Booking entertainment for an event or meeting is supposed to be the fun part. But all too often, planners wind up entertaining a headache instead.
Entertainment can mean the difference between a memorable event and a forgettable one. A perfectly timed dance routine at the end of a seminar can liven the room, and a well-known performing artist can ensure that attendees stick around until the very last session. Successfully booking an act or a performer for an event is all about knowing how to navigate the industry, which is why we asked three industry pros for their tips on booking entertainment for small meetings and events.
Here’s what they had to say.
Whether you’re planning your dates around a particular performer or are hoping to find an act that’s available during the dates of your event, the best time to book your talent is immediately after you’ve booked your venue.
“We have had groups where money is no object and they contracted legendary touring bands, and we’ve had groups that just want a piano for a cocktail hour,” said Craig Clemmer, director of sales and marketing at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. “Regardless of the act, though, if the entertainment is a focal point of the event, you should begin the search as soon as you select a location.”
Booking early ensures plenty of time for negotiating the ins and outs of the contract. But in the current competitive market for entertainers, it also ensures your being able to secure an artist or performer at all.
“Six months to a year is standard,” said Josh Baker, CEO of Hi-Fi, MOKB Presents and executive director of Indiana Independent Venue Alliance in Indianapolis. “Though, post-pandemic, we are seeing artists booking two years simultaneously, so availability may start to wane midway through 2022. Most corporate events are fly dates for artists, so it really just all depends on the artist availability and their tour schedule.”
Set the Stage — and the Budget
Before even beginning a conversation with an artist or an entertainment booking agency, it’s important to know what you need the artist to provide, what you can provide and what the venue will be providing in terms of audiovisual, gear, staging and other equipment.
“Communication is always key,” said Samantha Gutting, senior vice president and chief sales officer for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau in Branson, Missouri. “It’s very important for the venue to be included from the very beginning of the planning process to be sure you’re taking everything into consideration. And they can even help you navigate things like permits and noise levels.”
These factors will not only influence the cost; they could also influence the types of artists that can perform in your selected venue.
“The promoter is the one responsible for providing all the necessary equipment, such as stage, PA, lighting, security, power, hospitality, etc., to produce a safe and successful event,” said Baker. “Some venues have this in-house, but in most cases, you’ll need to source components to complete the production puzzle.”
Whereas a pianist or a poet may need only minimal equipment to perform, a touring band may be able to bring its own crew and equipment. Knowing what you already have available will help smooth out those conversations with the artist/performer early on and will eliminate any technical or equipment issues or miscommunications on the day of the event.
Keeping tabs on the equipment situation can also help your budget stay on track. When booking a performer or an act, you’re often given just the cost of the performance, but what’s left out is the price tag for transportation, meals and any necessary equipment or staffing. Make sure you factor into your entertainment budget not only the artist’s performing fee but also production, hospitality and a little extra for equipment you may need to source yourself.
Tap Into Your Network
Unless you already have your mind made up on a specific band or performer, when booking talent for an event, it’s important to reach out to your network to get the most relevant information about which performers or acts would be a good fit for your specific event.
“You should work directly with the destination’s CVB, DMO or DMC,” said Gutting. “We spend our days and nights meeting entertainers and hearing reviews from other meetings and groups. We’re incredibly connected, and we’re totally aware of all the options available.”
CVBs and entertainment agencies are great resources with huge pools of talent from which to choose, and they can often give direction for which type of act would be best for your meeting/event demographics. But you can also reach out directly to the performer’s agent or, in some cases, manager. When dealing with an agent, it’s important to be concise with your request by providing information on the event — when, where, type of event, etc. — as well as demographics, estimated number of attendees and what you want the performer/artist to do at the event. Agents receive requests daily, so providing this information upfront and following up in a timely manner — that is to say, three to five days — will set you apart from the noise.
Negotiate the Contract
The key word here is “negotiate.” When you make an offer to an entertainer, you want to make sure you’re not putting your best offer on the table right away. There will likely be some back and forth with the contract, and offering anywhere from 10% to 15% below your desired budget is often a wise move upfront. During these negotiations, make sure to discuss all the hidden fees, like travel, accommodations, meals and anything else you will be responsible for to bring the artist to your event.
This is also the time to bring up the idea of a contingency plan. Although no planner wants to hear this, unforeseen circumstances such as illness, airline cancellations and so forth can occur, and it’s reasonable to talk about what the performer will do to assist in the event that something does come up. Often, agents will provide a backup performer or offer a refund of some sort, but you should make sure this is all outlined in the contract to avoid any surprises on the day of the event.