The first thing you need to know when booking a band is who represents them.
Unless you’re looking at local acts, you can expect nine out of ten bands to have an agent or some other form of representative. The agent should be easy to find. Simply go to the band’s Facebook page and look for the name and contact details of their representative.
Naturally, that person is working for the band, and the interests of the band are his main priority. The agent will try to convince you to pay as much money as he can. Be careful, and do not necessarily expect him to shoot you straight.
Once you understand this, you can decide which acts you want to target. Different genres require different approaches.
A DJ, for example, is basically some guy playing music through his laptop. Before you pick up the phone and reach out to an agent, think about what will be involved in hiring a DJ. Maybe he will have a mixing board and some instru- mentation that he will implement throughout his set, but unless you can provide him with good lighting, he will look less than impressive.
That means that, if he’s playing outside, he will look a lot better in the dark. Booking a DJ for an outside daytime event is likely a lousy move unless you’re willing to spend most of your budget making him look good.
Additionally, DJs need bass. Much of modern EDM (electronic dance music) is very bass-heavy. This gives you a unique conundrum. Bass cannot be pointed. It’s omnidirectional, which means that if you have a neighbor who will complain about loud music late at night, you don’t have many options for controlling low frequencies. Try to solve this problem by booking a DJ for a daytime slot, and you’re back to the problem of his not looking good on stage.
To resolve these issues, your best fix is usually to take the DJ inside. A lot of people don’t think about this and plan an outdoor party, which works fine until the headliner, who happens to be a DJ, walks on stage and wakes up the neighbors.
In summary, asking a DJ to headline an outdoor party at 10:00 p.m. is probably a bad idea. Consider bringing in a different act, or moving the party inside for the DJ set. Alternatively, book a more affordable regional DJ to play the late night set, using the expensive production you brought in for your headliner. In the event that the DJ gets shut down, you’ve only invested $1,000 or so in the talent.
These are things you need to be aware of before you pick up the phone to call an agent. As soon as you enter that conversation, the person on the other end of the phone will be trying to sell you on his talent. You need to know what you want before you let him do that.
As always, past performance is an accurate guide to future problems. Did your party get shut down last year because it was too loud? Did you turn down sound levels to accommodate the neighbors and wind up ruining the performance? Rap artists require many of the same low-end frequencies as DJs, but they usually play much shorter sets. If the DJ got shut down after an hour last year, could you risk bringing in a hip-hop act that will only play a forty-five-minute set?
Know your environment, and assess the potential based upon what has happened in the past and what you can expect to happen the night of your party.
Equally, know your chapter. You may have some great ideas, but you need to recognize what will appeal to your audience.
Maybe you have an uncle in the business, and he’s telling you that a particular act will be huge in five years. That’s great, but he may be too far ahead of the curve for the average partygoer. Five years down the road, they’ll realize that they were incredibly fortunate to be at an early gig of a great band, but that won’t win you friends or praise during your tenure as social chair.
It can pay to innovate and bring new talent to your chapter, but always remember that you were elected to represent them. Use your skill set to give them what they want.
Before you do any of the above, make sure that you’re comfortable taking on the responsibility yourself. Ask yourself a simple question: Do I want to enjoy this event on the day of the show, or do I want to bask in the glory of having pulled off an insane party?
If you want to enjoy the event, you need to hire someone to do a lot of your work for you. It simply won’t be possible to kick back and relax with your reputation, and your chapter’s, on the line.
If you want to learn and grow from putting on the event, perhaps because you have ambitions of coordinating events in the future, go for it. Know, however, that you will be responsible for every moving part. You can’t be drunk. You can’t be watching the show with your girlfriend. You’re going to have to be on call.
The decision is entirely yours, and it depends on your goals for the event. If you don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty, sub out and bring in a production company or a turnkey event management company. If you decide to take the job on, do it well and with pride.
The first thing you need to keep in mind when booking a band is that everyone has an agenda, and it isn’t the same as yours.
Whether you’re dealing with an agent who is responsible specifically for the band you’re interested in, someone within an agency that specializes in private events, or a company that offers middle buyer services, they will proba- bly treat you as though you are guilty until proven innocent.
Unfortunately, a lot of fraternities have previously reneged on deals, failed to follow through on their promises, or thrown disastrous events. Even before you speak to an agent for the first time, he will be inclined to view you skeptically.
A lot of agents won’t really want to work with you. They’ll only want your money. This is not ideal, but it’s a reality. Your professionalism can ease not only your own path but also the path of your fraternity brothers who will come after you.
