Booking Live Entertainment
The Golden Rules When Booking Live Entertainment for Your Event
Tips & Tricks For The Entertainment Buyer
Having worked as a professional magician and mind reader for the past sixteen years, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of venues all over the world. From Boston, where I am based, to Singapore, where I work for a few weeks once per year, and many cities and countries in between. A similarity that crosses all borders is the consistent lack of knowledge the client has when booking live entertainment. This is true for that of a variety type. (e.g magicians, jugglers, clowns, etc.).
Now this can be forgiven (to an extent), as most people have not booked live entertainment before and know absolutely nothing about how the process works. These individuals can be forgiven and kindly instructed by the performer on how the smooth the process can and should be. That said, when you as the entertainer are working through a seasoned booker (e.g someone who works for a company that plans all large and small functions), there is really no excuse for poor booking processes.
After speaking with several performer friends from all areas of entertainment, we have come up with a list of guidelines any future client should be at least familiar with before hiring professional entertainment.
When To Book Live Entertainment
So you want to hire some entertainment for your party, event, graduation, anniversary, etc. Whatever the case may be, you want to spice it up with something live and fun! First thing you should know is that performers of all varieties whether magicians, fire eaters or live bands, need time to prepare their shows. Most of us specially design our performances around your event, and this does take some time and will go into the price of the performance. You will want to give at least 3-4 weeks notice to a performer before booking. This is my suggested time frame for me, other performers require much earlier notice, and some can take an event with just a couple days notice. It depends on our schedules, current bookings and flexibility and of course, the performer himself (or herself). Our schedules are very strange, and totally non-traditional – we can have gigs at all hours of the day, night, and even into the very early mornings. Please Note: If you call a performer a day or two, or three, or even four before your event, they will most likely charge a little more for the short notice. It takes time to make your event special, whether by creating custom routines as I do, setting up a music set list, or getting required licenses or permits for more dangerous acts like fire eating and sideshow stunts.
What Are You Looking For
Hiring entertainment for your event can really enhance your guests’ experience. Whether it’s a live band, DJ, caricaturist, or magician, live performances create a truly unique experience that your guests will share with their friends and families when they leave. You want to determine what kind of entertainment best suits your particular event. For example: If you’re getting married at a golf resort. With 200 guests and a traditional setup (cocktail hour, plated dinner, speeches, dancing, etc.), then you will want to determine where and when entertainment makes sense. If you’re interested in magic or mind reading, which is very popular at weddings, then you would be best to place it into the cocktail reception for what is called “strolling” or “walk-around.” This is where the performer wanders through your cocktail hour performing small, up close effects and routines for small groups of guests. This offers a personal experience you sometimes lose with a full length show. It also breaks up the occasional repetitiveness of such portions of the event. Magic, mind reading or a little light music can really make a difference. Have an idea of what you want, lay out your event, and see where it makes the most sense. Maybe a full length comedy mind reading show after a three day corporate retreat? Or perhaps you’re celebrating your child’s birthday and want some entertainment to keep all the little guests entertained? A children’s magic and balloon show is a perfect fit here. Look into my other article on Magic & Mind Reading for Adults vs. Magic for Children, for more detailed information.
Determine Your Budget
This is by far one of the most important points a soon-to-be entertainment buyer must understand. It should be known that every performer, no matter what persuasion, charges differently. A fire eater will charge differently from a juggler or clown. A mentalist will charge differently from a magician or stilt walker. This is based on how they value their time and expertise.
Have at least a rough idea on what you’re looking to spend on entertainment. Do not be afraid to ask a performer if he or she can work within your budget. Be realistic about it and think about your event and the kind of image that you want your guests to take home with them, and try to get a rough idea on what you would be willing to spend achieve that image. You will not insult us with your budget. We will just say no politely or even recommend someone who could better work within your financial parameters.
Entertainers usually know each other and bounce work around quite a bit. We almost always know what our friends and competitors charge. The more unique the performance style, the smaller number of performers. If you have $200 for a full length hypnosis performance, you may want to look into another form of entertainment. Most hypnotists don’t leave home for less than triple that amount. If you have $5,000 for entertainment, then you’re in a whole new bracket of entertainers. More on that later.
Details, Details, Details
Now you know what you want. The next thing to do is get your details together. These include the following in order of importance for the performer to know:
1. Date of the Event
2. Time You Want The Entertainer To Arrive & To Begin Performing
3. Type of Event (birthday, corporate lunch, trade show, etc.)
4. What You Want From The Entertainer in Detail
6. How Many Guests You’re Expecting
7. Description of the Venue (indoors, outdoors, theater style seating, tables, etc.)
8. Will There Be Other Entertainment (what kind, how long, etc.)
9. Have All Of Your Info Available (phone number, email, mailing address, etc.)
Having this information ready when you call an entertainer will make your booking process go much, much smoother and usually result in only one, maybe two phone calls or emails. Missing information does happen. Maybe you don’t have your venue nailed down yet? No problem, try to give us a rough idea of where you’re looking so we know how to prepare. If you’re thinking a typically busy, dark restaurant but then go for a show at the beach, in the sun, with wind… This will be a little frustrating for the entertainer.
