All fraternities are different, but they’re also largely the same. Different branches, at different schools, are connected, and they run similar calendars, with a similar objective: to impress.
You may want to impress girls. You may want to impress parents. You may want to impress alums, or future members of your fraternity. One thing’s for sure, however: Regardless of your location or size, you want to impress.
No matter whether you’re elected in November or May, you face a major hurdle almost as soon as you accept the role. If you’re elected in November, you have the Christmas break ahead of you. Everyone whose opinion you want to seek out, and there are plenty of people, will be difficult to contact for those several weeks. You’ll be separated from feedback, without access to the checkbook, and stewing on your responsibilities alone.
In May, you can expect people to leave for Europe or Mexico for the summer or to start internships. Whatever they’re doing, they won’t be thinking about parties in the fall, or about summer parties if those are part of your calendar. That’s your job.
You need to be disciplined and confront those logistical challenges head-on, however difficult that seems. The biggest mistake a social chair can make is to procrastinate. Your responsibilities won’t disappear because you go home for Christmas break or take off for a summer vacation.
These things need to happen, and you need to make sure that they’re good, or you’ll bring dishonor to yourself and your fraternity. This book is here to help you figure out your next steps.
If you have been elected in November, it’s highly likely that you have a January back-to-school party to prepare for. In all probability, this won’t be a huge party, but it will be happening soon.
On November 20, January 14 looks a long way away.
Between your election and your January party, however, you have finals to study for and you have to take a Christmas break. Before you know it, you’ll be back at school the weekend before the party, with no band and no production. Take action now, not later, and you’ll head off that awful sinking feeling at the pass.
You need to use the limited window available to you to get feedback from people you trust. Do not open up questions about which acts to book to the masses. They don’t know what they’re talking about. Solicit specific feedback from the people who matter.
Hopefully, your fraternity has a former social chair who you can speak to, and you have a handful of tastemakers within your inner circle who can advise you if you have any questions.
The reality, however, is that taking action at this point is far more valuable than listening to people pontificating about the best bands to book. Your first show will be happening in six weeks. A B+ show that happens beats an A+ show that never makes it out of the planning phase any day of the week.
Your next major party will probably be a February house party, perhaps featuring a large national act. The biggest problem you’re facing with this scenario is that national acts typically book between three and six months out, putting you at an immediate disadvantage if you’re only elected in November.
This isn’t really a concern for the January party. Although party bands also need to be booked in advance, January is a slow month for weddings. As long as you’re dynamic, you will probably be able to find a good Motown act or something similar at relatively short notice.
Try to book a national act for February, however, and you’ll soon realize that you’re dealing two to two and a half months out in a field of artists who usually book three to six months in advance. Your options will be limited before you even begin, so you’d better make some moves.
You’ll also be competing with the social chairs of other fraternities, who are in exactly the same position as you. Within a three-hundred-mile radius, there may be one hundred people vying for the services of the same fifteen acts over the span of three weekends in February. Not only are many of these bands already booked, but those that are still available are suddenly in tremendous demand.
This is a situation you inherit because of the vagaries of fraternity election cycles. It’s by no means your fault, but it is your responsibility to make the best of it.
The next entry in your calendar will likely be a parents’ weekend, usually in March or April. You will be seeking a Motown act or some other party band to appeal to your parents and those of your fraternity brothers. In itself, this is relatively straightforward. Be aware, however, that March and April herald the beginnings of wedding season, so you will find that competition for bands is growing. This is especially true if you are holding your event on a Saturday.
It’s smart to start making inquiries during the Christmas holidays. Why? Because December is a slow month for weddings. While most of the bands you’ll be seeking supplement their income by playing Christmas parties, they’ll nonetheless be feeling the scarcity of work compared with peak wedding season.
When people are experiencing a lag in business, they become more receptive to offers. If you approach a wed- ding band in the middle of December to discuss an event in March, they may be willing to work with you on pricing.
They’re smart. They know that they’ll be much busier in March. They may, however, be feeling the pinch when you call them, and taking your deposit check and filling up their calendar could be a very appealing proposition for them.
You’re probably noticing a theme of taking action early, and for good reason. While you never want to act impulsively, you will be operating at a disadvantage for at least the first two or three months of your role. Quick, decisive action is required to make sure that you can meet your obligations. Starting dialogues and making moves early will serve you better than holding out for perfection.
The big spring party is the event of the year. It’s your opportunity to show exactly what you’re made of and to create an event that people will be talking about for months. Fraternity chapters become seriously competitive around the time of the spring party, and you need to make sure that yours shines.
The spring party is your magnum opus. With the exception of some fraternities in Texas that hold parties in the summer, it’s the biggest event of the year. You want it to be amazing, and it deserves your full attention, advanced preparation, careful thought, and discipline. Screw this one up, and it may not matter much whether you get the others right.
