Good job. You’ve checked out the calendar, and you understand what you need to focus on first. Now you need to start delivering. Whatever your starting date may be, you’ll be in post for a year, and you have a lot of parties to spearhead.
The key players here are you, your president, and your treasurer. Everybody has a different perspective. Like you, your president probably wants to see a gigantic event come off, generating publicity and social capital for your chapter. You want the same thing, but you also want the personal kudos that comes with being the guy in charge of the kickass party.
You and the president will see eye to eye on many things. The treasurer, on the other hand, has a bird’s eye view of the chapter’s finances. He wants to see you succeed, and he likes to party, but his priorities are different. He knows that you are only one of many people who will be asking him for money. He should, therefore, be much more of a stickler about the budget than you or the president. Be thankful for this. If he’s not, he’s probably not a good treasurer.
Your role is equivalent to being the CEO of a company. You’re the visionary here. It’s your job to find creative ways of achieving the goals of your “business” (i.e., your fraternity). Your president is the equivalent of the company president. He is the figurehead of the fraternity as a whole, but he’s not as directly involved in the process as you are. Your treasurer, naturally, is equivalent to the CFO, who holds the purse strings.
You were elected to your position because people believe in your ability to spot talent and create an amazing party. Your president is the face of the fraternity. He’s on your side, but you can’t count on him to bail you out if you mess up. Your treasurer may be a bit nerdier and less engaged with the overall vision, but he’s doing an essential service by preventing you from going over budget.
It’s absolutely vital that all three of you are involved in the process of establishing budgets.
Whether you’ve been elected in November or May, you have a vacation coming up and a party on the other side of it. What is the most effective use of your time?
Right now, you have access to the people who can provide you with the feedback you need, whether that’s an opinion on the nature of the party, an accurate picture of how much you have to spend, or an idea of when other fraternities are planning events.
Your important tastemakers, your treasurer, and other social chairs are all still in town. They haven’t left to go skiing or visit Grandma. That situation will change soon, so you’d better make the most of it.
In addition to your responsibilities as social chair, you need to study and prepare for your own vacation, so timing is of the essence. Once the people you need have left town, the chances of them responding to calls, emails, and text messages in a timely fashion are slim.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, your first step should be to connect with your treasurer and ask him for a realistic assessment of your budget. Without an understanding of your buying power, any moves you make to book bands or secure venues may turn out to be an exercise in futility.
If you don’t know your budget, figure out why you don’t know it, and when you will. This may involve a serious discussion with your treasurer.
Are you expecting additional funds from alumni? Is your house or chapter subject to a non-annual expense such as a new roof ? Your treasurer should have his eye on the bigger picture here and let you know how much you can allocate to parties.
Your budget gives you a clear idea of what you can expect to accomplish. On the positive side, that could mean building up a war chest, because your fraternity has been on probation for six months and the funds have been stacking up. In this case, you’ll probably know all about it because of the buzz around the fraternity about the sick party you’ll be able to throw when you’re released from probation.
If the roof needs to be replaced or the parking lot needs repaving, however, it’s much less likely that you’ll be aware of it. This is why it’s important to do some digging and ascertain your buying power.
There’s no sense wasting your time and energy looking for $20,000 acts when you only have $10,000 to spend. That’s just spinning your wheels. Get a healthy understanding of your budget, and make sure that it’s in writing so that you can reference it later.
Ideally, get an email from your treasurer, and get him to copy it to your president. It’s too easy to catch your treasurer at a bad time, while his mind is in seven different places, and discover later on that he’s given you flawed information. Having it in writing prevents this.
Always request a conservative budget. Even treasurers, who have been elected for their perceived fiscal responsibility, can be prone to exaggeration. Remember, you can always, always add money to a budget. Never, in the whole history of the human race, has discovering additional funds created a problem.
Finding that there’s a shortfall in the budget, after you’ve already made commitments to acts, agents, and production guys, however, can get you into a lot of trouble. If this happens, things can get hairy very quickly.
In the worst case scenario, you may find yourself writ- ing checks that you can’t cash. A minor and more likely problem is that you will waste time researching acts and venues that aren’t available to you. You’re a busy person. Don’t waste your time.
