Promoters Share Advice for Making the ‘Best Concert Possible’

Dan Saldarini and Jon Bricker of Pretty Polly Productions speak at JWU.

Over the course of a whirlwind tour with Canadian rapper Drake, Dan Saldarini watched in amazement as the audiences ballooned from 50 people to more than 50,000. “It was a trial by fire,” the president of Pretty Polly Productions, a Massachusetts-based promoter of college music events, told the crowd of hospitality students at JWU’s Schneider Auditorium.

As his first big music industry job, that Drake tour turned out to be an incredible proving ground for Saldarini: “I had to learn on the fly. Every night I sat with the monitor engineer, who had been around the block. For 3 weeks straight I asked him everything about touring.” The result? Saldarini quickly sharpened his skills — and ended up working for rapper Wiz Khalifa.

After nearly 5 years on the road — “it’s like having your regular friends and your summer camp friends” — Saldarini returned home to focus on booking events with Pretty Polly, which had been started by his uncle. Saldarini and Jon Bricker, Pretty Polly’s talent buyer, ran through some of the intricacies and unique quirks of booking collegiate shows.

“We book 200-300 events a year,” explained Saldarini. “Speakers, musicians, comedians. For the most part we book non-professional venues that are run by non-professionals. It’s not the same amount of risk as a commercial show, and generally, it’s a nonprofit venture — sometimes there is fundraising for a cause, which is also not-for-profit.”

“On the production side, being involved in a show is a great way to get real-world experience — load in, load out, budgeting,” noted Jon.

Dan picked up the thread: “Music is divisive. ‘I love this band,’ or ‘I hate this band.’ I would urge you to ignore that and just focus on making the best concert experience possible.”

I describe show day as a downhill snowball.”

Here are their top tips for making your concert a memorable one:

  1. Picking the artist(s). Jon: “This should be fun, but you want to make sure you do your due diligence. Put out a genre survey to get feedback about the types of artists you might bring to campus. And if people don’t like the artist you pick, tell them to get involved!”
  2. Making an offer. Jon: “It can take 5 days to hear back. You might have to move to your #2, your #3, even your #5 — but it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize, which is putting on a great show!” A lot of college shows are one-off dates (rather than part of a tour), which means that it’s probably going to be a fly-in show. (And that includes the band and all their gear.) “It can get expensive,” says Jon. “We recommend that the artist’s fee is inclusive of transportation, ground transport and hotel accommodations.” Careful planning in advance will minimize surprises on show day, says Dan: “It’s important to manage expectations.”
  3. Marketing. Dan: “Our schools handle most of the marketing. Rumors are going to be started before you can get ahead of them — try to gain control of the narrative.” Jon: “We’ve been seeing a lot of ‘drop’ videos to promote upcoming concerts — but I challenge all of you to come up with better marketing ideas!”
  4. Production. Dan: “The day of the show, the three most important aspects are food, labor and people. I describe show day as a downhill snowball.” Jon: “Delegation is key on show day. There are so many moving pieces day of, and without delegation, it’s just not going to happen. You have to feed the crew if the power goes out. We’ve had artists drop out — you’ve got to be prepared for anything! Stay focused on solving the problem that’s in front of you. You can scream or cry afterwards! Some of the most valuable experience you can gain is to be on site from load in to load out.” Dan: “I look for people who exhibit calm under fire — you yell first, you lose.”
I look for people who exhibit calm under fire — you yell first, you lose.”

Dan and Jon’s practical advice was soaked up by the audience, many of whom belong to JWU Providence’s Music & Entertainment Industry Association (MEISA) and harbor dreams of working for an organization like Pretty Polly. (The duo were swarmed by enthusiastic would-be student promoters after the event.)

Both Dan and Jon agreed that the number one thing in the event business is showing up. “Get out there,” noted Jon. “Seek out opportunities — YOU have to make it happen.” “Passion is a big thing for me,” said Dan. “I still get goosebumps when the lights go down and it’s showtime. When that stops, I’m done.”

Saldarini chats with students after his talk.

Ayokay performs at Wildcat Wahoo, JWU’s annual end-of-year party.