Prepare effectively, know what you want, and ask smart questions. By the time you speak to an agent, you should know your dates and your budget, and he should be selling you on his talent. You don’t want to waste time convincing him to do business with you because he doesn’t believe you’re for real.
All too often, people jump the gun and start talking to agents before they know what they want or how much they have to spend. Maybe they luck out and find an agent with good intentions, or maybe they don’t.
Professionalism is the best antidote you have to the stereotypes associated with booking events in Greek life. Be as descriptive as you can about what you’ve got and what you need. If possible, provide schematics of your room and provide examples of bands that have played at your fraternity house previously; if you can name bands that are of comparable stature to the one you’re looking to book, the agent will feel much more at ease about approaching them with your offer.
Many bands will take some convincing to play a fraternity house, so knowing that similar acts have already done so can take the pressure off.
Even party bands deserve your professionalism. They may not employ an agent, but they will still expect you to sign paperwork on time, provide them with a deposit, and organize a suitable green room.
The name of the agent listed at the band’s Facebook page may not be the person you get through to. Larger agencies will probably put you through to an assistant, or even the head of the private events department.
Someone whose job is to book talent specifically for private events will be much more in tune with your needs, because the primary focus of her job is to handle events like yours. On the flipside, she will want to sell you what she has, not necessarily what you want.
Whenever you’re dealing with an agency that has an exclusive roster, they have a vested interest in selling you acts that they represent. Using a turnkey company can take away this headache, because they don’t care who they’re booking. They’re interested in giving you what you want.
When you start talking to an agent, expect a game of cat and mouse. Agents will want to know your budget, and you won’t want to tell them. Unless you’re working with a turnkey operation that represents you, and you alone, it’s not a good idea to tell them your entire budget.
If your total budget is $20,000, that money needs to cover entertainment, production, hospitality, and tech riders. There’s no sense showing your cards and letting an agent know how much you have to spend.
Some will be honest with you and let you know that you will need to direct some of your budget to backline and other expenses. They understand that you’re new to your role, and they want the event to be a win for every- one involved.
Others will simply try to get as much money as they can out of you. If you tell them that you have $20,000, you will find that their act magically costs $20,000. This is why you need to do your research, find out how much you actually have to spend on entertainment, then lowball it slightly to give yourself some breathing space.
You’re not trying to be deceitful, but you recognize that there’s a high probability that unexpected expenses will arise. Maybe you need to provide in-ear monitors at the last minute, or the band decides to fly in to the show rather than drive, and they need backline.
Always leave a small proportion of your budget on the table to cover situations like this. You can rest assured that, if something happens, the band and the agency won’t offer you a reduction because you didn’t budget properly.
If you have a $20,000 budget, and you know that your production costs will be $4,000, say that you have $13,000 to $16,000, and let the agent present you with some options. Ask to see some possibilities at the bottom end of the range, as well as the top, to make sure that they’re not inflating prices based on getting as much out of you as possible.
I was an agent for years, and a good agent won’t want to take all your money if it means that his client will have a terrible experience. Don’t misunderstand: Every agent wants all your money, and they may try to convince you to spend more than you need. Watch for tricks such as sending over a tech rider that would be more suitable for Madonna than a fraternity party. The sensible ones, however, realize that sending their bands into a nightmare scenario will result in earache when they have to hear all about it.
Nonetheless, there are some snakes out there who care only about maximizing their returns, even at the expense of their talent. Keep your eyes open, and be prepared to back off if you get a vibe you don’t trust.
Mess this phase up, and you can find yourself having signed a contract and paid a deposit, and suddenly looking at an extra $5,000 in expenses you hadn’t bargained for. The agent won’t help you, because he has a contract saying it’s your problem.
When you find yourself scrambling for additional budget, you might be tempted to transfer the shortfall on to your production guy. The result will be an unhappy production guy, sound quality that doesn’t do a good job of conveying the awesomeness of the band, and a show that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Production isn’t sexy, but things get very unsexy, very fast, when you don’t allocate enough of your budget to it.
Up to a certain point, production costs are static. If you have a $10,000 budget, you may need to devote $5,000 to production. That probably seems ridiculous to you. It’s not ridiculous, because if you had a $15,000 budget, you would still only need to spend $5,000 on production.
A stage, lights, sound, and a generator cost money. With a few subtle changes, that setup will accommodate a $20,000 band as well as it will accommodate a $5,000 band. By the same token, it will serve two thousand people as well as it will serve one thousand people.