What happens if you can’t establish a working budget? Perhaps you haven’t collected dues, or it’s still unclear whether the fraternity house will need a new roof. Maybe there are rumors of alumni donating money to the chapter, but you haven’t seen any sign of cold, hard cash yet.
In that case, your starting point is to look backward. How much did your chapter spend last year? How were the parties? Did the previous social chair put the chapter’s money to good use? If not, why not, and what could you do better? Do you need to spend less money on the biggest party of the year, in order to free up funds for other parties? Alternatively, do you need to allocate more money to a single party and turn it into a massive blowout?
Talk to your previous social chair, and particularly to your former treasurer. A good treasurer can bring boatloads of insight to your process.
Once you’ve determined a budget for the semester, rank your events in order of importance.
If your spring event is the biggest of the year, place it at the top of the list. If you’re planning to bring in a national act for your February party, put it second. Maybe you or one of your fraternity brothers has parents who are about to donate $3 million to build a new fraternity house. In that case, you’d better make parents’ weekend your next priority.
Alternatively, if you’ve been elected in May and you’re determined to throw a Halloween party that blows everyone else out of the water, rank that at the top of your priorities.
Once you’ve sketched out your total budget and your priorities, you can begin to allocate funds. Don’t spend money on anything you don’t need to spend money on. If a $2,000 party band will get the job done, hire them. Don’t choose a $5,000 band unless they will be significantly better.
That $3,000 could enable you to book the DJ you want for your big spring event. It could pay for a nicer lighting rig and a bigger band at your parents’ weekend. Be methodical with your spending. Don’t apply arbitrary budgets purely because you have money to spend and you think it might as well go somewhere.
One of the most common situations I encounter when working with social chairs is coming in and discovering that they have budgets laid out that make little to no sense. I ask them how they’ve chosen those figures, and they say:
“I don’t know. It just seemed right.”
Thinking carefully about your budgets before you get started will allow you to track your spending and decide whether you’re really making the best use of your money. This also creates an opportunity to reallocate funding to other events if you find that you have a surplus.
Formals sometimes have their own separate budget, as do parents’ weekends. It’s not always possible to mix and match. Nonetheless, be efficient. Make good use of the money placed in your trust.
It’s easy to sit down with your treasurer and decide that you have $20,000 allocated to your big spring event. Perhaps there’s a good reason for that. Maybe that’s been the budget for the past six years, and it’s seen as a magic number that allows you to book a great band and drive home the message that your fraternity knows how to party, while still leaving enough on the table to throw solid parties for the rest of the spring semester.
Alternatively, that budget could be totally arbitrary. Per- haps no one has ever thought to question the amount. Could you shave $5,000 from the rest of the semester’s events and do something bigger? Is the inverse true? Could you shave $5,000 from the spring party budget and still host an equally amazing event?
A lot of bigger fraternities have built up a brand that attracts people regardless of who is performing. They can afford to subtract some money from the budget of their biggest party without losing momentum, and redirect those funds to the creation of a new event.
You want to spend the money available to you as efficiently as possible, maximizing the quality of the experience for everyone involved. To do this, you’ll need to do more than glance quickly at a budget sheet. Sit down with your trea- surer shortly after your election, think critically, and work out a budget that gets you excited about the parties you can pull off, while still being conservative enough to satisfy his most miserly tendencies.
Take budgeting seriously. It’s easy to count on money that may or may not materialize, and potentially get yourself into big trouble through booking a band you can’t afford.
If your chapter collects dues on January 15, you know that you will be able to pay a deposit on January 16. That’s an understanding based on fact. If dues aren’t collected, there will be much bigger problems afoot than your party.
If you heard some of the alumni are going to kick in some extra money so you can have an outrageous party this spring, you have no idea whether that will actually happen.
When it’s in the bank, it’s real. Until then, you need to operate on the principle that you don’t have it. It’s great, in theory, but you have parties to plan. Tell them to show you the money. When they do, you can increase the budget.
Perhaps you’ve been told that your chapter is planning to consolidate events, meaning that you will be responsible for fewer parties, and each one will have a bigger budget. In that case, get the information in writing and make sure that your president and your treasurer are copied into the email. Always know your budget, and protect yourself by only counting on funds that already exist or are guaranteed.
