This post is a summary of the likely events you’ll plan and execute over the course of your year as a social chair. It is laid out on the assumption that you have been elected in November, but if your elections took place in May, you can skip to the second half of this post to get a sense of your initial priorities. This post also includes a discussion of the unique challenges, and opportunities, that come with holding parties in Texas in the summer.
Good parties start with good planning. When you understand your priorities, you know what you should do next. When you don’t, you don’t. Here is a summary of the primary parties you’ll work on during your spring semester, and what you need to be doing to make them crush.
First of all, don’t allow your January party to drift until you come back to school. Deal with it straightaway. In reality, you will probably not be looking to book a giant national act for this party, because national acts don’t book a month and a half out. If that is your intention, you’d better pick up the phone and start figuring out who’s available the moment your budget is confirmed.
You’ll probably be looking for a party band or a cover band. January is a dry time of year for those types of acts, which works to your advantage. A lot of the bands you’ll be considering will either have come through a bookings drought in December or will be facing up to the post-Christmas blues. Very few people are booking or spending money in January. This is as true in the entertainment business as it is in retail.
A smart band knows that the opportunity to perform in the middle of January, especially if they’re receiving notice in late November or early December, is an opportunity worth taking. This puts you in a position to lock in a band early, to save yourself from being stuck with that task when you get back to school, and to negotiate a better deal.
If you’re back at school and you haven’t finalized your January party, it’s your top priority. Stop going to class if you need to, and turn your phone off. There is nothing more depressing, as a new social chair, to stand at a party you were responsible for quarterbacking and know that it’s totally lame because you failed to organize any entertainment. This party will happen, and the only thing standing between you and humiliation at this point is your ability to throw it together on short notice.
On the other hand, a solid party sets the tone for the rest of your tenure. Getting the first one under your belt is a great feeling, and it gives you the confidence to succeed further.
Be responsible, and stay on top of your role. You’ve got multiple events to plan during the coming three months, and this is the time you need to start making decisions, even if you don’t have all the information you want available to you.
Plan based upon what you know, and remember that a B+ party that happens is a lot better than an A+ party that doesn’t happen. You can wait around forever on more information, but at some point you need to make some decisions.
Maybe you hear rumors that you have more money coming, or that your rival fraternity is planning something big. Beyond a certain point, that doesn’t matter. If you have 80 percent of your budget firmed up, and you’ve identified a date that works for you, don’t wait any longer. The reality is that, if you’re the first to book a date, your competitors will need to either go head-to-head with you or work around you.
This is equally true if you’re planning to work with another fraternity to put something big together, but they keep dragging their feet. It’s important that you remain courteous and allow them time to bring their ideas and their money to the table, but if they’re not doing so in a timely fashion, you need to let them go and take care of your own business.
By February, you should have an event under your belt. By this stage, you will have established budgets and dates. If you haven’t confirmed the entertainment for your big spring event, you should at least have submitted a formal offer and be awaiting confirmation.
The time has come to execute your February party, which means making sure that your location is secure and ensur- ing that you have adequate production. Pretend that the event is happening tomorrow. Would it be a success? If not, what do you need to do to make it a success?
Put a spreadsheet together so you can see what needs to happen and when. Use it to create a checklist of the things you need to do, and act on that checklist. Past social chairs, if you have access to them, can be extremely helpful to you in determining what you need to focus on and what you may be forgetting. Perhaps they created a spreadsheet or some other form of record you can refer to.
What you’re doing is not revolutionary. People have done this before, and the concepts of securing a venue, booking lighting and sound engineers, and hosting a show are very familiar. For that reason, it pays to ask the people who have done this before. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they start booking a production team is thinking that they can step in if they have doubts about one of their vendors. Their production manager seems like an oddball, so they fire the guy. All of a sudden, they’re the production manager, and they don’t know what they’re doing.
Another expression of this is thinking that your skills transfer to a much larger arena. Maybe you’re a musician and you own a tiny PA and jam periodically with your friends. That’s not going to prepare you to run a line array for a national act.
