Entertainment Agencies... Waste of Space or Vital Safety Net?
Pointless Middleman or a Vital Safety Net?
When booking entertainment for an important event, such as a wedding, milestone party, or, even a corporate 'do' unless you are in the entertainment industry yourself you will more than likely get yourself on Google and start searching for the perfect band or entertainer. Whilst searching it is more than likely that you will stumble across lots of entertainment agencies. But, why choose to use one when you can just find acts directly? This lens will highlight the reasons that I personally believe an entertainment agency to be invaluable.
Entertainment is often overlooked at events and in general it is not realised until after the party that live music or a fantastic WOW factor genuinely will make or break your event. Entertainment really is that important... believe me, your guests will remember a naff wedding band forever, no matter how great the main course was!
Worst Case Scenarios... - And, this DOES happen...these are TRUE stories!
Here are some totally true scenarios that I have come across in the last 12 months... and, these were ones that instantly sprang to mind, but, I have plenty of others as well!
1) Hang the DJ... if you can find him!
It was a beautiful wedding by all accounts - the bride walked down the aisle to a wonderful harpist performing, the weather was gorgeous and the venue and food were stunning! After the meal there was a short lull in the proceedings before the evening reception began. A good time to get changed, mingle and speak to the newly arriving guests who weren't involved in the earlier part of the wedding.
The bride and groom's feet are finally starting to touch the floor and they enjoy a few minutes chatting to friends they haven't seen in a while when the wedding organiser at the venue taps the groom on the shoulder.
'I just wanted to check what time you requested the DJ you hired to be set-up by?' she asks.
'We hired him to be set-up by 7pm', he replies, glancing at his watch as he answers to see that it is already 6.45pm.
'Oh, that's what I thought. I just thought I'd mention it because at the moment nobody has arrived.'
'OK, he's probably just running a bit late, I'll check my mobile and see where he's up to.' says the groom.
As he wanders outside the groom is busy keying through his phone to get the number for the DJ. He calls the number and let's it ring. It eventually goes to answerphone. 'Nothing to panic about', he thinks, he's probably driving, 'I'll try again in a few minutes.'
20 minutes passes and the groom tries to call again. Still no answer and this time the phone goes straight to answerphone so he leaves a message asking the DJ to give him a call to let him know where he is up to.
7.30pm... no call back. He tries ringing again and things are now getting a little more panicky. By 8pm... still nothing so he goes to the wedding organiser and advises her that he can't get in touch with the DJ and isn't really sure what to do.
The venue advise that they have a very small vocal PA system that they use for speeches and so if the groom can find some music they can use that if they like? The groom can only say yes as the clock is ticking and as he scurries off to find out if anyone has an iPod with them or have music on their phone the venue dusts off their speaker system.
After another 45 minutes of dashing about, plugging leads in and trying to make a party-ish playlist from all the titbits of music that have been glued together the groom can finally press 'play' and get the party started... on a very small and highly inadequate PA, with no lights and with music that was not what they requested. Plus, nobody had a copy of the first dance so they had to give that a miss as well. So, the groom had now been away from his bride for nearly 2 hours on their wedding day and put through all the stress of trying to salvage a terrible situation.
The DJ had been booked via the Yellow Pages after a couple of calls to other DJs - the reason the couple chose this particular DJ? He was the cheapest...
2) The Band that Should be Banned!
I won't dress this one up with a flowery description as I think you're starting to get the picture. On this occasion though the Bride and Groom were told as they sat down to the wedding breakfast that the wedding band they had booked had broken down on the motorway about 2 hours from the venue - but, they were waiting for the AA and should be back en route soon.
So, whilst not ideal and I'm sure the couple were having minor aneurisms it sounds like this should be OK with the worst case scenario that the band would be a little late... not quite...
When the AA arrived at the broken down van they advised the band that they could be towed one way or the other due to the cover they had. They could go to the venue, or, they could go back home... this put the band in a predicament because if they got towed to the venue how on earth would they get home later after the wedding? If they had to stay in the hotel or pay for an additional tow they'd make no profit from the event. So, they decided to just be towed home!
The band had been booked off the internet directly because the happy couple loved live music and the songs that they played. Unfortunately, they ended up with a DJ that the hotel were able to organise very last minute. I say unfortunately, but they were actually very lucky because it was a hugely popular date and they were lucky to find even a DJ available at such short notice! Obviously the couple were very upset and there were tears, which is not what you want on your wedding day :(
3) That's it... I Quit!
Another no-show story this one. Except, this time the band answer the phone when the groom rings... only for them to tell him 'Oh, the band split up last weekend and the bassist was meant to be calling everyone to let them know.'
