Working as a music promoter

 29 July 2011

Carlo Solazzo is head promoter and founder of Birmingham Promoters. He spoke about the challenges he faces, the key to a successful career and the role of the promoter in the music scene.

Carlo set up his own company to exploit a localised knowledge that the larger promotion companies did not have.
Carlo set up his own company to exploit a localised knowledge that the larger promotion companies did not have.

A changing music industry

The music industry has undergone significant changes over the last decade. The increase in illegal downloading has led to reduced revenue from record sales, a revenue stream that had previously formed the bedrock of many musicians’ income.

The advent of various new media platforms has also contributed to the reshaping of the landscape. Many artists now operate outside of the traditional record company model, preferring to seek a space in the increasingly fractionalised and bespoke marketplace.

It is hoped that a portion of this lost income will be reclaimed through increased touring and one-off live performances. Whether this proves to be the case in the long-term, the role of the music promoter will continue to play a significant part in shaping the industry and the careers of the artists within it.

Starting as a music promoter

"The show must go on and it is your job to make sure it does.”

With no formal qualifications needed, and no official barriers to entry, many promoters begin their careers in other areas of the music industry. This provides them with a view of the work prior to taking up the role. Carlo’s career followed this familiar trajectory:

“I have always been interested in music and passionate about the opportunities it can offer. I am a musician myself, so I know how tough it can be if the right gigging opportunities are not there.

“Many people start to drift into promotion by putting on and promoting gigs for bands they are personally involved with and slowly stepping it up from there.”

Although it costs money to promote a show, depending on the scale of the event, it is certainly possible to begin on a relatively small scale. Doing this allowed Carlo to gradually build both his reputation and financial stability.

“I began co-promoting independent shows around the city and came to both enjoy it and believe that I had something to offer. There was a gap in the market for independent, high quality events in the area and I had ideas about how we could begin to take the whole process forward.”

Knowing the music market

In any given area, the music scene is fast-moving. Promotion companies can often be short-lived, with only the larger national chains having continuity. Noticing this, Carlo decided to set up his own company. This allowed him to exploit a localised knowledge that the larger companies did not have.

“I moved on to work for the Barfly group, but soon became convinced that bands and managers needed a wider variety of options and a mobile, intuitive and reactive company to meet their needs.

“We work in a large variety of venues throughout Birmingham, all of which have their own unique characters and qualities. Our ultimate aim is to work with these venues to secure the very highest calibre of local, national and international artists for the region”

Having a positive impact on a local artistic community is one of the tangible benefits of this career. Quality promoters have a significant part to play in the artistic health of a city.

“A local music scene without good promoters will not be a good one, it’s as simple as that. Local bands need to have a platform to perform and learn their craft, and beyond that they need an opportunity to both witness and ultimately perform alongside, brilliant international artists.”

Building a music promotion business

“A local music scene without good promoters will not be a good one, it’s as simple as that."

Many promoters rely on repeat business for financial stability. Often the money that a promoter risks is their own, so this is a vital consideration. Carlo believes maintaining a good reputation with the industry is an important consideration.

“It is integral to your long-term success, there is no doubt about that. Booking agents represent numerous bands and it is an incestuous industry. They need to know that you are reliable, that you promote a show well, that you operate fairly and that you are knowledgeable about the venue and the potential demographic of the show”

The same can be said of the relationships a promoter builds with related professions, such as printers and technical staff. These relationships are pinpointed by Carlo as a vital ingredient in his success.

“Having good in-house sound and lighting engineers is vital. Being well-connected enough that, if something does go wrong, you always know a band, a barman, an engineer or doorman who can fill in. The show must go on and it is your job to make sure it does.”

Key qualities of a music promoter

Promoters often operate individually or within very small teams. Because of this, common sense and the ability to perform many functions can be a massive benefit. Carlo cites versatility as being an important factor in success, second only to an abiding passion for the work:

  • “A passion for music is important. You will be working hard so you have to see the value in the process.
  • Knowing your area and your venues. Being able to match an artist to the right setting, putting together good bills featuring complementary music.
  • A good head for figures, knowing when to take a risk.
  • Being good with people.
  • Having the energy to promote a show in every possible way you can think of – your enthusiasm needs to be infectious!”

If you can balance the competing demands placed on a music promoter, then the career can be a rewarding one.

“If you are good and your operations are solid, there is money to be made and enjoyment to be had.

“Some people will tell you that it is a compromise between your ideals and your needs, but we’ve always found that if the product is high quality then the rest will often fall into place.”

Check out the Birmingham Promoters website, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

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