Most of the time, if you get a tech rider with outlandish costs, a good production guy can bring them down for you. This is why it’s so important to show your tech rider to your sound engineer and your lighting designer and ask them to provide a quote for you early in the process.
A good production guy is worth his weight in gold, so take the time to find one. Talk to people who have worked with whomever you’re interested in hiring. There are a lot of good young sound engineers, who will be very good one day, but who are not necessarily the people you want working on an event with a national act in a tumultuous environment.
Ask yourself what they will do if the power goes out or a barricade gets knocked over. It’s worth paying for experience and knowing that you have the situation in hand. It’s a great feeling to know that you trust your production guy, who understands your requirements, and that you can go into conversations with agents well informed and certain you won’t let yourself be ripped off.
Your sound engineer will take your audio rider and let you know what you need in terms of monitors and subs and speakers and mixers. He will set up your stage and make sure that everything is properly miked. He should work with the tour manager during the advance to ensure that everything is ready to go.
Similarly, your lighting designer handles the lights and should communicate directly with the band after you facilitate an introduction. Keep in mind that, unless you outsource the process to a turnkey company, you will need to perform the introduction and check that the process is moving smoothly.
Your job extends to managing your lighting designer and your sound engineer, but not to the technical aspects of their jobs. They need to check in with one another, because they will both need to move gear onto the stage within a relatively limited time frame. If they try to do this at the same time, they will get in one another’s way.
You must make sure that they know when to load in and set up, and then trust them to do what they do best. These people are specialists in sound and lighting. They’re not necessarily good business people, and they’re not necessarily good with other people. It’s your job as producer of the event to give them what they need to do a good job.
When you’ve got your tech rider, and you know exactly how much you have to spend on your entertainment, it’s time to put in a formal offer.
A formal offer is a legally binding written document stating your interest in securing a band’s services and the terms of the offer. Once you have submitted a formal offer, it is out of your hands. You must wait for the band to accept or reject it.
To create a formal offer, you need to make it clear when and where you want the band to perform and how much you’re willing to pay. It should also detail who pays for additional expenses such as hospitality and production costs.
Your formal offer will be relatively simple, because you’re running a private party. You’ll be dealing in what’s called a flat guarantee; a specific fee for services rendered. When artists perform in venues selling tickets, they sometimes expect a commission on ticket sales. That’s not something you need to concern yourself with, so your formal offer can be very straightforward.
Most reputable agencies will be able to provide you with a template if you need one. If they do this, make sure you read the fine print and understand what you’re signing.
A lot of offer templates say that all hospitality requests will be met, or that a tech rider will be provided to the artist’s specification. This can be a pretty sketchy situation for you, because it puts you on the hook for whatever the artist desires. Don’t sign anything legally binding before making sure that you’re not opening yourself up to be liable for unlimited expenses.
A lot of agents ask you, casually, to submit a formal offer. Realize that, when they do this, they are inviting you to enter into a contract that will be legally binding if they accept your offer.
Don’t submit more than one formal offer at a time unless you want to confirm more than one band. It’s an excellent idea to impose an expiration date on your formal offers, so that agents and bands can’t sit on them indefinitely.
They may be dealing with several formal offers at one time. Meanwhile, you have a party to plan. If you make it clear that your offer expires in five or ten business days, you won’t find yourself in the awkward position of waiting six weeks for them to respond, all the while being unable to submit another formal offer. You’ll know that, after giving them a reasonable period of time, your offer will expire and you can go elsewhere. This is where a lot of young people make mistakes, because they don’t understand the legal ramifications of submitting a formal offer and how to protect themselves from being screwed.
A formal offer is an acknowledgment of exactly what you’re asking of an entertainer and what you’re offering them. An agent, in turn, will take the offer and draft an offer sheet that he will submit to the artist’s management.
They will go over the offer, in conjunction with the band, and respond through their agent. If they want more money, or any other part of the offer to be altered, you’ll hear about it from the agent. At this point, you have the opportunity to accept their terms or to stick with your original offer.
When you submit a formal offer, it’s very important that you provide correct and precise information. Some of this is obvious, some less so. Your formal offer should include the following:
1. The date of your event
2. The name and address of the venue
3. The artist’s name
4. The load-in time
5. The time you want your artist’s set to begin
6. The proposed duration of the set
7. Any curfews that are in effect
Including the proposed set duration is very valuable for a number of reasons. First of all, pinpointing how long your artist will play for reduces the chances that they’ll show up, play for half an hour, and leave.
