How to Hire or Book a Band (for non-live music venues)
This article focuses explains how to book a band for your non-traditional venue – in other words, conventions, cultural festivals, weddings, etc… events outside of the traditional live music venue. However, there is a lot of valuable information for both artists and talent buyers of venues who want to understand more about the process in creating a two-sided relationship that benefits both parties.
How to Initiate the Process
The first step is to identify your need: the type of music (or which artist to choose), dates, budget, etc. Once you’ve identified the band that you’d like to book, contact their booking agent or manager. For most acts, you’ll want to book at least 3 months out (for larger events, plan at least 6-12 month in advance). If you’re unsure of what band to choose, a booking agency can help you identify the appropriate act by genre, price range, type of event, etc.
Determine Your Budget
Most people assume that the performance fee/pay rate of the band will be your largest expense. Often times, it is not. For example, if you don’t have an adequate stage or sound and lighting system, you’ll need to rent those items and find a qualified sound engineer to run them. Often times, you’ll be asked to provide food or lodging (those items are often negotiable). If you’re flying in a band, you’ll be expected to rent back line equipment (drum set, amplifiers, etc.) as well as provide transportation to and from the airport. If the artist is driving, you’ll most likely need to pay for transportation expenses. If you are working with an agent or manager, they should be able to help you determine these costs so you can prepare your budget. Some of the other things you’ll want to negotiate is if you are covering their entourage, how much work will be expected of them (how many sets + length of time or other public appearances, and if they can provide any of the above things on their own (such as a sound system).
All of this can seem daunting but this is why you’ll want to see if it is worth it.
Determine Your Return on Investment
Your Return on Investment (ROI) should be your biggest determining factor on hiring a band, not your costs (whether that includes financial, time & energy spent, etc). What do you hope to gain from booking the band? Great entertainment for you r guests? Additional publicity or notoriety for your event? Are you hoping to profit by selling tickets or getting higher attendance? That is where you’ll want to see if it is worth the investment.
First of all, lets dispel the myth that “all bands are the same.” They’re not. Each act has a different level of professionalism, type of music genre offered (originals, covers, or both), costs, following, and value adding benefits from booking the act. For example, my band (The Slants) was hired to perform at a large cultural convention in Seattle, WA two years in a row. In addition to paying for our performance, the event covered our transportation, food, and lodging as well. However, our band has a full-time publicist. The publicist secured local media attention (tv, radio, and print) as well as coverage on NPR which was broadcast multiple times across 700+ FM stations. I was able to secure sponsorship from an internationally published magazine which covered the event and provided extra attention over the next two years. We also had our sponsors donate products for the attendees. All of those efforts resulted in unprecedented advertising that money couldn’t buy, as well as substantial growth during that time which covered our expenses 20 over. This is an example of excellent return on investment.
There are many ways to calculate your ROI, not just if the band makes you money from tickets sold. Determine your goals by priority and see which band aligns most closely with your needs. Here are some examples of can be considered: value of entertainment, cost/budget, professionalism (which may not seem like much but the difference between working with pro’s and amateurs is quite vast and can save you a lot of heartache), notoriety of the act, appeal to your audience, appeal to a market outside of your audience, if they attract media attention for appearances or not, if they are able to offer other appearances to give value to your audience (such as workshops, lectures, autographs). You can also see if they have referrals from other events like your own.
So you figured out your costs and determined its worth booking the band. Now you’ll want to negotiate favorable terms. This is where hiring a booking agency can help. The agent/manager wants to book the gig, so they will help you negotiate with the artist to get the lowest possible cost. Other benefits of working with an agency is access to a larger group of artists, working with contracts, ease of communication, and professionalism. Working with an artist’s label is not the same thing: they might have general knowledge of all of these areas, but it is not what they specialize in.
Remember this: almost all terms are negotiable, even the infamous tech rider (which has a bad reputation from celebrities asking for outrageous accommodations). Just remember to be reasonable and the artist can be too.
Always have an agreement in writing. This protects both parties. Explain in clear terms what you are offering, what you expect, the payment schedule, and any other details. Keep a copy during the event as well, in case anything goes awry. There are many performance agreement templates available online but chances are that the artist (or their agent/manager) will already have a standardized agreement that they use. Also include clauses that will justify you cancelling without penalty in case things fall through and who should be responsible for incidents.
If This is a Public Event…
Promote. If you want your money’s worth, you’ll want your audience to enjoy the band you’ve booked. So do your best to advertise their appearance(s).
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