Sunday, May 15, 2005

Concert Post Mortem Post

Last post I was about to make a go/no go decision on the May 14 songwriter showcase concert—we were waiting on weather. We were also trying to find a place to do a CD signing/sales event, because the city would not allow sales on city property. In this post I’ll recap, since were at a milestone in promoting original music here in Collin County, Texas.

To promote and carry off an event of this kind, activities fall under these three areas:

-Lights (sometimes, but not this time)
-Weather (outdoors)

-Project Management/Coordination
-Promotion and Advertising

-Music Selection/Set Pacing
-Health Management

In some of the areas above, we had smashing successes. In others, we could have done better. All-in-all, the show went off very well, everyone sounded great, it was a wonderful evening, and no one—audience, crew, or musicians—got hurt.

Personally, I think the big winner of the evening may have been Chris, who despite fighting sinus problems (like all of us), just had an incredible sounding set. His keyboard stack through that PA system sounded like a big-time concert, and he was in the best voice that I’ve heard.

Dan had a full band, of course, so the energy coming off of the stage was outstanding. They, too, had a great set and sounded terrific. Everyone played solid and was fun to watch. Being a guitar player, I especially watch Danny (not to be confused with “Dan”) Carroll, who really does some nice stuff—even when his fingers are frozen (i.e., Relay for Life gig..COLD).


Our first need was electricity. This show took place in an open air amphitheatre. The “stage” juts out into a small lake, so the lake is at the back of the musicians. The players face an audience that sits on concentric semi-circle terraces built into a small hill on the side of the lake. Electrical outlets ring the area behind the musicians, but the area is huge. We brought a ton of extension chords just to cover the distances. Luckily, we didn’t run short.

Acoustics in an outdoor concert are almost always a dream come true, as long as you have enough power to cover your area—and did we have power. By cobbling together several systems, we ended up with over 1200+ watts per side, in stereo. We did not have active crossover capability for bi-amping, tri-amping, or quad-amping, but I’m not sure it mattered. We had so much overhead that we didn’t need that level of efficiency.

For those who are not familiar with this approach, when you have active crossovers you can have separate amps that power separate speakers for the low frequencies, low mids, high mids, and ultra highs. This would be called “quad-amping.” Use one less division of frequencies and it becomes “tri-amping,” and so on. When you’re actively crossingover in this manner, the sound reproduction becomes incredibly efficient, and the sound is wonderful.

No matter. In our case, we had so much power for the area that our PA amps barely broke a sweat.

By being outside, you can allow speakers and monitors to run in the way they were designed, and not have to compensate for room resonance by massively equalizing frequencies with a graphic or parametric eq. It simply means that all of the power that you have goes to making the sound. Having more power than you need means you have a lot of “headroom.” You won’t use all of that power all of the time, but peak volumes won’t distort, and everything sounds “cleaner”—more clear and precise. The sound was so good that you couldn’t even whisper something on stage without the audience hearing you. Okay, that’s good and bad.

Wishes for next time: I really wish we had had a snake cable—a bundled cable that has a box with mic inputs at one end, and plugs in to each mic channel of the board at the other. That way, everyone plugs into the box on stage, the other end into the mixer, and the mixer is placed in the middle of the audience where a sound person can make adjustments on the fly. I also wish I knew the board better. I never could figure out how to get a proper monitor mix out of the board’s bussing. We ended up with a monitor mix that matched the main mix. I was able to completely exclude channels from the monitor, but when I had the channel engaged, each channel’s monitor volume was controlled by the fader, which controlled that channel in the mains as well.

We watched for the weather tracking. The predictions solidified pretty well, 24 hours in advance of the show. They make an attempt at hour-by-hour forecasts as well, so when the call is for 80% chance of rain you can find out that’s in the morning, evening, or all day.


No doubt about it, organization for an event like this is absolutely key. Classic project management techniques work well for an event: Schedule what’s supposed to happen when, plan what you will do if a problem comes up (like weather), keep all involved parties informed, try to figure out what could go wrong and plan to keep that from happening—and know what you’ll do if it does.