It’s also useful because you may be organizing a four-hour event, but you probably won’t be expecting a single band to play for four hours. You need them to know when they’re expected to arrive, what time they will be on stage, and for how long.
If you’re not yet certain of the exact timing, write “per advance.” For example, you might write: “Proposed set time is 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., per advance.” You’ll iron this out in the advance, which takes place five to ten days prior to the show, and it gives you some flexibility in case plans change.
Calculate the load-in time by thinking about how long the band will need to get set up. Do you want them to start their set at 10:30 p.m.? You may need them to load in at 8:30 p.m. Again, use the phrase “per advance.” This indicates that the load-in time will be confirmed during the advance.
Be very specific when quoting dates and times. If your party will be taking place on September 9, include the year and the day of the week. If the date and the day don’t match, your offer will be invalid or, if you’re lucky, the agent will come back to you and ask for clarification.
On the other hand, if you make a mistake with the date and don’t include a day of the week, you may sign a legally binding contract for the wrong day.
When you give them a load-in time and a time for the set to commence, specify whether it’s a.m. or p.m. These small details may seem unnecessary, but you’re communicating with people who receive a lot of information. You don’t want to create any excuse for miscalculations.
Further down the offer, you’ll need to describe the terms of the offer in detail. Lay out what you’re prepared to pay them, and be sure to spell it out in words as well as numbers. It should look something like this: “$10,000 (ten thousand dollars).”
Your formal offer is a legally binding document. If you make a typo because you’re tired or distracted, and add an extra zero, you are liable for the consequences.
If you offer a flat guarantee, this means that you agree to pay the stated sum and nothing else. In this case, make it clear that additional items, such as flights, ground transportation, and accommodation, will not be provided.
Alternatively, if you prefer to cover some or all of these expenses, factor them in when making your offer and hold back the necessary funds. There’s no wrong way to do this. You can include or exclude whatever you want. It’s very important, however, that you are specific.
If something goes wrong, and there are gray areas that haven’t been covered, there’s no chance that the band’s agent and management will be knocking on your door to admit fault. Quite the opposite—they’ll be trying to make out that any fault is yours. Don’t give them ammunition.
Your formal offer will also need to provide buyer information and give the name of the signatory. You’ll probably want to list your chapter as the buying company, and you will be the signatory, which means that you are the person signing the contract and taking responsibility for making sure that it’s correct.
The offer needs to include your contact information. It also needs to include the contact information of your production manager. You may have hired a production company or a turnkey service to run the event for you, in which case give their details.
Otherwise, you’re the point man, and you need to list production details for the sound engineer, the lighting designer, and the stage manager. Unless you have a solid understand- ing of stage plots, input lists, and backline requirement, you will not be much help in this area. Your job is to connect the band, and their management, with the guys who speak the language of production.
The band’s agent or management will compile everything you give them into an offer sheet and present it to the band. If they confirm the offer, it will go straight into the contract, and correcting any mistakes will become a painful process. This is why it’s a good idea to get the details right the first time.
It’s also a very good idea to include an expiration date on your offers. Without one, you can technically be held to them months later. If you’re booking a party two months out, you don’t want to be waiting three weeks for a band to respond to your offer, putting you under the gun if they reject it. Write something to the effect of: “This offer expires in five business days.”
If you’re booking a national act for an event that’s six months out, you need to adjust your expectations accord- ingly. They will probably take at least a few weeks to get back to you, and you need to set a realistic expiration date. If you make an offer to a $40,000 national act, and tell them it expires in three business days, they won’t give you the time of day. If you’re booking a party band for an event in a couple of months, and you give them twenty-eight days, you could be left hanging with no chance of booking another band.
Another useful phrase to insert into the offer is “mutually agreeable hospitality and backline provided by the purchaser.”
“Mutually agreeable” is a very useful phrase. It means exactly what it appears to mean. You are not tied to providing anything that you don’t agree to.
The band can come back to you and expect two hundred organic cigarettes and a dozen bottles of specialty tequila, and tell you that they won’t accept your offer unless you agree to those demands. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll receive a formal contract, and your specification of mutually agreeable hospitality gives you the power to go through and strike out any requests that you deem unreasonable.
Remember that you are paying the band a lot of money to play a private show. It’s not necessary for them to expect an expensive hospitality rider in addition to their fee.
If you get the contract back, and it states that the band wants $100 worth of fine cigars and a bucket of red M&Ms, you can reference the formal offer and say that you don’t consider that mutually agreeable, and make a counter offer such as water, a case of beer, and pizza.
