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Surviving a pandemic – by bringing music to a monastery

Read on to find out about the highs, lows, and 14-hour show days that go into making the magic happen

a group of people singing on a stage

More funk, less monk: we talked to Daniel Wood about his booming events business.

Tightrope Productions is a one-man band – Daniel Wood – based in the UK, ably supported by a crew of creative collaborators. Formed in 2018, Tightrope has now sold over 20,000 tickets via Ticket Tailor, hosting fun and accessible music events (from Beyonce-themed bottomless brunches to candlelit Queen tribute concerts) at striking venues across the north of England.

But it hasn’t always been easy. Read on to find out about the highs, lows, and 14-hour show days that go into making the magic happen...

🔥 Trends to watch

  • Pop culture events bring well-loved favourites to life (even without the original star) - from tribute acts to themed club nights, Taylor Swift to Drag Race, sing-a-long screenings to candlelit concerts. How can you turn a cultural touchpoint into a live experience?
  • Places of worship like churches are increasingly popular as venues for secular events - they’re ornate and sonorous spaces that can ‘elevate’ many event concepts, and naturally, the venue appreciates the additional income. (The spire doesn’t fix itself!) Can you, like Hozier, take your event to church?

✅ Key takeaways

  • It only takes about two weeks for Daniel to tell if sales will be strong enough to proceed - by making sure you put tickets on sale at least three months in advance, there’s time to cancel and regroup if this doesn’t happen (while avoiding cancellation fees)
  • Starting by designing marketing materials is a great way of testing if a concept can become a convincing proposition that sells – it’s the first thing Tightrope Productions do after they’ve had an idea!
  • Many event costs, like rehearsal space or venue hire, can’t be delayed until after the event, so using a ticket provider like Ticket Tailor that releases your funds as tickets are sold mean you don’t have to dig into your own pocket!

And now, over to Daniel!

🙋🏻‍♂️ About the business

So Tightrope Productions, is essentially a one man operation – just me, Daniel!

I have been producing theatre tours and events for nearly 20 years, including three UK tours of hit Broadway musical, ‘Rent’.

I set up Tightrope Productions in 2018 to produce live music concerts, events and immersive cinema experiences. The business has developed a lot over that time, and our shows range from Beyonce-themed bottomless brunches with a live Beyonce tribute act, right through to ‘Power Ballads Live!’ which features a 16-piece orchestra and epic West End vocalists performing 80’s Power Ballads to up to a thousand people! (Air guitars at the ready!)

We produce events primarily in the northwest of the UK, but next year we plan to tour our most successful production ‘Queen by Candlelight’ at cathedrals across the UK! Our shows range in audience capacity, from 100 people at a brunch to 1000 people at a concert – we create unique experiences and have the most incredible support from our audience who come back time and time again.

✨ How it started

The company started on the back of ‘The Greatest Showman’ - hence the name ‘Tightrope Productions’.

Our first project was immersive sing-along viewings of the film, with a live cast performing live alongside the film. After a few years away from producing, ‘The Greatest Showman’ definitely gave me that fire back to put on live events – we produced over 60 shows in that first year!

tables and chairs in a church

Photo: The Monastery, Instagram

I was then really keen to produce unique events and concerts at unusual venues, and I came across Manchester’s Taj Mahal - The Monastery. This building is absolutely beautiful.

Mainly used for weddings and events, I saw the potential of bringing live music to the venue. After lots of meetings with their management team, we agreed to trial some themed afternoon tea events and candlelight concerts.

We managed to get a few events off the ground pre-Covid, but then, with over 25 shows scheduled, the pandemic hit and everything was put on hold. The pandemic really hit us hard – like many other businesses, we had the challenge of keeping up with rescheduling, refunds and customer queries. And throughout, I had a full time job in education, which I still have now, so fitting everything in was a real struggle.

And the financial worry was overwhelming.

We had money tied up in venue hires, equipment, shows we had rehearsed etc and cash flow was getting frighteningly low. In response, we managed to get our first events on in May 2021, whilst still socially distanced, we put on ‘Queen by Candlelight’ and ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ at The Audacious Church, Manchester.