Fortunately, you have the luxury of a little more time to put this event together, but that’s no reason to rest on your laurels. The bigger bands that you’ll be looking to book for your spring party require a lot of lead time, so organization and swift action will still be rewarded.
There are two primary approaches to your big spring party. You can book one big name act that will excite people, or you can sell the experience of an all-day festival that progresses into the evening and features several midrange bands.
The former offers a two-hour window of intense awesome- ness. The latter extends the party across the entire day. Either of these options can be amazing, and your choice should be based upon an assessment of your goals.
If you’re the chair of a large fraternity, you may decide that you have enough fame and notoriety, and you’re more interested in creating an amazing experience for your fraternity brothers and their guests. In that case, you don’t need to spend $30,000 on a rapper who’ll only perform for forty-five minutes. Creating an eight-hour day festival with six $5,000 bands may be more your style.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re social chair of a small fraternity and you’ve been saving money for a year because you want to make a splash. Perhaps your fraternity has just been released from probation and you’ve got a backlog of cash and a desire to change the game.
Pick the option that works for you, and remember that booking bigger acts requires more lead time. If you want a big national act for a spring party in early April, you need to start the process in November or December and be putting in offers by the middle of January at the latest.
None of this is to say that it’s impossible to book an act a month before your show. You can do it, but you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage, and you’ll probably pay higher prices. A band with four offers on the table will take the highest, and if that means you have to pay them top dollar or be without entertainment, you’ll pay top dollar.
There’s one exception to this rule, but it’s not good policy. Sometimes when you wait until the last minute to approach an artist, you can get a better price on days they don’t have another booking. If they have the option of sitting at home on Facebook or going out and earning $10,000, they may take the latter even if their usual price is $15,000.
Unfortunately for you, you can’t rely on this approach, and if it fails, you’ll be left without a band and looking like an idiot. It’s a Hail Mary play, and you should use it only in very specific circumstances.
Maybe your fraternity has just been released from probation or disciplinary suspension, and you suddenly realize that you have a window for throwing a party. Maybe the dues come in at the last minute, and you have a shot at upgrading the entertainment.
In those circumstances, there’s nothing to lose if the act you approach turns you down. You won’t be left canceling or ruining an event, but if the play comes off, you’ll feel like a hero. It’s a win, or at least not a loss. In all other circumstances, the Hail Mary can’t be your strategy.
On the flipside, don’t try to book too far in advance. Big national acts don’t know how successful they’ll be a year ahead of time. Their next release could top the charts. For that reason, they won’t want to confirm a date at their current value. Even if they do confirm, there’s a high prob- ability that they’ll cancel when they get a better offer.
Throughout the year, you’ll also organize numerous smaller parties such as formals and tailgates. Often, there are officers in place specifically to handle the logistics of formals and other niche events, but sometimes booking the entertainment falls to the social chair. In either scenario, you need to be capable of providing guidance where necessary.
You’ll probably find yourself in the position of spearheading smaller, impromptu house parties. These usually come about because there’s a surplus in the budget and a sudden enthusiasm for a party. The timescale is so truncated that you won’t be able to plan far ahead, but you can still use the principles in this book to make sure that they run smoothly.
You’ll also take on the September back-to-school party, which is another big deal that you need to be planning several months out, especially if you’re aiming to book a national act.
If your elections take place in May, you’ve got three or four months to plan it, but they’re the summer months. People will be out of town, traveling or doing internships. What happens when you can’t contact your treasurer? How will you get the money together for a deposit? Do you even have a method of calculating your budget? Just as important, what will you do when your tastemakers aren’t available to offer feedback?
You’ve got plenty of time before September, but none of the information you need to make an informed decision, so part of your job is to find ways of getting that information and making those decisions.
September will creep up on you. If you’re elected in May, start planning straight after your election. Sit down with your trusted tastemakers, or a previous social chair, and seek their counsel. Take your role seriously.
If you were elected in November, you face the same problems of limited access to information and support, but at least you have six months of experience under your belt by the time you’re coming to plan the September party. You also have the opportunity to get moving in April and take the heat out of the process.
Get some feedback, discuss what would be cool, and talk with your treasurer about the available budget—before everyone clears out for the summer and all you can hear is the sound of crickets.
Halloween parties vary a lot. Some fraternities use them as an opportunity to go all out and hire a national act. Others keep them smaller and book a more traditional band or a party band to play covers.
Whatever approach you take, know that there will probably be a lot of other people producing similar parties. The best fruit gets picked first, so don’t wait around, or you’ll be left with the acts no one else wants.
Your semi-formals will probably call for a party band in a similar vein to the act you booked for parents’ weekend. Again, you’ll find that a lot of other fraternities are holding their semiformals around the same time, so it pays to get busy early.
