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Booking Talent – A Guideline for College Programmers


Are you trying to organize a concert or even a coffeehouse performance and are becoming overwhelmed with all the details? You’re wondering how you’re even going to be able to get to the artist you want to book. Maybe you already have the artist, but now have to worry about all the smaller details: getting contracts signed, setting up artist travel and lodging, catering, payment to the artists, sound checks, and getting the artist to the venue the day of the performance. This all must be properly executed while keeping your artist happy.
Don’t worry, take a breath. We’re here to help you through the process. We want to give you practical guidelines on how to successfully book talent for your college event. As a booking agency, we stay in contact with the artist and the promoter (that’s you) and have learned about the needs of both parties. We would like to share this experience with you so you can use our knowledge to your advantage.

Be clear about the event you want to organize.

Identify the audience you are targeting. Identifying the type of audience for your concert will allow you to determine how large the venue will need to be. Also, determine whether you can realistically fill the venue: coffeehouse, nightclub, concert hall, etc.
Once you determine your audience, the venue and your ability to fill the venue, then you can move onto promotion.
• What are the different ways you can promote an event to your target audience?
• Where will you promote and will that promotion catch enough people?
Once you have all these questions answered you are ready to get in touch with an artist representative.

How do you contact the artist? Find the right partners.

Once you put all the information about your event together, you should start to look for possible ways to get in contact with the artist you want to book. The best way to present your request is in the form of an offer sheet. Include as many details as you can in it. Most important are:
• Date of engagement
• Venue details (name, address, capacity)
• Target group
• Type of performance (showcase, concert, hosting, appearance)
• Budget for the artist

There are different ways to contact an artist. You can speak to the artist directly, to their manager or to a talent agency. The usual fee that an agent or manager takes on top of the performance fee is from 10 to 15%. The manager or booking agent will issue the performance contract for you and handle all the communication with the artist on your behalf. This is beneficial, because it saves you the trouble of trying to get in touch with the artist, who usually does not have the time to handle the business side of things. The manager always acts on behalf of the artist.
The advantage that comes with an agency is that this middleman tries to represent its customer’s interests, meaning yours. The value of an agency, in the artists’ eyes, grows with the amount of engagements the company presents to the artist. Therefore, an agency has a better point of view when negotiating a performance deal.
Before you start to do business with an agency, perform a thorough background check on the company. Try to find out which artists they have done business with and in how many cases. The number of gigs an agency books is a good indicator to the quality of their work. Make sure the agency is an official business and not an unprofessional operation with dubious history or business connections. Be careful if the agent claims to know the artist personally and promises to get you the best deal.
Take a close look at how professionally the business is conducted:
• Can you reach them during regular office hours?
• Do they have a genuine business e-mail address (or are they using a personal e-mail account)?
• Do they have a business Web site?
• Do they have a published office address?
It is best to work with an agent that can speak directly with the artist or artist’s management; it saves you money, there is less separation between you and the artist, and you have more control in handling the booking arrangements.

Learn how to make the right offer and avoid overpaying an artist.

In order for an agent to discuss a gig with the management, he needs a number of details about your venture. The performance fee always depends on certain factors, such as the day of the week you are requesting, the capacity of the venue, place of the performance (how far does the artist have to travel?), the involvement of sponsors and the type of performance that is requested.
Be alarmed if the agent just asks for your offer or gives you a price without asking any further questions. Most agents will ask you for your offer without telling you the usual asking price of an artist. This is one of the ways for an agent to determine if you, as the promoter, are legitimate and know what you are planning. However, after the agent knows all the details, he should be able to request the asking price from the artist. You should submit your offer with a selection of two to three different agents. If they are all talking to the management directly, they will get back to you with a similar price for the performance.

Negotiations: Close the deal.