I couldn’t afford big theatres, but this venue was perfect - in the city centre of Manchester, full capacity for around 1000, so we could comfortably get in 500 per show whilst meeting Covid regulations. This felt like a big gamble at the time but it paid off, we managed to rehearse and create two brand new productions and what’s more, we sold out six shows

There was such an appetite to get out of the house and see live music again that the tickets flew out.

Additionally, in response to the restrictions of Covid, I had to think creatively about how I could get live music events on whilst theatres and concert halls were still closed. What was open? Restaurants and bars! So that is where I had to take the shows!

I came up with the idea of live-music-themed bottomless brunch events, and got to working with two venues - Impossible, Manchester and Camp and Furnace, Liverpool. I have produced around 25 brunches this year including Drag Brunches with the stars of Ru Paul’s drag brunches through to Britney and Beyonce themed brunches with great tribute acts.

Again - I was lucky, I trialled a few that sold out, and then I went for it and added lots more dates/acts , and this helped massively in the recovery of the business.

Eventually, The Monastery re-opened for events back in August 2021, and I could finally get my Afternoon Tea events and Candlelight concerts back on, which are my bread and butter as a business. I was determined to put together the best show I could, and brought together an incredible live band and four incredible singers – we literally get standing ovations within the first ten minutes!

That music, in that setting, really is a recipe for success. Ten sell-out shows later, we’re ready to take it on the road to other beautiful venues across the UK!

But - it isn’t all good luck and success...

I had another show which I was really passionate about getting back up - Power Ballads Live! This show had gone out once pre-pandemic and the second show at The O2 Ritz, Manchester was rescheduled three times throughout covid. The show is very expensive to put on, venue hire, marketing, 20 people on stage and what’s more, it’s a standing show and confidence in attending standing events was still low.

But I nevertheless decided that the show had to go on, and in November, it played at Camp and Furnace, Liverpool and The O2 Ritz, Manchester.

Both shows had around 400 people in the audience – this didn’t nearly cover my costs, but I decided that I wanted to do this show for my cast and for our audience. I also used  the opportunity to thank the NHS through this show and gave away 500 free tickets to NHS staff across the 2 shows.

So, although I made a loss, I have never been more proud of a show than I was that night. I really hope it will be back again this year!

📒 Planning events, from start to finish

Everything comes from... an idea in my head!

I try and think of something unique, something that will sell, and something that will work well in my partner venues. But there is always an element of risk – being a producer is a bit like being a gambler, especially as a self-funded produce that doesn’t use investors.

The process starts with a concept - “I want to do a Queen show, by candlelight… “ – and the very next thing I do is work with a designer to come up with a visual concept/marketing pack.

That’s what really sells my shows, and even at this early point, some ideas get scrapped! But if it look promising, I create a budget, check for dates, book the venues – and get it on sale.

I then market primarily through Facebook adverts. This tends to do the job for me, but sometimes it’s backed up with campaigns with regional marketing brands like ‘Manchester Theatres’ or ‘The Manc’ to push awareness of the show.

I can usually tell within in two weeks of going on sale if the show will work.

And because this is usually still at least three months before the event, I’m able to cancel, refund the few customers, and go back to the drawing board!

Sometimes you have unexpected successes and sometimes things don’t go as planned.

For example, I always knew that Queen would do well, but didn’t anticipate just how well: I am putting new venues on sale now with that show, and selling out in two weeks – that’s literally 1000 tickets in a fortnight! That’s as good as you’re going to get.

a person in a nun garment singing into a microphone

Photo: Tightrope Productions, Instagram

Other times, you think you are on to a winner, but they just don’t sell as you had hoped.

I ran a ‘Sister Act’-themed Bottomless Brunch earlier this year in Liverpool with singing nuns as you work your way through 90 minutes of bottomless drinks (which is literally my idea of the best day out with friends ever) but we struggled - I sold about 140 tickets and it just about covered costs, so that was canned and won’t happen again!

