The Risk Entertainment Buyers Face

Live concert - Jeremy Larochelle, MBA

 

My business card says agent, but truth-be-told, I am actually a buyer.  A buyer is slightly different than a booking agent in that we purchase entertainment for a particular venue. Booking agents generally have a list of acts they represent and spend their days pitching them to various venues and guys like me.

Buyers are hired for their entertainment expertise, connections, and ability to negotiate better deals for their clients. Those deals boil down to less money spent versus more money earned (relatively speaking of course). To get to that point, the buyer plays arbiter for all parties in the negotiation until the deal is struck. Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of said deal means that the buyer assumes the post of whipping boy should anything negatively impact the transaction before, during, and after.

In most negotiations, the risk is generally carried 50/50. If I have a contract to buy widgets from Johnny, LLC and I fail to pay. It is my phone that rings off the hook. Flip the script and Johnny forgets to ship my widgets in time. It’s his ringtone that gets overplayed. In a buyer-backed deal, they would sit in-between Johnny, LLC and the customer and get to deal with ALL of those calls.

Entertainers often overlook the risks buyers face and nowhere is it more evident than in their sales pitch. “Book our band…we have 1,900 followers on Instagram.” “Hire us for your corporate event…we really like Propecia. Come on!…what do YOU have to lose?” These statements tell us that somewhere musicians and bands are landing gigs on pitches like this. Most of the time, this happens with smaller venues whose entertainment is handled by an overworked bar or restaurant manager. Unfortunately, this has done a disservice to entertainers who want to move up the food chain and eventually deal with buyers like me.

I immediately ask potential acts to fill out our entertainer application.  It is a great litmus test to see if the artist is professional enough to follow directions.  It also forces them to write down the correct name, URLs, and contact information, which results in fewer errors. *Hint…this is one of the reasons YOU fill out your forms at medical practices.

Then, I check out their videos, social presence, other venues they have played, and even Google the band to see what comes up. If everything looks good. The next step is to go see the act live.  I have discussed this before in another post called Using A&R in Venue Management, so I won’t bore you with the details. (But check it out…it’s REALLY good… my mom says so.)

If all the stars align, I book them for one of our venues, but on a trial basis of limited shows. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched a great band in one venue completely falter in another. This is because numerous variables come into play including everything from the gear we use to the side of town we are on compared to that of the band’s home turf. I also talk about this in my post Listen Through the Show. Check it. My mom digs that one too.

Experience has taught me that these extra steps greatly mitigate the chances of a bad show in our venue.  And as a buyer, mitigating those chances is the name of the game, so if you are an artist looking for a gig. Be prepared.

  • Have live un-doctored videos on YouTube or Vimeo ready to share.
  • Have a social presence and use it to show that you connect with fans through lots of likes, follows, post interactions, and updates from your crew.
  • Have a list of your upcoming gigs readily available online. Sometimes, dudes like me have a few free nights and are looking to see a band we are interested in.
  • Be patient.
  • Put yourself in our shoes. If I didn’t know you. Would you book my act?  Now support that answer with a big fat WHY?

Keep in mind. Booking agents, buyers, managers, and the venues we work with absolutely want you to succeed. Simply put, we all make more money when you do. The best thoroughly vet their potential acts to make sure we can prepare you for that success. Work with them and your gigs will only get better.

 

Communicate Right or Get Lost in the Shuffle

Don't Get Lost in the Shuffle When Sending Emails to Grab Gigs and business

 

I get a lot of emails every day. I mean – a FREEKIN’ LOT! However, my inbox doesn’t compare with some of the people I work with. Case in point, I was having lunch with a colleague for a major cruise brand and during our hour together, he received 35 emails, a bunch of texts, and a few calls.

 

It may be difficult to understand just how complex email management can become if you have never worked in an environment based on group decisions with partners in multiple time zones that require written communication to audit deals being made. This is exactly the case for booking agents, concert buyers, and entertainment managers. In our business, the cc (and sometimes bcc) are commonplace, which quickly converts one email into double digit chains plaguing our inboxes.

 

Of course, there are programs and protocols one can follow to better manage their inbox. However, each of these emails (or at the very least the subject) needs to be read and, if warranted, investigated and responded to.

 

So, why is this entertainment blogger discussing the woes of our email management. Well, the answer is to help artists looking for work to better communicate with us, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.  Here are a few pieces of advice I want to give.

