Booking the festival

I thought I'd offer a quick update on the process of finalizing the lineup for the 2011 TD Toronto Jazz Festival. You won't get any names out of me yet (I ain't talkin', see...), but I can share some of the behind-the-scenes excitement, challenges, frustrations and exuberance.

Big ticket shows
One might think that these are the hardest shows to nail down - that the artists (and the agents) asking for the most money are the most frustrating negotiators. The fact is, though, that we'll sometimes struggle just as much finalizing a $1500 artist as we do with a $75,000 artist. Some agents get back to us right away; some we have to chase. Some artists we have to ask; some come knocking. It's been a real mix so far this year: some deals have been done within 48 hours; some have been hanging for a couple of months. Not everyone on our original wish list has been available, but at that level, even the revised wish lists are pretty cool. It will be a few more weeks before we get everything nailed down, but I can tell you that the tent is going to be a party...

The soft-seater shows are those that go into concert halls, ranging from 300 to 1000 seats. The artist fees tend to be a bit lower, but not necessarily; the concert production math dictates that the larger the hall, the bigger the name required to sell the tickets...and the higher the fees. This can be a fun series of shows to put together, because there are many possibilities. Having a range of venues available to us in the city means that we can feature an emerging artist (better in a smaller hall) or someone at the peak of their career (in a 1000-seater). Here again we've had a few shows disappear on us - artists originally thought to be available deciding to take gigs overseas, or time off, or something else - but for each show that has gone away, at least a couple of other just as exciting shows have come along. Here you'll find a good range of artists - from jazz legends to important younger musicians, all within a variety of genres.

There have been a few shows in particular that have been the source of some extra "excitement". If you saw my Facebook status a few days ago you'll know that one artist finally confirmed at 12:30 on Saturday morning. That came after weeks of negotiating with the venue, and then the agent...and much nickeling and diming on all sides (all in good faith, though). It was stressful and a lot of work...and ever-so-slightly exhilarating. I suppose that's the adrenaline rush that comes with the job. It doesn't always work out, but it's satisfying when that final, positive email comes through. We've had artists change dates multiple times; other artists we've had, then went away, then came back again; and still others have said they absolutely would not perform for the fee we offered...and then would, if we could offer perk x, y and z...Our experience is not unique in the presenting world - I'm sure others have similar, and more harrowing, stories - but if you're not in the business, hopefully this gives a bit of insight into how it all comes together.

The big-ticket and soft-seater shows make up about two-thirds of the programming, with the remainder coming from our free programming and club series; these latter two categories are where the bulk of my time and energy are going these days...and I'll have more to report in a few weeks.

The submission process
A significant step in finalizing the programming is my getting through all of the emailed and mailed submissions. It's a process that started back in November, but has really kicked into gear since mid-January. (I usually wait until after the December 31 submission deadline.) So far I've gotten through 199 submissions, and I'm probably about a third of the way through. As can be expected, some submissions I quite like, some I quite don't, and I've made a few new discoveries. It can feel at times like a bit of a slog - especially when I hit a run of 20 obvious "no's" in a row - but finding those gems always makes it worth the work. Of course, the listening is in some ways the easy part: if I like something, I have to check artist availability and fees, and then whittle down the long list of maybes to the few that will actually get the gig. I hope to get through the rest of the submissions in the next couple of weeks, and then I'll have a few short weeks to get everything finalized in advance of our early April lineup announcement (already!). So - if you're an artist that's made a submission and you haven't yet heard from me, please be patient. I'm doing my best to respond one way or the other. And please - and there's no really nice way of saying this - please don't call or email to find out about your submission. If everyone did, all I'd be doing is responding to those inquiries. Give me a couple of weeks to get through the process. I'll do my best to be in touch.

So - that's a bit of a "backstage tour" to what's happening around here...I'll offer more updates as they become available. And, if you have any questions about the process (other than "have you listened to my submission?") please post them here - I'll try to answer!


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