By Abby Tobias
As an event planner, designer, coordinator or consultant, you are faced with unique challenges that in some cases are out of the realm of your area of expertise. Your client expects you to execute in every area, all the time. This can be a daunting task, especially in areas that are concept-based. Live entertainment is often one of those challenges. To help, I’ve compiled a list of six steps to ensure success when booking live entertainment, based on my 15 years experience as an agent, manager, consultant, producer and talent.
Understand Your Client
This is typically the first step in any area of your planning. Entertainment planners and producers are often too eager to jump into the water to find the best entertainment available. They often miss this first step, which is taking the time to understand who it is you’re working for. What do they do? What are their mandates and company philosophies? An example of this is a client who has strong policies about being ‘green.’ Let’s say that the theme of their event is ‘80s fads.’ You come with an amazing pitch that includes a concept for live graffiti artists. Seems like a perfect fit for the 80s, right? Wrong! If you understood your client, you would have gone with break-dancers and neon hot pants! There’s nothing green about aerosol graffiti cans.
When failure occurs in live entertainment, it’s often not because the performer was bad or lacking skill. Rather, it typically occurs when it’s simply not the right fit for the event. When trying to understand your audience, most event planners only think about the standard factors: age, gender, culture, etc. What often gets lost in translation is your client’s taste. Take their use of language with a grain of salt. If your client wants a performer who is really “cool” and “trendy,” it’s important to get a sense of their definition of “cool” and “trendy.” Always ask for examples, other artists that they enjoy, etc.
In the Internet age, we have learned not to rely too heavily on a performer’s website. A fancy website and thousands of “likes” on Facebook doesn’t make them first-rate on stage. If the act is local, be sure to ask other trusted sources in your city. In most markets, top-shelf talent is well-known to the events community. If they have done excellent work, other suppliers and associates will have probably heard of them. If they are not local, ask for references from other events that are similar in style to yours—“similar” being the key word. If you are looking for a first-rate classic-rock band, but all the referrals speak to how well they play disco, you may want to keep looking.
Have Realistic Expectations
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client say to me, “I want the best bang for my buck.” This can typically cause problems. If a performer plays a 15-minute set, it’s because that’s the ideal length for them. Don’t ask them to perform for 30 minutes and expect the same results, especially if your budget falls in line with the 15-minute rate. If you have hired a DJ, but given them very specific restrictions on their playlist, you are limiting their ability to deliver for you. This is their job. Let them do it.
Give Them What They Want
Yes, you heard me correctly. If the key to your event is the grand finale performance that you’ve booked, coordinated, rehearsed and spent hours of time (and loads of your client’s budget) on, keep the performers happy. Sure, some acts can be difficult, and their requests may seem insignificant to you, but you want to keep them happy. A happy performer is usually a good one. Follow their rider and contract requests, and if you can go over and above to keep them happy, do it. Live entertainment is service-driven, but unlike food, flowers and trusses with lights on them, your performer is a real person. Their emotions will show on stage.
Work With Reputable Companies
It’s shocking to see the number of large and high-profile events that use unknown entertainment suppliers. A company that is known to deliver will do just that. If the price is slightly higher than the no-name brand, you need to understand what you are paying for—the service that comes with the act. The office, fax line, receptionist, contract, backup systems and emergency lines to call, are all important things when you’re looking at booking something that may be not only expensive, but also on a timeline that could be 12 to 18 months prior to the event.
—Abby Tobias is president of Sole Power Productions, in Toronto. For more information, visit solepowerproductions.com.