A Word About Agents

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In the article ‘How to Plan a Banquet,’ we included a limited discussion about entertainment, and our essential advice was to hire a competent talent agent who specializes in “casuals,” which means one-day or one-night events, such as parties, weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and other
fun events.

Some agents represent actors and actresses, and unless they have a department that handles a variety of acts and bands, they would be of no help to you.

Some other agents handle only major attractions and celebrities, and unless you’re working with a severe budget, they won’t be able to help you get a band for Aunt Sarah’s 50th-anniversary party.

Various agents can help you get that close-up magician, band, and sometimes even name entertainers like Reba McEntire or The Temptations. Those specializing in diverse entertainment are sometimes called “full-service” agencies.

How do you tell who is a competent agent? That’s a good question because if you asked an agent if he’s capable, he’d be a fool to say anything but “Of course!”

Having been in the entertainment business for over forty years, I’ve seen many people set up shop as agents. Some last, some don’t.

A considerable percentage of my business comes from people who have used my services before or were referred by someone who has used my services.

Finding Talent

Finding your entertainment can be fun. I have spent years watching other acts, bands, and attractions, and I enjoy it.

The internet or the Yellow Pages is a good starting place. Try using a search engine to find what you’re looking for. You’ll find listings under entertainers, party planners, entertainment bureaus, and maybe some other categories in the Yellow Pages.

Try a search for something like “bands in los angeles” or “juggler orange county” or whatever is appropriate. See what you come up with.

Beware that a beautiful website may not mean the best entertainer. The entertainer does not build many websites; even if it is, a nice-looking website does not translate to great entertainment.

Referrals from friends might be helpful to you if you follow the reviewing procedures outlined below.

Watch your local newspaper for entertainers scheduled to appear for other groups in your area, and make it a point to catch their acts if possible. Of course, if you start attending different events, you’ll see some poor entertainment, too. (I guess it holds that you have to kiss many frogs to find a prince!) But even that can be helpful if you are observant and note what made the act good or bad.

Reviewing An Act/Band

You must review the act yourself if you’re not working with an agent. There are three methods of studying an act: You can (1) see the act perform live, (2) watch a video of the act, or (3) have the act come audition for you.

The best way is to see the act perform under roughly the same circumstances as your event. Seeing people perform in Las Vegas to a nightclub crowd does not mean they can perform for little Gloria’s 10th birthday party (or vice versa).

The problem with seeing live performances is that it is very time-consuming, and you will only be able to see a limited number of contenders before it’s time to make a decision. But on the other hand, think of the fun you’ll have!

Watching DVDs is an excellent method, as you can cover much ground in the evening. Unfortunately, not all acts have DVDs or videos, and it would be a shame to eliminate a top-notch action just because they could not supply one.

Another BIG problem with video is that many acts supply a short, edited version of their show. This can be very deceptive. When reviewing an act-by video, I always insist on (but don’t always get) an unedited version of the show. I never hire an act based on an edited video. I’ve heard of instances where an action was employed because they had a compelling video, only to find that the only part that was any good in their entire show was those few minutes on the video.

Don’t be overly impressed by a DVD or video of a movie appearance, a guest spot on a TV show, or a commercial. That still does not mean they can do the job you want them for.

Unless you’re an agent, you can forget about having the actors audition for you. Maybe an act will drop off literature. In the case of a magician, mime, or similar variety act, you may receive a short demonstration. However, this small segment and its glib pitch can be very deceiving.

Don’t take chances; be sure of what you’re buying!

When you talk to an entertainer on the phone, ask him to send his “press kit” or literature and a DVD or videotape.

Most variety acts will have printed literature or a complete press kit (including a photo, biographical information, letters of recommendation, references, or a list of past performances).

Please don’t be taken in by good printed material. Usually, but not always, you can get a pretty good idea of their level of professionalism from the materials they send you.

I know some great acts that work all the time and have virtually nothing in the way of printed materials. Of course, I’ve also seen some excellent printed materials but I was disappointed when I saw the act. I have a band I send out to many small weddings and installation banquets, and it took me almost a year to get a photo from them. (I’m still hoping to get a song list someday.) I’ve got another band that is tops in promotional material, and their band is absolutely tops, too!