You’re always free to do that; it’s your money. Putting the term “mutually agreeable” in the formal offer, however, places you in a stronger position if you need to negotiate.
Of course, this works both ways. “Mutually agreeable” hospitality means that the band, or their manager, must agree that what you are offering to provide is acceptable. Don’t try to stiff them. It will only create bad blood.
There are a lot of aspects of a typical formal offer that you don’t need to worry about, because you’re organizing a private event, not a ticketed event. Ticket sales and the date tickets go on sale are irrelevant to you.
Understanding what needs to go into a formal offer, and what doesn’t, will equip you to make sense of an agent’s template and adjust it as necessary. You can use the template they send you, but be aware that it will be weighted in their favor. Knowing your way around a formal offer redresses the balance.
Congratulations. You’ve submitted a formal offer, it has been accepted, and the agent’s assistant has issued you a contract. Now, all you need to do is sign it and return it with a deposit, and your show is confirmed.
Hold up a moment. Before you sign, be very sure that the contract in your hands matches the offer you presented.
First and foremost, check the hospitality rider, tech rider, and transportation terms. Go through with a fine-tooth comb and check the terms. In all likelihood, the agent’s assistant hasn’t given the contract a lot of thought, so there may be some conditions in there that don’t meet your stipulations.
For example, the contract may contain a clause that reads: “Purchaser agrees to provide and pay for sound and lighting to meet with artist’s specification and approval. Failure to present the engagement shall not relieve the purchaser of the obligation to pay the guarantee in full.”
That’s standard operating verbiage for a contract. The only problem is that you didn’t offer to supply sound and lighting that meet the artist’s specification and approval. You offered mutually agreeable production, hospitality, and backline.
Making a change is as simple as striking through the phrase about sound and lighting being to the “artist’s specification” and replacing it with the term “mutually agreeable specification.” For this show to work, both parties must agree to the terms of the contract, so all you’re doing is asserting your right to a say in the specifications of the lighting and the sound.
The point is, of course, that you need to know what you’re looking for. If you neglect to alter the contract, you can find yourself on the hook for whatever sound and lighting the artist deems necessary, or they’re within their rights to walk away and keep the deposit you gave them.
Be very honest about what the hospitality rider will provide. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of; the band doesn’t need $700 worth of liquor. On the other hand, understand that they live on the road and that you need to keep them happy so that they perform well. Give them water, drinks, and finger foods so that they have a good experience.
You have the right to go through the hospitality rider and strike through any requests you consider unreasonable. They, in turn, have the right to come back to you and tell you that your offer is not meeting their needs.
If that happens, your best bet is probably to offer them a buyout. A buyout is an offer of cash in lieu of services. Instead of agreeing to provide $700 worth of high-end tequila, you might offer $300 in cash. You don’t need to send someone to the liquor store, and they can do whatever they want with the money. It’s a good way to find common ground and get to what’s mutually agreeable.
Keep in mind that it’s your job to catch things like this when you receive the contract. If you fail to, you can’t complain when the band arrives and they expect you to supply them with whatever they want.
The same goes for the tech rider. If you initially took the tech rider the agent provided you with to your produc- tion manager or your sound engineer, and they struck through some aspects of it, make sure that those aspects haven’t crept back into the contract. You may need to strike through them again to drive home the point that you are not willing to meet those specifications.
Approach flights, ground transportation, and lodging in exactly the same way. Your band’s agent and management may try their luck and slide clauses into the contract requiring you to cover the cost of any or all of these things. The next thing you know, you’ve put your signature to a document promising that you will put your DJ up in a five-star hotel.
It is 100 percent your responsibility to catch things like this. Don’t ever sign a contract without making sure that you know exactly what you’re agreeing to.
Most contracts come with a cover sheet, which details the basic terms of the agreement, and several pages of standard terms and conditions. Unless you’re pre-law, and you get a kick out of examining the terms of contracts, your best bet here is to turn the contract over to your lawyer. Depending upon the quality of your relationship, this should cost you anywhere from $50 to $400. It will be money well spent.
For example, there may be a clause in the contract that states that no photography or reproduction is permitted and that attendees are not permitted to record, broadcast, or photograph the artists.
You know as well as the agent that smartphones exist, and it’s not realistic to ban them from the performance, so you can strike through the clause and state that people can’t be prevented from using smartphones.
The agent may look at it and demand that you do prevent people from using smartphones, but it’s more likely that they will understand where you’re coming from.
