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Sound Advice for Booking Acts

Booking popular musical acts for business events doesn’t have to break the bank

Event planners are always looking to make a lasting impression. Beyond a great keynote speaker and spirited breakout sessions, the entertainment portion of an event itinerary is a memorable moment waiting to happen—especially when a big-name musical act performs a private show for attendees.

Alas, most business events don’t have a budget that could land the hottest pop, rock, country or rap sensation. Instead, planners must do their homework and think creatively to secure a performer most of their attendees would recognize and enjoy.

The task is not overly difficult, says Jason Swartz, founder of Los Angeles-based Alliance Talent, an agency that represents dozens of popular musicians and professional speakers, and which helps event planners secure performers beyond the firm’s roster. Here are some of his secrets for rocking the impact on a budget.

It’s All in the Timing

First, Swartz stresses that “for the most part, famous performers are just like the rest of us—they have mouths to feed and bills to pay. Their income might be high, but often their expenses are, too.” So even if it’s a busy time for touring—May through November, generally—a business event that is not too strenuous could interest them.

Start by looking at touring schedules on Billboard.com and other music-industry sites, to see all the possibilities in or near your destination over your event dates, Swartz says. “If a performer is already nearby and can slip into your venue to do a 30-minute daytime performance with no paparazzi or fans knowing about it, they’re often willing to do that.”

What’s more, during certain times of year, most musicians are not on tour and could use some extra income. The lightest time of year for musicians is December and January, but that’s when they’re looking to pay off their holiday gifts, Swartz says. Summer tours sometimes don’t start until mid-April, when taxes are due. “If they can pick up easy money, many of them are amenable to making a deal,” he says.

Less is More

Another important factor in being able to afford well-known musicians is minimizing travel, hotel and production costs. “If you’re dealing with a band, you’ll need several hotel rooms for them and their support people,” Swartz says. “Then you have to get the sound and lighting production set up properly for them.”

On the other hand, a solo artist—or a band singer who is willing to perform alone with recorded instrumentation—is a simpler and less-expensive situation, since you need to deal only with a couple of microphones and spotlights, Swartz adds.

Look for an Open Agency Relationship

Another way for planners to find a musical act which will fit their event audience and budget is to work with nonexclusive talent agencies. “Planners can ask an agency if they ever secure bookings outside of the artists they represent,” Swartz says. “The planner is the paying client, so an agency should work not just with its own roster, but also with its connections at other agencies to find the right act at the right price.”

Control the Purse Strings

Before a musical act is chosen, Swartz recommends that the event planner have authority over the funds that will pay the appearance fee. When the agreement is first reached, there is generally a 10 percent deposit required to seal it. Another 50 percent is due when the formal contract is signed, while the remainder must be paid 15 to 30 days ahead of the performance date.

“Too many cooks in the kitchen cause problems,” he warns. “If you have to go through three people in your organization to get the money released, you might miss one of those payment windows and lose the act.”

Plan B

But there is an even more stressful way to lose an act: a last-minute cancellation due to illness or travel problems. “I want to work with event planners again in the future, so I am not going to simply give them a refund and walk away,” Swartz says.

Instead, conscientious booking agents will make sure to have another artist available as an emergency backup on that date. But to fend off the worst-case scenario—the backup performer cannot get to the destination in time—planners should also work with the host city’s convention and visitors bureau to find a local band that would be available on the performance date, just in case.

A replacement act doesn’t always have to be in the same musical genre as the original act to still make a great impression. “I’ve seen legacy bands from the 1970s and ‘80s cancel and get replaced by someone who is on the Billboard charts today, and it went great,” Swartz notes. “People’s tastes in music are more eclectic than you might think—and even more so at a live event, because there is so much energy.”

?Smart Tip

Natasha Miller, CEO of San Francisco-based Entire Productions, offers this additional advice: “Make sure the talent knows the logistics plan, especially where to load in, what to expect in-room and detailed performance schedule. Get cellphone numbers.”

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