4) I'm Sick of This!
Illness... nobody wants it, but it's a truth that we all get ill at some point. But, in this little anecdote I heard of a caricaturist who text a bride the night before her wedding to say that he was 'sorry, but I have a cold and so won't be able to make it tomorrow. All the best though and I hope it goes well.'
OK, so these are extreme examples. But, they are a lot more common than you think. Whilst some reasons cannot be helped or avoided there are many times that they can! But, if you have booked an act directly you can run the risk of having a pretty bad end to the wedding, which would be a shame as for many people it's a once in a lifetime occurrence.
How to avoid this? Or, at the very least minimise the chances of this happening? Read on....
What a Difference an Agency Makes...
This is what would have happened had the booking been via an Entertainment Agency...
So, the examples above show how unprofessional some folks can be, how some people just have a knack of not caring, how wrong decisions are made based on a short term problem rather than any kind of long term gain and also how life can throw you a curve ball sometimes!
But, in all of the scenarios given above had the booking been via an agency you have support.
Scenario 1 - the groom would have called the entertainment agency to say the DJ hadn't turned up yet and then he can go back to his new wife and continue to enjoy his wedding day while the agent is finding out what has happened and sourcing a replacement.
Scenario 2 - the band (and client, or, even the venue) would have called the agency to advise that they had broken down and the agency would have advised the best course of action. Even when the band have the decision to make of whether to go home or get to the wedding they could have called the agency for advice (who I'm sure would have reminded them in no uncertain terms that if they chose to go home they would be ruining a wedding.... a very special day in anyone's life.... and, it would jeopardise any future work opportunities the band would have with the agency (in other words, whilst they may not have made much profit on the wedding from a monetary point of view, they would have lost a lot more by never having the agent book them out again!)). And, even where the band had been adamant that they were heading home, the agent is the person sorting a replacement band - and will do everything to source an act similar in style and with the same songs available.
Scenario 3 - It is more likely that a band splitting up will call an agency to let them know than a client.. why? because it is easier to get an earful from an agent on the phone than have to deal with upset brides and grooms. Fact of life! The band will know that it will be down to the agent to do the dirty work of telling the customer that their band has split up, which is totally fair if the booking has been made via an agency. But, what I'm driving at is that there would have been much more opportunity to find a replacement for the band given more notice that they had split up. As it stands, the agent could still try to pull strings and get a band to the venue ASAP. After all, that's why you book via an agent - they have contacts, a large network of wedding bands and entertainers available at their fingertips etc.
Scenario 4 - Again, there is more chance that the caricaturist would have let the agency know (to avoid a panic stricken bride and groom) that they were ill and so could they source a replacement and pass on their apologies to the couple. No problem! People get ill and nobody can pick and choose when this happens (although I don't know about you but it always feels like when I'm on holiday to me!), but booking with an entertainment agency means you will more than likely still have a caricaturist at your wedding. You won't just be told that they are ill and that's that.
An entertainment agency survives on it's reputation and if they can't offer services such as 24 hour coverage 7 days a week and be able to source replacements for you and help with disasters (natural or of the idiotic variety) then they are not worth their salt.
At this point I would like to say that while I appear to have blamed bands and entertainers for the problems and that by booking with an agency everything will be hunky dory, this isn't the case. First of all, I do want to say that not all bands and entertainers are unprofessional etc... there are plenty of musicians and acts who are absolutely fantastic! They also rely on their reputation to survive and get repeat work and so they understand the true value of respect to customers and how important every single event is. To those acts... we salute you! BUT... how do you know which of these acts is pro? Anyone can have a nice website these days... or makes nice glossy videos... again, this is where any agency worth anything will help.
An Entertainment Agency will vet acts and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. They aren't going to want to be providing cover for bands that consistently let them down because ultimately it will be their own reputation that is getting tarnished. So, the agency will have some kind of vetting procedure.
BUT... read on to learn more about Entertainment Agencies....
It is worth noting that NOT all Entertainment Agencies are good!
As established, there are 'dodgy' bands and entertainers, and, there are amazing ones! The same can be said for entertainment agencies. There are a LOT of them out there and it can be difficult to tell the good ones from the bad ones. So, here's a littler helper to give you a few tips of what to look out for...
1) Do They Answer The Phone When You Call?
I bet you're thinking 'What?! of course they'll answer!' I wouldn't guarantee it. The ugly truth is that many agencies are set up by musicians who whilst busy at weekends find themselves with a little spare time in the week and so decide to give it a go. I have lost count of the amount of agencies I have seen come and go that have been set-up by musicians who thought that it would be an easy and quick buck! When you call in the week they are maybe rehearsing... in the studio... teaching... so, they can't answer! And, what kind of business is that?! If they can't answer in the week (during normal office hours!) what do you think the chances are of them answering at the weekend when you have an emergency? Slim to none I'd bet! Especially if they are out performing themselves... after all, isn't that what any musician worth their salt should be doing at the weekend?