Some performers no longer use paper press kits but prefer an electronic press kit either contained on a DVD they send you or on their website. That’s fine. It’s certainly a more contemporary method of promoting one’s self.

Arrangements

Once you’ve decided what entertainers or band you’re going to hire, arrangements must be made clearly and in writing. I’ve enclosed a sample letter you may wish to use. Some entertainers have their contracts, but many do not, so you must put everything down on paper and send it to the entertainer. I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know how enforceable the letter is, but at least you have the information on paper and both understand and agree to the terms.

If I’m serving as Agent, I fill out a contract based on our conversations and then forward it to my client for a signature. I try to collect as much information as possible about the event to prevent any surprises. The entertainers also receive a binding contract.

By the way, this might be a good place to mention that talent agents are like travel agents in that they don’t charge you for their services but instead charge the entertainers. The agent is looking out for your interests and can draw from countless entertainers and bands, being reasonably familiar with what each action does. There is an internet subscription service that lists thousands of entertainers, who their manager is (if any), and how to reach them. All entertainers are available to a full-service agent rather than just a handful of acts that the agent has been able to put together.

When making your arrangements with entertainers, make sure that you discuss everything:

Location. Best to send the act a map.

  1. Date of performance.
  2. Time and duration of performance. Bands usually work 4 hours, with a 10-15 minute break each hour. Talk to them about their holidays and how much overtime will cost. Some bands supply recorded music during their breaks.
  3. Put the fee down in writing. I would hesitate to pay the act a deposit, although some entertainers and bands require it. I’m a licensed agent, so an act knows that their pay is guaranteed once I send the contract. Both you and the entertainer are acting on trust not yet demonstrated. The entertainer wonders if he’ll get paid, and you wonder if he’ll show up! It’s the only system we have.
  4. Method of payment. Acts always expect to be paid in full following the performance. If any other arrangements are to be made, please discuss them with them and put them in your letter of agreement.
  5. An act will want to know your schedule… what time is the cocktail hour, dinner, etc., and this brings up an interesting subject: feeding the action. Usually, if you have only one individual doing a show after dinner (e.g., a magician or a singer), you should invite him to join your group for dinner. However, it would not be expected of you to feed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even bands are seldom provided. If you use the bar for the cocktail hour, during dinner, and then have them take a break while you give out awards or conduct other business,
  6. it would be appropriate to feed them during that hour. It’s not mandatory, however. (Remember that a meal is a nice consolation for the act if they give you a special break on the fee.)
  7. Who supplies the public address system? Bands usually have their equipment; other acts may not. A guitar player who sings may require two microphones. Four singers might require microphones and expect you to supply them. If you’re at a hotel or other banquet facility, you may be able to get everything you need from them. Extensive sound systems will have to come from a proper professional company. Make sure you discuss this with your performer and put it in writing.
  8. Lighting. Again, your facility may have what you need. Spotlights with an operator can be rented for around $350. Big concerts will require the services of a professional lighting company.
  9. Stage? A banquet of fewer than 50 people may not even need risers, but when you start getting up in the numbers, you’ll need to get your entertainers up to where the audience can see them. A catering facility or hotel will usually have 4′ x 8′ risers at various heights so that you can build a platform or stage for your entertainment.
  10. Is it outdoors? What if it rains? You should specify what you will do. Will you then hold it indoors? The act or entertainer has blocked out that day for you and perhaps turned down other work. They are entitled to their fee even if the program is rained out unless you’ve made other arrangements.
  11. Seating. It’s tough for an entertainer to have a dance floor between himself and the audience. If you’re having a dance after a comedian or other entertainer, talk with the act about how close the seats or tables need to be. Maybe he/she can work on the dance floor.
  12. Does the act need a place to change clothes or set up equipment?
  13. Does the act sell albums or other merchandise at the performance? Some musical acts offer albums after the show. Is this all right with you?
  14. Parking and unloading. How nice it is for an entertainer to pull up in front of the YMCA and find a sign “Reserved for Entertainer.” You can’t always do that, but remember that some acts have much to carry in. If the only parking available costs money, you should reimburse the entertainers. Talk about it and include your decision in your letter of agreement.