 

  1. Keep it simple.  Remember grade school and how they taught you to outline your paragraph in the first line by dictating the who, what, where, when, and why? Follow that rule. Don’t bury the story.  Provide us with your website and video links upfront along with what you are looking for and what your act brings to the table.  We don’t need to hear your life story. How you learned to play the guitar at six. How you met John Mayer that one time and he dug your tune. Let us know what you are going to do for us.
  2. Keep it to email if possible. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels are great, but they are not the best place to solicit a new client.  For one, if the company is huge like a cruise line. The person reading those messages probably has nothing to do with entertainment, so you are relying on them to forward your message to the right person. If the company is smaller, the person handling those messages is probably wearing 100 different hats and will likely look at your message and forget about it until they are managing the site again in the future. When you send an email, it at least ends up in the correct inbox…barring spam filter interference.
  3. Better than email… the website form. If the agency or venue has a form “specific for entertainment applicants” use that. They did this for a reason. For instance, the company I work for, Mike Moloney Entertainment, put a web application form that forwards all applicants to the email accounts of five agents.  I know for a fact that many larger cruise companies have their online forms set-up in a similar fashion.  In all instances, the forms are designed to capture the data we need to make a decision and (hopefully) a deal. Do yourself a favor and follow our lead.
  4. Don’t spam!
  5. Don’t spam! See what I did there?  This one is so important, I put it in twice.  NOBODY likes spam, so don’t be that person. Now, there are many ways you can spam a prospect through email. Sending the same message to every email address you can find within the intended agency. Including them on your mailing list without asking. Emailing them every day. Emailing, then messaging on all available social channels are all ways you become a spammer and it generally doesn’t work in your favor.
  6. Do some research on who you are emailing. Does the booking agent work in your genre of music? Are you applying to a cruise agency, but you get sea-sick? Is the booker outside of your drawing ability? It doesn’t hurt to do a little research to focus your pitch, and with so much information at your finger tips it is rather easy to be properly prepared.

As an agent, I can attest that most of us are always hungry to find the next great act for our venues. However, that is only a small percentage of our business. The largest chunk of our time is spent putting the deal together and then executing it on show day. A lot of artists feel that the “squeaky wheel will get the grease” and in some instances that is true.  However, if the driver can’t hear that squeak. Nobody will be getting to their destination. Follow these steps to increase the probability that we will hear you.

 

 

Listen Through the Show

Sound Guy with Headphones

 

As an entertainment manager, I receive a constant influx of artists looking for work. These emails and requests come from numerous sources including colleagues, agents of our venues, and (of course) the artists themselves. This results in one large “procurement funnel” I work with daily.

I attack the funnel strategically.  First, I weed out acts that do not fit our client’s geographic, budget, and demographic needs. Next, I check out the musician’s live videos. You read that right.  Their “live” videos.  From my experience, I can attest that most entertainment bookers prefer live videos that are un-doctored over flashy promo. Yes, iMovie and Final Cut are cool, but we want to get an idea of how you handle yourself in a live situation…and how you sound when you do it.

If these videos pique my interest, the next step is to go see you live…but, I won’t tell you when I am coming out.  Why? People act differently when they know a booker is in the room, so if you are in a band. Here’s a hint. Always think an agent, label, or other type of gatekeeper is in the room.  Later on in this blog, I will share a story from my days on the road that demonstrates why you should do this.

 

But Jeremy, we don’t have the gear to make quality live videos and the places we play have horrible FOH, so we always sound bad, but we are really good. I swear.

 

This is where “listening through the music” comes into play. I have over twenty years in this business with the majority as a performer in a variety of bands. I have worked with legendary artists, taught music, done cruise ship orchestra shows, fill-in theater gigs, and even studied at Berklee where I was my Production and Engineering roommate’s go-to session drummer. I have been through countless challenging live-sound situations, which have taught me some key attributes “professional” artists possess that prepare them to succeed in, pretty much, any live situation.

These fundamentals vary by instrument, but boil down to musical ability and stage presence.

Musical ability: This covers the gamut of being a professional musician.  How does the intonation of the brass section sound?  Can the rhythm section keep solid time? Is the singer holding her mic properly and projecting from her diaphragm? Is the guitarist using the right gear and producing a quality tone? Does the entire group start, stop, and make the band hits together?

Stage presence: Are all members into the show…especially when there are only three people in the audience?  Are they reading the room correctly? Are they controlling the room properly? Are they smiling? Do they talk to fans during their breaks? How are they dressed? Do they care about the show…no matter how big or small?

Now look at those again…did you notice that I am not worried about the front of house mix? Nor the monitor mix or the lighting?  That is because it is my job to listen through the show and analyze the core of the product on that stage.

But, why?

It all boils down to an old saying: “garbage in… garbage out.” Sure, a bad mix can impact your gig, but you shouldn’t let it define your musical ability.  The greatest band in the world – The Beatles played before over 56,000 fans with nothing more than 100 watt amplifiers.  They couldn’t hear themselves. Ringo relied on watching Paul’s foot to keep the show going and they harmonized blindly.  Zeppelin recorded the best drum sounds I have ever heard with just three microphones (and one in the chimney on occasion). Duke, Bird, and Miles made some of the most iconic music ever and didn’t use in-ears, a separate monitor mix, or line-array speakers.

