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If you are having difficulty finding a venue to play at, one alternative option is to organize an outdoor concert of your own.
Of course this may sound like a great idea (and it is).
But if you aren’t prepared, you could be in for a few surprises that could really mess up your show.
Here are a few things that you will need to consider in order to make your outdoor concert a success.
I will be using a show that my first band, A Human Nothing, organized in August of 2010 as an example. The event was called “Live @ The Grass Amphitheater”.
How To Set Up And Organize A Small Outdoor Concert
Choose The Venue
This is the #1 thing you need to consider before putting on a show. Without this…
…you don’t have a show!
We used an area of grassy hills. Behind the band were trees, and people sat on a slope facing us (we were at the bottom of a hill.)
There are a few important things to consider with the scenario that we had. The very first was the weather.
I live in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver in Canada. We are surrounded by mountains, and where there are mountains, there’s rain.
So we had to be prepared with an awning or tent of some kind to cover up the stage in case of rain. Now we did get pretty lucky (it was beautifully sunny that day), but you should be prepared for this whenever attempting a live show.
If the Venue you are thinking of is a government owned area (like a park), you will need to go to city hall and get a permit/permission to perform your event there. It most likely won’t cost you too much, and hopefully you will recoup the costs with ticket/concession sales.
Plan Your Advertising
We had 4 forms of advertising when doing our outdoor concert.
The first form of advertising were posters that my bass player made (he’s a Photoshop Wizard). We got them printed out by Staples, and I think they were one of our best investments.
For forty – 11 x 17 inch laminated posters it cost us $50 CAD. That’s about $1.25 per poster.
Although that probably seems pretty steep, keep in mind that you can always sell autographed copies of the posters on your merchandise table. I would highly recommend you do this (so people will have keepsakes of your band for when you become famous!)
The second form of advertising we used was still photo-slides at a local movie theater (the ones they show before the movie starts). Although this is a pretty pricey route for you to take (and is the biggest risk), I think it built a fair amount of credibility for our show (being “so official”).
We just had an image promoting the show with all the dates and prices on it.
Now keep in mind that my Bass player worked at the Theater, so he was able to get that form of advertising for free.
So although it’s not the most ideal for of advertising, it’s always something keep in mind if you have it in with a local theater owner!
The third form of advertising we used for our outdoor concert was Facebook.
This one is very important! Not only is it free (or cheap if you decide to use Facebook’s Pay Per Click advertising), but it can get all of your local friends in the area involved.
Just make a Facebook Event for the show and post it to your wall every few days (with a witty comment saying why people should come to your show). As the show date gets closer, you can start posting to your status every day.
Make sure you invite all your friends, and use the “Share” feature when sharing it to your status. That way Facebook will automatically track all the other people who have shared it as well (building credibility, because now your friends will see all the other people who have shared the link).
One thing that I found very effective was to get a live video of your band playing. Then post it to your Facebook status, and say “If you want to see more of this live, attend our event: Live @ The Grass Amphitheater”.
Make sure you use the nifty Facebook hyperlinks. To use them, just type“@” in your status, and start typing the name of the Facebook event you created. You can then choose the event (Facebook automatically creates a list with your event in it), and you will be able to link to it while showing off your video.
Word of Mouth
The fourth form of advertising that we used for our outdoor concert was word of mouth.
“Word of mouth? That’s crazy!” you say to me. But it’s true. Talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your co-workers and invite them to your show. Assure them that your “outdoor show” will be a unique experience and that it’s much different than any other local show they will ever go to.
Don’t try to discount this form of advertising, it’s the oldest and most effective trick in the book and you would be a fool to not take advantage of it.
Some people don’t like doing this because it’s too “out there”, or they fear being perceived as someone who always wants to market something to their friends. And it’s true, if the only conversation you ever have with people is self-promotion, they will start to get the idea that you’re only friends with them for your own selfish reasons.
I think it’s quite self-explanatory as to how you can fix that problem. If you fear becoming a shameless self-promoter, then only share it with people that you really feel will be interested in coming.
Simple solution, right?
Print Your Tickets
IF you want to pre-sell tickets for your show, you will need to get tickets printed up.