Another thing to look out for is the number itself. Is the company's main number a mobile? What does it tell me if it is? ... it says straight away... 'ONE MAN OPERATION'. Again, I like to think that if I am dealing with a company I have the backing of a team... because what happens if the 'One Man' gets himself ill? What happens to my booking or enquiry then?
2) Do They Have An Office?
Similar to the telephone situation, does the company have a dedicated office? If they do then it tells me that they take the business seriously - they are not 'fly-by-night' and just running out of a spare bedroom or off the dining room table. In my opinion, if a company is prepared to invest in itself then they are taking things seriously' After all, why would you buy an office / rent office space and be tied into a lease if you were planning on not being around for a while? Similar to this... do they have staff. As mentioned a one man operation can be a dangerous thing and so it's worth seeing if you can find out how many people work at the organisation. It doesn't have to be huge set-up but it should be large enough that if somebody is ill or on holiday the whole operation won't fall apart! YOU need to be supported by this company as this is the service you are paying for.
Additionally, you can check to see if the company is a registered trading business, or, are they VAT registered. Again, little touches that show just how seriously they themselves take their operation.
3) Do They Provide Contracts, Support & Terms & Conditions?
This is imperative. If you book a band or entertainer you will want to know that first of all, they are legally bound to some kind of contract that explains where they should be, at what times, why and what is expected of them. In addition to a legal contract a good set of terms and conditions should also be readily available by the agency that outlines what happens in worst case scenarios and even explains details such as how the payment system for the band works and what happens if your event overruns (after all, if your boss asked you to work a couple of hours later for free I'm sure you'd have something to say about it :D).
And, the terms and conditions should also outline what kind of backup you are provided with should situations (or scenarios as mentioned above) occur. Many of the 'dodgy' agencies do not include any kind of clause to say that they provide 24 hour cover and support in case of emergencies and in my humble opinion it is having that support round the clock 'just in case' that covers why you may sometimes pay a little more to an agency.
4) What is the Agencies vetting process?
As briefly touched upon, an agency worth their salt will do everything in their power to try to make sure that the acts they are adding to their roster are the 'cream of the crop'. Why? Because if they are no good then it will quickly come back to bite the agency on the bum. Reputation damaged, bad word of mouth, etc. etc. But, apart from checking out how a wedding band may sound from their website or how a magician looks on their headshot what else can they do? PLENTY! A good entertainment agency will ensure that even if a cover band sounds amazing they are professional in their outlook and there are many ways of doing this such as requesting detailed references, lots of form-filling, even showcases so that the agency can meet the act in questions.
There is nothing wrong with asking the question to an agency 'how do vet your acts' - it might just help you feel more confident about why you would choose to book via them.
WARNING - there are now a lot of 'agencies' that are setting up and advertising as allowing the customer to 'avoid agency commission' - and, how do they do this? Basically, they charge the bands and entertainers to be listed on their website. Whoop! They are basically a directory! Great idea... except where is the quality control? Surely if an agency is charging an act to sign up and be added to their 'books' it is in their interest as a business to just allow as many acts as possible onto the roster and therefore make as much money as possible. So, beware of posh looking directory sites that have no number, provide nothing except a listing service, and, charge the acts for the privilege of being added... because chances are they care very little about quality control.
Again though, as with everything, there is probably the odd good site that maintains this kind of service to a high standard. But, I am yet to stumble across one where I would feel secure in booking an act from it.
5) Check for References
Check to see how long the agency has been established and what people are saying about them. Do some research and look into references and testimonials. It will give you a good idea of how solid the company you are perhaps going to be dealing with are. After all, what if they 'disappear'? Obviously, this can happen to any business but it is a rarer circumstance if the company is established and professional and has the customer backing to prove it.
Remember, because the entertainment industry is unregulated, anybody can claim to be an agency, or a company providing entertainment, so, make sure you check the smaller details first.
And, That's Me Done....
I said what I wanted and I hope it helped a little....
I've been meaning to write this for a while now and whilst I'm sure there are plenty of bits I have missed out (that I will try to add as I remember them and read back through over the coming months) I think I have given enough of an insight into what I am trying to say. Hopefully, my ramblings will help somebody come to a more informed decision, or, at the very least protect them from making one that could later cause them problems. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to drop me a message and I'll be only too happy to help if I can.
Hub by Warble Entertainment