All of these acts created great music because they relied on their musicality and ability to control the stage night after night. When this can be done, the sound crew is capable of working from a clean slate and can enhance that quality and make it sound great at any time… at any volume.

 

 

A second lesson regarding why you should “listen through the music.”

Ok, here’s the deal with booking rooms. Contrary to what everyone thinks. You are not guaranteed a great night. I have watched numerous outside forces kill an amazing event. Weather, economic downturns, a competing concert that suddenly pops up and steals your marketing momentum can all kill your night.  As a venue booking agent (especially in the minimal cover/free club scene), we must do what we can to mitigate losses on those particular nights. One of those ways is to find entertainment that can “hold a room” no matter how many people are in it.

If you have read my article on Herd Mentality in Entertainment, you know that I believe strongly that an “adoption point” can be acquired if a room-specific attendance percentage is hit. I also believe that maintaining that crucial number and avoiding the “exodus point” is critical to the success of your live venue and this is directly related to the skills discussed before.

Sometimes you catch a potential group and the room is jammed. You immediately start thinking. This band will save my venue and maybe they will, but first. Take an inventory. With the room jammed, the band may have better than average stage presence.  However, is their musical ability up to snuff or has herd mentality simply taken over.

Flip the switch.

Don’t just walk away if the room is dead. How does the band sound? Do they look enthused? Are the people in the room hanging out, drinking, and pulling their eyes away from their phones to watch the group? If the answer is yes, maybe you need to keep your eye on this particular act and return to check them out a few more times.

Data is a funny thing. The good stuff sometimes likes to hide. Checking out an act is not checking out the room. You are looking at the band to see if they meet your needs or could be coached to meet those demands. Taking away the external elements and listening “through the show” will make it easier for you to book quality entertainment for your venue.

 

Would you like to discuss your venue needs?  Contact Jeremy today. 

 

Buddy, Berklee, and Big Swing Face… a Lesson in Fundamentals for Musicians.

 

Buddy Rich Big Swing Face

I have listed to a lot of music over the years…I mean a lot. One of my favorite albums is Big Swing Face, a live album recorded over two nights by The Buddy Rich Big Band in 1967. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy this record. For one, it stars the indisputable king of drumming, Buddy Rich. Second, it is a big band album and as a drummer who has driven thirteen to eighteen piece swing bands, I can attest there is perhaps no greater challenge to the craft of the instrument. Each section of a big-band pulls/pushes time differently. Trombones, due to the difficult nature of their instrument, will pull. Trumpets, with their top of the spectrum tones and quick staccato, will push. As such, the drummer must control those fluctuations, all while reading and matching hits with each section.

Buddy Rich was a master of this.

He was also one of the hardest bandleaders ever to walk this earth. He berated, threw tantrums, and regularly fired band members for the simplest of infractions. If you want to hear just how rough Buddy was on his band mates, and if a whole lot of swearing doesn’t offend you, take a listen to The Buddy Rich Bus Tapes and be mortified by his leadership style.

However, before you cast judgment on Buddy, do two things. First, remember that Buddy always gave at least 110% on the stage night after night right up until the end. Don’t believe me, watch this video from 1982 when the drummer reportedly had a heart attack during his solo on the last song and still finished the set. Second, take another listen to Big Swing Face. This album is virtually flawless in every regard from time, to phrasing, and intonation. These musicians nailed their takes live without the aid of computer software to fix their mistakes or enhance their sound in post-production. The latter is a very important lesson when it comes to making music.

Garbage in…garbage out.

I was first introduced to this phrase during a late night recording session at Berklee College of Music in the mid 90’s. At that time, we recorded to tape and ProTools was still in the early adopter phase and not available to anyone with a computer. The option to fix takes later wasn’t as simple as it is now. Luckily, all Berklee students (including those in the production and engineering program) must undergo intense fundamental courses in ear-training, harmony, and private instrument studies so they know how to make musicians sound better BEFORE they are patched into the board. They understand that the fundamentals of the craft will always trump technology.

So why am I sharing this story?

Now that I work behind the stage booking entertainers I hear a lot of excuses, especially from those of the younger generation, as to why they aren’t sounding their best. The monitors weren’t right. The room was dead. The engineer doesn’t know what he is doing. We would sound better with our equipment…with our engineer. Truth is, the excuses are sometime so relentless that it gets me thinking that it could be the outside environment and not my musicians. Then I cue up Big Swing Face and I am reminded that nearly fifty years ago sixteen musicians could perform some of the most complex music live. Record it and wind up with an almost flawless album all without today’s modern technology as a crutch. Swing Face teaches me to constantly listen beyond the front of house and focus on the musicianship happening on stage. To seek out entertainers who are good at the fundamentals of their craft. The singer who knows exactly how far her mic should be from her mouth. The DJ who can match keys and tempos as well as beats, and the drummer who can swing a group of multi-time musicians into shape. I know that if their fundamentals are on point, the rest of the show is simply enhancing those skills, which is much easier for all involved and the key ingredient to a stellar performance.