The main body of the contract will go into detail about the exact terms of artist compensation, and other important but boring subjects such as how to give notice to the artist’s representatives if anything changes. You may see a clause relating to ticket sales, which is obviously irrelevant because you’re putting together a private event.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t simply sign and return the contract you receive, assuming that it conforms exactly to your formal offer. It may not.
If you want to learn how to peruse the contract yourself, get a lawyer involved the first time you’re signing one, and keep a record of her work so that you’ll have it to refer to the next time you’re in a similar position.
It’s worth noting that the advice above assumes that you are dealing with a reputable agency that understands the rules and acknowledges your right to contest parts of the contract. Should you find yourself entering into a contract with a fly-by-night agency, or the cousin of a rapper who fancies himself an agent, these rules may not apply.
Do not try to handle these scenarios alone or rely on unqualified help. Your fraternity brother’s dad, who spe- cializes in divorce law, may not understand the nuances of entertainment contracts and wind up making matters worse. Any situation that veers toward the shady calls for the expert help of an experienced middle buyer or turn- key company.
Finally, make sure that you get a fully executed contract.
At the bottom of the cover page, you’ll see space for two signatures. One is for the name of your fraternity house and your signature. The other is for the artist or their management. The agent won’t be mentioned.
Only when the artist or their representative signs the contract can you consider it fully executed. When you’ve signed it, it’s a buyer-signed contract. At that point, you must request that it is signed by the artist or their representative and returned to you, otherwise it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever receive a fully executed contract.
The reason for this is that, if neither the artist nor their representative signs the contract, they can claim that they have never seen your alterations. This gives them plausible deniability or, in plain English, the right to be a pain in your ass.
If they show up and demand their cigars and five-gallon bucket of red M&Ms, it’s much more effective to present them with a fully executed contract than a buyer-signed contract. The former says that they have agreed to the hospitality you offered them. The latter only says that you struck through their requests.
The agent and the artist’s management will not actively seek to make your life easier. They won’t suggest that you go through the contract and strike out anything you don’t agree to. They won’t suggest that they sign the contract and return it to you fully executed. They want to keep the upper hand. It’s your job to make sure that you cover your bases.
The vast majority of bookings take place through an agency, and it’s in your best interests to use an agent. Reputable artists adhere to protocol. Those that are big enough to warrant engaging an agent should do so.
If that’s not the case, you should ask yourself why. The probable answer is that they want to avoid paying com- mission, so they’re boxing out their agent. You might get a lower price, but you’re cutting out the guy whose job it is to make sure that the transaction runs smoothly.
Agents often get a bad rap, and almost as often they deserve it. Nonetheless, remember that trying to negotiate a deal without them hugely increases the potential for snafus and foul-ups. Agents are there to make sure the deal is con- ducted efficiently. They won’t, however, prevent you from getting screwed. That’s your job, or your middle buyer’s.
Artists are often difficult to work with, because they’re not business people but artists. If you deal directly with them, you’re taking away the safety net of going through an agent, and you’re dealing directly with an artist who you already know is trying to cut their agent out of the deal. Those should be red flags.
Additionally, dealing directly with an artist only gains you access to them, not to the entire roster of an agency. It won’t help you set up future business opportunities, unless you want to book the same band several times.
An agency offers you protection if anything goes wrong. This is especially true in the EDM world and the hip-hop world, where artists are notoriously volatile. If your entertainer doesn’t show up, and you booked them through their cousin or their tour manager, you don’t have any legal recourse. You’re at the mercy of their own sense of honor.
Agencies such as CAA and William Morris Endeavor are ruthless, and they’ll squeeze every dollar out of you, but ultimately they are reputable companies. They depend on their artists showing up, and they will maintain a level of accountability for their artists’ behavior that you won’t find outside a reputable agency.
Going through an agent will cost you more money, but it will be a much smoother experience. The EDM world, for example, is built on dance and rave culture. Historically, it has been a fairly grimy, drug-fueled scene. As the genre has risen to popularity, so has the culture it grew out of, breeding a unique variety of artist and a unique style of promotion.
A lot of the promoters are really little more than drug-addled fans of the music, who think that they can put on a good show. As a result, the artists themselves, along with their agents and representatives, have their guard very high.
They may seem like jerks, and they may be jerks, but remember that the world made them that way. EDM culture is inseparable from the music. If you’re interested in booking jam bands, you will probably find yourself dealing with a bunch of bros who are out for a good time and who are pretty easygoing. EDM agents, on the other hand, may well ask for 100 percent of the fee up front and screw you at any opportunity.
