Become a clubland promoter
Promoters Guide 2017
If you want to learn how to be a clubland promoter read this helpful promoter's guide written by our founder and chief Buster Bennett.
What is a promoter?
A promoter is someone who organises and promotes events, in our industry that normally means club nights or festivals.
What is a sub-promoter?
A sub-promoter is someone who works as a middle-person for a bigger promoter, normally hosting a room within a larger club. We'll talk about sub-promoting on another blog post soon.
How do I become a promoter?
Anyone can be a promoter, as a promoter you are normally self-employed and responsible for your own taxation, accounting and insurances just like a self-employed DJ.
Why become a promoter?
The main reason DJs become promoters is so they can organise their own events, with their own vision. Secondary to that some people just do it for the money, a helpful income to boost your normal DJ income. The events themselves can also be a marketing strategy designed to promote yourself as a DJ or producer.
Where do I start?
I've got a lot of experience when it comes to running nights, big to small, underground to commercial. If you listen to one bit of advice more than anything written here it's: start small and grow organically. Don't start by putting lots of money on the line, you are bound to make lots of mistakes at first so you might as well not risk too much.
There are loads of ways to run an event but here are the best tips I can come up with for my beginner promoters guide, designed for total beginner promoters who want to learn the trade from the ground up.
- Find a small bar or club and cut a deal with the owner either for a percentage of the bar takings (usually 10% during your events hours) or a deal where they take the bar and you charge entry on the door or sell tickets.
- If you charge entry you'll have the extra stress of running a till and trusting someone with that cash.
- Agree on a date at least two months in advance, try and get a popular night like a Friday or Saturday night. Avoid mid-week nights where possible. Bank Holiday Sundays are also a good option. Avoid weekends that immediately follow bank holiday weekends or other big events like Halloween.
- Make sure your bar or club has a late license, most people arrive late so if you crowd shows up at 11pm and the bar closes at midnight it's not going to work.
- Meet the owner in person and give them your proposal but then conduct/confirm the arrangements by email, in writing. Have a clear agreement.
- Make sure your bar is affordable for your audience, people don't want to pay more than the going rate for a drink. Cheap bars help people get into the spirit of things.
- Check things like do they have a cloakroom, perhaps you are expected to provide someone to staff it if they do.
- Check things like the door policy, some venues are 21+.
- Check their music policy, they might only want you to play certain genres.
- Check in advance what happens if the event is not very busy, will they close the venue early if you fail to deliver a crowd?
- Get a deliberately small venue. It's far better to have a rammed venue and a queue around the block than big empty gaps on a dance floor. If you deliberately get a small venue for your crowd you'll find it easier to build a buzz.
Tips for after you've booked the venue
- Forget headliners! Yes seriously, don't bother. The headliner is a black hole of money and should be avoided until you're a more experienced promoter. Just because it works for big promoters doesn't mean it will work for you. Even if you could afford one the agency won't even let you book them anyway, you'll need a bigger reputation as a promoter to secure a headliner. Instead, when you are a beginner promoter, you should focus on building your own headliners the grassroots way. Most promoters are also DJs and actually use their nights to promote themselves and their DJ friends.
- What makes your event unique? There are lots of ways of making your event special, memorable and easier to promote by word of mouth. Maybe the focus should be on a style of music, a theme, a special location or something even quirkier. Try and be unique. I once ran a charity rave in a railway arch called Clown Club Christmas. You weren't allowed to come in unless you were fully dressed as a clown and there was also a full-size bouncy castle inside taking up more than half the space. Deffo one to remember.
- Focus on building a community. The best form of free promotion is always word of mouth and good reputation. If you genuinely create a fun memorable event your partygoers will do the hard work for you. Focus on keeping your punters happy and nudge them a little to help you promote by word of mouth, make them feel part of your community. The more people that are involved in building the event the more people will come, get as many people involved in the fun as possible, don't be greedy and hog all the limelight, you'll only end up with an empty dance floor.
- Forget flyers, seriously paper flyers and posters have little to no effect, nowadays you only need the digital artwork. Paper flyers and posters only really work when you're an established brand. Instead, I suggest printing a small cheap run of business cards and go and meet people on similar nights. When I was a full-time promoter I would go out four or five times a week and on some nights that would mean multiple parties. Network as much as possible and make new friendships. It's fun and it works. It's not just for your night but also your future because you never know where they will be in ten years time.
- Build a graphic identity online and create relevant social media accounts. Your DJs will want to see their name on a flyer so make a digital one if you're on a budget. You can download and adapt numerous photoshop flyer templates for less than £10 or you can invest in an original identity by working with a talented graphic designer. The graphics, photos and videos of your night are often the first things people will see, so make them reflect the quality of your night. If it were me, being an artistically led person, I would put a lot of thought into my message or brand.
