Maybe you’ve read through the content series so far and decided that putting together your own event sounds like far more work than you’re willing to undertake.
Maybe you skipped to this section straightaway because you already knew that.
Alternatively, maybe you want to take on most of the responsibility for your show, but you’d like some help with key elements of it.
This post will lay out the landscape of service providers in the industry, and it will let you know in detail what you can expect from each of them.
First of all, you have individual service providers. On the production side of your party, these are technicians and engineers, whether their specialties are lighting, audio, or stage rental.
These guys are gearheads. Their desire in life is to operate gear. They don’t want to be businesspeople, they don’t want to be salespeople, and sometimes when you communicate with them you may feel as though they don’t particularly want to talk to people at all.
If you choose to produce your own event, you will need to work directly with the people listed above. You will also take on the role of talent buyer, communicating with agents and management to negotiate deals. Some of these services can be outsourced. Middle buyers, for example, will help you secure the services of the talent you want to book.
The advantage of using middle buyers is that they understand where you’re coming from. The average middle buyer was probably a social chair himself a decade ago. He got recruited because he was the cool guy on campus. Now he’s got two kids and all he does is hustle bands on behalf of current social chairs. He understands your situation, and at the same time he has connections with the bands you want to hire.
The middle buyer model is falling out of fashion because it has never been easier to approach agents directly. This doesn’t mean that doing that is necessarily a good idea, only that it’s an option.
Middle buyers operate using one of two approaches. The first is called a pass-through, where they broker deals on your behalf and retain a commission of 10–20 percent of the total fee. They don’t take responsibility beyond brokering deals. They simply create a contract between you and the agent.
The alternative to a pass-through is known as a buy/sell. When you engage a middle buyer on a buy/sell basis, he will take your money and use it to make purchases.
You will usually find that a middle buyer using a buy/sell model will be more hands-on than one earning a commission from a pass-through, because she has an opportunity to maximize her profit.
Commission from a pass-through is set at a standard rate. You know that if you give a middle buyer a budget of $10,000, she will take a percentage of that fee. She probably won’t show much interest in making sure that you have adequate production and staging, but she’ll organize your talent.
With a buy/sell, a middle buyer can make a lot more money by finding better deals. If you give her $10,000, she’ll try and find you a great band for $4,000 so she can spend $2,000 on production and pocket the rest, upping her profit margin to 40 percent.
As long as you’re happy with the service, that’s fine. You get what you want out of the deal, and so does the middle buyer. If you went in on your own, you couldn’t get the deals she does, so it’s still a win.
The only problem with this approach is that the temptation to cut corners can be enormous. Every cent your middle buyer saves from a buy/sell will go straight into her pocket, so she’s more likely to book you a lower-quality stage or a less experienced sound engineer.
When engaging a middle buyer, you need to be sure that she is reputable; otherwise you risk lining her pockets. Nonetheless, a good middle buyer can bring you a lot of value. If she runs a pass-through for you, she probably won’t get screwed in the same way you might, and if you trust her with a buy/sell, she can take care of a lot of the things that might cost you a lot of time and energy.
I would wager that anyone who refuses to tell you what she paid to hire a band, or a lighting designer, or a generator has something to hide. There’s nothing wrong with making out like a bandit by calling in a favor and getting a great band at a heavily discounted price, but if your middle buyer can’t look you in the eye and tell you the truth about the deals she’s making, do you really want to work with her? Always seek out references before you engage a middle buyer.
On the production side of the equation, production companies can run point for you. At the most basic end of the market, they will provide a lighting designer, a sound engineer, and a stage technician. They will make sure that these people show up on time and in the right order.
Some people are interested in testing the waters in the talent market because they have a desire to better under- stand the industry. They want to know how it works, even if that means learning the hard way. Relatively few social chairs are interested in becoming production engineers.
For this reason, I encourage people to work with production companies and take the stress out of actually producing the show. Find a reputable production company and pay them good money to show up and deliver.
A lot of the people in production companies are more interested in nerding out on a great show than in making pots of cash. They have loads of gear sitting in a warehouse, and they want to put it to use. More often than not, you’ll get more than you’re paying for from these guys because their name is on the show and they want it to look and sound amazing.