In fact, as the founder of a turnkey company that provides services to fraternities, I myself take a 100 percent up-front fee because I’m working with young people who can be volatile. That money is held in an account, and we can reassure artists that we have the funds. We pay them a 50 percent deposit on confirmation of the contract and the balance following their show.
I worked with a DJ once whose agency was demanding 100 percent of the fee up front. The company we booked through was reputable, but we had never worked with them before. I had to be very clear with them that I was not willing to part with 100 percent of the fee up front, because I would have no leverage. If the artist didn’t show, I would be strung out.
In the end, I agreed to give them full payment directly prior to their performance. Even that was a risk, because they could have taken the money and dipped out after a twenty-minute set, but the agency was a large company, and I decided to trust them. I understood where they were coming from, because the genre can be extremely cutthroat. Fortunately, they understood my position, and we managed to cut a deal that worked for everyone.
They could have insisted on payment in full at the time of the booking. As they were a reputable company, I would probably have agreed. Nonetheless, it would have been a risk. When you’re working with artists in the EDM genre, there’s always a chance you’ll encounter a fly-by-night sleazebag, whom you pay in full only for the artist to show up three hours late or not at all. When you hand over the entire fee before the performance, you relinquish your authority, and it’s very difficult to get satisfaction if something goes wrong.
That’s why there are companies specializing in client representation, talent buying, and event coordination. They sift through the dirt and make the process a lot simpler.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to defuse conflict, try and meet somewhere in the middle. Unless whomever you’re working with is highly principled, or he’s trying to screw you, you should be able to reach enough common ground to agree on a compromise.
You will reach a point where a line is drawn in the sand, and you’ll need to decide whether the risk of something going wrong is large enough to make it worth letting the artist go. That’s a good moment to call in a professional and ask for her counsel.
Hip-hop and rap artists, like EDM artists, have a reputation for being challenging to work with. Be prepared for that.
Jam bands, rock ‘n’ roll artists, and country musicians tend to be more laid-back, but they may bring more complicated technical requirements. Essentially, your average EDM act is a guy with a laptop who requires a couple of turntables and a mixer. He may desire a $50,000 lighting rig so that he looks cool, but his basic needs are very simple. At most, there will probably be two people on stage. It’s a relatively simple environment to create.
Hip-hop is fairly similar. There’s usually a DJ and at least one rapper, who uses a wireless microphone. Very often, a rapper’s setup is almost identical to an EDM DJ’s, except with one or more performers running around the stage with wireless microphones.
One hiccup to look out for, however, is that the gear used by DJs is constantly being updated. It’s a racket. We’re not talking about any great technological revolution here. Mixing boards are being produced with a few subtle changes, and of course the DJs all want the newest version.
The old ones become null and void for no real reason. Perhaps the USB portal is on the other side of the machine, or the new model has a built-in monitor. None of these changes are a problem until your DJ shows up expecting you to have the newest device, and you have a different version.
Not having a compatible backline can destroy a DJ or hip- hop set very quickly. Get the exact backline requirements in writing before the show, and make absolutely certain that you know what they need. Without it, maybe they can fake it by playing a Spotify mix or a SoundCloud mix, but otherwise your DJ may not be able to play at all.
Often, when you reach out to a rapper or his tour manager, he will say he needs one thing but needs something completely different. I have personal experience, many times, of artists telling me that they need a particular mixing board and then showing up without the right adapter to connect their laptop, their iPad, or their smartphone to the mixing board.
They have their backing music stored and ready to go in their audio device, but they can’t connect it to the mixing board and therefore the speakers. For lack of an eighth-inch converter, the entire gig is on the rocks. This issue has literally been the downfall of innumerable hip-hop shows: an inability to connect the device where their backing music is stored with the hardware that propels sound.
Ridiculous as it sounds, this is your problem if they show up without the relevant adaptor. They will expect you to sort it out, and they may blow you off altogether if you can’t fix it.
A great production manager or sound engineer will be worth their weight in gold here. These are the people who have hundreds of shows under their belts, and they know what to look out for.
The most likely groups to present a problem here are lower-tier hip-hop artists and what’s euphemistically known as “heritage” hip-hop. “Heritage” is a more pleasant way of referring to guys who used to be big stars but who are now gigging purely to pay the bills.
In the heyday of their careers, these guys had people taking care of these things, so they’re not likely to be savvy at doing it for themselves. They may box out qualified personnel so they can save money, and that makes it much more likely they’ll turn up to play a show without some crucial piece of equipment.
Rock ‘n’ roll acts, party bands, and jam bands are a different story. They usually contain between three and ten members, all of whom need to be connected to monitors so they can hear themselves. They will have relatively complex backline requirements, and there will be a lot of moving parts to synchronize.