Always remember that you’re not an expert, so unless you want to become one, and you’re willing to do what it takes to make that happen within a few weeks, work it out with your production manager or find someone you can work with.
Production is an area best left to experts. It’s good to be curious and to want to learn, but your job is to make sure your event goes well, and you have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people expecting you to do that. Don’t roll the dice on them.
The president of the United States is commander-in-chief of the army, but he doesn’t walk his soldiers into battle. He delegates to generals. You need to follow that example and delegate the jobs you’re not able to take on.
The vast majority of fraternities hold their large spring parties in March and April. These are the culmination of the school year; the ideal time both to hold a blowout event and to give the next year’s intake of fraternity brothers an idea of what the chapter is about.
For those reasons, it’s crucial that spring parties are executed skillfully. You want to look good personally, and you also want your fraternity chapter to look good to potential new members.
To ensure that you have time to train your focus on the big spring party, you should have checked with your formal chair to ensure that you’re not expected to handle the entertainment for your formal during the same time period. Most formal chairs will take care of booking a band, but they may request the benefit of your expertise because you have already built up much more experience than them. Additionally, you may have a parents’ weekend or another small party to spearhead during this time.
These are minor concerns, however, in comparison with the outstanding possibilities of your main spring parties. In short, the six-week period between March and April is prime time.
To guarantee the success of these events, you will need to be very disciplined with your time. You have school, and you have other priorities, but unless you prefer to sub out, hire a company to do the heavy lifting for you, and watch from the sidelines, you will need to devote a significant portion of your time and attention to your responsibilities as social chair.
If your formal chair has asked you to book the band for a formal that falls in March or April, this should be done by now. Ideally, you want a party band, performing Motown classics or something similar, and providing their own small sound and lighting package.
Obviously, a self-contained act is far preferable for formals unless you have a turnkey company or a production company running these events on your behalf. There are a lot of moving parts you need to be aware of, and managing sound, lighting, and staging from a distance will only complicate your job unnecessarily.
The types of bands you will be looking to hire are very familiar with the process of coming into weddings and similar events, setting up, and playing with little input from you or the venue. Let them.
They should only need the basic schematics of the room and a connection with someone who can answer any ques- tions they have pertaining to power and staging. Usually, these are best handled by connecting them with a representative of the venue.
March and April are peak wedding season, so if you haven’t booked a band a couple of months ahead, you will probably need to go with whoever is available and pay a premium for the privilege.
For your big spring party, you should have confirmed your headliner long before now. If you haven’t, you’re way behind schedule, and it has to be your number-one priority. As long as you’re set for a headliner, it’s time to look at filling out the rest of the bill.
Your budget may have a big influence on how you approach this part of the planning. In a pinch, look locally. There will probably be a lot of people in your peer group who play in bands or who are aspiring DJs, and who would love the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd.
Any creative professional knows that using the promise of “exposure” as payment is often a con, used in lieu of paying them properly. In principle, it’s not something I want to encourage. That said, if you have a fraternity brother with a five-piece jam band that has only played a handful of shows, offering them the chance to warm up for a national or regional act, and play in front of thousands of people, may legitimately strike them as a great opportunity.
The same goes if you know a brother who is a sick rapper, or who has been sitting in his room all semester mixing beats and creating music on his laptop. Maybe this is the right time for him to get up in front of a crowd and show everyone what he’s capable of. If you take the time to seek them out, you’ll discover some amazingly talented people.
Adding a few warm-up acts to your bill can benefit everyone. Often, people won’t show up early, and the last thing you want to do is put your headliner in front of a lackluster crowd. Your local openers will be happy, or at least happier, playing in front of twenty people. They probably need the practice, and they can trade off the credibility that comes from being on the bill at all.
