools where the artist has performed.

Middle Agents vs. Do it Yourself

Middle Agents, also called promoters, can be enlisted to help you plan your event.

These folks can walk you through the process of putting an event together from start to finish and will even handle many of the details for you. Think of a middle agent like a wedding coordinator for concerts. A good middle agent should know your standards for artist conduct. They should also understand your venue constraints and help work with your date specific schedule, in case for instance, you do not hold events on weekdays.

Expect to pay for these services, however, as some charge a flat fee while others will charge a percentage based on the size of the show. Schools that only host one big show a year would probably fair better to use middle agents, because they will not have the time or programming experience to acquire the skills to do it themselves. For those schools that want to host concerts regularly throughout the school year, they can build the recipe to do it themselves. If you have the time and determination to do the planning yourself, it will only get easier as you get more events under your belt. In the end, its up to you to decide how much you can take on yourself, or even if your budget allows for a middle agent as an option at all.

Where and When

Venue selection is an important part of the process. First, you need to think about how many people are expected to attend and pick a venue accordingly. There are also costs to consider. If the venue already has a stage that will accommodate your show, it will save you some money. The same can be true if the venue already has acceptable lighting or sound systems and adequate power. Keeping all that in mind, your first selection criteria should always be capacity. You can add staging and production equipment, but you cannot add to the maximum capacity of a building.

Large venues often employ technical directors who can be of tremendous help to you when you are planning your event. They know the ins and outs of their facility and can offer suggestions. If you do not have an appropriate venue on campus there are other options. Look around in your area for theatres or arena that are available for rental.

You will also want to do some research before selecting a date for your event. Try not to overlap other events in your area that might pull the same audience, and get a feel for which nights students will be most likely to attend a campus event. Some colleges have more success with events on Thursday or Sunday nights because the students leave campus for the weekend. It may take some experimenting to find the right formula for your campus.

Thinking Outside the Box

Outdoor events can also be a good option. You are less restricted in the number of attendees. Outdoor sites work better for festival type events where you have multiple stages, vendors, inflatable and other attractions at the same event. There will be some extra expenses, since you will have to bring in a covered stage and all of the production equipment. You may have to rent a generator, think about restrooms, concessions, parking, and any number of other amenities that come with an indoor venue. Noise ordinances will be an issue to consider, so try to direct the stage so that the noise is playing into campus. If you have to play towards a neighborhood, then make sure to get the appropriate permits so your event does not get shut down.

A rain site will be necessary. Establishing a relationship with the meteorologist at your local TV or radio station can be helpful when you are faced with making a rain call. They can advise you on incoming weather and how it will affect your site. Most artists and production companies will insist that the rain call be made before any equipment is set up because there will not be time to move it later. You will also find that both artists and production companies reserve the right to stop playing and shut down the equipment if they deem the weather to be a hazard to their equipment or personnel. Don’t let all that scare you. There are advantages to outdoor events. After a long winter students are often thrilled to get outside in the sunshine and play for a day. So an outdoor event can also be a great event.

It just takes a bit more planning, preparation and flexibility.

Making the Deal

Contract negotiations come next. If you remember nothing else from this article, know that everything in that contract is negotiable until you sign it and nothing is afterwards. If the artist asks to be picked up in a rocket ship and you sign that contract without negotiating, then you better have a good connection at NASA. You’ll need it because you are legally obligated to provide that rocket ship. Read all contracts carefully, and mark through the items that you cannot provide or need to discuss. Make notes in the margins and add addendums if necessary.

Talk to the artist’s manager or promoter and get all your agreements in writing. The agents do this everyday and will help you through the process. Read and negotiate any merchandising requests. You may be entitled to a percentage of the merchandise sales. The venue may take a cut of merchandising and the artist certainly will. Remember, the artist fee is just the beginning. There will be sound, lighting, staging, catering, hotel, transportation, security, power and labor expenses just to name a few. Take the time to look through the contract and get prices for all of the services you will be required to provide. Make sure that your budget will still be sufficient to do the show.

Lights, Sound, Staging

Ask for the technical rider immediately if you do not receive one with the contract. Production for some groups can be extensive, so you do not want to sign the contract without first getting a handle on the cost. Find a production company in your area and ask them to look at the technical rider with you. Have them talk with the artist’s tour manager to determine exactly what sound, lighting and staging requirements will be necessary. It is their job to understand the long list of equipment that may seem like a foreign language to you. Put the production company in touch with your physical plant or campus electricians to assure that any special power needs are addressed early. Depending on your location, you may need a generator. Your campus electricians and your production company can work together to make that determination. Also, a site visit to the venue is a good idea.

A production company can be a valuable resource to you throughout the process. Ask them questions and enlist their help. They do events for a living and should have knowledge about many aspects of event planning. A good production company will be honest with you about what equipment is necessary to maintain the quality of the event in your space. They will also serve as your greatest ally in negotiating equipment needs with the artist tour manager. Ask the production company to look at several different riders to see approximately what each would cost, as this might help you decide which artist best fits your budget. Use their experience to your advantage.

