Every occupation has ins and outs that people outside the profession just don’t understand.
I’m sure teachers constantly have to explain to parents why Bobby is using one math book while all his friends are using another.
And doctors have to contend with patients who have diagnosed themselves based on Web MD or an ad they saw for Abilify or Yaz.
Yes, we all suffer fools who think they know our jobs better than we do, but sometimes it feels like arts presenters get more than their fair share of these idiots.
Maybe it’s because very few people actually understand what an arts presenter does.
At a family reunion a few years ago, I grew weary of trying to explain to cousins I hadn’t seen in over twenty years what a person who runs a non-profit performing arts center does. They all just assumed I directed shows.
Some of my colleagues compare themselves to museum curators for performing arts or even “taste-makers,” a term that I abhor with every fiber of my being.
Others say they are arts administrators which isn’t any less confusing than an arts presenter.
Eventually I gave up and I told my distant family that I was a cross between a concert promoter and a non-profit manager.
They still didn’t understand. What does a concert promoter or a non-profit manager do exactly?
While folks may not get the nuances of my profession, like the aforementioned parents and patients they certainly don’t keep quiet about how I can do my job better.
Here are a few of the suggestions or comments I’ve received from people over the years:
“You know who would sell really well? Bruce Springsteen. You should book him.”
You could substitute Lady Gaga, Elton John or Celine Dion in for Bruce Springsteen. These are all musicians who people have requested I book.
Ironically, these suggestions usually come from the same people who complain about how high our ticket prices are.
“Man, I can’t believe I had to pay $50 to see John Hiatt. Hey, you should get Paul McCartney to play here.”
People just have no idea how much it costs to bring an artist to a town for a show.
On top of the artists fees, which usually run in the tens of thousands for a “C” or “D” list artist, there are equipment costs, hospitality and catering expenses, hotel rooms, technical labor and marketing.
Oh, not to mention overhead.
When someone suggests an artist like Springsteen, I respond politely. I’ll say, “That would be great, but I think he’s a little rich for our blood.”
But what I really want to ask if is they’d be willing to pay $500 to see him. Because that’s what it would take.
“My nephew’s band is really good. You should hire them to play here. I bet they’d sell out.”
This is the opposite of the Springsteen comment, but I receive it just as often.
In a way, I blame this attitude on reality shows like American Idol. Everyone thinks they are superstars.
I believe that everyone should sing, learn to play an instrument, act or dance. Perform and have fun.
But not everyone is going to be good at it. And even fewer are going to become famous.
Just because your nephew has ten friends that hang out in his garage and listen to him play Nirvana covers, doesn’t mean that people who don’t know him will shell out ten or even five dollars to see him on stage. They’ve never heard of him.
Responding to these folks is even more delicate than the Springsteen people. You don’t want to insult someone’s nephew, after all.
That’s why I have stacks of self-recorded CDs on my desk. I don’t have the heart to tell people I don’t even want to listen to their nephew’s band on CD, much less book them.
“I’m calling from the XYZ non-profit agency. We want to book a big name performer, sell tickets for $300 each and make a ton of money. Oh, and since we’re a non-profit you won’t charge us anything to use the venue, right?”
The most common misconception people have is that there is a lot of money in putting on shows.
They see a full house, or even a two-thirds full house, multiply it by the ticket price and suddenly they have dollar signs dancing in their eyes.
They aren’t aware of the expenses I listed above. They think the “big name” will perform for free because it’s a good cause. They think we can afford to give away our space and services.
When I meet with these pie in the sky, would be concert promoters, I’m blunt. I tell them that I’m thrilled if a concert breaks even. Not losing money is a big win for us.
And I tell them that if they are going to make any money, they are going to have to get corporate sponsors, beg local restaurants to feed the performers, ask hotels to put them up and make all their donors buy tickets.
And yes, they still have to pay rent because (surprise, surprise) we are a non-profit too.
“Bonnie Raitt is in Burlington tomorrow night. You should see if she could play here the next night.”
I don’t even have words to respond to comments like this.
Do people really think that we could book an artist, make all the arrangements and sell 800 tickets to a show in forty eight hours?
Sadly, I think they do. They expect their live performance experience to be on demand, like their television.
I suppose I shouldn’t whine. It is great that people are invested in what we do and want to see shows there.
I should be honored that they think our little performing arts center is prestigious enough to attract the biggest artists in the world.
But just like with your kid’s teacher or your doctor, you really should leave the details to the professionals.
Trust us. We know what we’re doing.