Senior Project with Percy Hill!
Each year here at Souhegan High School in Amherst, NH, all of the seniors have to complete a senior project that demonstrates many hours of research, and a final “project” that demonstrates the research. Souhegan High is part of the “coalition of essential schools” and we have many different rules are very different from traditional high schools. Our school has a mission statement that everyone is supposed to go by, and part of the mission statement is…“reaching beyond your comfortable limits.” That statement is also carried over in the senior project here at Souhegan.
Early in the fall, we were handed out our senior project binders, and were given about a week to decide on a topic, and get it approved. You are allowed to choose anything you like, as long as you “stretch your comfortable limits,” are able to research on it, and demonstrate your research by a final project. I had already had a couple of ideas floating around in my mind, but none stuck out to me as a “great” project. I wanted to do something that people would remember and something that would involve the whole community. Being a huge fan of phish, and many other jam bands, collecting their shows on tape, and going to numerous concerts, I knew right away that I wanted to do something with music and concerts. While thinking of a topic, my first idea was to do a project on jam bands, and what makes them and their concerts so special. After considering this, I realized that this topic would not be sufficient enough for senior project because of the lack of research available on jam bands. Even though that idea was gone, I still wanted to do something with jam bands. One idea that was running through my mind was having a jam band come and play here at my school. I really wanted to do this, but every time I thought of it I kind of passed it up because I didn’t think such a thing was possible. I could do my project on concert production and promotion featuring a jam band. The week was almost over, and I needed a topic, so I gave up thinking and proposed to my teachers the idea of having a jam band come and play at the school. They asked what my research would be, and I told them that I would do my project on “concert production and promotion.” They approved my topic, and I was on my way not, sure I was even going to be able to pull this off!
My first task was obviously to book a band. It was early fall so I thought that chances would be good booking a band for their winter tour because that’s when they were just shaping them up. My initial idea was to write to many bands asking about prices and all the other details, in hope that I might get one response, if I even got a response at all. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t get a single response. I could just imagine seeing a bands booking agent or manager getting a letter from a random high school kid asking them to come play at their school and laughing, then throwing the letter out. But, since this is the topic I chose to do, I continued with it. At the time I happened to be listening to the new Percy Hill CD “Color in Bloom” that I had just bought at their Halloween show in Somerville,MA. I decided to write a letter to Percy Hill, just to see if I got any reaction. I wrote a letter to their booking agency (Pretty Polly Productions), and had my dad fax it the next day to them. I got home from school the next day, and there was a piece of paper sitting on the kitchen table with Pretty Polly’s logo on the top of it. A huge smile then came upon my face!! I looked at the paper and it was a fax back from Pretty Polly, saying Percy Hill’s costs, and it also said to pick a date and then get back to them! I couldn’t believe it! They were actually considering it, and it was the first band I picked! I thought that I would have to write to ten bands before I even got at least one response. After the initial fax, I talked to my principal and we chose a date for them to come. February 5 was looking the best, and so I wrote back to Pretty Polly. After about 3 weeks of faxing back and forth, phone calls, and E-mails with Pretty Polly Productions, I had Percy Hill booked to come and play at my school on February 5, 1999! After the final phone call that informed me the show was confirmed, the smile that I had upon my face didn’t leave me for about two weeks after!
Now that the band was booked, I needed to get to work on my project! The first thing I needed to do was to get an outside mentor. Someone who knew something about your topic, and who you could correspond with through phone or e-mail. One person came to mind for me, which was Dean Budnick. (If you are reading this article, you should probably know who Dean Budnick is!) I chose him because he is obviously very knowledgeable about jam bands, and had been to many jam band shows, and he would be able to help me in making the concert a great jam band show! I found his E-mail link on jambands.com, and gave him an e-mail, telling him about my project, and asking him to be my outside mentor. Within minutes, he responded, and was glad to accept the duty. Over the period of about three months I corresponded with Dean through E mails, asking him about the show, and for his suggestions. As part of the agreement, Dean requested that I write an article for jambands.com about my project when it was all over, so this is all about!