Parents’ weekend also takes place in March or April. The biggest trick to a successful parents’ weekend is to think carefully about what will make your parents, and those of your peers, happy. Consider the median age of your year group’s parents, and take a moment to figure out when they graduated. If you discover that the average parent graduated in 1987, think about what music they will enjoy. Find a band that really nails some Bon Jovi covers, and they’ll be in heaven.
In Texas and the southeast, you can expect a boatload of classics such as “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Margaritaville,” but if you can tailor the set list to the likely tastes of your parents, and the parents of your friends, that’s a huge win. Make your parents happy, and give them a good feel- ing knowing that their money is going to a great school and that you’re part of a great chapter. They’re probably helping you with your tuition; the least you can do is give them a great night out and let them relive their youth for a few hours.
I first noticed this trend at a wedding, with a really skilled band that could cover anything. They broke into Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” from Slippery When Wet, and the crowd went absolutely wild. They were singing every word and having an amazing time.
I asked myself what was going on, and I realized that the mother of the bride graduated around the time Slippery When Wet came out.
It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine of the same thirty songs when playing for parents’ weekend. They’re played again and again because they work, but they can become tired. Take the opportunity to play to your crowd, and give them an experience that they may not have been expecting and that they’ll love.
Looking ahead to the fall, you can expect more events, but smaller budgets per event. You don’t need each show to blow the roof off.
Nonetheless, the same rules apply. Even if all you want is for a band to come in for a tailgate at short notice, you still need to plan ahead, lock down your dates, and establish your budget. Be aware that the big teams you played away last year will probably be the ones you play at home this year.
Don’t fret unnecessarily about dates, however. You know which games will be the biggest of the year, and you can create a hierarchy of events and allocate the budget accord- ingly, slotting them into the calendar as the schedule becomes clear.
This is the only time I’d recommend this approach. Tailgates are uncertain, and you’re at the mercy of a calendar that you can’t be totally clear on in advance. Plan as well as you can, and prepare to make moves as soon as you have dates in place.
Your biggest obstacle will be the long summer vacation. People won’t be around to give you feedback or help you estimate your budget. Maybe you’ll be away, too. You need to make plans as soon as possible, so that you can use the summer months productively.
Although you may not have dues in hand, it’s reasonable to expect that they will be available when you need them. Dues keep your fraternity afloat, so you can project a budget based on dues that haven’t yet been collected. If possible, obviously you’ll want to collect dues ahead of time so that you have cash to work with.
Consider offering members of your chapter an incentive, such as a price break, for paying early. As mentioned earlier, as soon as you confirm an act they will want a deposit, so it’s well worth the time and effort to make sure you have it.
In short, be cognizant of your dues and the projected timing of their collection. There’s no better time than today to start a conversation about when you can expect to have the money you need to pay deposits.
Planning ahead is equally effective in case you want to lock in a production company. A lot of them work festivals in the summer, but they’ll probably be excited by the offer of a solid gig in the fall.
Confirm a date and provide them with a deposit, and you’ll be able to negotiate a better deal than you would if you waited until the final week of August to make a play for their time. In August, every fraternity in the area will be scrambling to plan their events because they haven’t been responsible over the summer. Wait until then, and the good production companies may not be available at any price. Best case scenario, you’ll be bringing someone in from out of town, at an extra cost. As long as they’re not working a festival on the weekend when you call them, a production company will be happy to hear from you in the summer. Call them on a Tuesday, secure their services, and feel smug when every other social chair on campus is running around like a headless chicken in September.
Unless you’re in Texas, June, July, and early August are wastelands for actual events. Texans, however, really take the opportunity to step up their game during the long vaca- tion, and they have some truly amazing parties.
Often these are handled by rush chairs, in which case you may not be directly involved. They will want to create a great first impression for potential new members of the fraternity, and you may want to deploy your skills to help them. Overall, the plan of campaign for these events is very similar to the plan for producing spring parties in other areas.
