RSVP or not

What is the point of asking people to RSVP if you can’t hold them to their word?

One of the fundamental tasks of revenue management is capacity management. This is something airlines are good at. They deliberately overbook so that all seats get filled.

For concert producers, the objective of getting a full house means ensuring every seat is occupied. This may mean selling stand-by discounted tickets at the 11th hour. [Notice that last minute flight fares are never half-price!]

Last time I organized a seminar, I did not bother to ask people to RSVP. Respondez si vous plait. I was filled with nerve-wracking trepidation, growing as the event got closer. What if only a few people showed up? What if too many people showed up? Last minute, I changed to a bigger room. A good move. Around 35 people showed up.

For today’s seminar, I asked attendees to reserve their seats by filling out a short survey. When the numbers didn’t fill as quickly as I expected, I sent a round of e-mails through another mailing list. A few people e-mailed me their plans to attend instead of filling out the survey — they did not show up. Filling out the survey unfortunately did not oblige the attendees to show up. While the majority of those RSVP’d did show up, there were a few cancellations.

In hindsight, I would have saved time creating and monitoring the survey by not requiring RSVP.

There has to be a more reliable way of gauging the final turnout. How do we get people to hold to their RSVP? What is the point of requiring RSVP when people can show up without prior reservation, and those who do reserve can not show up without penalty?

This phenomenon happened early on in the Monument House Concert Series. I decided that I had to demand prepayment as a condition of booking. No show – no refund. After all, revenue management was more important than capacity management. If the revenue stream was certain, then we’d breakeven and have a peace of mind.

In conclusion, requiring people to RSVP is an extra step for them and yourself. Think carefully whether it’s necessary. For today’s seminar, not only did I get a rough headcount, I also got questions in advance.

Invitation to a house concert: capacity and revenue management

How do you get people to go to a classical music concert in someone’s private home? I’ve been e-mailing personal invitations: my Rotary Club, Webster University faculty and my former students, previous house concert guests, previous e-mail recipients who were unable to attend, my Facebook contacts, my relevant Linked-In Group members (i.e. those living in Utrecht with an interesting in such a local event), and other friends/contacts that I’d like to see again. More details: http://www.pianoguitar.com/concerten/

In the rock and pop music industry, there are so-called “concert promoters” who spend their time getting people to go to live concerts. They sometimes stand at street corners or at the end of a concert handing out flyers.

In the classical music world, however, it’s known as marketing and promotions. No one goes around getting people to go to concerts. The posters, event listings, newspaper mentions, etc. should be sufficient. 

How do you get people to go to a classical music concert in someone’s private home?

If you advertise it in the local newspaper or tourist office, you might get too many or too few people. How can you, as the host, the performer, or the producer of a house concert ensure that you break-even, i.e. cover your costs and not turn away and disappoint those guests you have no seats for?

Capacity and revenue management is critical for small, private concert productions for they can make or break the cash flow. Capacity management means getting enough people to fill a space. Revenue management means getting enough income to cover the costs or make a profit.

In my previous blog entry on risk management in concert productions I mentioned the risks and uncertainties of this business. For a small operation, it’s a real risk of getting too few or too many unless you’re willing to bear a loss or a standing-room only situation.

Maria Podznyakova, Russian harpist

For the next house concert on 13th December, I pushed for reservations by pre-payment. While this may give certainty and a peace of mind to capacity and revenue, it can also deter those who want the option of deciding late, even at the last minute.

The host, the musician, and I met last week (Thursday 26th November) and agreed on the theme: a Russian harpist introducing works of Russian composers in a setting reminiscent of 19th century Russian salon tea concerts.

We agreed to split up the tasks. The harpist would write the initial draft content in English using the template of the previous sold-out concert in our Monument House Concert Series. She would also get it translated into Dutch. I would edit the one page Word document and convert into a PDF with hyperlinks and load onto the website. The host, a well-travelled project manager who has previously worked in the hospitality sector, would then print and copy the flyers for distribution and posting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been actively e-mailing personal invitations to members of my Rotary Club, Webster University faculty and my former students, previous house concert guests, previous e-mail recipients who were unable to attend, my Facebook contacts, my relevant Linked-In Group members (i.e. those living in Utrecht with an interesting in such a local event), the University of Utrecht foreigner group, and other friends/contacts that I’d like to see again. [Compare this to the previous house concert.]

