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How To Put on a Drive-in Concert

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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

 

Last month, we at Ari’s Take had the distinct honor and pleasure of presenting one of Los Angeles’ first (and only) concerts since March! 

The concert was the release show for the incomparable Annabel Lee for her new song “Los Angeles.” You should stop what you’re doing and follow her on IG @yourannabellee and Spotify. She’s an absolute, undeniable star the world will soon be privy to. She is hands down the best performer in Los Angeles. I used to go to 4 shows a week in LA, and no one tops what Annabel Lee does at a show. No one. 

Annabel Lee on stage
Koury Angelo

Ana Karotkaya

Here is a video recap of the show.

ANNABEL LEE - DRIVE IN CONCERT RECAP- July 25, 2020

  

LADYGUNN also reviewed it here.

header image of Ladygunn review of Annabel Lee's drive-in concert

I would be lying if I said putting on this show was a walk in the park. Our team and Annabel worked extremely hard to make this a success. But success it was! We sold it out 4 days before the show and everyone had a blast. 

One of the things I have been missing most about quarantine is live music.

Koury Angelo

I’m sure you feel me on this. And, man was this a magical day.

I HIGHLY encourage you to put on your own drive-in concert. Just make sure you put a solid plan together for this and devote plenty of time to making this happen. Literally the week of this show, was the biggest spike of COVID-19 in Los Angeles. It almost didn’t happen. But we pulled it together and man are we happy we did. What. A. Show.

Here are a few things you want to think about when putting on your own successful drive-in concert:

Location

The most important factor of this entire operation is the location. We had our location locked and loaded about 8 weeks before show time. It was an empty parking lot in downtown Los Angeles under the highway that could hold about 40 cars. Annabel’s last show in LA was performing at the famed School Night showcase in Hollywood where she sold it out with 250 attendees. We figured each car would average 3 people so this would be a very exclusive event that we should have no problem selling out. 

This lot was perfect for a few reasons: no neighbors, with a drive-way off the road which led to the lot (out of sight) so cops driving by would not notice it. No, the city of Los Angeles was not issuing live music permits, so this was going to be a true guerrilla style event – the band front loaded their set just in case the cops shut it down early. 

However, literally 5 days before the event, the owner of the lot came down with COVID-19 (shit you not!) and cancelled.

Yes, we had a contract. Yes, we pleaded to just hand us the keys and we’d handle the rest. We literally didn’t need anything from them except to open the gate, but alas, he wouldn’t budge. (He’s ok btw)

I went into frantic problem solving mode. Fortunately, I had played a private drive-in concert on a friend of a friend of a friend’s land in Agoura Hills (45 minutes north-west of DTLA) about a month prior which went great. I called him up and asked to use his property for this event. After we made a sizable donation to his charity, he let us use his land. It also could hold about 40 cars, so were still ok. 

We hadn’t given anyone the location yet, so this was an easy (albeit very stressful) fix. 

Ideally, you want to find a location that is not in a tight residential neighborhood (there will be a sound system in use – and possibly drums). We transmitted the sound via an FM transmitter and gave people the station to tune in to so they could listen through their car speakers, but of course, some people wanted to watch from on top of their hoods and some backed up a pickup truck and setup lawn chairs on the truck – so you definitely need speakers for these people just like a normal concert. 

You’ll want to space the cars out a bit further than you think for both safety and sight lines. Many recommend 6 feet between each car (one parking space or so). This may or may not be feasible for your space, but this is what’s recommended.

It’s best if you can find an owner of a lot where this would be mutually beneficial – like a restaurant.

Maybe strike up a deal with them where they will allow you to use the lot for free in exchange for encouraging your guests to order take out from the restaurant to eat in their car during the show. 

Stage 

Your stage has to be MUCH taller than normal. Why? Because people will be (mostly) sitting inside their car watching the show with another car in front of them. A normal size stage (or no stage at all) won’t be visible for even the second row of cars. 

