Christopher Busietta
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Organising a recital

Interior: St Martins Anglican Church
Interior: St Martin's Anglican Church, Hawksburn
Recitals (or solo concerts usually with piano) are the biggest and most satisfying concerts you can put on, because they are all about you! I spent a good deal of my student life working on recitals. At the Melba Conservatorium, where I studied for four years, we had to prepare two solo recitals a semester. I was also very lucky to be asked to perform in several recitals with several different music groups in Melbourne. They weren't paid particularly well, but they allowed me to sing a lot of repertoire and more importantly I didn't need to organise much or attempt to bring in a crowd since I wasn't making any extra money to do so.

Since I have been working in Germany, I only have the time to return to Melbourne for a month during the theatre break. I always want very badly to sing back home, especially for my family and friends who hear so much about what I am singing, but who never have the opportunity to hear me. Also, after spending the year being told what to sing and when, it is good to finally sing exactly what I want. So since I've left, I've organized my own recitals.

Anyone can organise their own concerts, and the average rock band does this regularly, but very few classical singers take the initiative. On the surface it is a simple proposition: all you need is a venue with a piano, a pianist and yourself to sing. However, in reality it is not a simple proposition as costs a huge amount of organisational time if you actually want people to come, and can cost you a lot of money if it flops. I have done it a couple of times now, so I have begun to develop approach that I would like to share with you all. There are probably many things missing, but I'm still working on it.
Exterior: St Martins Anglican Church
Exterior: St Martin's Anglican Church, Hawksburn

Solo or duo recital?

One thing you can consider instead of a solo recital is a duet recital. Duet recitals mean you can share costs, promotional duties, sing longer concerts and also potentially expand your mutual audiences a little. The only thing is that you both need to be equally committed to the promotional side, otherwise one person will end up doing all of the the work.

The Timeline

I've decided to organise everything I think about into a time-line. Basically it covers, in order, the booking of venues and accompanying musicians, creating the publicity materials, publicising the event and finally creating the materials to run the event. Here's what I do in order:

More than 2 months in advance - Book Venue
Audience @ St Martins Anglican Church
Photo of the audience.
St Martin's Anglican Church, Hawksburn

Find a suitable date

Find a time and date that suits you and suits your potential audience. If you want families with young children to come (my target audience, since my brother, sister and friends all have young kids), then an afternoon recital is better than an evening.

Be very careful of public holidays and even non-public holiday events. I lost a significant portion of my audience this year by not realising that my recital was on father's day. Footy grand finals, Fathers/Mothers Days and Valentines Day recitals will all backfire.
Amir Farid
Amir Farid accompanying me.
St Martin's Anglican Church, Hawksburn

Find & book a pianist

Find someone who is capable, prepared to work with you, is available on the possible dates and whom you can afford. If you don't know anybody, the first place to start are official accompanists at music conservatoriums such as Melbourne University, the Victorian College of the Arts or Monash University

Once you have a series of possible dates, you can book your venue.

Find & book a venue

You have to find something that will not force you to set your ticket prices too high. Ideally, the venue should have a grand piano if you are putting on a serious concert. The higher the cost of the venue, the more you will have to charge for tickets to cover it.

Christopher Busietta
Christopher Busietta introducing the next song.
St Martin's Anglican Church, Hawksburn
Bear in mind, many churches that have grand pianos usually have them in a non-central position, often on the floor level off to the side. If this is the case, you may need to pay several hundred dollars moving the piano up and down from the raised altar area if you would like the piano to be in the traditional middle position.

Also, do not pick a venue that is too big - pick a venue that you can potentially fill up. It's much nicer for the audience to be seated in an intimate venue than something massive.

The venues that I would recommend (from most affordable to the higher profile venues) are below:

Determine repertoire and mail to pianist

This takes a lot longer than you would think. Obviously, the pianist needs time to practice so get started as soon as you have a venue and pianist locked in.

You need to pace yourself in a recital - mix art songs and don't sing too many arias as they can wear your voice out before the end.

Also, if you have some sort of theme and title to go with it, it can be a snappier sell than simply calling your recital "A vocal recital" or "Beautiful songs".
Poster
Print Poster (PDF | DOC)

One to two months in advance - Preliminary Advertising

Work out pricing

When determining your pricing, you must always bear in mind how much it costs to break even and how much you think people are willing to pay. I decided on $20 for adults, which in my last recital meant that I had to sell about forty tickets to break even. Of course, if you include concession and student pricing as I do, then you probably need to sell more tickets. Forty people may not sound like a lot, but for a singer who isn't a household name, it is still difficult.

People usually do not like to book in advance, but you could tempt people by including "early-bird" tickets in the pricing that are cheaper if you book a week in advance for example. I have not done this before, but after the very poor booking of last recital (about ten tickets were booked before the day) I am considering it. My nerves may be worth it.

Design & Print Tickets

Print as many tickets as you have seats. Not only does this determine how many tickets you've sold, but also prevents you from overselling the venue.

You can design (I recommend an MS Word Document with a mail merge in Excel to generate the ticket numbers), print and cut them out yourself at Officeworks, or you can use a company such as UniTix or Ticket Print Me to create the tickets for you.