Once you have established your total budget, your next step is to lock down dates for your major events. There are numerous factors that will determine your choice, not least the fact that there are a limited number of weekends around the times you’re looking to host your parties, and there are lots of other fraternities planning parties around the same time. This is especially true of big spring events.
Do you want to compete with your biggest rival and split their audience? Do you want to battle it out with another fraternity for the same act? What if they have greater buying power than you? Are you determined to set trends, or are you willing to follow them?
Whatever your scenario, there are ways to win, but be aware of who else is planning a party around the same time as you, and how that may affect your choice of date. Find out who the big dogs are, and don’t square off directly against them. There’s no sense in competing against the biggest party of the spring season, so choose another weekend.
Be willing to work with people to ensure that everyone’s event is successful. There are only a limited number of weekends available, so it may be impossible to avoid a clash with another fraternity. Maybe one can have a day party that winds up around dusk, while the other gets going at sunset and rolls on late into the night.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get ahold of the information you need. In that case, perhaps your best move is simply to choose a date and let everyone else work around it. This can be highly effective if you’re a big fish, or word gets out that you’re planning to go big with your entertainment. If that’s not the case, however, you can still make this approach work to your advantage by going early. Hold your big spring event in late March, and usher in the season.
There are lots of ways to be successful. You don’t have to have the most money, and you don’t have to have the greatest clout, but you do need to be intentional in your planning, know your buying power, and develop a clear idea of your timing.
It’s time to start researching bands. The way to do this is emphatically not to walk around the fraternity asking people what they think would be cool. This will give you no positive information and will be a complete waste of your time.
You were elected because you know more than the average partygoer. Their opinions matter, and they’re an important part of the fraternity. For the purposes of organizing a party, however, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t treat them as though they do.
If you must, give them the illusion of choice by offering up some suggestions and requesting their feedback, but don’t simply throw open the question of which bands to book to them. It will not benefit your decision-making process in any way. In all likelihood, their suggestions will be totally unrealistic, and you will have achieved nothing more valuable than raising their expectations to a level you can’t possibly satisfy.
A much better approach is to find three to five people in your fraternity whose opinions you trust and respect. They will be your tastemakers. Possibly you were elected not because you have the best taste in music but because you’re a disciplined and organized leader. If so, that’s for the best. The guy who goes to all the shows and hangs out backstage is a fan boy, not a leader. He would make a terrible social chair, but he may have some great recommendations for you.
As a social chair, you don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need to have access to the people who do. Reach out to the three to five people whose opinions you value and ask for their feedback. Let them reach out to three to five people whose opinions they value. The information you get from this process will be a hundred times more valuable than any information you can glean from asking your fraternity brothers en masse.
If necessary, present your tastemakers with specific questions. Do they want a rapper, a DJ, or a band? Let’s say they suggest booking a band. Ask them to bring you the names of three bands that they think would be good choices.
It’s highly likely that you’ll notice patterns. The same bands’ names will come up more than once. At this point, you can compile a list of your top three options, go back to your tastemakers once more, and ask them what they think. They probably won’t even need to go back to their contacts again to let you know whether you’ve got a good read on the preferences of the chapter.
Remember, you’re still the leader here, and you have veto power. You’re doing your contacts a favor by giving them an opportunity to be involved in the process of creating the chapter’s parties. At the same time, you’re increas- ing the chances of making a good, informed decision. If you don’t like their suggestions, you can rule them out.
Think of the process of gleaning feedback as the equivalent of being the president of the United States and requesting advice from your most trusted experts and advisers.
You wouldn’t send out an email blast to three hundred million people asking them to give you their best ideas about health-care reform. If you did that, you wouldn’t be able to go through all the data. There would be too much. Probably 98 percent of it would be garbage; and, worse, there would be a very good chance that any good ideas would be overlooked in the mountain of nonsense.
In the best case scenario, issuing a general invitation to give you feedback will result in your receiving worthless information. In a worst case scenario, you’ll receive worthless information, waste a lot of time, and promote discontent in the ranks. People will suggest a $200,000 rapper who was never, at any point, a possibility. Then, when you have to tell them that isn’t happening, they’ll be upset and feel as if their voices aren’t being heard.