📣 How I market our events

Social media, social media, social media! My events are for adults/families/friends etc, so I market everything online via social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

I invest in marketing via these platforms, and, touch wood, they have served me well so far!

We also now have a really established audience who follow our social accounts, have signed up to our mailing lists and who come time and time again to our events. (There are a couple of ladies who live in Gorton, right by The Monastery, who literally come to every single Afternoon Tea event – thats at least two a month! They are so lovely and appreciative of this type of event, for their generation, on their doorstep!)

a collage of posters

The success of my marketing is down to my designer Alex - we work so well together! I have some wacky idea, and he makes sense of it and makes it look so commercially attractive. We create a media pack for every event, including artwork in many formats - Instagram story, Facebook event page, box office event page, Instagram posts, and so on.

I also rebranded the business a few months ago with a new website and logo, so we have a really clear brand that is visible across all of our events. From a brunch to a music concert – you know that it is a Tightrope show!

💰 The financial side

I think the formula for my events is pretty standard. I have to create an event forecast which tells me my break-even point, and how many tickets in need to sell to cover costs. At this point, I decide if it is a good gamble or too high a risk!

I generally pay for venue hire, marketing costs, rehearsal costs, event costs including cast, and then tech costs and sound/light techs.

I don’t personally get any funds back from bars etc. I also need to consider front of house staff at some venues.

When you use such unique venues like we do- they don’t come with a front of house team, or even a tuck shop to buy water! So the entire audience experience needs to be considered in initial costings too.

Our tickets are sold via Ticket Tailor which means we have the money in the bank within five days of the customer purchasing them. This really helps us with cash flow as some elements of production need paying prior to the event – like venue hire, rehearsals, marketing etc!

🎟  Ticketing the events - and finding the right price

Getting the price mark right can take time, especially if your events are unique.

I have to look at similar types of events for some guidance, but ultimately I also need to think, ‘what would I pay to go to this event?’

I want our shows to be accessible, so we always have different tiers of tickets available. In a sit-down concert show this can be from £15 to £40 depending on seat position.

a group of people on a stage

For our catered events, we offer VIP tickets to get the best tables near the stage. And for our standing events, we offer early-bird discounts to encourages customers to book ASAP!

Finally, think about your demographic. If I am expecting a family of four to attend a show, I will consider this by offering reduced prices for children. It has to be affordable – you can have the best show in the world, but if it isn’t accessible because of price, then whats the point?

I’m not greedy – I ensure that there is a healthy return for the business, but that it is generally cheaper than other similar events in the city.

🎪 What happens when it’s showtime?

Show days are bonkers for me - on a typical day, we’ll hold two sittings of an afternoon-tea style event and then a full concert in the evening. That’s one day, three shows, and over 1000 people through the door!

9 am

My tech team get in to set up for the evening show - getting the sound right in a Monastery is no easy feat due to the very high ceilings and the sheer size of the room! At the same time, we have a team of caterers setting up for the first sitting for 220 people to attend Afternoon Tea with The Jersey Boys. I lug in a million candles from my car, put up seating plans for the tables for the Afternoon Tea first sitting and then meet and greet the act, make sure that they have a dressing room, food and drink and then we sound check!

12 pm

We cue up the background music, open the doors, and I personally welcome every customer. This is usually when I realise I’ve cocked up a seating plan, and Gemma from Bolton booked for four and I’ve only put three place settings out, and I have to sort that our and buy Gemma a drink. Sorry Gemma.

2.30 pm

Everyone has been fed, watered, and by now everyone is on their feet singing along to the final song of the show! But then it’s kick out time, and time for me to completely strip and re-set the room for the second show.

I order myself and the sound guy a Nando’s on Deliveroo – then I crack on with checking every table is set for the right number of people. (This time I’m checking everything three times trying to avoid another ‘Gem from Bolton’ situation.) Meanwhile, an army of waiters are resetting tables with tea, coffee, cream and jam for the scones!

The second show is a different act, so it’s time to say thanks and bye to the first performers, welcome the next act and get them sound-checking, too.