It’s usually much easier to broker deals with bands of this type, and to work with them, but the technical execution can be a lot more complex.
For example, imagine that you’ve booked three bands onto your six-hour bill. You’ve gone through a solid agent, secured their services within your budget, and they’ve been totally cool with a mutually agreeable hospitality rider. So far, so good.
That is, until they arrive to play your show, and you realize that each one of the bands is expecting to play a two-hour set. You haven’t built in any changeover time.
The absolute minimum time needed for a successful changeover is twenty minutes, and you should allocate half an hour to ensure a smooth transition. You need to account for the time it takes each band to strike their gear and get it off the stage, plus however long it takes the next act to come on, set up, and go through a line check.
To reduce the impact of this problem, consider asking bands to share backline. Each drummer will provide cymbals and a snare, while the rest of the kit remains set up throughout the show. This move alone can shave upwards of ten minutes off each changeover.
In this case, you need to make it very clear when you’re submitting a formal offer and ratifying the contract that you will provide the backline, or that you are asking one of the bands to bring backline that will be used by all of them. You must also decide whether it makes more sense for the opening act to leave their gear on stage or for the headliner to set up early, assuming they’re willing to let the opener use their kit.
Another way of handling this, if you have a large enough stage, is to set up the headliner’s drum kit in the center of the stage, and the support act’s kit in front or to the side, prior to the beginning of the show.
The chances are that bands will be familiar with these setups, and willing to work with you, especially if they have ever played in any densely populated city in the Northeast. No one enjoys lugging a drum kit up a narrow set of stairs so they can play a two-hundred-capacity club.
By the same token, any band that has played a festival probably understands the value of sharing backline for the sake of a smooth, swift transition.
If you have multiple entertainers on one bill, you may be able to mix and match. Bring a band in earlier in the day. They can play a longer set, and they make a more interest- ing spectacle during daylight hours than a DJ or hip-hop act.
When the sun goes down, that’s the time for the rappers to come to the forefront. It’s easy to make the changeover; the band need only strike gear, and rappers only need lighting and microphones.
If the party has a late-night portion, that’s the perfect time to schedule a DJ set. Even more than hip-hop, DJs rely on lighting to make their performance effective. Plus, they can use almost exactly the same setup as rappers, except that they don’t need as many microphones.
The easiest bands to accommodate are usually party bands. A large part of their appeal, aside from the fact that they play music everyone knows and spread a good vibe, is that they are usually self-contained. They provide a basic lighting package and a PA system, taking a load off your mind.
That said, most party bands won’t provide a generator. If you have a band booked to play an outside show, you will need to make sure that they have access to quality power.
Quality power does not come from the generator you take on a camping trip to make sure that you can charge your cell phone. For LED lights, you will need something that offers clean current. There are plenty of companies that rent good-quality generators, and it will pay to forge a good relationship with one of them.
If the band is slated to play at your fraternity house, check that your power outlets can handle the band’s power needs. To do this, ask the entertainer how many outlets they need and what wattage they require. Then, ask your adviser whether your house can meet those needs. If your adviser doesn’t know, hire an electrician to test the outlets.
You may discover that a full-blown generator is overkill, and that hiring someone to tie in a distro to the power source will be sufficient.
However you do it, make sure you can provide for the band’s power needs. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a band come in, set up, and start rolling through their set. They look good, they sound good, and the room’s rocking. What happens next? You guessed it: power outage.
Unless you’re an electrician, the most sophisticated response you can probably conjure to this situation is to start flipping breakers, which probably won’t work. Know your band’s requirements before they arrive, and you will dramatically reduce the probability of this scenario becoming a reality.
Your other primary concern when you hire a party band is providing them with a suitable stage. Unless you book a very unique band that doubles as a production company, they will not bring a stage with them, so you need to make sure they have one.
Planning events becomes easier with experience, but you can reduce the stress by knowing what to expect. Think carefully about the likely needs of your artists and their probable blind spots, and prepare effectively.
Know that EDM acts and hip-hop artists may be difficult to work with, but their technical riders will be comparatively simple. Make sure that you have enough power to prevent an embarrassing outage in the middle of a set.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, and it can seem daunting. If you take it step by step, however, you can negotiate with agents, book great bands, and experience the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve created an amazing show.
Alternatively, perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds like far more work than you care to do. In that case, you can always sub out and find a reputable production company or turnkey operation to take much of the burden off your hands.
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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