In short, nothing good can come out of asking the masses for suggestions.
Always look to bundle bands together for better value. This can apply to a single event, if you’re having a big spring party that will feature multiple bands, or it can apply to several events, if you’re having three parties that require the same level of talent.
Agents may play hardball with you, but the reality is that if you reach out to one and tell him or her that you have multiple events, or multiple slots at the same event, then you’re in a good position to negotiate a better deal.
In the simplest terms, you’re offering the agent the opportunity to make three commissions from sending one email, as opposed to three commissions over the course of many, many interactions over a period of months. Who wouldn’t be interested in that deal?
It’s a highly efficient way to work, and it represents a win- win for both you and the agent. Naturally, however, it’s only effective if you’re interested in booking an artist several times, or if the agent you’re working with represents more than one artist you want to book.
This is where getting middle buyers involved can be a smart call. They have the flexibility to approach any artist, whereas agents who work for a company that represents a specific roster are bound to that roster.
Wal-Mart succeeds by employing economies of scale to buy products in volume. You’re obviously not going to match Wal-Mart’s buying power, but you can use the same principle.
If an agent tells you that a band usually books for $3,000 to $4,000, try offering $2,750 per show to book two shows, and tell him you’re willing to pay the deposit on both immediately. The worst case scenario is that he says no.
Remember, too, that these are informal conversations. You’re not yet at the stage of putting in a formal offer. You’re exploring your options, as you should. You’ll want to have similar conversations with the production crew, the light- ing guy, the sound guy, the stage guy, and anyone else you’re looking to hire. If you find a competent sound guy whom you like working with, offer him the chance to work on all your fall events in exchange for a discount.
Be careful not to enter into an agreement with someone whose work sucks. Make sure that they know what they’re doing first.
Nonetheless, bundling is an excellent tactic. Most people will be willing to make a deal if they know they’re going to secure a contract to work multiple events. That’s a good reason for them to give you a better price.
There’s an art to negotiating the best possible deals, and we’ll cover it in much greater depth in part 2 of this book. A warning before we move on, however. You have been elected to this position. It is your responsibility. It is never permissible for any non-elected member of your chapter to make moves on any entertainment or production without your consent.
If you discover that this is happening, it is your job to squash it immediately. In a scenario where that person has the backing of you treasurer or president, it is imperative that you have strong words with your treasurer or president immediately.
Too many cooks in the kitchen screw up the casserole, and nothing will undermine your efforts faster than having a rogue member of your chapter running around showing your cards to prospective agents and vendors.
In a situation where there are multiple people speaking on behalf of the client, the only person who wins is the vendor. Don’t allow yourself to be backed into this position.
Whom do you need to talk to about lighting and sound, and what should you say to them?
If you’re using a production company, reach out to them early. The first thing you will want to ask them is how much they charge for their services. The first question they will ask you is: “What’s your budget?”
They won’t want to tell you how much they charge, because they want to know your budget. You won’t want to tell them your budget, because you want to know how much they charge. That’s how it goes.
They don’t want to explain what every nut and bolt costs and what it does. They want some parameters so they can give you ballpark figures. Meanwhile, you don’t want to reveal every aspect of your budget, because you don’t want them to screw you for everything you’ve got. If you want anything to get done, everyone involved will need to be a little flexible.
The reason it’s important to start talking to these people as soon as possible is that they are essential to executing your event. It doesn’t matter if you have the biggest band in the country booked; without production, they’re nothing but eye candy, at least until people start getting mad and throwing things at them.
Again, it’s a good idea to talk to them about multiple events and get them on the hook early. The world of production is a feast or famine environment. Reach out to them during a time of scarcity, when they’re worried about how they’re going to eat next month, and they will be highly receptive to you. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get a hold of them when they’re slammed to the gills, they probably won’t even return your call.
You can make serious savings by approaching engineers early. Even if they’re a highly in-demand company and they don’t give you a big discount, you can get the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you’re covered, and you won’t be scrambling around looking for production closer to the time of the event, which can be nerve-racking and add to your costs.
Local companies often do great work, but they may only have a limited quantity of gear, meaning they won’t be able to handle multiple events on the same day. If you’re late to the party, you may be forced to engage a company from out of town and add their travel costs to your bill. The sooner you begin talking to your engineers, the greater your chances are of finding a quality company at a good price.
