From The Morris Agency
If you have been put in charge of looking after the music and entertainment for your next event, here is a definitive guide from entertainment industry guru, Daniel Morris of the Morris Agency.
“Initial fears that people have with planning the music and entertainment for their event are reasonable, as it is an integral part of the event and can even be part of the main focus. There are many factors to consider when planning your entertainment, not only whether the act you are booking for your event will suitably entertain your guests, or fit within your budget or them;, but you also need to consider whether they will be reliable and professional. In the worst case scenario we have heard of cases where artists have failed to turn up on time or cancelled without giving enough time to book another act in their place. Even if they do arrive, how do you know that they are going to be as good as their demo or showreel? And this is all on top of the rest of the event planning process of organizing catering, a venue or conference facility, florists, guest invitations, transportation, accommodation… need I go on? It can be a very daunting task.”
With this in mind, here are the key elements to think about to help get you started:
When booking the venue it is important to check that they have the appropriate entertainment licence. Also you should check the conditions of their licence including the type of entertainment they are allowed (some venues are not permitted to have amplified music), finishing/get out times, performance area size/space restrictions, if they have any noise restrictions (such as sound limiters), access times for the band/artist, power supply etc.
If you are considering a speciality act that uses fire or pyrotechnics, you also need to make sure that this is permitted in the venue.
These points are always good to know early on as this may dictate the kind of entertainment you can look for. For example, some venues have sound limiters that cut out sound automatically when it goes over a certain volume, so if you have booked a band, this can damage their equipment and most importantly can disrupt the whole evening.
However, all is not lost, even with a limitation on sound, there are still many acts that can be employed such as acoustic artists, but knowing this in advance will help you narrow your search or review your venue.
Live Band Search
So now you have an idea of the kind of act your venue will accommodate, let’s go and look for your entertainment.
Armed with the information acquired from the venue you can now approach the artists, but where do you look? Well, there are a few options available to you:
Option 1 – Search the internet. You can do a search for a certain type of artist/ band, listen to their website demos or watch their showreel and contact the artist directly. Although many artists have their own website, a great website does not necessarily mean a great artist. So not only can this method be quite simply mind-numbing and time consuming, it is also a bit of a lottery if you are booking an artist about whom you know nothing.
Option 2 – Go on recommendation. This can narrow your search quite fast, but do remember that colleagues may not have the same tastes, and what one person may think is great might not be ideal for the guests attending your event.
Option 3 – Go to an agent. There are lots of agencies out there (I should know, I own one of them). Obviously there is going to be a fee increase for this service (normally between 15- 20 % ) but, if the agency is a reputable one they should be able to earn their commission by verifying the acts and their ability, negotiating their fee to meet your budget, contracting the artist (more on that later) and communicating to the artist exactly what you need.
A note on professionalism. Many people place the utmost importance on the performance, but it is essential not to overlook the other elements involved with booking an act/band (for example, the way they conduct themselves both on and off stage, their dress code and ensuring they turn up in plenty of time etc).
Things to ask the band/act
Whether you are going through an agent or directly to the artist, the questions are still the same.
Here is important information you need to know about the artist:
You must first check that the artist is available on the date of your event and that they are happy to travel to the event location.
How long will the artist perform for?:
Performance times will vary depending on the kind of act you are booking and the event you are holding.
There are so many different possibilities depending on your requirements, but to give you an example, a typical live performance by a function band would be something like the following:
2 x 1 hour live sets (I like to include CD music in between and up to 45 mins after the performance)
3 x 45 mins live sets (again, the bands would be quite happy to provide CD music within the price)
Some artists are available as a ‘walkabout’ act as well as a stage act, and some bands can perform as an acoustic duo or trio, as well as a full party band.
If you have a larger event then you may wish to have a reception performer when the guests arrive or are eating lunch/dinner. This could be a walkabout act, close-up magician or acoustic duo or trio band.
We have supplied many events with walkabout Mexican Mariachi bands, acoustic Hawaiian trio band, close-up magicians, human statues and Gypsy jazz musicians. It’s an upbeat and fun start to the evening before the main act, as well as a brilliant ice-breaker if your guests don’t know each other.
The latter part of the event can then incorporate a stage show or band for dancing, either using an artist from earlier or a different artist altogether.
If you are booking a band, you should be able to get a sample set list from the band. I generally advise my clients to let the artist gauge the event as to what songs are played but within your initial enquiries it gives you a great idea of what they can do.
Once the artist has all your requirements, they will then be able to quote you formally.
The fee you are quoted will be dependent on the location of the event, the performance you require, what day of the week your event is being held on, and the time of year your event is taking place.
Don’t be afraid to barter, most artists/agents are happy to negotiate their fee, as every event is different.
Let us assume you have narrowed down a selection of acts, what next?
If you have decided on the artist you wish to book, but you need to get the go ahead from your MD or person paying for the event, it would be recommended to ask the band to hold that date for you.
Most artists will be happy to pencil in a date for you if you require time to make a firm decision about booking. This ensures that they won’t take another booking while you’re in the decision making process.
Deposits and contracts
Any reputable band or artist will insist on a contract being signed by all parties once you confirm your booking. This should include all of the information that both sides have agreed to.
More often than not, the contract will also include a requirement for you, the client, to provide refreshments and lockable changing facilities/dressing room for the artist during their time spent at your event.
You may also be sent an artist rider with the contract, which is a list of artist requirements that you will be expected to provide as a courtesy.
Things to confirm within the contract:
Artist Name (making sure that the performers are the same ones as the demo/showreel!)
Location for the artist to appear
Date of performance
Time for arrival and set up of the artist
Fee and payment terms (i.e deposits and payment due dates)
Artist contact number
Any special requirements regarding the performance/venue/guests or artist rider
As soon as you have signed and returned the contract and paid your deposit, your booking is confirmed.
The artist should be able to contact you a week before the performance to confirm any changes that you might have, and you can rest assured that you have done all you can to make your event a night to remember.
A word on the author
Daniel Morris owns and runs The Morris Agency Ltd, one of the UK’s leading music and entertainment specialists. Previous clients include the BBC, Citi Group, and NHS to name but a few. They are also the booking agents for Pizza Express, English Heritage and many more.