You can go somewhere like Staples and get them to make the tickets, or you can buy special “business card paper” and print them out yourself.
Keep in mind that if you design the tickets yourself (Or get a friend to design them for you); you should be able to get Staples to take a JPEG of the ticket you made and make a bunch of copies for you.
If you decide to print them yourself, it still will cost you about $10 for the materials. And maybe $300 if you decide you want to buy Photoshop to do it (just kidding, use “Paint.net” as a free alternative to Photoshop).
Whatever you decide to do for tickets, it’s completely up to you.
If you want to go the cheap route, you can just get people’s money at the door and use a Sharpe to stamp their hand, although you won’t be able to pre-sell the tickets if you do it this way.
Plan The Stage
Does the venue you chose have a stage?
If it does, then you can probably just skip this little section.
If it doesn’t, were you planning on just putting your instruments on the grass? Because that might not be the best solution (if you like your instruments). If there is a cement pad for you to use, that’s great! Just make sure you have a carpet for the drums.
But if the entire area is grass, then you will have to consider that your amps could get a little dirty (and maybe even sink into the ground a bit if they are heavy!) When we did our show, we put plastic down underneath each instrument and amplifier to prevent it from getting dirty.
Actually, we even set our venue up the night before (so we had more time to prepare the next day). So to keep it from getting wet in the night, we wrapped plastic around all of our instruments, and it worked like a charm! Everything was protected.
The biggest problem after this is your drums.
You will most likely need something hard to put the drums on. You might want to consider a large piece of plywood, and then put your drum carpet on top of that.
One thing that might work is if you have any foldable tables in the area, you could fold them up and place them side-by-side on the ground and then put your carpet on top of that.
Whichever way you choose, make sure you have a plan and materials to put all your instruments on.
It doesn’t matter what a bear does in the woods, because we aren’t bears. Bears cannot fit into port-a-potties, so we don’t expect them to use them.
If the show is only 1-3 hours long, you might be able to get away with not having any restrooms nearby. Any longer than that though, and you might consider renting a port-a-potty from a local rental company.
The rental company will come and drop off the port-a-potty, and will clean and pick it up after the show is done.
The whole rental will cost you around $40-$50; maybe a bit less if you are lucky!
If the outdoor arena that you chose has nearby restrooms and stores, you might be able to skip this step. But if your venue is up in a mountain (like ours was), you may want to consider this as an option.
Consider Your Power Supply
Obviously if you are using guitar amps and PA systems, you are going to need some power.But how much power do you need?
Well let’s break down the stage setup that we used.
- Amplifiers (Including Bass) = 3×100 Watts = 300 Watts
- PA System = 1000 Watts
- Lighting = 1000-2000 Watts
- Subwoofer Designed for Music = 500 Watts
Now everyone’s stage setup is going to be different, and I definitely think many setups will take less wattage than this, but in order for you to properly power your show (without fear of breakdowns), you are going to want a generator that produces approximately 4500 Watts of power.
Of course, if you are at a venue that has its own 120V plug-ins already, you won’t need to use a generator. But if you are in the middle of a field like we were, you will need a generator.
So with that in mind, you are going to have to add generator rental/gas to your budget.
If you know someone who owns one, you will only have to pay for the gas. But if you don’t, it could cost you quite a few pennies to rent one. So keep this in mind when you decide to start planning your event.
More Things to Consider
What Equipment Do You Need For Your Outdoor Concert?
Obviously you are going to need the equipment that your band already has. This generally includes amplifiers, a drum set, microphones, microphone stands, patch cables, and effects pedals; But what more do you need if you are organizing an actual show?
Well the biggest piece of equipment you are going to need is the PA (Personal Amplifier) . The job of the PA is to get that sound from your Microphone and amplifier to the crowd in a really big way.
A PA has some sort of mixer so that you can mix all the instruments volumes and gains/clip together properly to have a well balanced sound.
Most of the time the PA is going to take quite a while to set up, so you are going to need someone who is experienced with this kind of stuff to help you.
For our show we used the Bose L1 Tone Match Portable Amplification system. It’s a tall stick that has a few dozen speakers in it to project the sound.
