Being a social chair is a dream come true: social status, great times, the adulation of your fraternity brothers, and all the girls you can meet. Until it all goes wrong, of course.
Read through this list of seven party disasters, all of which I’ve seen firsthand, and ask yourself what you would do to prevent them from happening or how you would handle them when they arose. If you don’t know, you need this book. You’ll find answers and guidance below.
1. What happens if the rapper shows up and is not the person you paid for?
2. What happens when the rapper you paid for gets pulled over for weed two hours outside town and doesn’t show?
3. What happens when the DJ you hired doesn’t have the appropriate equipment to perform?
4. What happens when a band shows up and you don’t have the back- line they need?
5. What happens when the artist you just paid $10,000 to plays for twenty minutes and quits?
6. What happens when an unhappy neighbor calls the police?
7. What happens when you blow your budget on entertainment, then realize you don’t have the funds to provide tech or hospitality rider requirements?
What would you do? Take a moment to think about your responses, then I’ll share some tips on how to stay cool and handle these kinds of situations when they go down.
This has happened to me, with a hip-hop act hired to perform at a university in the Southeast. About three hours before they were due to show up, the front man’s social media was blowing up—in LA. Unless he was shaping to get on a rocket ship, there was no way he was getting to the show in time.
We were speaking to the guy’s entourage, and they were coming in. They didn’t know that we knew the headliner wasn’t with them. Fortunately, we had an advantage because we knew in advance that the headliner wasn’t going to show.
We could have called them on it before they even arrived, but we’d already paid them a deposit. If we alerted them to the potential for conflict, there would have been a high probability of their simply turning tail and not showing up at all.
Instead, we let them get to the venue, unload their gear, and get ready to perform. When they were about go on stage, we said to them: “Listen, we know the headliner’s not here. You know that’s not right. We’re going to have to address this, and we’re not going to pay you the full fee. Go out there and perform, and we’ll settle up after the show.”
At that point, they were faced with the option of making some money versus no money. They’d already received a 50 percent deposit, and we ended up paying them 50 percent of the remaining balance. It wasn’t what people wanted, and we’ll never work with them again, but they did perform.
Knowing that rap is a comparatively volatile genre, we’d also hedged our bets by booking a well-known DJ as a warm-up act, which also eased the pain of not having the headliner show.
Again, I have personal experience with this. Knowing that some kind of mess is always a possibility, we had hired a jam band to warm up the crowd. Typically, a jam band can easily stretch a set, and that’s what we did.
Meanwhile, we had another guy on call. He was three hours away and, while a much lesser-known act, he was a better option than disappointing people altogether. We gave him half of the money we would have paid to the headliner and kicked a small portion of what was left over to the opening band for performing a longer set.
Once again, it was less than perfect, but it was a big improvement on canceling the show.
One solution is to use pre-recorded music. DJs can often take a song mix, press play, and pretend to be making music on stage when in fact they’re just playing a preproduced mix. Some of the biggest DJs on the planet do this all the time.
The biggest stumbling block you’ll run into if you ask a DJ to do this is artistic integrity. While we appreciate artistic integrity, we also appreciate a party moving forward as scheduled, so it behooves the artist who wants to get paid and stay in the frame for future bookings to find mutually agreeable ways of getting music to people. Faking it is one of those ways.
If it’s really not possible for the DJ to play pre-recorded music, perhaps because the he doesn’t have a thumb drive with all of his music downloaded on it, or he refuses point blank to compromise artistic integrity, it’s time to crank up the music and keep the beer flowing.
What do I mean by that? You should have invested heav- ily in lighting and sound, so put them to work. Create an atmosphere that’s bigger than the DJ.
Ask the DJ (assuming he’s male) to go around and take selfies with the girls at the party. Ask him to hang out and have a drink with your fraternity brothers. Let his celebrity be the highlight of the event, rather than his music, and laugh about the fact that you didn’t have the right mixer. Usually, one of these options will pan out. It’s not what you wanted, but it’s still fun, and it’s a lot better than nothing.