In terms of face-to-face invitations, I announced to my yoga class this morning:

Ik wil julllie graag allemaal uitnodigen voor een herenhuis concert van een Russische harpiste. Het is volgende week zondag 13 december middag vanaf 16:30 in Lombok.

[I would like to invite everyone to a house concert of a Russian harpist. It is next week Sunday 13th December afternoon from 16:30 in Lombok.]

I walked and knocked on the door of my Russian neighbour and asked if she would tell her Russian language students about this event.It then occurred to me that anyone interested in Russian culture would enjoy this concert, not just those interested in classical music in general. How would I find these people?

Already, about 10 people have prepaid and reserved for this concert on Sunday 13th December. We would like to get twice as many more but happy with just as many more.

For just 15 euros, you get an hour of a young Russian harpist playing the beautiful music of Russian composers, followed by mulled wine and other drinks, and an assortment of delicious cakes, breads, and pies… What more can you ask for a Sunday afternoon of cozy networking in a 100-year old house in the centre of the 2,000 year old city of Utrecht, Netherlands?

By the way, you also get to keep the custom-designed Monument House Glass Mug which holds your drinks (hot or cold).  They are worth 10 euros each. More of these mugs will be on sale at the concert on JP Coenstraat to support the concert series.

More details at http://www.pianoguitar.com/concerten/

Hosting our next house concert (final part)

I purposefully refrained from writing about anything else in the run up to the sold-out house concert of 3rd October 2009 which we organised and hosted for classical guitarist Derek Grippers. I wanted to document what was involved in producing such a concert so that I could refer to it the next time we get the urge to host another concert in our home.

Monument House Concert Series, Utrecht Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series, Utrecht Netherlands

I purposefully refrained from writing about anything else in the run up to the sold-out house concert of 3rd October 2009 which we organised and hosted for classical guitarist Derek Gripper. I wanted to document what was involved in producing such a concert so that I could refer to it the next time we get the urge to host another concert in our home.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry (part four), improving capacity management, revenue management, and audience development will reduce stress and anxiety before a concert.

We bought and borrowed extra folding chairs and hoped for last minute cancellations and no-shows to cope with capacity management. To ensure we met our costs and contributed sufficiently for the artist, we strived for maximum booking. Earlier (in part three) I mentioned the invitation process which is critical in audience development.

Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands

On the day after the concert, we placed the chairs row by row and discovered we could fit 50 people comfortably, all with view of the performer who would sit in the corner near the front door. I’m writing this so that next time I won’t panic when the bookings reach and surpass that magic number 50. What a relief! We couldn’t have known this before we had moved the furniture. We couldn’t have moved the furniture earlier than the day before the concert, for we live in this very house.

Four people didn’t show up. I received an SMS from someone who fell ill from possible food poisoning from her husband’s cooking. The other couple had provided all the South African wines.

Bookcase in living room of Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Bookcase in living room of Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

It would have been a short, straight forward (i.e. simple) concert without the supporting acts, dinner, workshop, and masterclass beforehand. In many ways, these pre-concert events complicated the planning and logistics. Next time I would insist on a time schedule that gets followed to the minute, with plenty of breaks between each event and clarity of delineation of beginnings and ends.

I was trapped in the downstairs kitchen while the guitar master class osmosed into the workshop. Alone preparing the refreshments and dinner, I sent brain waves to the three ladies trapped in the upstairs kitchen. The guests for dinner with the artist arrived on time, but the workshop continued on.

So you see, hosting and producing a house concert is quite another matter. As mentioned in part one of this series, I enjoy attending house concerts. I love performing at house concerts. But I’ve yet to LOVE organising house concerts. I would dearly like to show others how to do it (hence this blog) so that they too can experience live music in their home.

Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House Concert Series Utrecht, Netherlands

Many of you reading this are wondering — how did the concert go? Did people enjoy the music? What time did they leave? Did I miss anything? Should I have called on the day for last minute cancellations so that I could squeeze in?

I will save that for the next blog.