There are two possible answers to your submitted offer: either the artist accepts your offer or your middleman asks you to raise the offer. Try to find out what fee the artist is seeking. A good agent will try to negotiate the best possible deal for you. Keep your budget in mind. Sometimes you have to back out on your offer if the artist requests too much money. This applies especially for the expenses that have to be covered by the promoter on top of the performance fee, which can increase the total costs of booking an artist immensely.
Make sure you take a close look at the artist’s rider. The rider contains information on the flights, hotel, hospitality and technical requirements for that particular artist. You have the right to ask for changes, especially if the requests seem over the top. The crew usually does not fly business or first class, everyone does not need to sleep in suites or in a five-star hotel and you don’t have to provide excessive amounts of alcohol (schools often aren’t allowed to offer alcohol). You have the chance to make those changes before signing a contract.
Another key point to secure in writing is the show length. Be very clear on the duration and the stage time you want from the artist. Also, clarify the amount of people traveling with the artist. Do you have to provide a backline or an extensive light and sound system? These details need to be written down in a contract so you can hold the artist to them later on. Make sure the artist knows what is expected of them, so there are no surprises on the day of the show. Keep in mind that the artist also depends on you. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and make appropriate demands when necessary.

Understand that contracts and payments details are crucial.

This is the most important part of the booking. You have laid out the basics of the deal throughout the negotiations and now’s the time to secure the deal in writing.

Checklist for contracts:
• Is the issuing party of the contract listed with a valid business address?
• Are the date and venue specified?
• Does the contract list who will be performing?
• Double-check the performance fee.
• Check the deadlines for initial and backend payment.
• Are show length, travel party, flight and hotel requirements, technical and hospitality rider included?
• Who is liable in case the artist does not show up?
• Are you, as the promoter, responsible for providing insurance?
• If you pay the agency, have them fill out a W9 form.

Some contracts are unclear about who is liable in case the show doesn’t happen. Agencies tend to include a paragraph in contracts, which excludes them from any penalty claims in case the show does not go on and places the responsibility on the artist. Some artists like to include that deposits paid are nonrefundable. In this case, your money will be lost even if the artist does not show up. To gain security for your funds, include a paragraph that regulates how the monies paid will be returned to you in case the artist cancels without notice or does not show up. This will make it easier for you to claim your funds in case you should have to take the agent or artist to court.
Once you have checked your performance contract thoroughly, sign and return it to the sender. Do not pay any deposits until you receive a signed copy of the agreement. Don’t let the agent talk you into making a payment without having a signed contract in hand. Some agents like to apply pressure by telling you that there are other promoters ready to send deposits and that they will sign contracts with them. Be firm and insist on your copy of the contract.
However, keep in mind that an artist can easily back out of a contract before the initial deposit is paid. This means the contract is not fully valid until you have made your first payment. The standard contract defines that the initial deposit is due with the signature of the agreement. Look out for that paragraph and make adjustments if necessary. This might sound strange to you, but it is business practice to regard a contract pending until the first steps are taken to execute the agreement. Having that in mind, be clear about when you will submit deposits and backend payments and make sure you have the funds available.

Before the booking: hotels, flights, catering—know what the artist requires.

You have your signed copy of the contract and you have paid the initial deposit. It is now time to think about preparing for the actual show. If you have to arrange flights and hotels, get lists of all people traveling. The flight schedules usually have to be confirmed by the artist. To avoid cancellation fees, wait for the approval of both flights and hotels. Some artists book their travel exclusively with a certain travel agent and, at times, they make this part of the agreement. You have to be careful about this. Always get your own quote for the necessary travel arrangements. Do not accept changes to the agreed upon travel unless the agent can provide a reasonable explanation. Additional people traveling in business or first class instead of economy can increase your expenses immensely.
Making sure that all technical requirements are met is crucial for a successful performance. Have your sound engineer get in touch with the artist’s sound engineer to go over the technical requirements and the stage plot. Smaller productions sometimes do not travel with a sound engineer. In that case, you should talk to the deejay; he will be able to answer all technical questions. Questions regarding the catering rider can usually be addressed to the artist’s road manager or agent. You want the arrival of the artist to run seamlessly and without any problems, so take care that all your questions are answered.

