The Right Volume at Your Events

After a few months of feedback about Volume at Events see my earlier blog:

Why is it Always So loud?… I feel it is important to revisit this topic.

I am sharing a 3 point checklist to simplify the process… which will set your events up for success with live music every time.

I still hear many expressions of frustration about working with Live Music and the struggle to keep the volume at the right level – especially during receptions and dinner. Performers are doing them selves a disservice by being to loud. I hear feedback like “we just stopped having live music at these receptions- it was just to much trouble”.  Well there is a way to include music and have the rich experience it creates at social gatherings and take away the frustration.

Here is a checklist to use every time you work with music… it applies equally to DJs and Live Bands or Musicians:

1.Communicate your expectations and concerns about the volume level with all the stake holders in the event… your DMC, Agent, Band manager, performers, sound engineer,and  band leader. Set a common goal and define what that is… to have music at the right volume.

2.Unless you are planning for dancing between courses or special theme vignettes I recommend -Instrumental music only… Vocalists send a mixed message – should I be paying attention to the singer – or to my meal and friends at the table? Ask the talent to play at a level where they can hear your guests talking… if they can hear them – your guests will be able to hear themselves. Works every time!

3. Make sure the sound man( sound engineer ) who controls the PA is in your corner! Unfortunately – and especially with Big name Acts- far to often the person at the controls does not understand this is a dinner event – not a Concert for a room full of Rock and Roll fans. Talk about the expectations and be at the sound check to confirm and agree where the limits are. Again… very important to include your band leader or agent in this conversation- so the engineer hears it from them that you are calling the shots regarding sound level.

After Cocktails and Dinner the expectations is for the Energy and Volume to crank up! If you follow the above 3 steps – your guests will not have been overwhelmed by music that is to loud, and be looking forward to the Main Entertainment and Dancing.

A Win- Win for all!

Talent and Production Riders…How much should it really cost?

This entry is going to be very broad in scope… I believe it will at least give you a foundation on how to best deal with talent riders… and you won’t need to become an expert on all the gear…but it will help you make good choices and negotiate fair deals for what can often add 25-50% costs on an act you are hiring. Big name acts will be much more expensive then a good regional or local act … 30-40% for a name act… 20-25% for a regional act… 10-20% for a local act. Many local acts come self -contained… with no additional fee for production – but be sure what they have is Pro Level and appropriate for your venue.

Here are the most common and most effective ways of making sure you are buying smart and getting what you need.

  • Production and Travel Buy outs… This is very effective with acts that are in a local area, or have much experience traveling for Corporate and Incentive Events. How it works is – Talent will often develop relationships with good Production Companies they know… who will provide the right gear and support team… (The talent wants to have a good experience too)… and production can be a real drag if it is not at a Pro level. Over time,  this relationship brings them ” good value” which even if they add a few dollars on to the fee for their coordinating efforts… it will still be much less then if you tried to source it yourself,  or if you are going through your in house production guys – or the in house AV Company( see below). This entry is about Production – but the “Buy out” can work well for the Band Travel too… more on that,  in a later blog post about Travel!
  • Caution – Don’t go through the In House -AV company… if you can help it. The reason is – most are not set up to fill a band rider… they do great with basic mics and AV for meetings – but will almost always sub it out to an outside source… now- you will be paying their fee – plus the fee they pay to the Hotel or resort, to be the preferred vendor… this will almost always add 25-45% cost to your  bill .. OUCH!  If you do use the in house guys – use the following three strategies…
  • Get a bid from a large US city provider – ask the local company to match it – or come close. This will help give your seller a reality check on what you would expect to pay in other destinations… Hawaii can be twice as much… (where else are you going to go to get it?) I’ve seen Companies in the Caribbean, Europe, and other … out of the way destinations try for 4 or 5 times the “normal rate” – so a “reality check” can at least help them understand you ” know” the real value… so now let’s see if we can meet somewhere in the middle.
  • Ask for a producer’s discount… one of the best kept secrets… when a producer for an event comes into a hotel or resort venue… they will most often get a 15-25% discount – if you don’t ask – they wont offer!
  • Negotiate – I only have  so much to spend ( 75% of their bid) – do you want the biz? I do this often and always the provider will come back and match it… or be real close.
  • Ask your talent to negotiate for their rider… unfortunately – especially in international destinations… many production Companies think if you are an American Incentive program… you probably have a bunch of money to spend and and they will do their best to help you spend it- by charging way to much! There is an understanding in the world that the talent probably is not as well financed as you – and the companies will be much more relaxed and flexible if they think a bunch musicians are paying for it.

