It's no secret that venues don't like hosting hip-hop concerts. Traditionally, hip-hop shows don't pre-sell a lot of tickets, risking everything on door and booze sales. Plus, rap audiences fight way more often than rock audiences.
I contacted Dwyer Management, a Seattle company that produces successful hip-hop concerts nationwide, and asked CEO Ryan Dwyer if I was missing any other pieces of the rap prejudice puzzle.
"A lot of times, concert producers get solicited by acts that want to jump on the bill as openers," he says. "These guys will pay maybe $1,000 each to rap for ten minutes, and that's why you get these long-ass shows with, like, 15 openers that nobody cares about. People hate that." (Anybody go to that Twista show? Just saying...)
I talked to radio DJs, booking agents, producers, artists and promoters, and they all told me the same thing about rap vs. rock shows: rock bands mostly have a clue about the DIY nature of low-fame concerts because the hard-work, low-budget lifestyle is a romantic notion in the world of rock. Hip-hop should follow suit and get down in the dirt.
Rappers have a reputation for showing up late, missing scheduled sound-checks, and accepting no blame when concerts are poorly attended. If you rap, people expect you to be a jerk. The only way to correct that is to go above and beyond, all the time.
You'll need a demo CD (good music always helps) and a clean, organized one-sheet press document that clearly states your intentions ('I want to play a show with you' or 'I want to play a show at your bar'). This should be followed by, 'How can I make this easy for you?'
Send the press kit directly to artists you want to perform with. This is how to avoid the 15-rapper pile-up, something that happens when concerts are assembled by middlemen only concerned with money. It's something Dwyer learned from rock bands, who often share amps and instruments with visiting comrades. When artists work with artists, planned, manageable, cohesive shows result.
You can also go through managers, producers, promoters and venues. Do some research and figure out who's doing the kind of concerts you hope to do where you hope to do them. There is no trick to this, says Dwyer. Use Google.
Contact as many people as possible, but give no ultimatums. You are basically asking for a ride, so offer to pay for gas. Use what you have. Do you have a relationship with a venue at home? Then be reciprocal and propose a show-for-show deal with an artist. Use MySpace for that.
Be professional and come to the table with an attractive offer. You don't have to do the payola stuff, but a good rule of thumb is to promise the artist that you'll show up a day or so ahead of time and help promote. This needs to be done with a personal touch. The message should be — and many forget this — "Thank you." Thank you for letting me rap, or spin, or whatever. I will do everything I can to make this thing work.
Great songs be damned. Your peers in the game and potential fans on the street will remember you from seeing you staple flyers to telephone poles.