I’ve personally known this to happen with a national act. Everyone assumed that the other party had what was needed, and no one did, and the DJ was completely unwill- ing to act the part.
Fortunately, this was at a professional venue, not a frater- nity house. They turned up all of their lights, blew fake snow around, and started giving away alcohol. The DJ mingled with people and took selfies. A handful of execs in the fraternity were bent out of shape by the experience, but the average participant had an amaz- ing time.
On another occasion, the DJ used a prerecorded mix and rocked a party for three thousand people. No one knew the difference, because it was his music and he manipulated a mixer to make it look as though he was mixing live. It worked perfectly.
This is a strategy that’s used deliberately all the time, even when there’s been no mistake. It’s commonplace at large festivals, where people have paid a lot of money and where substandard production isn’t an option.
If a band shows up without a drum kit, there’s clearly no faking it. You’ll need to find them one from somewhere.
Start by calling up venues and anyone you know that plays in a band. Usually, in a college town, there’s a drum kit lying around somewhere. It may not be the best kit in the world, but you don’t need the best. You need a drum kit you can use.
Most other backline can be run direct and won’t require stage amplification, so you can certainly wing it. This is not a time to start blaming people. It’s a time to be polite to the artist or band, make sure that they understand the situation, and apologize for not having what they need.
At an all-day event, where we weren’t responsible for orga- nizing the backline, the headliner showed up expecting it to be provided. It wasn’t. We reached out to the band that had just finished their set. We offered them booze and pizza while the headliners used their gear to play a set. For a smaller band, having the opportunity to kick it with a larger band, when they had nowhere special to be, was a good opportunity.
That kind of approach can be adapted. In a college town, there’s probably a band performing at a dive bar some- where. Get ahold of them and invite them to hang out with the band, talk to some girls, and watch a great show while their gear is onstage for ninety minutes. They’ll probably go for it.
This is simple. If you’ve paid a 50 percent deposit to an act to perform for an hour, and they’ve walked off stage after twenty minutes, they’ve only fulfilled a third of their obligation. Don’t give them another dime.
Tell them that their options are to leave peacefully and maybe work another show, or cause problems that require involving the police, thereby guaranteeing that you’ll never work with them again.
If you’ve already paid them, you’re in a bind, unless you’re in a position to physically recover the money. Holding gear hostage can reintroduce leverage, but don’t pull gangster moves unless you’re ready to be treated like a gangster. You can go through the courts, but it’s a long, costly process. This is why it’s a smart idea to work with honorable people and to resist paying people who haven’t been vetted 100 percent up front.
Understand the position of your artists. They’ve proba- bly been screwed over twenty times, and that’s why they want to be paid up front. Do this job for any length of time, however, and you’ll get screwed over, too, which is why you want to hold back paying people in full until successful completion of the show.
The best solution is to meet in the middle. Offer a 50 per- cent deposit and 50 percent when they walk off stage. If people won’t agree to that, it’s a red flag. Numerous times, especially with hip-hop artists, I’ve encountered people who expect to be paid up front.
I make it very clear to artists that because I have already given them 50 percent of their fee in the form of a deposit, I expect them to repay my show of good faith by delivering an amazing show.
I guarantee that I’ll be standing by the side of the stage with a sack of money, and that it will be theirs as soon as they perform the last note of their set. I give them my word that all the money will be there, and I request that they understand where I’m coming from, just as I understand where they’re coming from.
If they’re not willing to bend, there’s a high probability that they are not trustworthy.
There is a risk that you’ll start a battle of wills. They can threaten to leave just as easily as you can threaten not to pay them. The reality of the situation, however, is that they came to play.
Everyone involved should want the show to happen. If they don’t, why are they there? Usually, offering to meet in the middle provides a compromise everyone can live with.
A couple of years ago, I worked with an artist who wanted cash. We had agreed to pay them with a check, and our checks are as good as any on the planet, but their manager was telling us that they wouldn’t perform without cash.
I explained to them that they had two options: They could take the check, perform well, and stay in the loop for further business, or they could walk away and never work with us again. They took the check.