Now the Bose isn’t entirely matched for especially massive settings, but it’s perfect for an outdoor concert setup of 50-100 people, on a flat surface (if you have any sort of slope up or down, the Bose has trouble filling the space because it projects its sound straight Horizontally, not vertically).
I should mention that most PA systems don’t really like shooting their sound uphill either, so let’s give the Bose some slack on this one.
Most of the time you will buy your Mixer and your PA speakers separately; so I recommend using an Allen and Heath Mixer as they far surpass most other brands, and most professionals use them.
For the PA speakers (not the mixer), I recommend Bose, Yorkville, or JBL. These are all brands that I have used in the past and have been quite impressed with.
I’ve also used a Mackie 15” powered sub that I was very impressed with as well. It doesn’t bring quite the clarity that some other woofers can deliver, but I find that it really packed the punch I needed at my last show (I hooked it up my drummers bass drum). Of course I ran the bass mic through a neat little vocal pre-amp before I ran it to the Mackie, but if you have a mixer you won’t have to worry about this.
Sound Bylaws Affecting Your Outdoor Concert
If you are playing in a public place (where there are shops, houses, and people nearby) you are going to need to be aware of the bylaws that are in place for your city/county, especially if you are near a town center.
It is possible (although unlikely) that even if you own the property that you will need to get a hold of a permit in order to hold your event.
If you are in a public place, I’m assuming that you have already received permission from your city hall to put the event on and received a permit from them beforehand, if not, I suggest you do that as soon as possible.
One thing that you should remember is that if no one hears you play, or is bothered by your playing, you aren’t going to need a permit.
So if you are in only a residential area, if you talk to your neighbors and let them know you are holding a show at the location, it’s very possible that you could get by doing the show without any trouble from the law at all.
So if you are doing this on your own property, then I hope you keep a good report with your neighbors!
The area that we did our show on was in the middle of a field, and was shielded by hills. So we didn’t need to even talk to the neighbors about the show (the nearest house was half a kilometer away!)
I guess we got lucky on that one! But you might not be quite as lucky.
So talk to your neighbors, and talk to city hall, and see what you need to do to get your outdoor concert going.
And if you are intimidated about going to “City Hall” and getting information, don’t be. It’s a pretty simple process and all you need to do is walk in there and let them know what you want. They will be able to direct you to whichever department specializes in your problem.
If you want to make a bit of extra cash with your outdoor concert, then you might want to consider setting up a concession/merchandise stand.
Not only will it keep your fans and friends from going hungry, but it will be a perfect spot for you to sell any band merchandise that you happen to have.
It really is up to you what you sell at your outdoor concert, but some things we found to be profitable (because they cost very little), were:
- Pop (cans)
- Bottled Water
- Chips (In the little bags)
- Hot Dogs (If you want to cook, this will take more effort and you’ll need a barbecue)
- Burgers (Same as hot dogs)
- Condiments (If you have hot dogs or burgers you’ll need ketchup, relish, etc.)
Some types of merchandise that I advise you have up for sale are:
- Posters (For the show…you made posters, right?)
- Autographed Posters (You can either only offer these unsigned, or charge extra for the autographed version)
- Pins (the round ones with your band logo on it)
- Guitar Picks (Signed by the guitarist/band)
- Drum Sticks (Signed by the drummer/band)
- Bass Picks
- Extra Album Art
- Art (If you know any local artists whose style fits in with the theme of your band, I would recommend showcasing their work here)
- Live DVD’s of your band playing
Also remember that you are going to need someone to run this merchandise stand!
If you have access to anything else that you might want to sell, or any other creative ideas, I suggest you put them up here for sale. You will also need a cashbox of some sort for the stand, as well as a sign with all the prices of what you are selling (a printed piece of paper taped to the surface of the stand will work just fine).
Also keep in mind that if you want to sell alcohol at your outdoor concert you will need a liquor license, and that is fairly difficult to get, so I recommend you stay away from selling alcohol at your show.
You are going to need to get help with your outdoor concert. At the very least you will need volunteers to:
- Take Tickets
- Sell Concession
- Mix Sound
You may also want someone to direct traffic (if you are doing the show in a field like we were), and maybe some people just to keep things from getting out of control if you have a rowdy crowd.