The main priorities if you’re in Texas and elected in May are similar to the priorities of someone elected in Novem- ber, but the first big test comes in June or July. You, or your rush chair, have three months, or even less, to execute, meaning you don’t have a lot of time to plan in advance.
Even if you’re not in Texas, however, you may want to put on extracurricular summer parties. A sweet hack is to target bands that are playing festivals in your area. There are more festivals nowadays than ever before, and they’re usually very strict at enforcing radius clauses.
What’s a radius clause? It’s an agreement that prevents bands from playing within a certain distance of an event within a certain timeline. Every band in history playing a festival wants to perform en route, making extra money and justifying the time they spend on the road.
The festival organizers, on the other hand, don’t want them to play other gigs nearby, devaluing their presence at the festival.
Private parties, however, which these fraternity parties are, can provide an excellent loophole. They are not announced, formally promoted, or ticketed, meaning that bands can often perform at them without placing themselves in breach of contract.
Some festivals insist upon very, very strict radius clauses, which forbid even private performances, but they’re usu- ally more forgiving to fraternity parties than ticketed gigs. In some cases, it may even be possible for bands to perform under an alias, if you promise not to advertise their presence.
If you’re planning an event and you like the idea of booking a band that will be passing through your town on the way to or from a festival, start looking at festivals within about a three-hundred-mile radius of your school. Alternatively, check to see if performers have to pass near your school to get where they’re going.
An excellent example is Bonnaroo. If you know that a band living in New Orleans has to be in Manchester, Tennessee, for Bonnaroo, and your school is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, you can calculate that there’s a high probability they’ll be driving through your area before or after the festival.
Similarly, if there’s a big event in Suwannee, Florida, you’re at the University of Georgia, and a band you want to see is coming down from North Carolina or New York, it’s highly likely they’ll be passing through the Athens and Atlanta area.
Reach out to them and propose a deal to get them on stage. You’re in a good position, because they’ll be happy to make some money on the way to their festival appearance. It’s also probable that you won’t be competing against a lot of other offers, because the radius clause will prevent that.
You can make your summer very fun and interesting, simply by looking up the festivals near you, checking out some of the smaller names on the ticket, and reaching out to them to see what will work.
Even if you’re not planning to curate any parties over the summer, you can use the time as a great opportunity to research future bookings. Go to some festivals, listen to some live music, and work up a short list of great acts.
You’ve been elected as a social chair either because you have a reputation for having great taste or because your fraternity brothers think you’re disciplined and orga- nized. If the former, you probably already go to a lot of gigs, so continue doing what you’re doing. If the latter, take some tastemakers with you to a few festivals, and get their opinions.
The bands you want to target are the ones in the small print toward the bottom of the bill. The headliners will be out of your league, but the small bands, that have made it on to the daytime slots, probably have a lot going for them.
The simple fact that they are on the bill at all indicates that they have good backing and a good agent and manager. They may have a record label backing them. With all those pieces in place, there’s a high chance that they’ll grow and become more popular.
They may catch a break as a result of playing at the very festival where you’re watching them. It happens all the time. A band plays a killer set and finds their way onto the Instagram feed of someone influential, and before you know it they’re blowing up. Keep tabs on the bands you like, and you may be able to book an act that you’ll look back on one day and think: “Holy shit, they played at our fraternity house.”
Another advantage of researching bands at festivals is that you’re seeing them in a live setting. Most festivals don’t use sound checks. They employ what’s known as a line check. Essentially, this means that bands arrive, plug in, adjust their sound levels, and start to play. Adjustments are made on the fly.
It’s a far cry from a traditional sound check, where bands show up hours before their set and fine-tune their sound so that when they come out to perform it’s perfect. Festivals simply don’t have the luxury of that kind of time. They’re dealing with a high volume of entertainers, and those acts need to be on their toes.
This means that, when you see an up-and-coming band at a festival, you’re getting a very solid sample of what they can produce at your fraternity house. You can tell how well rehearsed they are, and how tight their sound is. It’s a very good advertisement for a potential gig at a big party later in the year.