Know Your Venue
As stated above, the venue is very important. To most of us, we can perform practically anywhere (within reason). I’ve worked on moving boats, trains, and even on a private jet. Some of us who work with dangerous items, such as sword swallowers or fire breathers, require very specific environments in which to work safely for themselves and the guests in attendance.
Let’s look at a few examples of common venue locations for a mentalist or magician:
1. The Country Club – always a popular location for a little walk around magic/mind reading or even a full length performance. Usually everyone is well-dressed, having formal meals, and looking for a more sophisticated form of entertainment. This is not the best place for a chainsaw juggler.
2. The Nightclub – usually dedicated to bachelor/bachelorette parties, adult birthdays, company buy-outs, holiday parties and practically any event you’d book to have some serious fun! Usually it is very loud, crowded, and drinks are flowing. This is not the best time to have a palm reader or full length magic show. Instead you could opt for some strolling entertainment, live music, or even a dance group.
3. Your Residence – Probably the most common location for family events, graduations, anniversaries and private holiday parties. You won’t normally see a lot of craziness as you would in the nightclub. Such events are normally filled with family members, friends and children. Everyone knows each other, is very comfortable and is not scared of being a little silly from time to time. A great time for a hypnotist! Or even personal tarot readings. Definitely a great time for a mind reading performance.
The point is to use your venue to its absolute potential. Play out the scenario in your head with the entertainment you have in mind. If it seems like it could work, go for it. Chances are you’re right!
As performers we all work insanely hard to provide the absolute best entertainment for the best possible value. Our prices are all different, but with variations based on what we offer, where we live, how much equipment we have to transport, etc. Customers should know that there is A LOT more that goes into the booking on our end then you might think. This can include organizing our material, writing up contracts, invoices, and riders, getting to and from the gig; setting up; tearing down; packing at home; unpacking at home; re-setting our equipment; writing emails; making phone calls; updating schedules and social media; and more. What the customer sees is a small portion of the work performers do for a single booking. All of that goes into our fees as well. Please keep this in mind if you live in northern Maine and you really want the face painter from New Jersey at your party.
That said, price shopping does not mean you will get the best show for the lowest price. Also, the highest price artist out there is not necessarily better than the one who charges half or more less than that. Your selection should be based on recommendations, referrals, skill-set, and your budget. Not everyone can afford to book Aerosmith. For example; say you are hiring a children’s magician for a birthday party. In New England, the rough booking fees range between $275 and $500 for an hour long show, with the ability to have add-ons like balloon animals, teach-a-trick, or magic goody bags. If you’re getting offers at $100 or even Less! you should seriously consider what you’re getting. Watch videos, call past clients, check the quality of their website, marketing materials, etc.. Do your homework! You wouldn’t by 100 pairs of socks for $1.00 would you?
Referrals VS Resume
This can be a tricky section for a buyer. A lot of entertainers, especially when they’re just starting out tend to fluff their resumes with big name clients to draw attention. In many cases they’re not totally accurate. That doesn’t mean they’re not good performers, they’re just trying to get some business. Then again, a lot of professionals out there have very thick resumes that are all 100% legit. You can usually tell from observation who’s on the level and who isn’t.
The best way you can make a decision is through referrals, testimonials, video demonstrations and reviews. Any magician or mentalist worth his salt will post a video of a portion of his show, as a teaser. This is the hardest hitting material that makes the audience go wild. I would be leery of a performer who didn’t have at least some kind of video, even a poor-quality one. It’s 2014 after all; most of us have cameras in our phones that shoot better than handheld cameras just a few years earlier.
I’ve found that the best way I book events is through word-of-mouth and my website with a link to my YouTube channel.
Actual VS Perceived Value
Like referrals vs. resume this can be a tricky section to explain correctly. As a quick definition, the actual value of a performer is connected to the following: his or her performance quality, attitude (courteous, respectful of clients needs, friendly without being annoyingly friendly or overly familiar, etc.), dress sense/style, and uniqueness of the performance. Now these are just examples and include quite a few other points that you’ll notice after you hire entertainment. Notice how price was not a part of the actual value. The fee a performer requires for the event is based around the points I made above in point 6. You will not know the actual value of your performer until you’ve hired him or her to perform. Now, perceived value is what we do when we look at the artists’ website, bio, pictures, videos, social media pages, etc. We determine if we like them within the first minute – or usually a lot sooner.