The day of the show: It’s the details that count!

This is the most important day since the signing of the contract, so your entire team needs to be on the same page. It’s a good idea to have a schedule for the day, along with a contact sheet that lists everybody that will be in touch with the artist on the day of the show. Every detail counts and will make a big difference in the attitude you will have to deal with throughout the day of the show. You always want the artist to feel well taken care of and attended to. Let the management know beforehand if there is anything you can’t provide, and if it is as minor as the model or color of the car the artist has requested. If things run smoothly from the beginning, you will be off to a good start into the relationship you are building with the artist and their management.

Key points to consider:
* Artist Pick-Up. Double-check the artist’s travel details. Have a big enough car or bus for entourage plus luggage, ready to drive the artist from the airport to the hotel and later on to the venue. Some artists require specific cars. Provide the artist’s road manager and the driver with each other’s names and numbers, so they can be in contact with each other, if needed. The driver should be there ahead of time and have the car in close proximity of the arrival gate.
* Hotel Information. Since you have all of the travelers’ names, check them in before they get to the hotel. Sometimes hotel rooms become available in the afternoon when you need them to be ready by 10 am. This can turn into a huge problem, so double- and triple-check that the rooms you have booked are available at the time you need them. In order to avoid extra costs for you, make a point to cover the costs of only the room and NO extra expenses such as mini-bar, room service or TV on demand. To be 100% safe, put this into writing when you book the rooms with the hotel. Should your artist travel by tour bus, you have to ensure there is adequate parking space and, also, electrical outlets available for the bus.
* Backend Payments. In case you haven’t paid the artist in full yet, there is a backend payment due on the day of the show. Some artists want their money right after they arrive at the airport, some upon arrival at the hotel and others three hours before the show or right before they go on stage. Find out in advance if the payment should be cash or if the artist accepts checks.
* Catering. It is common to pay the artist a per diem or catering buy-out. Often this buy-out has to be provided in addition to the catering rider, which usually only covers the on-site (venue) catering. The per diem is to cover the artist’s expenses when it comes to food during the day. It’s wise to agree on a buy-out, as otherwise, you would have to cover a restaurant bill. This way, you maintain control over your budget.
* Sound Check. Coordinate a pick-up time with the road manager. The sound check should happen well before the first guests enter the venue. You don’t want to take away from the concert experience. Have a professional sound engineer at the venue during the sound check.
* Get-in. Set a time for the artist to get picked up from the hotel. Give about 15 minutes allowance so you don’t have a problem with your timing later on, meaning: tell them you have to leave 15 minutes earlier than the time you actually have to leave the hotel. Once the artist gets to the venue, have the backstage area set up the way they requested. You want to avoid your guest having to walk through the crowd, so plan on how you will get your artist backstage with minimal hassle. If you have no other choice but to direct your artist through the crowd, plan ahead with enough security personnel to accompany your artist to their destination.
* On-stage Time. Once you have the artist backstage, the sound engineer or deejay will go on stage to make final adjustments and get the system ready for the show. Once everything is set, the show can begin. Have fresh towels and bottled water on stage for the artist.
* After the Concert. Every artist is different. Some want to mingle with the fans while others wish to go straight back to the hotel. Have your host be ready to set up transportation back to the hotel whenever the artist wants to leave. Always keep in mind that you want the artist to feel comfortable. Be proactive and try to anticipate their needs.

A Balancing Act with a Big Reward

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the booking process. Be mindful that throughout this process, you can (and should) be demanding, as appropriate, in what you need from the artist, but do so without upsetting them. It is a balancing act of making sure both the artist’s and your own needs are met.
Also important to remember is that booking an artist is much more than booking your artist and getting them their deposit. There are many small details that are just as important as other larger ones. Think of it like a house of cards. If one card goes, the house falls. Definitely maintain an ever-evolving checklist to keep on top of smaller tasks while keeping the larger task in mind: putting on a great show that your audience will remember.
Good luck!

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