Out of these jobs, the ticket-taker is the most important. Without those precious tickets, you won’t really be able to break even in this event, and breaking even is pretty important if you ask me!
You can also double the ticket-taker as a traffic director, and have them point out where the visitors should park.
We were in an area where everyone had to drive through a narrow area, funneling all the cars. So we set the ticket-taker up there, and then had her let the fans know where to park.
Also, If you use the Bose system like I did, you most likely won’t need someone to mix your sound (because the Bose mixer is always within reach of the musicians). As well, you won’t need any monitors if you use this system as well (because it sits behind the band), so another plus there.
One thing to keep in mind is that lighting at your outdoor concert can sometimes use a lot more wattage then you think it will.
At the bare minimum, if you are playing earlier on in the day (before it gets dark), you won’t need any lighting.
At the maximum, you could have a very complex setup full of lasers and strobe lights and projectors to showcase your band in a good…light!
As a good medium, I recommend that you get 2 pairs of industrial lights. These babies can pack quite a punch, and they worked really well with our show.
Of course if you want to be a bit fancier, you can upgrade to lighting with different colors, gels, and even lasers and strobes like I mentioned earlier.
You will want to place your lights on either side of the band so the space in front of them is empty (except for maybe your monitors).
Remember that this is an outdoor concert and you might want to take a leisurely stroll out into the audience while playing (providing your patch cord allows you to go that far). A tangle of lights in front of you will most likely prevent that from being a possibility.
The type of lighting you use is all up to you, and it mainly depends on what type of lighting you have access to.
Some people I know will rent lights from music stores (Guitar Center or Long and Mcquade often has these options) and it’s not even particularly expensive if you only rent them for 1 night. If you want to make your event more…flamboyant, you might consider taking this option.
If you want to get your own lights for the show, I recommend the Musicians Friend Lighting Department to see what types of show lights are available to you.
Planning on playing your outdoor concert alone?
Well most bands don’t really enjoy playing for 4 hours when doing their event, so it’s likely you will need to get some others band involved in your show.
There are 3 main benefits to this.
- You now have 2 or 3 times the entertainment value than you were previously able to deliver to your audience. Now when people are coming to your show, you can say that you have others bands playing, and it will make them more likely to show up.
- The bands that play with you are likely to draw in their own amount of people, which means more ticket sales and concession, making your event an even bigger success than it was before. The amount of people that a band brings with them when they play a show is called their “draw” (which I used two sentences ago!). The draw is always important, because it can mean the difference between a band that contributes to the show and a band that just sits there.
- You now have a little free time and energy during the show to take care of any loose ends, as well as taking the time to relax and actually enjoy the show that you just organized.
If you are planning on playing at this show, I recommend that you do not play first.
The reason that you shouldn’t play first is that…well…
…people are not very punctual!
You will often have people showing up to your event an hour or 45 minutes late. And if you play first, that means they “just missed” your performance.
I often won’t even start the event until 30 minutes after I said it would start. That gives people a chance to get to your event (If they are running late), and will help to make sure that everyone is present for the 2nd performance (when your band is playing!)
No matter how many bands are playing, I suggest you try to get your band smack in the middle of the order.
The only time you should ever play last is:
- You know that most of the crowd is there only to see your band
- There are only two bands in total (Last is better than first)
So try to get yourself either 2nd or 3rd in a show, always! And if the show only has 1 band playing (YOU!), then I suggest you start playing 30-45 minutes late in order to have more fans see the show.
Sometimes fans can get antsy, so you should play if that happens, but I recommend holding off as long as you can if it’s only you.
If you at least consider the bulk of what I’ve just said here, you are well on the way to having a successful event. To summarize what we covered, we went over:
- The Venue
- The Stage
- Sound Bylaws
- Other Bands
Now, I probably should remind you to…
…practice for your show!
After putting all the effort to organize your show, it would be a shame if you were too tired and under practiced to put on a good show!
Make it enjoyable for your audience, and remember to have fun with it too! You are putting on a big event and you should be proud of yourself for taking the initiative to do it!
I would also recommend you get your friends or family to film/take pictures of the event.
If you plan on making it a regular event, these videos/pictures are going to be vital in your future promotion efforts. They will let people know “how cool” last year’s event was, and will entice them to attend this/next year.