The Red Carpet

Hospitality is extremely important. In fact, good food can overcome bad moods and other frustrations of the day. This is not an area where you should scrimp to save money. Cold cuts and snacks are great, but are not dinner. Dinner needs to be a hot meal, and pizza does not count. Keep your volunteers from eating the artist’s food, as it is frustrating to an artist or crew member to come offstage after sound check and find the volunteers eating their dinner. If your campus does not have a catering service, contact a local restaurant or caterer to provide the meal. You might even get them to donate this service in exchange for advertising or a free vendor booth. Finally, remember that the hospitality rider is a part of the contract so if you sign it – you are obligated to provide everything listed. This may include alcohol. If your campus does not allow you to purchase or provide alcohol then remember to cross that off the contract BEFORE you sign.

Should you be required to provide rooms, hotels might discount or donate rooms for advertising as well. Make sure to find a nice, clean place that is not too far away from the venue. The staff at the hotel should be helpful but discreet with their guests. If it is necessary to transport the artist or their staff, be very selective in the student or staff member who takes on this responsibility. These folks are used to being around strangers and will discuss all manner of topics among themselves. This can be very eye opening for a student and they need to be professional enough to handle it. Remember that these folks are on the road for the vast majority of the year. Anything you can do to make them more comfortable will be greatly appreciated.

All hands on Deck!

Volunteers are a great way to get students involved and cut costs. You do not have to wait until the day of the show to start enlisting their help. Students can be involved in almost all aspects of the planning. A professional staff member must obviously handle some of the responsibilities, however, student leaders on your program board can be capably trained with moderate supervision to handle a majority of the workload, and what a wonderful experiential learning experience for them.Assign your more experienced students as committee heads to train the new volunteers so the knowledge gets passed on.

Make sure students are prepared to do some manual labor and dress appropriatly. Closed toed shoes are a must, loose hair should be tied back and dangly jewerly removed. Most artists who play colleges will be used to working with student crews; however, some positions will require professional labor . Consult with the tour manager and the production company to determine which show positions can be filled by students.. Students cannot serve as show riggers. Riggers are used to hang or “fly” equipment and the job requires specialized training. You may also need to hire an electrician to make the power tie in. Your production company can either provide this specialized labor or help you find it.

When it comes to student volunteers, recruit three times the number of volunteers you think you will need to account for the “flake factor”. Screen your volunteers carefully, especially the ones who will be working around the artists. Make sure they can behave professionally and refrain from asking for autographs, handing out personal demo tapes or otherwise embarrassing themselves and you. Volunteers need to understand they are at the event to work, not to meet famous people or see a show for free.

Unloading trucks and pushing equipment is neither easy nor glamorous. Make sure to find ways to reward your volunteers. You might want to ask the artists to sign posters ahead of time for her to hand out to the volunteers. You might also find a special time for the volunteers to meet the artists. This needs to be arranged ahead of time with the agent. Staff t-shirts work well, both to identify your volunteers and as unique souvenirs. Finally, never, never underestimate the power of free food. Again, just make sure your volunteers are not stealing it from the artist’s catering tables. Whatever ways you find to say “thanks” just remember these volunteers are working while everyone else on campus is playing.

Sorry, you’re not on the list…

Security should be well thought out in advance. Talk with your university risk management office. They can advise you about any special permits you need. Consult with your campus police and get them onboard early in the process, so that they can help you come up with a security plan. Many campuses hire professional security services that have experience handling large crowds at concerts. Make sure to hire only security companies that are licensed and bonded. These services will work in conjunction with your campus police.

You may need to use a crowd barrier to restrict access to the stage. This protects not only the performers and equipment, but also your students. Some artists will require one; some production companies may as well. Even if the artist does not require one, you should discuss this option with the campus police and security to determine if it is necessary.

If you decide to use a crowd barrier, your security or production company should have a source. The area behind the barrier should be staffed by police and professional security trained to deal with the crowd. This is not a good place for students. If your security plan calls for the use of metal detectors or other security searches upon entrance to the event, allow extra time for this process. A well thought out security plan and professional, trained personnel will head off many problems before they begin. If something does occur, good security ensures the situation will be handled quickly with minimal disruption to your event.

Get Covered!

Insurance is available specifically for events. Your campus risk management office may require it and can help you with the process. Even if it is not required, you should do some research. Insurance typically falls into two categories. The first is weather insurance. This can cover you in the event of rain at an outdoor event. You will need to provide the insurance company with the date, time and place of your event and the amount of coverage needed. Your artist, production company and other service providers still get paid even if the event is cancelled, so make sure the amount of coverage will pay their fees. You should pick a rain tolerance threshold to determine the amount of rain that you can tolerate before your event will be shut down. The insurance company will provide you a rate based on historic weather patterns in you area. You can add a clause to cover natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes etc. This may be necessary even for indoor events.

The second type of insurance is short-term liability. This covers you in case someone is injured at the event. You can also get liability insurance to cover loss or damage of property and equipment. Liability insurance rates are based on a number of factors. The number of attendees and type of act will certainly affect your rates and even the availability of insurance. There are a number of insurance agencies that specialize in event insurance. Find one that is licensed in your state and they can walk you through the process. Although there is a cost associated with event insurance, it can buy you tremendous piece of mind.

Murphy WILL Come To Visit

Remember that no matter how much you plan or how many times you have done large events, something unexpected is sure to happen. Try to build time into your event schedule for unexpected delays, logistical problems and coping with demands for counting out brown M&Ms. It happens to all of us. So hit the ground running. It’s never too soon to start planning your next BIG SHOW!!!


About the Author: Erin Stevie is the production manager for Imagine Design and Production. She works with colleges throughout the country to produce large events on their campuses. She can be reached at or by calling (336)299-2962.