Set-up online booking

I have recently found an Australian website called TryBooking that allows anyone to sell tickets online for their events. They currently charge 30c per ticket sold with a credit card booking fee is 2.5% of the ticket price. Unfortunately, this is only available in Australia, but there could be other similar companies offering this service.

Set-up cheque ordering

Some people might like to mail a cheque. Here is an order form you might ask them to fill in and mail with the cheque.

Set-up Web advertising

Once you have actually booking methods in place, venue booked, piano booked, pricing etc, now you can produce publicity materials. For the web, specifically:
  1. Web Site for event
  2. Facebook Event
  3. Twitter Announcement
Include photos & bio of you and accompanist, google map reference of venue, pricing and contact details for booking and enquiries.

Let friends and family know it's on

Friends and family will always be your primary audience. They are people who know who you are and therefore the most likely to buy a ticket to support you. Plus, they might be very upset if they are not told early enough.

This should be done once all the advertising is ready to go, but if things are moving too slowly, this should take priority.
Flier
Example Fliers (PDF | DOC)

Up to a week before

Design & Print Posters

Posters can be put up in cafés or e-mailed. They should be a smaller file size for e-mailing. Here are two examples: E-mail poster (413KB) | Print Poster (617KB)

Design & Print Fliers

Fliers can be modified from the original poster you produce. I like to use 3 per A4 page and them either guillotine them or cut them myself with scissors.

Distribute Fliers

Your best source of audience are family, friends and word of mouth from family and friends. People do not go to concerts every week and there is a lot of competition. Unless you already have a really strong fan base, nobody is going to come to your concert over someone elses unless they know you or somebody connected directly to you.

Once you have them, carry them everywhere. You never know who you are going to run into as you go about your daily life. If you went to a conservatorium, give the teachers and administration fliers to hand out. Any other private music teachers, family members' workplaces and your own workplace are your first point of call.

Radio and Print Advertising

Contact local radio stations and newspapers and see if they can give you a plug. Not many people will come from this sort of campaign, but it can't hurt.

Last week of recital...

In the last week, your advertising campaign should almost be finished. Now you prepare for the day!

Design Concert Program Booklet

My favourite method of creating a concert program booklet uses normal A4 sheets of paper. I print two pages per side (double sided [duplex] print with "flip on short edge" selected) and then fold the program in half to make a booklet. The page layout is as follows:

Program Page 1 Side A Program Page 1 Side B

With each additional A4 sheet working the same as the above example. For example, an 8 page booklet will use 2 double-sided A4 sheets of paper in the following format:

Page Side A Side B
Page 1 Program Page 1 Side A Program Page 1 Side B
Page 2 Program Page 2 Side A Program Page 2 Side B


I usually create the document in page order and then start a new document and cut and paste it into the final document (in print order as above) once I've determined how many pages I need.

Original Program (MS Word Format) from my Winter Words recital this month.
Taking a bow.
Taking a bow.

Sort out your helpers

Here are people you need to rope in to help you on the day.
  1. Box Office - 1 person to sell tickets, hand out programs and encourage people to subscribe to the mailing list should be sufficient.
  2. Tea & Coffee person for after the recital - 1 person to prepare tea, coffee and biscuits directly after the recital.
  3. Recording technician - If you are recording the recital, you will need somebody to press the record button on your cameras and recording software before you go on stage.

Letter Drop

Sometime that week, do a letter-box drop of fliers around the venue itself. This doesn't get a lot of people to come, but I have had a few people turn up from this tactic purely because it is less than a five minute walk for these people.

You can also letter drop around your residence if you feel you have a lot of fliers left.

The day before

Withdraw change for cash sales

This is to give change for ticket payments. Note down how much money you have withdrawn so you can balance the books at the end.

Print Programs

I usually print programs the day before. If I know roughly how many people are coming, I am able to save money by printing only the number of programs that I think that I will need. I then print a 1 page version of the program for the remainder, just in case I accidentally sell-out.

For example, I had about 50 mostly-confirmed people for my Winter Words recital and a venue capacity of 180. I printed 100 full-length programs and then 80 single page versions. I managed to save $51 and probably a lot of wasted paper!

Buy Tea and Coffee

If you are doing tea and coffee after the recital, buy it the day before.

Relax!

You are usually pretty overwhelmed by this point. Take it easy on the night before - it's a big concert the next day!

Documents

  1. Recital Tracking Spreadsheet
  2. MS Word Document with a mail merge
  3. Ticket Order form (PDF | DOC)
  4. Poster for Printing & E-mail (PDF)
  5. Example Fliers (PDF | DOC)
  6. Program from my Winter Words recital this month (PDF | (DOC)
  7. One-page version of the program.
  8. Mailing list for future concerts

Links

  1. Example website for event
  2. Example Facebook event
  3. Twitter Announcement
  4. TryBooking credit card ticket booking

Venue Links

  1. St Martins Hawksburn
  2. St Paul's Anglican Church in Canterbury
  3. Melbourne Recital Centre
  4. Deakin Edge - Federation Square
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