Any and all of these above techniques have worked for me and my clients over the past 20 years of producing and performing for events all over the world.

Just recently I have negotiated savings of 10 grand in Bermuda, 12 grand in the Bahamas, 20 grand in Mexico – real deals that took a few minutes to save this kind of money.  If you need assistance in securing Production for your events – I am happy to share with you more details and location specific info to help you get the right deal… and the best value.


negotiating with talent sellers

The talent selling business is still in many ways living in the past…unfortunately – the old sleazy and unethical stereo types of decades ago still exisit … the ruthless agent looking to make the big deal – much like the perception of lawyers who take advantage of the fears and unfortunate situations of the people they prey on. The less you know the more you will be taken advantage of… and they would all like to keep that advantage to themselves.

Now, there are some agents that are better than others… and you might think the person(s) you work with is terrific- but the bottom line is… their job is to get the biggest fee they can, for the talent they represent. Coincidentally they get paid by a percentage – usually 10 to 20 % … so the higher the fee they can negotiate for their talent, the more they make. Simple math says: 10 to 20 % of $500,000 is significantly more then 10 to 20% of $250,000. So there is no incentive for them to tell you what the bottom line is to make the deal happen… and great incentive for them to start at the highest amount they think you or your company will pay. Unfortunately many meeting and event planners accept the first offer…  and have spent way more than they needed to… believing their agent, seller, DMC, or producer – is looking out for them.

But we can change the equation right here today… because now you are coming from a place of strength and knowledge.

When an agent, or whoever is presenting you the the talent, tells you the fee… thank them and take a day to consider it. Reply the next day with a counter offer of 20 to 30% less. This is assuming you truly want the talent…. and have the go ahead to make an offer from your company. It is important you truly want this act you’re making an offer to, because once you make the offer… and, if they accept it… you are legally bound to the amount of the offer. So we are assuming you are committed at this point.

The worst that will happen is they decline it … nothing lost… or they will counter with a fee some where in the middle… 9 times out of ten you just saved thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. There are also some really popular acts that won’t budge – but they are few… and most will at least come down in fee by 5 to 10 grand. To me, and I am sure to your company or organization, in these challenging economic times… 5 to 10 grand is real savings … for a few minutes of effort.

Your talent seller will still be getting paid well, though he or she might be surprised and whine about your new found negotiating skills… just tell ‘em… you don’t mind paying for his groceries for the next month… but you don’t want to be paying for his family’s 6 week luxury vacation to the South of France… for this one deal he is helping you out on.

next up: How much should it really cost? Talent rates and the riders that can add 25-50% to the fees.

Big name acts…how much should it cost?

This is probably one of the most misunderstood areas of event entertainment and it is for 3 reasons…

  1. Buyers are intimidated by “big stars” and the fear of working with celebrity talent… thinking how complicated it must be – it’s just not true!
  2. Talent sellers prefer to keep it this way – the less you know the more they can charge!
  3. Fees are a moving target – right now it’s a buyers market and should be for some time… if you only take away one idea from the next three entries it is: Always Negotiate the fees!

For the sake of keeping my blogs easily and quickly read… I will address these 3 areas over the next week in 3 separate blogs.

Everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time!

Getting your mind right to be confident to negotiate with the “perceived” intimidating process of buying a big name act.

For years I have worked with talent buyers, and meeting and event planners, who are intimidated by ‘big stars” to the point where they rarely negotiate during the process of booking the act. They act like the agent they are working with… and the talent … are doing them a huge favor and end up accepting the first price they are given. Because of this… they spend thousands, and often ten’s of thousands… more then they needed to. It would be similar to paying peak season”rack rate” for all your hotel rooms in a resort destination. You would not think of it… well talent is sold the same way… and the “less experienced” buyers are taken advantage of on a regular basis.

I remember my first time I encountered a ” big name act” I was scared and falling over myself trying to make sure every little thing was perfect.

Then almost 20 years ago, I had the good fortune of working with the former Mayor of Carmel ( no names here). The most important thing I learned from him… if you just treat him like a regular person he will treat you the same, and actually appreciate it…  The point is… first, we all need to take a breath and realize famous people and their reps are just regular people with much success –  they all appreciate a “real” conversation and to be treated respectfully. What would you rather have… a 5 minute conversation with a few laughs, or maybe an insightful exchange about a common interest with someone you have admired or appreciated for their talent over the years…  or an autograph? I can tell you for sure… the autograph would be their second choice!