Just as you need to prioritize certain events, so also you need to prioritize the most important aspects of each event. Larger entertainers will always require more lead time than smaller bands. They’re more sought after, and they book three to six months in advance as opposed to one or two months.
Don’t worry about the opening regional act. In all likelihood, they will be excited to perform because they know that they’ll be opening for a national act, and making enough money to pay off the debt on their van.
The guy that won’t be so excited is the headliner that you want to book who has fifteen other offers to consider. Make him your priority, and then work backward. Move from event to event.
For example, imagine that you’ve just succeeded in booking a national act for your big spring party. Don’t shift your focus directly to booking a support act. That can wait. Book the headliner for your second most important party, probably your February event.
Booking big-name artists should always be at the top of your to-do list, because of the time lag and the difficulty in replacing them at short notice. This also works to your advantage because, when you secure the big guy, the little guys will come out of the woodwork. They may start calling you.
You don’t need to organize an entire event before moving on to the next. In some contexts, that’s a good principle, but not in this one. You have many projects to handle simultaneously, and it’s imperative that you take a bird’s eye view and allocate your time, energy, and money where it is most needed at any given moment.
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 part 3. The principle, however, is that by building in your production costs and not showing your hand straightaway, 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.
Joint parties are an outstanding way to capitalize on collective resources, boosting both your budget and your expected attendance. You can do much more in a group than you can do alone. They can be truly amazing events.
Be aware, however, that each additional stakeholder creates more moving parts and makes execution harder and more complex. If you find it hard to get things done in your own chapter, your job will be two or three times as hard when you need to take into account the preferences of several more people.
More opinions create more lag time. Make sure that the people you bring to the table are on the same page as you with regard to your vision for the event. Resolving conflicts becomes progressively more difficult the further into the process you get. If you love jam bands, and your partner fraternity wants to bring in a rapper, that’s not a good fit.
By the same token, don’t partner with a fraternity that you know doesn’t have a lot of money, or you don’t trust to produce the money in a timely fashion. Ask yourself whether your prospective partners will really be assets to the operation. If not, don’t work with them.
Indecision is a decision. Working with indecisive people will only bring you down and harm your event. In parties, as in life, don’t allow others to bring you down.
In addition, you may discover that as soon as you start laying the groundwork for an event, the indecisive partners magically start to get their act together. Seeing you making moves can be a great catalyst to spur them into action.
Money talks. If you have $10,000 to spend on a joint party with a sorority, another local fraternity, or a chapter of your brothers from a neighboring school, in theory that’s a $20,000 show. Until they’ve ponied up the money, however, what you really have is a $10,000 party.
You know an event is going to happen. So, instead of waiting on them indefinitely, go ahead and secure the production you need. Explore options that fit your budget.
Naturally, the choices available to you on a $10,000 budget will be less glorious than those available to you on a $20,000 budget, but you’re operating within your sphere of influence. It’s up to you to decide that you will have a party, and it will be good. If it’s not as big as it could be, that won’t be your fault. It’ll be the fault of the chapter that wasted your time and failed to deliver.
The best part of operating like this is that, if your energy and decisiveness inspires them and they choose to get on board, you will have already covered your bases with regard to production. The extra $10,000 they bring to the party can be applied directly to hiring entertainment that blows the roof off.
If that’s your scenario, you can move the original act that you booked when you thought your total budget was $10,000 to the opening slot on your bill. Now you have a two-band bill. You won’t be able to book as big an act as you would have done if your partners had brought their money to the table earlier, but you will be doing everything you can to have the best party you can have, and making the most of the available information and finances at your disposal.
Remember always that your loyalty is to putting on a great show. If another fraternity house enters into a verbal agreement, or even a written agreement, to collaborate with you on a party, that means nothing until they have money on the table.
If they break a contract, you can spend two years suing them, and you’ll probably win, but that won’t help you produce a party in two months. This is why their voices mean nothing until they have a stake in the operation.
All of the above is especially true if you’re working with two or more additional fraternities. The situation can become very convoluted, and making a clear distinction between those who have contributed financially and those who haven’t makes it very clear who has a say.
