Primer in Presenting

I thought I would do a quick run through of common terminology, features and expectations of the presenting business for those folks who aren’t familiar with them. I had done an article some time ago on how misunderstanding about common expectations can lead to uncomfortable cancelation situations. I thought it might be good to talk about some contractual features as well.

Deposit It is common for performers to require you to send a 50% deposit to them or their agent about a month or so before they are set to perform as a security. They usually require the balance in their hands right before or right after the performance.

Force Majeure-Better definition than I can give found here. Pretty much every contract has them. They are about as ubiquitous as a Miranda warning on a police/lawyer show. It doesn’t take long before you can recite the clause in your sleep.

Insurance– One thing I see quite a bit is the expectation that the presenter carries about $1 million in insurance to protect performers and crew from any mishaps. If you are renting a space, it will most certainly be included as a requirement for space use. In many cases, it is included in the performers contract as well to protect them.

Advancing the Show – Usually the road manager or the artist does this a few weeks to a month before a performance to discuss details of the technical rider, transportation, sound check times, food, accomodations–basically anything they are concerned about.

Backline – Essentially any sound equipment and instruments that the performers aren’t bringing with them that they expect the presenting venue to supply. It makes a tour a lot cheaper if they don’t have to haul pianos, extra guitars, amps, drum kits, etc across the country. Pay very close attention to this because many performers are very particular about the name brand of the equipment that they use.

Tech Rider– List of technical equipment and services that a performer requires. It includes the backline, but will also encompass lighting, special effects, stage layout, power requirements for tour buses (as well as places to park said buses and trailers), size and composition of running crews.

Hospitality– Essentially what people want to eat and when they want to eat it. It can be very simple or very complicated. They say an army travels on its stomach and so does a tour so this is very important. I recently had a guy tell me he crosses catering off contracts immediately. I have no idea how he gets away with it.

I always double check this section when advancing a show. Many times vegetarians or people with food allergies join a group and they don’t change the rider. I also order more than I need–girlfriends, best friends, surprise visitors, etc tend to show up in the dressing room unannounced and are invited to chow down. If you do your checking and pad the order in advance, it saves a lot of hassle on the performance day.

Hospitality will also encompass other aspects of how performers are treated. Some people will want irons and garment steamers and towels both backstage on on stage. This section might also specify that the performers want food served on real plates rather than paper or paper is okay, but styrofoam is not.

Transportation– Another big variable in the presenting calculation. Sometimes you have to pay airfare, sometimes cab (or limo) fare, other times the performer is driving themselves and absorbing all the costs. Sometimes you have to do the driving yourself. This is actually the reason I decided to do this entry. I had a slight disagreement with an artist’s manager over this recently.

When I worked in New Jersey, we would drive people to and from the airport one time in 20 to 25 instances. Here in Hawaii, we generally arrange for cars for people to drive around. A contract I got recently specifies that we pay for their ground transportation and provide a map and directions to them. A similar contract for their opening act specifies having a sedan for him. My assumption then is that we are providing cars for them, especially since they are coming early with wives and girlfriends so they can see the sights.

The group manager tells me that he reads the contract to mean that we have to pay to have them driven around and haven’t I ever done a concert before. Now I am thinking he means we are to pay to have them driving around the island sightseeing and shopping and I tell him we can’t do that. He actually meant that he wanted a ride from the airport to hotel, hotel to venue and back and then to airport again. (My mistake was telling him we couldn’t do it before I understood exactly what he was asking for. One of my prime rules is to never worry travelers to unknown places unnecessarily.) It was an easy mistake to make, but also illustrates why you should read over a contract carefully and discuss any gray areas during the advancing calls.

Security– This can be a sticky area. I have almost never had to use professional security people for backstage and front of stage security. Actually, it is never. The only professionals I have used were for gate security to screen for alcohol. On the other hand, the volunteers I have used were people I knew I could trust and looked as if they were keeping an eye on things and weren’t going to let someone by unchallenged. Yes, some were big and tough looking, but most were just determined looking.

Because we had the right looking dependable people, no tour manager, etc ever really questioned our security measures whether they had asked for professional shirted security folks or not. We always made it clear that we had a volunteer security force back when we signed the contracts as well.

Whether you can get away with it is another thing altogether. My advice is, as it is for all things, cultivate a good group of volunteers and note which ones might be trusted for special positions for future events.

That is about all I can think of as a summary of the major points of a presenting contract. These are just basic generalizations. Your milage may vary.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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