Since then I have had the opportunity to work with dozens of “big stars” as my business expanded to include other Celebrity Clients, and while Producing Entertainment for Corporate Incentive Programs. Yes, there are some who are a bit high maintenance ( no names here either)  but the same rule always applies- and the most important thing is… when you remember this,  it levels the playing field.

So,  always remember…  as you start your search for that big name act … come from a place of strength by reminding yourself— you are as important as the act and… what ever terms you come to agree on… they are working with you that night as an equal stakeholder in the the success of your event. Remember this… and it will take most of the fear and misunderstanding out of the equation… plus you will have more fun.

… and now we can deal with the talent agent, talent rep, or seller… coming from a place of strength and confidence.

coming up next: Dealing with talent sellers.

Multiple evening events… Maximize your talent and save money.

Most Incentive Programs require music and entertainment over a 2, 3, or 4 day period. Any time you have multiple evening events you can save a great deal of money and simplify your planning and coordination efforts by using your hired talent for more than one event.

Not every performer or band has the flexibility to be successful at this and if you are using a headliner one night,  or in some cases your talent for a theme event is so unique or customized… it would be awkward to try to do it. But I have had much success for over 2 decades doing this and I know at least a dozen popular -regional acts around the country who are capable of being successful at doing it too.

How you will save money… and coordination time:

  • multi-date discount from the talent – most will give you a 20-30% discount for extra dates.
  • if your event is international… requiring work permits… they are usually for a 30 day period – so you pay for fewer permits, and you spread the cost of the permits over each performance.
  • tech support – band gear, sound and lighting, etc… can be negotiated for multiple dates for a significant savings. You’ll save 20 to 30% … when you rent for the additional nights.
  • simplify your production needs and coordination. Of course…  you will want the music and entertainment to change each night… but your talent’s production needs should not change.

How do you make sure it won’t sound and look the same at each event?

For over 20 years I have been using, and teaching others,  these simple strategies to make sure… sameness is avoided:

  • Change the music… your event will dictate what is appropriate. Most often for Incentive Programs there is a welcome reception on arrival day… a small smooth jazz band is all that is required for background – easy listen music. Then for the Awards event… where it is often a formal vibe… the band would play more sophisticated background during dinner – then some “cheek to cheek” dancing after the awards… along with a bit of classic R&R. Then for the final night… a Theme event… the talent would play more contemporary high energy dance music along with any special music to support the theme.
  • Change the configuration of the band… number of performers… following the above example of 3 nights – your first night would be 3-5 performers. The second evening for your Awards event you could add in a vocalist or two, and/or a few horns to get that sophisticated “Cheek to Cheek” dance music sound … plus the Classic R&R sound. For the Final Night Theme Event you could add in additional vocalists and horns along with choreographed dancers to really flush out the theme and step up the energy.
  • Change the attire… following the same above example… for your welcome event… the small band would be in resort casual attire or the standard  background musicians black suit!  For the  second night formal event…  band in Tuxedo. For the final night… band and dancers in fun costumes that support your theme.

Even if you only use your talent for 2 nights… you come out ahead.

I had concerns of diluting the impact – or –  of over exposure… when we started having success doing this…  and asked for feedback. What we consistently got back from planners and attendees was…  most people did not know it was the same band – and the ones that did… the 20% or so in every group who really connect with the music and dance all night(!)… had a very positive experience. Comments were usually about how excited they were that the band was returning, and how impressed they were… with the band being capable of playing such diverse music.

Once again… a win-win!

You save money and time… your guests get to have a great entertainment experience… and the talent is maximized.

Why Is It Always Too Loud: keeping control of the music

I was recently at a four day industry conference- where 3 out of the 4 evening events the music for dinner was way too loud and in most cases there was no clear point person who could seem to do anything about it. Everyone just complained or left the room and headed outdoors. Then once the dinner was over the band really kicked in:

  • most folks have had it…
  • joined the rest of their friends out doors
  • or called it a night…

It doesn’t have to be this way. Yet more times than not it is… musicians get a bad rap… events suffer, and then everyone just accepts it. I say – let’s fix it once and for all. It’s easy and I am going to give you simple strategies to do it no matter what the event is.