Of course, you may need to have preliminary discussions to determine that you want to work with another fraternity, and that you share broadly similar visions of what you’d like to achieve. Beyond those preliminary discussions, however, you need to know that everyone who wants a voice in the creation of your event has skin in the game.
Establish a budget by the conclusion of your second conversation with your associates, sketch out your order of operations, and proceed accordingly. After that, they have a voice only when they bring money to the table. Do not wait on them to the point where you begin to harm your own capacity.
This is not about being a jerk. The first thing any band or agent will ask for when you confirm a booking is a deposit. Failing to provide them with a timely deposit can negate your agreement.
Producing a formal offer takes a lot of work, and you may be waiting on a response for a few weeks. If the agent or band agrees to your offer, they will send you a contract to sign, and they’ll require you to return it with a 50 percent deposit. If you’re not ready to give them a deposit, someone else may book them for your intended date.
Even if you know you will have the money in two weeks, you’re asking for trouble. For this reason, you expect everyone involved in the process to make financial contributions promptly, as a sign of good faith. It’s not because you’re a stickler; it’s because you will need their money to confirm acts.
A few days prior to the show, you need to have an in-depth discussion with everyone who is working the show. That includes your sound engineer, your lighting designer, the company you’re renting the stage from, and whoever is providing your generator. Reach out to them, and make sure that they have all the information they need. If they don’t, make sure that you provide it for them.
In a later post in this series, we’ll discuss the concept of a formal advance. That is a crucial part of your preparation. For now, however, we’re talking about having a checklist, making sure that you know what needs to be done, and talking to the people you will be relying on during the show.
Think about the amenities you will be providing. When the band pulls up, where will you put them? Do you have a green room? Have you even considered what constitutes a green room?
Another aspect of event production that is often overlooked is stage security. People assume that, because they’re paying an off-duty police officer $25 an hour to sit in a chair and talk to girls, their security is covered. It really isn’t.
You’ll also need to make sure that someone is in charge of setting up and getting your acts on stage on time. Unless it’s something you want to do, you need to delegate to one of your fraternity brothers (someone you trust to stay sober and be responsible) or hire a stage manager.
When bands show up, they will have a lot of questions. Some of those will be directed toward the sound engineer, and possibly to the lighting designer, but remember that it’s not the sound engineer’s job to walk the band on stage, show them their marks, and help them to load and unload their gear.
An exception to this is if you negotiate in advance with the sound engineer, in which case he will probably bring someone else on board to do that job.
The role of the stage manager is not interchangeable with the role of stage security. The stage manager’s job is to work with the artists to make sure they have what they need and that they’re on stage at the right time, in the right place. The job of stage security is to keep people off the stage and keep everything, and everyone, on the stage safe.
If you try to cut corners, and your stage manager is busy doubling as a security guard, he won’t be any use to the band. Band members don’t want to be removing the opener’s drum kit, and they won’t be pleased if you leave them without the crew they need.
Your back-of-house security is a further distinct role, similar to stage security but focused on anything that isn’t on stage. If you decide to turn your spring party into a day festival, you will have thousands of people wandering around, becoming progressively more intoxicated as the event proceeds.
Think carefully about the timing of your show and who you will need to be present at what times. The people setting up the barricades need to be there well before the show starts. You don’t want them to be installing barricades while people are showing up.
It’s your job to ensure that people are there when they need to be. You will be the person who takes the flak if something goes wrong, and there’s only one of you. If you’re off fulfilling a hospitality rider or seeking out organic cigarettes because the band says they won’t go on stage without them, you can’t be watching over the stage or making sure the green room is secure. Unless you want the event to degenerate into chaos, you need to delegate.
Of course, as much as possible you need to be on hand to deal with any problems as they arise, so it makes more sense to delegate any last-minute hospitality requests to one of your fraternity brothers while you hold steady at HQ.
The principles in this post can be applied to any party you’re planning, at any time of year. Use them well, and they will serve you. In case you ever feel lost and uncertain of your next move, know that they are available for you to refer to again and again.
In the next part of this book we’ll talk about what you need to do to produce your events, from contacting agents and making formal offers to booking sound engineers and lighting designers, and including all the things that most social chairs completely ignore, to their detriment and the detriment of their party.
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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