People often shrink from the project management role because they don’t want to appear bossy. Maybe the guys and gals involved can comment here and let us know if I got overbearing or pushy. I don’t think you have to really get that way, although I went through a few moments of panic three hours before the show and we hadn’t started our real sound check yet. I know I sounded hystrionic in my head, so hopefully that's not what came out of my mouth. The fact is that someone has to take the lead in order to make it happen. Without a person in that role, everyone stands around and looks at each other.

As the Project Manager, at least on the performer/tech side, I inventoried the equipment from all team members, coordinated with Marcy, our Parks and Recreation representative for onsite logistics (ingress, egress, shutting of the fountains in the lake), and made sure we knew what equipment we needed to bring and who would bring it. I should note that Marcy put in unpaid time to make this event happen. And when she was there, she was really there.

Even though we ran into some glitches—deviation from the timelines was a big one—we knew what we had to do to get the show up and running. Recovery from the time slip was pretty easy because we weren’t standing around wondering what to do.

On the promotion and marketing side, we had help from everywhere and did a pretty good job, with about two weeks to make it happen. Each act contacted their fan base. I had Chris produce a 30 second commercial that the city was kind enough to run on local cable access. A local councilman listed then event in his newsletter for two weeks running, circulation 25,000. Another councilman with ties to the arts put the listing on a Collin County arts site that gets 70,000 hits a month. We tried for several local television shows, but were too late to get air time. Even if no one showed up, this publicity made it all worth it. We got visibility to thousands whether they showed up or not. It is not about the success of this one event as much as it is about creating wide awareness over time.

Wishes for next time: I would like to find out what is happening in the entire Dallas metroplex, not just Frisco, before scheduling the date. I had searched the date on Frisco, and found mostly morning events—except a RoughRider’s baseball game. Had I searched wider, I’d have realized we were competing with Taste Addison (and a huge number of nationally known acts), Asia Festival, Kenny Chesney was appearing at American Airlines Center, and The Byron Nelson Golf Tournament (with Tiger Woods in attendance). We simply could have picked a better date. I’d like to have a solid date at least six weeks in advance of the event. That would give me a fighting chance of getting local media coverage, which I submitted but missed because of the tight time window.


There was little to complain about from an artistic standpoint. Each act set a nice pace, and added a few cover songs in to keep the audience from having to work to hard to enjoy the show. Everyone rehearsed prior to the gig and they were ready. Most of us had significant sinus problems due to the allergens floating around. We had to have sunblock and plenty to drink.

Wishes for next time: I’d like to get stage lights and put the show on later in the evening. As we closed up shop for the night, we noticed how beautiful the later evening was, and speculated about a later show. I think lights would have made it a far more dramatic event, and we would have gotten better attendance because of the cooler time of day.

After all was said and done, we ended up with an audience of about 150 (my quick count). With a longer run, and more care about watching the competition, I think we can get this thing to the next level pretty easily.

Thanks to:

-Rick Wieland, Director, Parks and Recreation Department, City of Frisco, for jumping on this thing and giving it the okay
-Marcy Jones, Superintendent, Recreation, City of Frisco, for putting in personal time during the event, and for preplanning and coordination activities with logistics.
-Chris Aaron Moore, for directing and editing the TV spot, and for the best set I’ve ever seen him do
-Dan Scot Parr, Neil Dronet, Danny Carroll, and Cory Carroll for all their work before and during the show, working to merge equipment, and being total team players
-Ed Mahoney, Bounce for Fun, who provided a bounce house for the event, free of charge
-Jennifer Wittstruck, who supervised bounce house operations (made that sound as official as I could, but she did a great job)
-Aaron Yuhas, Super Roadie and video tech
-Jenny Yuhas, equipment driver and roadie
Jesus (didn't catch his last name), park worker and all round great guy, who showed up early and made sure we had everything we needed


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