3:30 pm

Usually, I am at the bar having my first drink of the day, and taking some deep breaths because we’ve got through setup two shows! But the real madness is yet to come...

5.30 pm

My cast and band are stood in the corridor waiting to jump in and set up for the evening ‘Queen by Candlelight’ concert. So we clear the room and the venue staff strip the room completely - removing all tables and set it up theatre style for 560 people – we’re sold out! At this point, it’s all systems go for sound checking and preparing for the main concert.

My band set-up, they along with the singers sound check and sort in-ear monitor levels and I stand out front and shout to Paul my sound guy – “a bit more lead guitar pal! Turn Sandra up out front!” This takes us about 90 minutes, and then before you know it we have 100 people queuing to get in.

(Oh, during all of this, I am also building 25 candelabras and laying out nearly 1000 candles.)

In the past, I have managed to talk in a few friends and family members to help so we get it done quickly – I brief everyone and we start sitting everyone down.

At this point I usually have a little panic because the queue for the bar is HUGE and people are getting restless- I get reassured that there are 6 tills on and it is flying down, and so I go check in on the cast and band! We then get everyone in and sat down and the evening concert begins! I spend the first 20 minutes at the back nursing my second drink of the day, watching the audience - are they enjoying it? Is the sound ok? Then, finally, when I see them all singing along, standing up and cheering, I relax, grab my seat at the front and enjoy the show!

a group of people standing together

10.30 pm

My feet are aching, as I am three shows and nearly 14 hours in – but we still to do the ‘get out’!

The tech team de-rig, the band pack up, and I take all of the candelabras down and load my car. I'm exhausted, but I am also absolutely buzzing – I entertained over 1000 people today. That’s over 1000 happy customers who go on to leave incredible reviews on our Facebook page, and more to the point I had a day with my extended family. and we all get paid for it!

11.30 pm

I finally get home at 11.30pm, have my third and final drink, and spend Sunday on the sofa with Netflix... before I start thinking about doing it all again the week after!

❤️ Who helps make the magic happen?

I have to thank my close knit Tightrope Productions family for supporting me and getting me through the past 18 months. I would have gone under without you.

Charlotte Felton (Impossible, Manchester), Kate McGovern (The Monastery, Manchester) and Jack Clarke (Camp and Furnace, Manchester) for trusting me with your venues and giving me favourable payment terms to keep me afloat!

To my musical directors Andrew Smith and Sam Broadbere, who are literally the best in the business.

To JC and the 2 Steps – my resident band that perform in most of my shows – you guys are amazing and a joy to work with!

Then to my core cast team, who are also my dear friends - Rory Taylor, Sandra Regan, Joel Harper-Jackson, Simon Gordon and Nathan Lodge. You have ridden this wave with me, getting booked and cancelled more times than I care to remember but ultimately bringing it every single time and helping me to create world class events! Your talent makes me sick with envy – I love you all and feel so privileged to have you in my shows.

And finally, a big thank you to my family and friends. Who listen to me cry when I have spent a day cancelling another show because of a lock down, and who turn up time and time again to support me when the shows get on! I am so lucky.

🤔 Final thoughts

As a producer of 20 years, I have had many successes but many many disasters – I have made money and I have lost money. Each time a new event goes on, I learn something new.

I guess my core principle now is: do NOT put on an event unless you have enough money in the bank to pay for the whole thing without selling a ticket! That’s tough – you need some capital to start off – but it keeps you and your employees safe. Alongside that is my innate desire to take risks, think outside of the box and always strive for the best possible audience experience!

I listen to my gut, I listen to my friends and I go at everything I do with everything that I have.

I plan to keep going at a pace for the next 18 months to two years.

I actually still have a full-time job and I work every weekend – but people need live entertainment now! My friends in the industry need work, and I will keep pushing to get live events out there.

I want to go further afield with my Queen show – I am in talks with a few venues overseas and that really excited me!

I want to develop new ideas and shows with my amazing team, and who knows what the future holds – but regardless of any restrictions put in place, I will not stand still or give up.

Onwards and upwards, and I’ll take my team with me all the way!

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