Adele…25…and the Four P’s of Marketing

 

And just like that… Adele’s 25 is already breaking records. With just three days under its belt, the Brit-singer’s highly anticipated album has sold 2,433,000 copies, surpassing the 2,416,000 of NSYNC’s No Strings Attached release in 2000. Even more impressive is just how huge this album already is in its first week when compared to some other superstars. Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 sold 968,000 copies its first week, Taylor Swift’s Red sold 1,208,000, Britney’s Oops!…I Did It Again sold 1,319,000, and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP sold 1,760,000.

So how is it that 25 will outperform some of the music world’s brightest stars, during a time when we are all constantly reminded that the industry as a whole is underperforming? Is it Adele’s musicianship and song-writing prowess? Is it the new distribution mediums available? Is it social media and a new era of viral-promotion?

In all actuality, 25’s success comes in the nearly perfect integration of the four P’s of marketing. Interestingly, her marketing mix, as complex as it may look, is made quite simple by her unique musical ability, which has driven demand in a way that has allowed her label to control a few key elements and thus boost demand in an era when record sales are hard to come by. To understand how it all plays together, let’s look at 25’s release from the perspective of these fundamental components of marketing.

Product: At the core of any marketing mix is the product. The better it is, the more opportunity it offers the other elements of the recipe on which to build. There is no doubt that Adele brings to the table a strong product in 25. This is made evident by both the overwhelming industry accolades and sales success of her previous album 2125’s predecessor won three American Music Awards and seven Grammy’s including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Solo Performance along with a host of other trophies. It climbed to number one on virtually every pop chart around the world at one time or another and has remained on many since its 2009 release selling over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone to date. While music tastes are subjective, this is pure empirical evidence that Adele has a strong product on which to build her success.

Promotion: The success of 25’s promotion lies in the consumer adoption cycle of 21. Adele’s previous album remained on many charts and continued to sell while the artist went into hiding, had a baby, and started her next release. When looked at from a product adoption cycle perspective, it could be argued that 21 had just started to enter its decline phase, thus leaving the bell curve peak of its 11 million plus consumers anticipating a new product from the artist. This would be between 90 and 95% or about 9.9 million persons chomping at the bit for a new Adele album and may help explain why her first single Hello had over 27 million views during its first day on YouTube. This was enough to prompt the conversation by the global press if Adele’s upcoming release would match its predecessor and ignite a viral outbreak on social media to help make that happen.

Place: Adele’s product quality and promotional power allowed her team to control her places of distribution, which has become a vital component in the modern recorded music marketplace. Today, more and more customers consume their music through either a digital distributer such as iTunes or an online streaming service such as Spotify with the latter providing diminished returns for the artist and their management team and requiring more movement to count as an album sale (1,500 streams = 1 album sale). However, due to decreased promotion and demand drivers, many artists must release to both channels to break through increased noise in the market. This “necessary evil” comes at a huge cost in regards to physical album sales. Luckily for Adele, the huge demand for her latest product has allowed her team to forgo releasing her tracks to streaming channels, which has ultimately doubled demand for her physical unit sales and defended another element of her marketing mix – price.

Price: When you achieve a product that is relatively price/demand inelastic, it is safe to say that the other components of your marketing mix are singing in harmony. This is exactly the case with 25. You can’t stream 25 yet and nobody seems to care…or even complain. Many will buy it because they know the product is worth the price. Others will buy in so they too can be a part of the conversation or to contribute to the success of a superstar who doesn’t really seem like a superstar. Either way, Adele’s musical ability has fueled a promotion powerhouse that could be properly manipulated by her management team, which ended in increased sales in an industry where that doesn’t really happen too much anymore.

Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment

Rock Concert and Rock Horns

 

The following paper was the final deliverable for my MBA strategic management course at Southern New Hampshire University. The purpose was to analyze the macro-level strategy of an organization of our choice.  For ten weeks, we explored how that strategy impacted virtually every aspect of the firm from their financials to their competitive position and H&R practices. I chose to put my experience as a booking agent and undergraduate degree in music business to good use and analyzed the top promoter in the world – Live Nation Entertainment.

My analysis of Live Nation Entertainment revealed an organization executing a well-crafted strategy to vertically integrate the unique value chain elements of their main concert business. As a result, the company has catapulted past their competition in the U.S. concert and event promotion market as well as the global online ticketing industry where they hold commanding market shares in each. Despite this success, there is much more opportunity for the company to grow…almost an entire planet.  I touch upon management’s future plans throughout the paper and offer my own insight as well.

Jeremy Larochelle’s Strategic Analysis of Live Nation Entertainment