New social chairs always want to spend as much of their budget as possible on entertainment. That’s where they think they will see the biggest return on their investment, whether they count those returns in cool points, number of attendees, personal satisfaction, or chapter bragging rights.
The trouble is, this often means neglecting production.
No one cares about production until it isn’t there, at which point it becomes a disaster. The single biggest mistake I see social chairs making, day in and day out, is spending a disproportionate amount of money on entertainment and too little on production.
This makes even great acts look mediocre. If you put the Rolling Stones onto a beat-up wooden stage with no lights, they will look like a bunch of geriatrics. The success of your party is dependent on making the acts you’ve booked look and sound larger than life.
If you fail to do this, it doesn’t matter how talented they are. They will not look and sound as good as they should. If they even agree to play, you will have spent a disproportionate percentage of your budget on talent that isn’t being showcased as well as it could be. At the same time, you will have attracted a large crowd of people to a party they thought was going to be epic, only to disappoint them and lose their trust.
Balancing how much you spend on production and staging is a very tricky job, and finding the balance comes primarily with experience. It’s vitally important that you have enough production, but you don’t want to waste money on power and lights that you won’t get value from. When you’re starting out, you may need to rely heavily on those who have done the job before you.
Don’t book a band and assume that everything will work out. I’ve seen this happen many, many times. Social chairs book the talent and then apply an arbitrary budget to production based on an entirely inaccurate estimate of how much they think it will cost.
Remember that, for an average spring party, you’re asking people to spend six hours loading in $50,000 worth of equipment, to work a ten-hour day, and then to spend another four hours packing up the same equipment. How much could that possibly cost? No more than $1,500, right? Wrong.
You need to know in advance how much production will cost you, so that you can make an informed decision about how much of your budget can be directed toward the entertainment. Too often, social chairs neglect this step entirely, with the result that they either go well over budget or they serve up subpar entertainment.
Work out how big a slice of your budget needs to go toward production before you start speaking to agents. If your total budget is $20,000, and you tell an agent that, he or she will try to sell you acts that cost $20,000. It’s the agents’ job to get as much money as possible for their clients.
This is a great reason to work with a skilled middle buyer and ask her to negotiate on your behalf. The reality is that you don’t have much experience in this role, and you’re at high risk of being stiffed. Nonetheless, you can reduce your headaches by working out your production costs before you speak to an agent, and giving her a budget based on what she really needs to know, which is how much you’re willing to spend booking one of her artists.
In the scenario above, you probably need to allocate between $4,000 and $5,000 on production costs if you’re holding your event outside, and $2,000 to 3,000 if it’s inside. Setting up lighting and sound outdoors is a more expensive endeavor than doing it in a more confined, indoor space.
The best way to get an estimate is to talk to your sound guys. Tell them how many people you anticipate having at your event, the venue, and approximately how long it will last. Ask them for a ballpark figure to run the event. They’ll undoubtedly be cautious about giving you an exact number, but they’ll probably be willing to give you something you can take to the table when you’re speaking to an agent.
Now you’re informed. When an agent asks you what your budget is, lowball it slightly. For an outdoor event, tell him that it will probably be in the range of $14,000 to $15,000.
At this point, the conversation can take many different turns, which will be discussed in greater depth in Produce Your Events. The principle, however, is that by building in your production costs and not showing your hand straight away, you give yourself some room to maneuver.
If the agent tells you the act you want books for $20,000, maybe you can move the show inside, free up a couple thousand dollars, and meet the agent halfway. You may even impress him when he realizes that you’ve taken the time to research production costs thoroughly. That’s not a possibility if you reveal your entire budget from the beginning of the negotiation.
To compound the impression that you know what you’re doing, and potentially save yourself a considerable amount of money, ask the agent to shoot you a tech rider. This is an easy request for an agent to fulfill. A tech rider usually comes in PDF form, and it details the band’s technical requirements.
You probably won’t understand it, but your sound engineer, lighting engineer, and stage technician will. Ask them what they think, and they’ll tell you how much production will cost based on the rider.
They will also be able to identify any areas where the expense seems unnecessary and flag them for you. If a particular piece of equipment will raise your production costs from $2,000 to $4,500, a good sound guy will notice. You can take that information back to the agent and use it to have an informed discussion.
Another advantage of asking for a tech rider is that you will make an impression on the agent, purely by making the request.
Agents spend a lot of time speaking to people from fraternities. In many cases, the person they speak to isn’t even the elected official, just some guy who’s trying to do the chapter a solid. They get very bored of fielding bogus questions and inquiries based upon nothing more than a vague idea of what might be possible.
As soon as you ask an agent for a tech rider, so that you can get a clearer idea of how much you have to spend on his artist, he’ll probably begin to think you have a brain, and that you have a realistic interest in booking his talent. He may even shoot you straight.
The second most common mistake I see is a failure to understand technical requirements. When you sign a con- tract that says you agree to all the requirements on the tech rider, you will be expected to meet those requirements.
If you haven’t understood those requirements correctly, you run the risk of two different screw-ups. Either you hand them to your production guy and discover that they cost far more than you anticipated, or you ignore them and find that your artist arrives on the day of the show to inadequate production and simply walks away.
Should that happen, the artist will keep the deposit you gave them, and they will require you to pay them the out- standing balance. If you don’t, they can sue you for breach of contract. Will they? Maybe not, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll do business with you again any time soon. It hardly needs to be said that you do not want this to happen.
The third major mistake I encounter time and again is submitting more than one formal offer.
You’re not an agent, and you’re not experienced in booking talent. When you take on your role as social chair, you probably don’t know what a formal offer is. Agents often take advantage of this by casually asking you to submit a formal offer and sending you a template you can use to do so. What you probably won’t notice is the small print at the bottom that informs you that your formal offer is a legally binding contract, obliging you to pay the amount specified in the offer upon confirmation.
In other words, you don’t have a get-out clause. You should only submit a formal offer when you are 100 percent certain that you’re ready to book a band or artist, and you have the money available. If you submit more than one formal offer, and more than one artist agrees to your terms, you are legally obliged to pay them both. Don’t let an agent sucker you into submitting a formal offer before you’re ready.
Agents aren’t necessarily out to fleece you, although some are. They do, however, deal with a lot of bullshit. They field a lot of calls from people who are shopping around and aren’t serious about booking their acts. Asking you to submit a formal offer allows them to instantly know whether you’re genuinely interested in their services or merely kicking tires.
Telling them, politely but firmly, that you’re not ready to submit a formal offer and that you’re exploring several options lets them know both that you’re informed of proper protocol and that you won’t be strong-armed into doing something you’re not comfortable with. It also lets the agent know where you stand, and it should inspire him to work harder for your business.
TREY MYERS is the president and founder of Turnipblood Entertainment, a full-service private events company specializing in Greek life.
Over the course of 7 years in the entertainment industry, Trey has worked in various capacities at leading agencies, including the Agency For ThePerforming Arts (APA), The Agency Group (now owned by United Talent Agency), and Nimbleslick Entertainment.
Trey’s other experiences include artist management, tour management, event production, and promotions.
He wrote the definitive book that this content comes from, The Perfect Southern Fraternity Party.
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