To an extent, their concerns were legitimate. Checks don’t always clear, and it turned out that they didn’t have a bank account. They called me at 2:00 a.m. that night from a check-cashing depot, where they were paying upwards of 25 percent to get their check cashed.
Always be willing to adapt. If they’d come to me with a good reason why they needed cash, I would have listened.
Instead, they were confrontational. They were also one of seven acts performing that day, so I was willing to let them walk.
On another occasion, an established act came to me calmly and explained why he needed cash. My first inclination was to refuse, but I realized that would be sheer stubbornness. I swallowed my pride, paid him in cash, and he performed an amazing set.
Don’t allow yourself to get gypped, but don’t be so bull- headed that you gyp other people. As a social chair, your first loyalty is to making a great show happen.
If the police show up, the damage has been done, because they’re legally bound to cite you. Your best bet is to get an extremely sober representative to speak with the police officer and ask what you can do to continue the show.
You need to demonstrate that you’re 100 percent willing to cooperate. The officer may tell you that there’s nothing he or she can do because the music is too loud and the hour is too late. Alternatively, the officer may say that if you can turn it down, or wrap it up within the next twenty minutes, you can keep it going.
The very last thing you want to do is start telling an officer of the law what you will and won’t do. The police have the authority to lock you up, lock the sound guy up, and haul the band off to jail. Realize that you are not in control, that you created this situation, and that you need to ask for help.
Turning the music down substantially actually has a sig- nificant positive effect. It forces people closer to the stage, which can lead to a much more engaged crowd. Unlike ticketed events, where people have paid money to be in attendance, the natural tendency at social events is to mingle with friends and wander around. A good soundman should already be aware of this and adjust volume levels accordingly.
You can even try talking to the band and asking them whether they’re willing to perform an acoustic set, move inside, or shift venues. Many larger acts won’t even con- sider that, but money is a great motivator. Paying a party band or a jam band an extra $1,000 to spend forty-five min- utes moving their gear indoors, or allowing sober people to move their gear indoors, could be a solution.
Another option is to invite the police officer to walk the perimeter of the event with you and measure sound levels. The officer should have a device for measuring sound levels on his or her person and can compare the number of deci- bels with the maximum permitted levels.
If you can be humble, while simultaneously demonstrating that you’re in the right, there’s a chance you can convince an officer of the law to call the station and report that you’re not breaking the law, that you’re willing to comply with his guidelines, and that you’ve turned the music down. That can be the difference between continuing your party and having to shut it down.
The best fallback plan available to you is to actually hire a cop to be present at your event. This is not because he’s going to act as a security guard. He’s not. He’s going to sit there and talk to girls all night.
The reason you want him there is that he has a radio. A radio is magic in this situation, because if someone calls the police station, the station can then call him before a squad car is deployed, and he can tell you to turn the music down.
If the police need to show up at your event, they are bound by law to issue you with a citation, so your friend with a radio acts as an early warning system. By telling you if someone calls the cops, and radioing back to his colleagues on the force to tell them the disturbance has been quelled, he can prevent them from ever arriving and save you a lot of trouble.
In short: Pay a guy $25 an hour to sit there, talk to girls, and run point on any disturbances in the neighborhood. It’ll be money well spent.
In most cases, the police don’t want to mess up your party for kicks, but they have a responsibility to protect and serve. That can actually work to your advantage. A while ago, we had a huge, huge rap act scheduled to play. Before they had even hit town, they had garnered a lot of negative publicity. When they arrived, they were two hours late.
The crowd was frenzied, intoxicated, and already annoyed that the show was so delayed. As soon as the act got on stage, neighbors started calling the police, and inevitably they came and wanted to shut us down.
We apologized profusely, explained that we had tried to bring the act in on time, but that they had ignored our requests. We showed them two thousand drunk, crazed people, and we allowed them to come to the realization that if we cut the show, there was going to be a riot.
They understood that, recognized that if they took the act off stage, then people would get hurt, and let the perfor- mance finish.