If you’re not stacked with events to plan in the summer, have some fun and do some research by going to some festivals. This is a great opportunity to see which bands are coming down the pipe and to hear them live. It’s a lot easier to pitch an act to the rest of your chapter when you can say that you’ve seen them perform and they absolutely nailed it. In the case that you’re not considered an arbiter of what’s cool, taking a tastemaker with you will also mean that he can vouch for you and head off resistance at the pass.
By the time you’re back at school, your September party should be planned and almost ready to roll. If it’s not, you had better skip class, quit your job, and do whatever it takes to make it happen, including delegating anything you can to others to maximize your efficiency. Time is of the essence.
You need to look at your calendar, establish your budget, and prioritize based upon the largest acts you want to book. The largest bands will require the greatest lead time, so once you’ve decided whom you want to book, don’t delay a moment longer than necessary before taking action.
If you’ve been holding off on offers because you’ve been waiting on dues, you can’t wait much longer. Parties will be coming thick and fast, and if you don’t move fast, you’ll be left behind.
In March and April, bands are in demand because it’s wed- ding season. In September, October, and November, bands are in demand because there are so many fraternities and sororities competing for the same few bands over the same short period of time. If you’re looking to book a local favorite, you can rest assured that you’ll find yourself embroiled in a bidding war, whether you realize it or not.
This is especially true with Halloween parties. You probably have a choice of two different nights or, at most, two different weekends. This will drive up demand for certain bands and create a competitive atmosphere between you and your peers.
October is football season, so you can expect to be execut- ing tailgates. Not all tailgates are created equal. Before the season starts, rank them and put the greatest effort into the biggest one. The smaller ones can be handled much closer to the date they take place. Look for a big rivalry, when you know you’ll have friends from other schools and family members, for an opportunity to blow one up.
The best way to make sure that you have a large enough budget available, while also retaining the flexibility to change plans if necessary, is to work out a combined budget for the entire tailgate season.
A lot of people do this, and then they arbitrarily apply numbers to individual events. They might allocate $2,000 to some of the tailgates, $3,000 to others, and maybe $5,000 to the biggest.
They’re thinking in the right way but missing the chance to execute something special. Let’s say you have a $20,000 budget for all the tailgates combined. With the caveat that you don’t want to spend more than 50 percent of the total budget on a single event, take that budget and do what it takes to execute your biggest tailgate.
If you have $12,000 left, go and execute the next largest tailgate, again making sure you don’t spend more than 50 percent of the remaining budget.
If you only spend $1,500 on the lowest-priority tailgates, no one will mind, because they know that the rest of the budget has gone on some serious parties for the biggest tailgates. Alternatively, you can simply drop one or two from the schedule. You can adapt easily to small changes. What you can’t do is bring in a headliner at short notice, with an ill-defined budget.
I think prioritizing your most important tailgates and budgeting accordingly is the most effective path. People remember the events that really blow them out of the water. Knock their socks off once or twice, and you’ll secure your reputation as a great social chair far more effectively than you would with four or five average parties.
Ideally, you’ve made inquiries and you have a headliner expecting your call. When you have the tailgate schedule, go back to them, or their agent, and tell them when the big one is happening. Next, talk to your production crew and let them know that they can expect one thousand people at this one, as opposed to 120 or 150.
If you don’t do this, your production guys may turn up with a moderate rig that is fine for up to two hundred people but inadequate for a big band and one thousand people. You’ll be in double jeopardy. Your artist won’t be happy, and you will have wasted money booking them without making them sound good.
You may want to bring in self-contained bands for the smaller tailgates. This is a win-win. Your production crew will be happy knowing that they made out on your larger events. They’d much rather make $2,000 from one big party than come back week after week for $300, exposing their gear to the risk of theft or damage.
October is also go time for your Halloween party. Halloween parties are some of the most competitive events of the year. Whatever you’re planning, you can bet that there’s another fraternity, or a sorority, with a similar idea.