There are plenty of things to inquire about. Take time to picture in your mind exactly how things will be. If there is a question in your mind about anything, ask. Ask the hotel, the band, the act, and the agent.

Conclusion

Well, that was easy. Just spend months looking at acts and days negotiating and a few weeks wondering if you blew it. (Or call a competent talent agent and let him worry about the hard stuff!)

Perhaps a good rule to remember is “You get what you pay for.” A friend called me and wanted Mariachis for a Church Mexican Fiesta. I quoted him a price for five Mariachis for two hours, but he went out and hired his own for less. He called me up later, just sick about it. He had called a group advertised somewhere and got a low price…and low quality. It’s not a new story.

Don’t look for the lowest price; look for quality. If you can’t afford top quality, it’s probably better not to have entertainment rather than hire an act that makes you and everyone else squirm in their seats.

—–

Sample Letters

PRINCESS WANTA COMPANY

Makers Of The Unbreakable Widget

1842 Los Albany Street, Los Angeles, CA 90023

312/555-2345

February 31, 2009

Freddy the Magic Man

1234 Count Me Out Street

Pasadena, California 93345

Dear Mr. Magic Man:

This is to confirm our arrangements for you to entertain at our annual installation banquet to be held October 32, 2009, at the Rancho Cucamonga Holiday Hotel, 2345 Hotel Ave., Cucamonga,
California.

The banquet will begin with the cocktail hour from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm when we sit down for dinner. We would be delighted if you would join us. Please let us know if you would prefer the fish or the steak.

We have a deejay who will provide you with a microphone on a microphone stand, and the hotel has arranged to put up an 8′ wide by 6′ deep by 2′ high platform, with stairs at one end, for you to perform on. Your 30-minute performance of comedy and magic should begin after dinner, at approximately 8:15 pm. I will have a $750 check ready for you after your routine. Please also bring me your parking ticket for full validation.

Please sign a copy of this letter and return it to me to solidify our arrangements.

Most sincerely,

Marta Stuart

—–

From: Freddy The Magic Man

To: Marta Stuart

Everything looks great! I’ll be there. I’d prefer: Steak ______ Fish ______

X_____________________________________

—–

LIBERTY AWARDS FUNDING

Helping to improve lives through investing

2356 Nobody Street

Lancing, Ohio 98823

912/555-3456

February 31, 2009

Leon Huge

Big Band From Cleveland

1902 Go Jump Street

Pine Grove, Pa 69903

Dear Mr. Huge:

Thank you for agreeing to have your 8-piece band play for my daughter’s wedding on July 14, 2008, at the Forrest Glen Country Club, 2323 Country Club Drive, Lancing, Ohio, from 8:00 pm to midnight. As we discussed, the band is to complete their set-up by 6:00 pm, and you will play recorded music through your sound system from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm for the cocktail hour and dinner.

You also agreed to act as the emcee introducing the bride and groom and the wedding party as they enter the room at approximately 6:30 pm. I will e-mail you the line-up at least a week before the event. Please kick off the dance set at 8:00 pm with the Father /Daughter dance “Isn’t She Lovely” and then invite the wedding party to join them on the dance floor at the end of that song and play “Celebration.”

I understand that the band will play four 45-minute sets each hour, and you will provide recorded music during your breaks. I will have a check for $2,450 ready for you when you arrive. If you collect their parking slips, I will also obtain full validation for your musicians. I will have sandwiches, sodas, coffee, iced tea, and fruit juice in the break room at 7:00 pm for you and the band. Please check in with Diane at the Country Club; she will show you the break room.

Please sign below and return a copy of this letter to make sure we’re on the same page.

Thanks.

Sammy Claws

—–

Sammy:

Everything is as agreed. We will be there.

X________________________________

© 2007 by Al Lampkin

Al Lampkin is the President of Al Lampkin Magic. He has been an event producer and entertainer since 1962.

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