Live events can range from corporate conferences to concerts to political events and so much more. Chances are good that you can remember several of your favorite live events off the top of your head.
More than that, live entertainment is a continually growing industry. Live music alone, for example, is expected to surpass $30B by next year.
But what attendees of these events don’t realize is what it takes to create these experiences and make sure that they go as smoothly as possible.
In many ways, it’s the job of live event producers to make sure that guests don’t notice all that hard work so they can simply enjoy the show.
Today we’re going to pull back the curtain to get a glimpse of all the good work that producers do behind the scenes, and beyond that, we’ll take a look at how these events can generate a positive impact in the communities that host them.
What does a live show producer do?
First things first: what does a live show producer actually do? Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. Joining us today is a highly-accomplished live show and concert producer Calvin Mitchell.
Mitchell is an expert in production and he has worked on a large number of events across different industries, and though we’ll be focusing on his work for WE Day, Mitchell has also produced high-profile concerts and fashion events and has been nominated for multiple Canadian Screen Awards.
As Mitchell put it, live show production is very much about delivering a memorable experience for the audience, though achieving that goal is different for each show. Along the way, producers have to cover a lot of ground and wear many different hats.
“It starts with dreaming up your show or event, hiring your team, picking a venue, booking your talent, forecasting and tracking budgets, lining up technical suppliers, and then diving into all things creative. The magic all comes together once you get to your venue and put that plan into action. You also need to be ready to problem-solve when unexpected things pop up.”
In other words, live event producers have to do quite a lot, both in the run-up to a show and also during the show itself. Even with excellent planning, there will always be a certain amount of uncertainty in the mix.
However, Mitchell told us that, after many years of experience producing huge events, he is able to resist the temptation to get overwhelmed by that intimidating level of responsibility.
“I realized early on that you can’t get in your head with the pressure. It takes up too much energy. When I start to feel overwhelmed, my instincts are just to double down on the tasks ahead of me, which ultimately gets me closer to the desired end result.”
But in this article, we won’t only be looking at the technical and logistical side of live show production; we will also consider how live shows and the production of those shows can have a positive impact on the attendees and even encourage social change.
As if producing a live show wasn’t enough, making sure that dozens of different components come together perfectly, producing a live event that will also be broadcast adds a whole host of extra challenges.
Many of those challenges are once again on the technical side of things, but many more have to do with catering to television audiences, who are going to respond to the event in a different way compared to the people who are there in-person.
As Mitchell put it:
“Working on a broadcast show means that every element of the production is under a microscope. You also need to appeal to a wider television audience who needs to be continuously compelled to keep watching so you have to make sure your show is well structured and packed with exciting moments.”
Many of the WE Day events and fashion events Mitchell has produced have been broadcast, giving him a wealth of experience in this especially demanding realm of event production.
On top of managing many different teams, producers also need to be able to anticipate the wants of different types of audiences, and that can influence many other minute-to-minute decisions.
But now that we’ve shared details regarding the logistics and execution of high-level event production, let’s talk about the more abstract, intangible side of events and what they can inspire in attendees.
Working on WE Day
This core idea of using live production to create and support positivity and beneficial social impact is essential to one event in particular that Mitchell has helped produce for several years now, and that’s WE Day.
Readers here in the States might not be familiar with WE Day. WE Day actually refers to a series of annual events led by WE Charity, a development charity and youth empowerment movement that, in Canada, encourages civic involvement among younger citizens.
In a more general sense, WE Day events aim to acknowledge the contributions that students have had and continue to have on their country and the world. These events are very much about positivity, engagement, and celebration.
Mitchell has been a strong supporter of what WE Day represents, and on a more immediate level, he has helped to produce major WE Day events since 2014. With in-person crowds of 15,000-20,000, WE Day remains the biggest production of its kind in Canada, making it a special challenge for production professionals like Mitchell.
Mitchell himself has gone from being a Junior-Level Producer for WE Day to a Supervising Producer and, soon after, Executive Producer. He has produced more than 80 live shows for the group.
Mitchell told us that working on WE Day events has been a textbook example of engaging in the creative, operational, and technical aspects of production, all while staying within budget.
“When I moved into the role of Executive Producer, I had two big goals. First, to establish an industry-leading team of producers and creatives that would allow us to scale WE Day to new heights. Second, to elevate the quality of the show to rival the best & biggest shows and concerts in the industry.”
This has involved working with high-level production pros as well as enlisting the help of top-tier performers who help make these shows unforgettable experiences.
As a result, Mitchell has received three Canadian Screen Award nominations for his work as an Executive Producer on WE Day.
But all that hard work and all of those technical details are in service of creating event experiences that empower young people to contribute in a positive way, both on the local and national level.
Mitchell explained that the social impact of these events has always been a big part of his motivation when working on WE Day.
“Being the Executive Producer for WE Day let me combine my love of creating entertaining content with bringing awareness to important social issues. We live in a time where people are more and more aware of the challenges faced in society and they are looking for ways to take action. This project was a great example of how you can use entertainment to make the world a better place.”
In a way, we can think of these events, and others like them, as pep talks, inspiring and motivating citizens to do their part and take action, rather than just being made aware of major social issues and returning to life as usual.
If there’s anything that the past year has taught us, it’s that social involvement requires both awareness and action, and WE Day events strive to communicate this to all those who watch them.
To you, what is the most satisfying part of your work?
But regardless of which event Mitchell is working on at the moment, he seems to always recognize the human side of the equation, and that’s what drives all those technical and logistic decisions.
So, for example, while any given concert might not have the same high-minded goals of something like WE Day, it can still have a profound effect on the people who attend it.
Whether on television or in-person, there’s something truly special about engaging with entertainment that has been perfectly planned and executed, despite the fact that, as we stated at the top of the article, audiences are almost always unaware of the work required to make it all happen.
“The most satisfying part of my work is seeing it all come together, from the initial concept to the final execution of a show. When you get to see the reaction on people’s faces to something you dreamed up and put countless hours of work into, that feeling is priceless. It can mean weeks or months on the road and seemingly impossible challenges, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
All that work is to give people unforgettable experiences. From very tangible choices and materials, something beautiful and intangible is created. For the world’s most skilled show producers, that’s the ultimate goal, and it’s also what keeps them coming back again and again, despite the stress and the challenge.