We had planned to rent U-haul trucks where the band would perform on. We had planned on renting two, 10 foot trucks and backing them up against each other (perpendicular to the audience) to create a 20’ x 6’4” stage and then we were going to have a U-haul pickup truck with it’s back to the audience for the drummer. This totaled about $75 when all was said and done.

We planned on this, but when we moved to the new Agoura Hills location, there was already a stage built for us that this guy is using for ongoing concerts – so we were all set! The drummer was actually hoisted up on a forklift! (The owner of this property works in stunts for movies so he’s got the equipment!)

Annabel Lee walking up the stage
Ana Karotkaya

Annabel Lee performing on stage
Ana Karotkaya

concert attendees on the roofs of their car look on
Ana Karotkaya

Annabel Lee amongst the cars
Ana Karotkaya

Production

Since you’re putting on your own concert, you need to handle all of the production. 

A checklist of things you need:

  • Very tall stage
  • Sound system (speakers, monitors, sound board, speaker stands, cables, etc)
  • Generator (most likely there won’t be outlets nearby)
  • Mics, mic stands, DIs, etc (whatever you need for your band)
  • Lots of power strips and extension cords.
  • FM Transmitter (we used Signstek ST-7C which worked very well – it comes with an antenna which you’ll need to use for the long range capabilities) 
  • Converter from the board to the transmitter. The ST-7C only has an eighth inch input, so you’ll need a duo quarter inch male to single eighth inch male cord (if you’re going stereo out from your console) 
  • Lights or better yet, perform before sundown so you don’t need lights! 

And I HIGHLY recommend working with an excellent sound engineer. This can make or break the entire event. Literally, nothing else matters if your sound sounds awful coming through everyone’s car speakers. 

dog in front of stage
Ana Karotkaya

Time Frame

It’s best if you perform around dusk. If it’s too early in the day, the sun will be unbearable (for the band and the attendees) but if it’s after dark you’ll need a full lighting setup. Keep the event on the shorter side and keep the music until just before sundown. You can have people arrive an hour before showtime and have house music playing. This will give people time to get acquainted with the space and the station, order food (if you have that setup), use the bathroom, and build the anticipation.

Bathrooms

We rented a Port-O-Potty for the event for about $175. If the lot you’re in doesn’t have bathrooms, you definitely want to rent something. People will need to pee! Most come with ample hand sanitizer. 

Food

Initially when the event was planned for DTLA, we had a food truck we teamed up with where people could place orders in advance and they’d receive pickup notifications via text. If you’re going to have a food truck, work out a way where you won’t have tons of people standing in line (not safe!). 

Budget

Make sure you put together a budget in Google Sheets or Excel or something. Add all of the costs to this before you list tickets. It’s going to be a lot more expensive to put this on than you think!

We put together a budget spreadsheet you can use for your event here. 

screenshot of a Google Spreadsheet budget

Tickets

We charged $30 tickets – however we could have (should have) charged more. If you think that people could pile their household into the car, if they have 4 people in the car, that’s only $7.50/ticket. We also threw in a custom “Annabel Lee Los Angeles” mask with each ticket, but had the ability for people to purchase additional masks at checkout (for $10/pop – we sold quite a few more!). We also had the person checking people in stocked with additional masks so people as they arrived could buy more on the spot (via Venmo). Require that people purchase tickets in advance and don’t give the address of the venue until a day before the show. We sent everyone an email and text a day before the show with the exact address. On all promo we just listed the general location. 

We used the site Splash for ticketing – which worked ok, except it’s virtually impossible to check on ticket sales from a phone. Eventbrite could work just fine as well. Find a ticketing platform that doesn’t take a commission and issues auto emails that you can customize. You’ll want to capture emails and phone numbers.

