8 Mistakes Planners Make When Booking Bands

Planners and producers weigh in on how everything from placing too much importance on a big headliner to choosing the wrong venue can negatively impact entertainment at an event.

By Rose Curiel August 20, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT

Photo: Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash

A lot of work goes into successfully producing musical performances at events, which means there's also a lot of room to commit mistakes. Whether it's launching a music festival or hosting an intimate corporate event featuring talent, avoid these mistakes to secure acts without upsetting band members—or guests—along the way.

1. Ignoring the audience
While organizers may think they have excellent taste in music, event attendees might disagree. In fact, TCG Events’ Kim Atwell Martin says one of the biggest mistakes planners can make when booking talent is “selecting entertainers based on personal likes or dislikes versus the demographic of the event.”

Similarly, Adam Kahan, senior vice president of Empire Entertainment, which has produced more than 1,000 concerts, including performances for artists such as Diana Ross and Robin Thicke, suggests thoroughly researching the anticipated crowd.

“The most important information, I think, when it comes to booking musical acts for corporate events is the age range of the audience; it will tell you a lot about the type of music they will be into,” Kahan says.

2. Choosing the wrong venue
“A venue that has a lot of windows might have great sunlight and views, but glass, generally speaking, is difficult for sound,β€œ Kahan says. β€œThe same goes for marble, actually. There are some really spectacular, beautiful spaces that just aren’t ideal for sound. Good production companies can work around that but it’s just not ideal.”

3. Breezing over the contract
What the event's host and band expect from the same gig may differ greatly. “I would suggest putting anything very important in a written offer to the agent,” Kahan says. “Don’t just say, we’re offering $150,000 to Huey Lewis and the News to perform on the stage if you also know that you want Huey Lewis to do a meet and greet and hang out with a few V.I.P.s before the show.”

Martin Atwell adds: “Key elements of a contract should include cancellation policies, rider negotiations (if applicable), stage and production requirements or restrictions, travel and accommodations, set times, attire, sound check times, media—including social media—clauses, and rights to photography and videography.”

4. Disregarding up-and-coming acts
Bigger is not always better, especially if you're on a budget and want to avoid diva-like behavior.

“Find someone who is recognizable but is on the verge of stardom; they are great value at low-cost, they typically are putting lots of effort into their shows, and their demands are usually low, making for a great working relationship,” says Atwell Martin. “Look out for them being a little rough around the edges—they may not have quite figured out what is and isn't appropriate for the corporate or social event settings.”

Likewise, Aurelian Marketing Group’s Rehan Choudhry, who founded Las Vegas’s Life Is Beautiful festival in 2013—and attracted a crowd of 60,000 over a two-day period in the process—points out that a big headliner doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good fit.

“More often than not, when people are booking talent for an event, they typically want to get the biggest band they can get for the price they can pay,” Choudhry says. “People end up booking just based on the name and what ends up happening is that there’s a disconnect between the experience and what they’re trying to achieve or create.”

5. Bypassing music industry pros
So, when it comes to actually booking a band, who should you turn to?

“There’s protocol in the industry: when you book an act, you go to the exclusive booking agency,” Kahan says. “The booking agent will take your offer and bring it to the manager, and the manager will then discuss it with the artist.”

And once you’ve actually settled on a musical act, you want to make sure you tap an expert who understands how to deal with the band's logistical demands.

“When it comes to the block and tackle production of the stage for musical talent, it’s really important that you have someone with a lot of experience,” Choudhry says. “Have a great producer, who knows how to produce shows with the type of talent you’re bringing in. You want to make sure that when the talent is on the ground that they have a flawless experience.”

6. Waiting until the last minute
The bigger the band, the sooner you should start taking action to book them.

“The ideal situation for A-list entertainers can be a one-year lead time,” Atwell Martin says. “Smaller acts are best secured within a three- to six-month window.”

7. Promoting an act as a surprise headliner
A surprise act can create buzz, but it can also generate problems.

“I think it’s a mistake when some clients have their headline talent be a surprise for attendees because I’ve seen at least one example of the audience starting a rampant rumor that it’s going to be one performer that everybody gets really excited about when, in fact, it’s somebody else,” Kahan says. “When the other person comes out, there’s a bit of an ‘oof’ moment, like a grenade. Also, if it’s a surprise it doesn’t give a lot of people in the audience a chance to listen to that artist’s music in advance, which you need to do if it’s a newer artist.”

8. Neglecting local restrictions
“Permits are always something to keep top of mind,” says Discovery Communications vice president of global events Jeff Kaplan, who recently planned the first FinFest in Hermosa Beach that included a concert with Jimmy Buffett. “Sound ordinances and curfews are always key in figuring out how long a set can go, and what other noise restrictions are allowed. Are there any load-in, load-out restrictions once the headliner equipment is set? How do other bands need to work around the stage? These are all things to consider when in the booking process.”

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