MCing Large Concerts

Jim Lawton posted the following message which harked back to the Top Tips for running a session:

"I know we've had a long discussion on "hints and tips for running a session" which has been rationalised into a web page somewhere, but I can't find any such thing for MCing in deja. Have we had one?

"I mean MCing big concerts with multiple acts, mixed between single artists (like say Vin Garbutt) and big bands (like say The Albion Band).

"This is a somewhat different operation from running a club, which has been vaguely discussed in the past...

"If we haven't, then I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours!"

...which raised quite a flurry on the uk.music.folk newsgroup, especially the following long posting from Jacey Bedford, reproduced here with her kind permission:

Well, Jim asked, and it set me thinking and before long I have the first draft of an article on the art of MCing. I've done some MCing at large and small venues and festivals, but mostly I've been MCed.

Some of the points below have been hammered home by painful experiences of working with MCs who failed to do something simple and common-sense - - and mucked up the whole night as a result. Others have been added because of MCs who were a joy to work with.

MCing is not so easy as it looks. It's easy to get it wrong, but dead hard to get it 100% right. Good luck.

BEING THERE

Talk to the sound man before the concert. Ask if he anticipates any problems for any change-overs between acts.

Try and introduce yourself to the performers at soundcheck time. Be backstage where you can easily be found for at least 30 minutes and possibly an hour before the concert starts or more if appropriate. Your performers may not recognise you, so you should take pains to be sure that you can recognise them and that you introduce yourself.

Know where everything is. The performers will ask you which dressing rooms to use and where the toilets are because you're there. Know the answers before you get the questions.

Stay sober. This may sound like common sense, but it only takes a few pints, as the evening progresses, for your intros to get very long- winded and lager-powered.

If you smoke, please don't smoke backstage. Apart from theatre fire regulations, there's nothing worse than the MC coming up to tell you vital info with a cigarette in his hand just when you're about to go on and sing.

ATTITUDE

However stressed you are, don't transfer that stress to your performers. Act calm. Smile. Tell them you're looking forward to hearing them and that they did a great job when they come off. If they need something try and get if organised for them if it's within your capabilities.

If it's a really big concert have someone to stage-manage or at least have an MC's runner for messages and essential fetching and carrying (and finding late artists.)

TIMING

Start on time and finish on time.

If you are stage managing as well as MCing keep a tight rein on time. Tell performers (pleasantly) what their allocated time-slot is and allow sufficient changeover time between acts.

Ask performers to be in the wings/ready at least ten or 15 minutes before their scheduled time (occasionally if a performer mistimes things they can come off early and leave you high and dry with your next performer not arrived yet.)

Find out whether a performer needs set up time to plug an array of instruments into the PA system. If it's a short set up, you may be able to fill the time with announcements. If it's a long set up and you don't have anything much to say. Tell the audience that you're just going to take a few minutes to set up. Leave the techies to it and then when everything is ready come on and introduce the artist.

Find out if the artist wants you to give them a signal five minutes before the end of the set or whether they have a way of timing their own. Investing in a cheap easily readable stage clock is not as silly as it sounds. Make sure you synchronise watches at least.

Make it quite clear to performers whether there is a policy of encores or no encores. If encores have to be allowed for in the allocated time also make this very clear.

Make it clear to performers whether you want to go on and make announcements between their last song and the encore or whether they should just get on there and do an encore without preamble.

If there's a no encores policy and a performer gets a wild, enthusiastic round of applause, be firm with both audience and performer. This is really hard, but if you give one performer an encore you are going to throw the rest of your timings out. Tell the audience that you don't have time for encores, but that if they want more then they can buy the artist's merchandise and would they like to give another round of applause to show appreciation.

If you're really worried about getting caught between a rock and a hard place when the audience wants an encore it can't have, announce at the beginning of the concert that unfortunately there won't be time for encores.

THE ELECTRIC HOOK

If you get a performer who overruns horribly and shows no sign of coming off even though you are frantically making signals from the wings what do you do?
I once heard about an MC who walked out on stage in the middle of a musician's encore which was already into its fifteenth minute. He started to conduct the audience to hum along. The he waved for applause mid-tune, put his arm around the musician's shoulders and said wasn't it a shame that he couldn't go on playing all night and then he led the musician off.
It's tough but it can be done and if it needs doing, you're the one who gets the job.

HOW TO DRESS

If the occasion demands it, dress up. (Clive Pownceby from Southport looks great in gold lame when he's MCing festival concerts.) Don't take it to extremes unless it's in your nature, but don't look as though you haven't changed your denims for the last three years unless that's your "style" and you can carry it off without making the audience think you just plain don't care.

WHAT TO SAY

You're on your own here. Do your homework before hand if possible. Read the programme, yourself, Ask each of the performers how they want to be introduced. Don't take the easy way out and read the programme entry (if it's a festival) out loud as odds-on the audience will already have read it and it always sounds forced.

Try not to read from a script. Make what you say sound natural and sincere and SMILE at the audience and the performers. Make sure you get names right. Have an idiot card in your pocket so you can check names just before you go on.

If it's part of your job is to thank the organiser, the sound crew and everyone who volunteered, even the chief cook and bottle-washer, make sure you know their names. If you use one name, use them all, or don't use any mames; thank them by their job title,

If you're *really* a natural comedian (not just one of those people who thinks they are,) OK, maybe tell a joke or two. Otherwise --please -- DON'T. Be pleasant. You don't have to be funny.

Don't do a lump of your own act between each artist's set. Step in if there's an emergency or if you have a five minute slot programmed into the schedule. If you take an extra few minutes between each act, the whole thing will overrun horribly. The last thing you want is for it to get to 11:45 and the caretaker is standing waiting to throw the power switch at midnight and Vin Garbutt is still waiting in the wings to do his first set.
Nightmare! I've been to those kind of concerts:

I've been part of one of the last 2 acts when at 11:55 the MC (Pissed as a rat) has come and asked the final two acts to do one song each to close the show.

I've been to festival concerts where the next act hasn't turned up and the MC has kept signalling for us to do one more and one more without having the gumption to tell us we needed to fill in another 30 minutes, so we thought each one was the last and the audience thought that we probably deserved a couple of encores but six was pushing it a bit.

I've been at concerts where it wasn't obvious who was in charge until someone I'd assumed was an audience member suddenly stood up, walked on stage from the front and said. "I don't know the next act, but I suppose they're here..." and then introduced us.
(Please never start an introduction with "I don't know the next act but they tell me they're brilliant." It's neither funny, cute nor endearing.)

I've also (thankfully) been at concerts where the MC has given me a set of unchanging ground rules and then stuck to them. Where everything has run smoothly and let me get on with my job -- performing. Where the intros were smooth, relevant and warm-hearted without being squirmily embarrassing because jokes fell flat.

There's a random set of responses/builds from the newsgroup on the next page

Folk Music stuff | More MCing Large Concerts

Top Tips for running a session

page created 04 November 2000