- The best way to promote when you're a beginner promoter is to capitalise on the newness of your venture amongst your existing social network, everyone loves a launch party. You don't need a headliner because the fact that's it's a new thing is the attention-grabbing aspect of the night. Create a bit of hype and organise a guest list. If you're charging on the door why not have a high door charge like £10 but then promote a cheap list for £5, this way your punters get a great discount and any randoms that walk in on the night pay full price helping balance the books. This is also advisable because it's always easier to lower a price with a special discount than raising it later down the line. When I ran some events in the past the highest charge was around £20 but hardly anyone ever paid it, virtually everyone was free or on the guest list. I actually used the higher charge to discourage random people I didn't want from coming in off the street. So, if a group of rowdy lads showed up at the door I would say it's £20 to get in and then they would go somewhere else. It's one of the easiest ways to turn down undesirables. When some people walked up who I did like I would say "it's £20 to get in but I'll do you a special favour and let you in for £10" they then feel special and come in! Sometimes you got a bunch of drunk bankers and they actually paid £20 to get in, great bit of cash but be careful not to let in too many buzzkills!
- You should also encourage friends to have their own guest lists, they'll love the kudos of being an official host and having their own guest list and you'll benefit from some free promotion.
- Consider a live element. Live PA's, bands or performance really help make the night special. I love the theatre of nightlife from the crazy dressed 'door whores' to the moody doormen/women if you play this up and create a nighttime wonderland that is more akin to an adult playground people will love coming to your night.
- Program the music wisely, make sure you gather talented artists, who have their hearts in the right place. A great warm-up DJ is harder to find than a peak time DJ. Find the perfect warm-up and half the battle is won. Check out this article on the esoteric art of the warm-up DJ.
- How many DJs you program is up to you, of course, the more DJs you book the more people you're likely to attract but it might also cause the overall quality of the nights' cohesiveness to drop.
It's the big night, what happens now?
- You'll shit your pants for the first two hours, no one will show up because no one likes coming early. Be ready for that social awkward moment where you have to entertain some random people. My favourite coping method for this is bringing out the shots! I actually know some promoters who don't go to their own events until peak time, so they can soak up the limelight without the awkward bit, but in my experience, the awkward bit is when you really get to know people and will form true fans of your night. A good way to fill a venue early on however is to make sure they anyone on the free guest list or cheap list realises they only get that benefit before midnight.
- Make sure the volume and the lighting are right. If it's too loud early on no one can chat with each other, this means no one really becomes friends and your community won't grow. Remember, club nights are actually more about socialising than music. Make sure the lighting is dark enough so people can relax and the lights look cinematic because if it's too bright people get self-conscious and don't dance. Smoke machines work wonders.
- Focus on making sure everyone is having fun, never show any stress as that only kills the vibe. Don't worry if things don't run to plan, they rarely do. I always think to myself, it's a bloody disco at the end of the day, chill out!
- If you're charging on the door be sure to keep that till safe, people have been known to smash and grab till boxes from front doors. Make sure your till person is trustworthy of course. Make a record of your takings and pay everyone else before yourself, if you don't make enough money it's only right that you dip into your own pocket, take full responsibility. Always pay someone you agreed to pay.
- If you're taking a percentage of the bar ask to see the till receipts(s) at the end of the night and get your money there and then, do not delay because chances are you'll never see that money again. Clubland is quite a dog-eat-dog world so you'll have to stand your corner.
- Avoid getting really wrecked, especially during those socially awkward moments where you think vodka will fill the void on the dance floor. You should always be the soberest person in the room. Get wrecked at the after party!
- Do your own health and safety assessment of the event before and during, along with the venue manager you are responsible for some serious stuff. Make sure everyone if safe, things like avoiding trip hazards, falling hazards, fire, broken glass etc. Look out for your guests. Also look out for anyone looking unwell and alert security to help them.
Please remember this article is just a promoters guide designed for beginner promoters, it's not the only way to run a rave, but I hope it helps!
Further questions and advice for beginner promoters
What if I can't find a bar or club because they already have promoters?
If your area is particularly competitive you might need to lower your sights and work up slowly, perhaps try a less favourable night and prove your salt to the owner, it's easy to secure mid-week nights but literally ten times harder to promote. If you do well you can then ask to be moved to a weekend night when one arises, this way you'll earn experience and the trust of the owner. The first night I even ran was the first Tuesday of the month in a 70 capacity venue, it was tough to fill but it was a great experience and helped forge a small community that grew over time.
The owner/operator wants to charge me a hire fee.
In my experience you should try to avoid hire fees when you are a beginner promoter, you'll almost always lose out. If you do opt for a hire fee never pay more than £1 a head. So if your venue has a capacity of 200 people the max you should be risking as a beginner promoter is £200.
The owner/operator wants to charge a minimum bar spend.
This is risky, try and avoid this if you can. Your figures are almost always going to be too optimistic when you're a beginner. This is one of the easiest ways to lose money along with hire fees. If you do take this road try not to sign up for anything more than £5 per person you are expecting to come, for example, if you're expecting realistically 100 people to come then it would be £500 minimum spend. In reality, if you're expecting 100 people to come you'd probably be lucky to get 50. Be really conservative with your projections so you don't get caught short.
How do I sell tickets?
The easiest way for you to sell tickets in the UK is through Resident Advisor that way people can buy online and you can mark them off as they come in. Resident Advisor will then pay straight into your bank account.
Thanks for reading my beginner promoters guide! If you'd like some more advice please just add me on Facebook and drop me a message.