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Foster Auditorium
Whiteheart
Whiteheart

David and The GiantsDavid and The Giants1986 had been a great year for Dragonslayer.  We had already done several concerts in Tuscaloosa and were set to bring in Whiteheart, one of the hottest Christian rock bands, on December 5th.  Whiteheart was completing their Don't Wait for the Movie tour and we were certain we would see the same large crowds other cities on that tour had seen.  I booked Whiteheart because I wanted to see them.

By October the band and venue were booked, posters and flyers were printed, tickets were ready to be distributed, the team was trained, and everyone had their Dragonslayer shirts.  On the personal side my application to be a pilot had been submitted to the Navy several months earlier and I was expecting a reply at any time.  Everything was working properly and all I had to do was sit back and wait for the concert and career to happen. 

WhiteheartWhiteheartI was confident about my future because my father had been a Naval Aviator, I had grown up around aviation, and I had an encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. Navy ships and aircraft.  My interviews with the recruiters had gone well, I had everything the Navy was looking for, and they were hurting for pilots.  It was going to be a slam dunk and I had no problems, no problems at all.  I was fully in charge of my life's direction.  But then I started getting phone calls from churches and radio stations telling me the date on the mailout was wrong.

In the 80's the only effective way to promote large concerts was with mailouts.  People filled out contact cards at concerts and other events and mailing houses used those lists to sell mailing services to promoters.  At a typical concert we would purchase the mailing list for a 150-mile radius of our concert site.  Radio and posters were important but most of our audiences found out about upcoming concerts because we mailed them a flyer, and our 6,000-piece Whiteheart mailout erroneously listed December 15th for our December 5th concert. 

Trying to fix the mailing listTrying to fix the mailing listI called the mailer but even though they admitted their error there was no time to send out a correction.  We radically increased flyer and radio activity but the damage had been done and only 300 people showed up for the concert.  The auditorium seated 4,000.  It was a great concert and the team performed admirably but it was a financial disaster.  Our increase in advertising to counteract the mailout doubled our costs and the small audience did not generate enough ticket revenue to cover expenses.  We used all of Dragonslayer's hard-earned cash plus all of my own money but we were still unable to pay all the expenses.  Fortunately for us Whiteheart could see what happened and forgave the rest of the debt.  Even though we kept the radio advertising going after the concert lots of people showed up on December 15th anyway, some of who had bought tickets.  We refunded what we could and dealt with the unhappy crowd, but all of the money was gone. 

Dragonslayer had been ruined by a typo.

Life changing movieLife changing movieThen the Navy sent me a rejection letter.  Earlier in 1986 Top Gun had come out and it turned out to be the greatest U.S. Navy recruiting tool in history.  Thousands of guys decided they wanted to fly Navy fighters and flooded the Navy recruiting offices with applications.  My recruiting office handled Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida panhandle.  Before Top Gun they received only four pilot applications a year.  After Top Gun they began receiving more than two hundred a month.  The Navy was able to get very picky about who they hired and I didn't make the cut.  The sure thing I had been planning for ten years evaporated right in front of me.

Now my perfectly planned life was in disarray and I suddenly had plenty of problems.  There was no way Dragonslayer could continue doing concerts and I now had to look at alternate careers.  Dragonslayer had done so well that I had forgotten that it was first and foremost a ministry.  In my overconfidence I had taken a risk on a large auditorium and booked a band that I wanted to see, not properly vetting the copy the mailer used and neglecting other forms of promotion.  I had walked the wrong way, made mistakes, and had fallen on my face.

I don't believe in making contracts with God because He doesn't work that way.  But I do believe in taking His direction and I hadn't been listening for that.  So in late December I made a decision to follow instead of what I had been doing.  I prayed and told God that while I wanted to do ministry concerts I didn't want to do them unless He provided a way for them to happen.  I said I would no longer try to force things and would stand down from all concert activity.  If He wanted me to do it I would wait for His direction.  If I didn't receive any direction I would no longer do this and seek to serve Him in different ways.  Whatever He wanted me to do I'd do.

I told no one what I had prayed and quietly shut Dragonslayer down.  There was a going away party and that was it.  We were history and there were no more plans for any concerts in the future.

Dragonslayer was dead.

Got a Dragonslayer or No Name concert memory?  Tell us about it here.

4 Walls Syndrome

Most first-time promoters book their favorite band and then expect the concert to sell out.  The promoter tells their friends that the band is coming and soon everyone the promoter knows is aware of the concert.  This can make it appear that the concert is well-promoted but the reality is that almost no one knows about it and the concert will fail spectacularly.  Every promoter has done this.  Experienced promoters have learned not to do this.

 

I call this 4 Walls Syndrome.  You just booked a concert.  That's good but if all you've done is tell the people within the four walls that surround you, then you have not told your city anything and no one will come.  You've got to move outside of the walls of your house and get serious about promoting your event.  You have to do radio, mailout, Internet, and the other things necessay to tell your city that your event is coming, and why they should care.

Concerts cost money.  The promoter has to pay for the band, auditorium, catering, hotels, tickets, flyers, radio, posters, mailout, and many other things.  Most of these items require some payment up front, usually deposits, and all expenses must be paid the night of the concert.  Once you book a concert you have to deliver everything on the concert date, and the pressure to meet expenses is strong. 

 

This means you have to be smart about who you book.  The band needs to be well-known enough in your city to sell sufficient tickets to cover expenses.  That means you cannot necessarily book your favorite band even if they are super-popular in California.  If you make a mistake the money disappears in the blink of an eye and suddenly you are out of money to do future events.

Concert expenses are covered by ticket sales and sponsorships.  Sponsorships tend to come in at the beginning of the promotion cycle and ticket revenue does not fully arrive until the night of the concert.  Once all expenses are known it is possible to calculate a total cost for the concert.  Sponsorships reduce that number and the rest is covered by tickets.  When enough tickets are sold you reach the Break Even Point, or BEP, and you know you've recovered your costs.

 

BEP calculations are the bread and butter of every promoter.  You know exactly how many tickets you have to sell before you meet BEP and you check it daily.  Even though every concert has it's own issues people tend to become much calmer once the BEP is reached because you know you can at least pay everything off.

Booking a band to play your city?  Can you afford it? Are they popular?  Will people come to the show?  Most promoters answer those questions but newbies usually forget that the audience is finite.  In most cities if you host two similar-style concerts too close together you will split your audience and both concerts will fail.

 

The worst possible situation is a first-time promoter who books a big concert right on top of one you have already signed a contract for.  They don't realize that they are competing with another event and are so new they don't know to back down when asked to move their date.  They don't think they have to work with other people which is why most first-time promoters do exactly one show before they quit.  Experience tends to beat that hubris out of you.

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