If they were only interested in making money, they’d be in a different industry. They do what they do because they love it. A good production company can save you a lot of heartache.
As long as you can find a good company near you, hire locally. Big companies may brag about what they can do, but the downside is that they’re driving in from an hour away. This means that you’ll pay them for travel and lodging, either directly or via an increase in their pricing.
Ask yourself whether the service they’re providing is worth the extra money. If the local company is good, but not great, maybe you can encourage them to become great so that they win more of your business. Obviously, if they suck, it’s worth shelling out the extra for the guys who know what they’re doing.
The biggest risk you run when hiring a production company is not that they’ll try to rip you off financially, but that they’ll get overexcited about the chance to use all their gear and try to sell you on equipment you don’t really need.
Just because you can, that doesn’t always mean you should. You don’t want to be short of lighting or sound quality, but you also don’t want to pay for technical specifications you really don’t need. You want to achieve the biggest possible bang for your buck, and a good production company will give you that.
I’ve seen plenty of middle buyers screw people over. Their goal is to make money, and they probably won’t come to the show anyway. I’ve never seen a production engineer pull those kinds of tricks. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been particularly fortunate, but I think it’s because production engineers love what they do, will be at the party, and will have their name on the work.
Turnkey is a full service that frees you to enjoy your show. If what you want out of your parties is to experience them with your friends, you need to engage a turnkey operation.
Turnkey combines the services of a production company and a middle buyer under one roof. These companies are less common for the simple reason that running an entire event for you is a lot of work.
The job of a turnkey company is to make sure that your vision reaches fruition. Unless you are totally clueless about how to proceed, it is not their job to steer the ship.
The biggest advantage of having a turnkey company on your team is that they take on the responsibility of making your party happen. Some will even take out a general liability insurance policy on the event. They know what they’re doing, and they know they’re responsible for its success.
This can be a huge burden off your shoulders. A turnkey organization cannot force a reluctant rapper to get on a plane, but they will have three backup plans ready to execute if something goes wrong. The fact that they take on so much risk and responsibility is a big asset.
You can expect to deliver 10–20 percent of your total budget to a turnkey company to secure their services. In other words, if you have a party budget of $10,000, they will take $1000 to $2000 to make it happen.
Ten percent is an incredible deal. In the world of corporate events, they can charge as much as 25–30 percent. In case you’re not clear on your budget when you hire them, a turnkey company will simply take a percentage of every dollar spent in the production of your party.
The former option is preferable, because it ensures that you remain within an agreed budget.
Turnkey companies may not be the way to go if you’re into the idea of producing an event and you want to do it all yourself. Perhaps you want to go into the music industry, and this is the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have to produce an event using someone else’s money.
On the other hand, if you tell a turnkey company that’s your ambition, they should be happy to include you in the process. You may become their next employee or one of the agents they’re reaching out to in a few years time.
If you want to become a talent buyer, or ultimately produce your own festival, working with a turnkey company can put you in close contact with people who already know how to do that. You can stand on the shoulders of giants and save yourself learning the hard way.
As with every other player in the market, working with a turnkey company only serves you if you can locate a quality organization where the employees know what they’re doing.
Don’t be shy about doing your research and asking people tough questions, whether you’re talking to a middle buyer, a production company, a representative of a turnkey company, or any other vendor. Quiz them about the services they offer, and ask them how they make money. If their answers seem vague, press them for clarification.
You can’t expect them to know the market value of a particular artist at any given time, but you can expect them to have access to that information. If they don’t respond to your questions promptly, or you can’t get solid information out of them, those are red flags.
Check out the websites of companies you’re interested in, and their social media feeds. You want to work with people who are interested in your continued business, not merely in getting rich quick and getting out of Dodge.
One social chair I worked with asked me: “How are you planning on screwing me?” That’s a great question, and you can tell a lot about a person or a company from the response they give.
I told this guy that I wanted to make a little bit of his money for the next twenty-five years, and we worked together profitably. If whomever you’re thinking of working with can’t give you a straight answer to that question, maybe they really are planning on screwing you.
Look out for sleazebags, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, and you’ll find the support you need to create an incredible event.
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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