Round up the band leader- 
First, you need to take a minute and round up the band leader or DJ, the sound company, sound engineer, producer of the event, DMC on duty, or whoever is responsible for providing the live music… if there is more than one of the above… include them all if you can. I’m a firm believer in including everyone who is a stakeholder in an event to agree to share a common goal… it helps all involved to support each other and I find everyone steps up a bit when the whole team agrees on and knows the expectations… Explain to the whole team that you would really appreciate live music but you are concerned with the volume. Unless it is a special presentation, theme enhancer, or short vignette between dinner courses… my recommendation is to not include vocalist at this time… when you are eating and some one sings it creates an awkward sense of… should I be paying attention to the singer… or enjoy my food and conversation?  Keep it instrumental if you can and /or have a smaller portion of the band play… I will often rotate six to eight performers – three or four at a time. It helps to keep it softer and you can have non- stop music without burning the musicians out.

Explain your Expectations

Next, explain to the sound people it is not necessary to “fill the room” with the music. If they try – it will inevitably be too loud for the folks close to the stage… just turn off the PA … in most venues the band will be plenty loud for background… in large ballrooms with flown speakers a small amount of PA support can work fine… but… it is better to have a few folks in the back of the room who don’t hear it than the entire front of the room… which is often the VIP’s… having to yell at their friends to have a conversation.

Can you hear your guests talking? 
Then- the final and probably most important thing… I discovered this simple solution about 10 years ago after years of struggling with musicians. Ask them to play at a volume where they can hear the guests talking. It sounds simple and may be crazy but it works every time. Two things happen – you actually have a standard to measure the volume by… you can stand near, or on the stage and check any time if you can hear your guests talking… but it also changes the focus and perspective of the talent. They become more aware of the reason they are there – contrary to what some performers who don’t get the special event biz think…

  • these folks did not arrive here tonight to hear you play…
  • they earned this trip, or chose graciously to support this event, or its cause…
  • and you were hired to add tasteful background music to enhance the experience.

The band can still be creative and make amazing music – They just need to learn to do it softly… yes, it can be a bit harder but if they are pros they should accept the challenge… if they learn to do it… they will be asked back more often and ultimately perform for more events. Smart business!

The best part about this is when you get it right… and you will if you use these simple techniques… when it is time for the after dinner entertainment… then the band can really crank it out and your guests will not only be ready for it… they’ve had plenty of time to chat and eat comfortably… they will be open and willing to accept it and embrace it even if it is a bit on the loud side.

A win -win and a great entertainment experience for everyone.

Intro to – Entertainment Buyers Guide

My intention in this blog is to share simple strategies to help you create entertainment experiences that wow your guests, friends, managers, and everyone who is a stakeholder involved with your events.

You will save money…

I guarantee, with the information I am posting,  you will save ten’s of thousands of dollars annually and probably hundred’s of thousands of dollars over time.

You will eliminate stress and frustration when producing entertainment… you will have clear and simple solutions to every challenge you have encountered in the past… and learn to create a synergistic team with: the talent, the production team, the venue, and everyone else involved in the event.

You will be an expert and have fun…

Educate yourself, become confident and creative while learning from proven and time tested strategies and real world examples. Learn to organize your event team to be swimming all in the same direction for the same outcome…

… successful entertainment experiences.

Why I’m doing this…

it seems there has been an adversarial relationship between talent and people who are talent coordinators… and buyers. Then when you mix in the production team and the venue, the whole experience becomes dysfunctional.  When I began the concept of creating this blog over the last year I spoke with many talent sellers… local, regional, and big name talent agencies… and the most common responses were – “Don’t tell them too much” and” Don’t give away everything”. Interesting comments and really an old school way of doing business in a 2.0 web world. Mix that kind of mindset in with all the different kind of agendas from the people at venues, and people at Production and AV companies .. and you can see why it easily turns into “how much can I get for how little I can give” way of doing business. Kind of a lose- lose deal for everyone… especially for you, the person putting on the event!

Some areas and challenges I am going to address with the intention of empowering you to be confident to deal with and move beyond…

  • The music is too loud
  • Negotiating talent fees- how much should a name band cost?
  • AV partnering
  • Lighting on a budget
  • Creating added value from your talent
  • Coordinating it all
  • Travel buy outs
  • riders and what you need to do to keep it simple
  • Work permits for international events
  • Multiple evening events using  the same talent
  • How to find the best and most interesting local talent anywhere in the world… what your DMC does not have or won’t show you.

next post: How to make sure the music is never too loud.

Here’s to synergy and success with all your events,

Bill Hopkins