Another move we made was to alter the bill when we became aware that the venue was in a location where noise levels posed a potential problem. That saved us a lot of money. We knew that putting the headliner on stage was a risky endeavor, so we didn’t double the risk by scheduling a warm-up act. If we’d done that, the show might have been shut down before the headliner even got up to perform.
We had a dubstep DJ slated to perform. Bass is omnidi- rectional, meaning it can’t be pointed to avoid upsetting people. Low-end bass frequencies carry a long way. We decided to put the DJ inside because we knew that if he performed outside, there was a better than average chance that the $30,000 hip-hop act would never make it onstage.
We would happily have canceled his performance and even paid him not to play if it had been necessary to serve the greater good.
Whenever you’re talking to the police, be hyperaware of who is in charge. I’ve been in a situation where there was a gate that needed to be closed to prevent people going backstage and damaging gear, and a police officer, for some reason, was determined that it should remain open. When he saw me close it, he threatened to arrest me.
My name, my liability, my company, my show, and my gear were on the line. He had no idea what he was talking about. On the other hand, I was no good to anybody locked up. I walked away and allowed one of my subordinates to handle it.
If you find yourself in a conversation with a police officer, listen, be honest, and ensure that you’re sober. If you’re not, get someone else to do the talking. Keep your drunk friends away from the area.
If you’ve got a budget shortfall, hopefully you figure this out prior to the day of the show. You need to supply what an artist requires to perform, whatever that takes.
There are a number of great platforms nowadays that you can use to raise money quickly. Tilt is one. The old-school approach, passing the hat, can also work.
Remember that, for a lot of bands, a gig at a fraternity house is not their ideal booking. They may not have grown up in the area or been part of a fraternity themselves. They want to do a good show and get paid. At the very least, they want their art to be represented in the light they intended. If you’re missing part of their tech rider, you need to remedy that situation.
If you really don’t have what they need, or the money to provide it, you need to be extremely humble and apolo- getic, and ask them what you can do to make the show work. Explain the benefits of salvaging the show. Per- haps your fraternity has chapters all over the southeast of the country, and you can sell them on the potential for future opportunities.
The most common fubar we’re called in to correct is the lack of a stage. Social chairs get a tech rider that includes a stage, and they think: “Cool, we have a stage.”
Not in the eyes of a regional or a national act, they don’t. They have a small sectional platform that one of their fraternity brothers built two years previously. It’s been sitting in the rain since it was built. You wouldn’t want to put your dog on it, let alone six or seven grown men and a thousand pounds of gear.
Stages collapse every week, people get hurt, and gear gets damaged. It’s a very real danger. Time and time again, people think they’re covered, but they don’t understand that a rickety stage that their buddy’s three-piece jam band will happily play on for a Wednesday night gig is not a stage that a national act will agree to perform on.
As a backup scenario, consider relocating them to the porch of your fraternity house. People can stand in the yard, and the porch provides an elevated platform. Alternatively, perhaps the topography of the yard is conducive to using what staging you have got as a drum riser. Put the drummer on it, and the band can play on the ground.
These kinds of deals will likely require you to be very con- vincing, but I’ve seen them come off, many times. Once again, this is where proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Bands usually understand that, when they play at a fraternity house, the lighting and sound won’t necessarily be venue-grade.
Staging, however, is a matter of safety. It’s very easy nowa- days to send pictures and specs and ask people whether the stage you already have meets their needs. Don’t wait until they show up and tell you they’re not willing to go up there.
Unless you’re an experienced event planner, with expertise in the specific genres of entertainers in question, the likelihood that you’re going to be able to successfully execute an audible on any of these plays is very slim.
The reality of these situations is that they need to be caught on the front end, and handling them is an advanced skill. That being said, there are always things you can do to limit the damage. When you understand what might go wrong, you can put in place backup plans that limit the possibility of a disaster on your watch.
Disasters such as the ones listed above happen all the time in Greek life. If you don’t want to become a statistic, then plan properly, and you won’t suffer the consequences of piss poor performance.
In the following posts, I’ll take you step-by-step through the planning and execution of a quality event, from budgeting to booking to the day of the show. No more excuses. It’s time to prepare.
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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