Virtually every Halloween party will take place either on the Friday or the Saturday directly before Halloween, so if you’re looking for a national act, you will be competing not only with other fraternities at your school but also with other schools in your vicinity.
Just as in the summer, consider seeking out bands that may be passing through your area to or from a fall festival. You may be able to negotiate a more competitive price without triggering a radius clause and also beat other fraternities to the punch by being smart and taking a route they haven’t considered.
Think back to last year’s party, and if necessary consult the people who organized it. Did anything go wrong? Perhaps you had a great DJ with a sick light show, but the haze triggered the fire alarm, and he only got two-thirds of the way through his set before the fire truck arrived and you had to evacuate the house.
You can’t legally disconnect the fire alarm, but you can take the DJ outside or adjust the show so that it doesn’t require fog or haze to look cool.
For a Halloween party, the chances are that you’re looking at one major act with a local band or a DJ in support. Unlike a spring party, where you may have three or four larger acts and you can afford to let one walk if they give you trouble, this will leave you highly leveraged on ensuring that the show proceeds smoothly and that your headlining band or DJ is happy.
Talk with your production crew beforehand, and ask their opinions. They may have crucial insights for you. For example, you may not realize that a particular room has terrible acoustics because the walls are made of concrete blocks, but the people who attend your party will know soon enough when they leave with their heads ringing, or when they stay outside socializing because it’s less painful than being inside listening to the band.
Some styles of music work better in certain environments, and the best people to tell you are the guys on production.
Always keep a worst-case scenario in mind, so that you can plan for it. What would you do if the fire alarm went off ? Could people exit the house in an orderly fashion, without anyone getting hurt? If you’re planning an outside party, how likely is it that neighbors will be upset by the noise and call the police?
Taking a party outside can solve some problems, but it can also create others. Maybe there was a reason the party was held inside last year. Maybe there’s a little old lady next door who will be on the phone to the cops the minute she hears a beat. Imagine everything that can go wrong, and you’ll be well prepared to make everything go right.
November is a chill time of year. You may be called upon to put together a semiformal, which usually involves bringing in a party band such as a Motown band.
Feel free to go against the grain if you trust your taste and your audience, however. Perhaps you know a band that plays original songs, but who are comfortable pepper- ing their set with covers. Maybe you know a performer who mainly plays covers but who gives the guitar solos an extra rip.
Semiformals are a great opportunity to bring in a variation on more formal party bands, because they are essentially date nights. They’re also the perfect partners for parents’ weekends when you’re looking to book a band for two gigs at once and save some money.
Most semiformals take place outside fraternity houses, so make sure you have access to the venue. This is another reason to choose a self-contained band. It’s difficult to prepare adequate production and lighting when you don’t know the venue. An exception to this comes if you’re work- ing with a production company, a turnkey company, or a venue that provides in-house production. They will be able to scope out the schematics of the venue and handle the lighting and production for you.
By the time you reach the end of your tenure as social chair, you will have presided over many parties. Whether you took on the role because you want to work in event management, or purely because you like to rage, you’ll have developed an enormous amount of experience that your successor can benefit from.
Giving useful advice to whoever comes after you is both the gentlemanly thing to do and an enormous service to your chapter. You want to keep going to great parties, and the best way to do that is to make sure the next social chair has the information he needs to make a success of his role.
If you had this experience yourself, you’ll understand how valuable it is. If you didn’t, you’ll understand how helpful it would have been. This is your opportunity to break new ground and change the way things are done.
Of course, it’s the new social chair’s job to keep an open mind and listen to your advice. You can’t force anyone to benefit from your wisdom. If he has any sense, he will appreciate what you’ve already done and want to build on your work, recognizing that he can learn a lot from you.
Often, you’ll know who will succeed you a month or so prior to the actual election. He may run unopposed, or the election itself may be nothing more than a formality. Show him the ropes, and let him know you’re available when he needs some support.
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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