The research I used for my project was basically a couple of books on concert production and promotion. One that helped the most was called “Note by Note: A Guide to concert production” edited by Joanie Shoemaker. Besides the research, concert production and promotion is way more work than I expected! There are 3 major things that go into producing the concert. The first was organizing the event. It all obviously started with booking Percy Hill which was a long process, which required being very organized, and making sure I stayed on top of everything. After they were booked, I had to do many things to get this event organized. First I had to set my goals for the project, and make sure that I was ready to dive into this big project, because once I started, there was no turning back, I had to stay on top of things. There were constant phone calls that had to be made, and I always had to keep in touch with the school to let them know how things were flowing. Besides all of the behind the scenes work, there were many things that had to be made. I had to design and print up 455 tickets because I was planning on selling them in advance. My plan to save money was that I was going to sell all the tickets personally instead of them being sold through Ticketmaster or a music store. I set-up a voice mail account with the high school, so people could listen to the voice mail, and then get tickets. In order for people to get tickets, they either had to send me money at my house, and then when I got the money I would send the tickets throughout the mail, or they could come to the school during the week and find me to buy tickets. I also got many e-mails from people that were looking for tickets and I told them those directions to get tickets. It was not easy, but it saved me money, and since I was relying on ticket sales to pay for my expenses, I needed to do everything to save money!
The second major part of doing this project was publicizing the event! I had to get the word out everywhere in order for people to come! I promoted the concert in many ways. The first was through posters. I designed and printed up posters, and Percy Hill also sent me posters that they made to hang up. I traveled all around southern NH and hung up these posters! It was not fun work but I had to be done. I also handed out posters to my friends from other towns to hang up in places. In total, I think about 75 posters were hung up, which may not seem like a lot, but when you have to travel from place to place to hang them up, it is a lot! I also had an article written in the local newspaper about my project and the concert, which included a picture of me and everything, so that helped. I had to have an interview with a newspaper reporter for that. The other way I advertised was in school of course, over the announcements, and posters in the halls. Also I advertised through the internet. I made posts about the concert to phish newsgroups, and Percy Hill’s newsgroup. Dean also put a special link about the show on jambands.com which was great. Promotion is not easy, but it needs to be done, and is one of the most important things because if people don’t hear about the show, then you wont be successful. A majority of your budget needs to be spent on promotion.
The next major thing that went into the show was Producing it. I had to have everything organized for the event. I had to recruit ticket sellers, ticket takers, people to sell concession, and someone to make food for backstage. (Like all bands, Percy Hill had a specific list of foods and dinner that they wanted to have backstage) I also had to make sure I had about seven people as stagehands that would help the lighting and sound crew’s as they arrived to help bring in and set-up their equipment. I also had pay for two policemen to be there during the show, which cut into my budget. While all this work was going on, I had to be documenting everything that I did in my senior project binder, and writing reflections on what I did, which was a pain, but had to be done.
The day of the show finally came and I was very prepared. During the process of producing and promoting this event there were so many things that could have gone wrong, but luckily didn’t. Nothing went wrong in the process before the show, and only one very tiny thing came up the day of the show. When the lighting guy got there at noon, he needed some electrical work to be done, so I had to call an electrician, which cost me $90. Everything else went smooth as can be the day of the show!
The show was being held in our theater, which holds 455. Our theater is extremely nice, because our school is only 7 years old. Going into the show I had sold about 225 tickets in advance, and was expecting many people at the door. People starting rolling in at 6:00 for the 7:30 show, and things were coming together! When Percy Hill arrived, I introduced myself to them, and also their manager, Al, and their road manager, Matt. All of the band and their management were extremely nice, and fun to talk with. All the guys in the band were very fun. I had the backstage area in our school’s music room, and after sound check, the band saw the school’s huge bass drum, and a weird chime instrument, and asked if they could take them on stage for the show, I said yes, and they threw them on stage, it was great. The show went great as could be, Percy played outstanding, and the crowd was really great. The band looked like they were having a blast. They were really on that night and they knew it. At setbreak, one of my friends noted that they heard them say hat they wished they were recording an album because the sound was great and they were playing so good. They mentioned my name twice on stage thanking me for putting all this together which I was thankful for.
When the night ended, I had sold 405 tickets, out of the 455 available. This was more than I expected to sell, and was very happy. Everyone at the show had a blast; the band, and the crowd. Even my parents had a great time! Now that it is all over, I have to finish up on my research and notes, and then prepare a 20 minute presentation to top it off.
This was a great experience for me. I learned so many new things, about the music industry, business, contracts, etc.. I also learned some news things about myself. I think I amazed myself for pulling this off, which, like the old saying; “goes to show you, that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything!” I was very fortunate that Percy Hill and their management, Scott Harris from Pretty Polly Productions, and Dean were all great people, and easy to work with. They all helped me tremendously and I thank them very much. If you are thinking about doing something ever like this yourself, make sure you have a lot of time and commitment to give towards the experience. It is a lot of hard work, but when the day of the show comes, it is all worth it! I hard so much fun doing this, and I thank everyone along the way that helped me.
Thanks for reading! Seth Bradbury