How Concert Tours Work

Working with Concert Promoters

Stars with longevity like Madonna are signed to long-term touring contracts.
Stars with longevity like Madonna are signed to long-term touring contracts.
Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

You could try to set up your concert tour, but you probably wouldn't get very far. Tour venues work with -- or are even owned by -- concert promoters, also known as tour promoters. You'll usually need a signed contract with a tour promoter to set up a tour.

A tour promoter organizes a live music tour and makes sure it's profitable. That can include presenting, advertising and even financing concerts at arenas, clubs, auditoriums, festivals and other special events. The promoter finds the talent, the venue and on-site labor, and then handles advertising, marketing and possibly even ticket sales for the tour [sources: Berklee College of Music and Full Sail].

The biggest national promoters of music tours are Live Nation and AEG Live. Live Nation has begun signing major performers -- including Madonna, Nickelback, Shakira and Jay-Z -- to multi-year 360 contracts that can cover virtually all of the artist's output. This includes everything from music, concert tours and merchandise to endorsements and broadcast rights [source: Bloomberg].

Don't expect a 360 contract or a contract from a major concert promoter. These companies want well-known stars whose value should hold for the contract length -- which, in Madonna's case, is 10 years. Taking a chance on an up-and-coming band may be far too risky financially [source: The American].

Instead, your band's manager or music agent will sit down with a regional promoter to discuss the terms of a live music tour. Here are some ideas for finding a concert promoter:

  • Start with who you know. Word-of-mouth references may lead you to a promoter.
  • Check industry publications like Billboard and Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication, for ads and articles. Pollstar also sells industry directories listing information for booking agencies, concert venues and concert support services.
  • Check with venues where you'd like to play to see which promoters work with them.

Once you've found possible promoters, have your manager or agent contact them with information about your band, including genre, background, previous club and tour experience and a CD of your music.

If a promoter offers your band work through your manager, the next step is hammering out a contract covering the tour. The standard contract is the American Federation of Musicians' AFM Performance Agreement. Riders can be attached to handle specific tour details. While the contract itself is usually short, covering payment, profit splits, dates and locations, the rider may be 10 pages or more. Here are some details covered in a rider:

  • Promoter's expenses
  • Ticket selling policies, including how complimentary tickets will be handled
  • Headline billing rights for signs and publicity
  • An equipment breakdown detailing what'll be rented by the promoter vs. provided by the band
  • A breakdown of local crew that'll need to be hired
  • Dressing rooms, security, catering and travel
  • Cancellation policies

[source: Donald S. Passman and Randy Glass]

Price isn't the only important part of a tour arranagement. You also need to agree on a tour schedule. Keep reading to learn more.