If you’ve got your eye on a great band, realize that someone else has probably noticed them, too, and there are a limited number of dates available for your semiformals.
Check in with your previous social chair. Maybe he booked an act or a band that really rocked it last year, and you can get them back.
A really smart move, if you’re booking an act for a March parents’ weekend and you know they’re awesome, is to ask them whether they’d be willing to come back in October or November for a semiformal, and knock 10 percent off their price for the bulk booking.
They might knock you back, because they make a lot of money around the time that semiformals are taking place and they don’t want to book so far out, or they might bite your hand off for a 50 percent deposit six months in advance, a guaranteed gig, and the knowledge that they’re working with someone who knows what they’re doing. If they say yes, you kill two birds with one stone and save your fraternity some money.
If your elections take place in May, switch it around. When you’re booking a band for a semiformal, make sure they’re good, and offer to lock them in for parents’ weekend in March if they’ll give you 10 percent off. Doing this maximizes your chances of getting the acts you want, saves you a planning headache, and leaves more of your budget to spend on production or to re-allocate to other parties.
A similar tactic can seriously simplify the job of putting together tailgates. Tailgates can be a pain. The football schedule isn’t always out by the time you need to start planning, and even if it is, you probably don’t know what time the games will be kicking off.
Usually, one tailgate takes top billing, probably due to a fierce rivalry with another school. Prioritize that one, and figure out how to divide your budget so that you have the funds for one big tailgate and several smaller ones.
Tailgates are a great opportunity to engage a middle buyer, an agent, or a turnkey company, because they can amount to as many as six bookings rolled into one. By letting them know your budget for all six, and asking them what the most effective way of spending the money is, you can make it in their interest to secure excellent deals.
Obviously, you don’t want to book the same band for all six events, which is why there’s not much point in approach- ing artists individually and asking them to cut you a deal. Asking an agent or a middle buyer to find you six acts, however, can be an extremely efficient way of using your time and resources.
The biggest tailgate, the one that stands out as the top priority, is the one to tackle first. You can either commu- nicate that to your agent or middle buyer, or you can do the legwork yourself.
Bigger bands will probably take longer to make a decision, so work backward from the largest event and fill in the smaller ones as you go.
Organizing tailgates can be a thankless task. If the game kicks off at noon, it’s hard to get people in the mood to watch a performance at 10:00 a.m. If that’s the case, you’d better offer people some Bloody Marys to give them an incentive to get down there in the morning.
On the other hand, if you keep the band until after the game, there’s a good chance many people will be blackout drunk from celebrating a win, or too depressed to party following a defeat.
In short, flexibility and resourcefulness are keys to running successful tailgates. Without them, you’ll become very frustrated and very disheartened.
Finally, you’ll undoubtedly be called upon to run numerous miscellaneous parties throughout the year. Inevitably, some will be last-minute affairs, and you’ll be limited in your ability to prepare effectively.
What you can do, however, is educate yourself. As you gain knowledge and experience, remember bands that gave great performances. Keep notes about when they performed, for whom, and how much they cost. If you’re working with an agent or someone who organizes events professionally, he or she will guide you. If you’re doing this on your own, however, it’s part of your job to keep an ongoing roster of options that you can draw from when you need to execute a last-minute event.
Doing the job of social chair puts you in a difficult situation. By the time you get good at it, you’ll be handing the role on to someone else, someone who hasn’t got a clue.
Some fraternities are smart and groom their social chairs a year in advance. The upcoming social chair shadows the current social chair, so that by the time he comes to take the reins, he knows what he’s doing.
Others keep books and databases that you can refer to, and you always have the option of talking to the guy who did your job last year and asking for his advice. The trouble with these approaches is that the databases often aren’t very good, and the previous year’s social chair may be so over the job that he’s glad to hand it off to someone else and wash his hands of it.
It may come down to you to break the mold and be the guy who shows the way. When a band you book gives a great show, keep a note of what you liked about them and how much they cost. If someone you know has an outstanding experience, write it down so you can remember the name of the act at a later date. It’s not an easy job, but if you want to make a success of it not only for yourself but also for the honor of your fraternity in years to come, you need to do it properly.
The information in this post can be summarized in two words: Get organized. Evaluate the tasks you need to accomplish, and approach them methodically.
In the next two posts you’ll find all the information you need to develop your calendar and your order of operations. When you adhere to these, you won’t get behind the eight ball and find yourself panicking the day before a show, or missing class because you have a big party coming up next week and you’re not even halfway ready for it.
You may encounter some hurdles, and you may be handed some disadvantages, but you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to handle them. As long as you approach them in the order they need to be approached, you can succeed. Get them ass-backward, and you’re almost certain to fail.
If you realize that you’re working inefficiently, or losing sight of your priorities, understand that won’t yield a positive result and stop. Take a deep breath, consult your calendar and your order of operations, and make a course correction.
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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