Annabel Lee mask

Team

Besides the team you’ll need to plan this whole thing, you’ll need people on the spot helping out:

  • Have someone checking people in. Since this is an RSVP-only event, you’ll need someone there with the ticket list checking them off. We also printed flyers that we handed each person as they drove in (our team member had a claw arm to grab the flyers and masks to pass to the drive so she didn’t touch the items). 
  • You’ll need someone directing traffic showing people where to park. It’s best to stagger cars. You don’t want a car parked right behind another car – sight lines will be challenging. 
  • Have a setup crew to setup the sound system and stage
  • Tear down crew
  • Sound engineer – MUST HAVE! Don’t plan to attempt to run sound on your own. This will make or break your event. Find a professional. 
  • Light engineer (if after dark)
  • Merch seller – we put on the flyer that if people wanted to purchase merch they could Venmo the amount with the description of their car and we’d run the item to them (worked well!)
  • Security. We didn’t technically have hired security because Annabel’s fans are cool, but I was bopping around making sure people stayed in or by their cars. And I had my guns out.
  • Photographers and Videographers (capture this generation-defining event!)

Ari Herstand directing traffic
Ana Karotkaya

Ari Herstand and Koury Angelo talking
Ana Karotkaya

Day of Checklist

Keep a running checklist that everyone on the team adds to. There are a ton of little things that you will most definitely forget unless you check them off the list. We handed people flyers as they drove in (along with masks). We had to print these suckers out (one of the many little things that needed to get done pre-show).

Hand out flyer

Insurance

The first parking lot location required us to have insurance (just in case someone got hurt). We found one company that offered it to us for about $300. The second location didn’t require it since it was his private land and he was chill. Should you get event insurance? Probably. Just in case. 

Promo

Annabel has a very loyal Instagram following. It’s not huge, but they love her. Because LA loves exclusivity, what we did was promote the event on Instagram without a link. Instead, we made everyone text “LA” to the number on the flyer. They instantly received the link to buy a ticket (and we got their phone number). This was helpful to be able to segment the lists into “ticket purchasers” and “not yet purchased” so we could follow up with the “not yet purchased” list a week prior and encourage them to get tickets. We also cued up auto texts in advance of the show to “ticket purchasers” with fun, lead-in info and instructions (written in her voice with lots of 🔪 🔪🔪). We also sent out a follow up text 30 minutes following the end of the show with a link to buy merch – so people could purchase while they were still buzzing. Worked very well!

We used the texting service Textiful, which worked well. We are currently working on a texting comparison article right now to compare all the various texting services out there. Check back soon for that!

promo flyer

Safety

As long as there’s a pandemic, you want to keep your event safe. Depending on where you are, your city or state may have it more under control than the next, but you don’t want to be the reason there’s another outbreak in your area! So take the extra precautions. Don’t allow people to roam about and mingle or rush the stage. You don’t want to be the next Chainsmokers Hampton’s controversy. 

Every city, county and state will have different guidelines and regulations. Most places haven’t really set concrete guidelines for drive-ins – and very few cities (that we’ve found) are issuing live music permits. So you’ll be doing this guerrilla-style for the time being.

Even though we told people to stay inside their car the entire time and to not remove their mask if they had to get out to go to the bathroom, people still sat on their hoods or in a truck bed and some took off their masks. Everyone was at least 6-feet apart from people not in their households, and the event was outside which experts say is MUCH safer than indoor activities. You won’t be able to account for everything and you can’t attempt to check off every box or hit every (moving) target of safety precautions with the ever changing regulations. Do what you feel is right, safe and ethical.

Above all, it may sound cheesy, but for real, have fun. Stay present in the moment. It may be one of the only real-life performance experiences you’ll have for a very long time. 

Annabel Lee hopping off a car
Ashley Maietta

Annabel Lee throwing a water balloon
Ana Karotkaya

Annabel Lee exploding water balloon
Ana Karotkaya

Follow Annabel Lee on Instagram @yourannabellee and Spotify

Photos by Ashley Maietta, Koury Angelo and Ana Karotkaya

About the Author

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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