It should be known that the perceived value can absolutely work against you. There are performers out there who spend thousands of dollars on top quality websites, advertising materials, search engine optimization, and promotional videos, but when you see them live, you are quickly hit with just how bad they are. This happens quite a bit, especially amongst the younger generation of performers. Video editing software and the right person behind the keyboard can make anyone look amazing. Do not let the perceived value of a performer determine whether or not you want to book them. Use that information as a reference to what you can probably (not always) expect when the show begins. Focus on referrals, reviews (from real people), media write-ups, and recommendations from friends or family that may have booked entertainment in the past. The best advertising for a performer is word-of-mouth!
Free Work VS Donated Work
Ask any performer how many times they’re offered “great publicity” in exchange for performing for free. It happens to all of us, a lot. I personally am asked to perform for free at least once a week. Nine times out ten I have to decline the event. Entertainers who are starting out may take the booking even though it doesn’t pay. They’re looking for “flight-time” or time in front of a real audience to practice, rehearse material and get comfortable in their field. This is perfectly acceptable and should be encouraged to young or new performers. However, a professional entertainer, be it a magician, mentalist, juggler or human blockhead, will probably not take a free show in exchange for an ad in the magazine, free publicity, or free food.
Almost all of us entertain as a full-time job. We work solely as performers and we expect to be paid for our time, just as you expect to be paid where you work. You will probably insult a performer if you offer publicity in exchange for money they’d use to pay bills and buy food. After all, you found us so the publicity is already working right?
Now when it comes to donated work, it’s a much different story. At least for me. Please be aware I am not speaking for ALL performers working. Everyone is different and structures his business differently. Some performers will probably not agree with things in this article and it’s totally fine! Donating our time to a cause is something in which a lot of us take great pride. Every year I donate at least 10 hours of performing to various charities around New England. These are ones that are very close to me, such as The American Cancer Society, Horizons for Homeless Children and The American Red Cross. I love giving my time to these organizations and being a small part of making a difference. We entertainers are all full of emotion and big hearts and we love to see the expression of happiness on people’s faces who otherwise would be sad or in pain.
Be aware of your situation when offering an event to a performer for very little or no money. If it’s a cause that we believe in and we can spare the time on our schedules, we will jump at the chance. If not, please do not take it personally and understand we need to work and earn as much as possible in order to keep providing entrainment to people around the world.
Contracts, Invoices, Agreements, Riders
The boring details of the booking process, lots of invoices, contracts and specifications that almost every performer requires are vital to the quality of the performance. Contracts are absolutely essential for a performer to have, and we will use them for the smallest to the largest event. Most of us have had the experience of “being burned” on bookings because we didn’t have an agreement in place. We learn quickly (well most of us do) and adopt the contract policy to ALL bookings, even donated time bookings. Do not take offense if your children’s magician requires a contract for his performance.
Most of us keep very detailed records of every gig we work. Invoices, contracts and emails are all essential pieces of material for our tax purposes, marketing strategies, and general peace of mind. I personally require a contract, invoice and performance rider for my shows. Most of the points in my agreements do not apply to every single show. However, a lot of the time they do. If we ask for a table or access to plugs, that the windows be closed, or that we’re in the shade if outdoors, understand these are important factors that will go into the quality of our performances. We can usually perform in most places under most conditions, but some entertainers can not be indoors without proper licensing (such as people who work with fire or dangerous objects) or outdoors without a tent or waterproof area. Basically, it’s common sense. The DJ you hired for your daughter’s wedding will not want to work in the middle of the sun for five hours with hundreds of feet of extension cords running all over your event. Plan accordingly and your event will be a huge success!
Understanding What You’re Paying For
I know I have covered this in earlier points but it is very important to understand what you’re actually paying for when booking a performer. Remember we spend years and years perfecting our skills to make them look flawless when showtime comes. Some of us live far away from your venue and have to travel quite a distance to get to the gig. I personally drive about 35,000 miles a year just for performances, and fly about 40,000. We spend a lot of our time in airports, cars and traffic! Our fees are constructed by us based on what we believe our performances are worth. This includes the years of practice, travel to and from the event, all the work we do before the show itself, what kind of event it is, and how popular and in demand we are. Cheaper does NOT mean better!
Paying Your Entertainer(s)
I would say I’ve waited probably two years’ worth of days on being paid for some events. That does not happen anymore. It is not acceptable to make a performer wait longer than the agreed upon time of payment. As I said before, we are full time entertainers and expect to be paid before or immediately after we perform. Our shows are all one-of-a-kind demonstrations and no show is the same (at least as a mentalist). So what you’re getting is a totally unique experience. A good way of looking at it is this: If you worked for a week straight and your boss said “Sorry, but would it be okay if we paid you in three weeks for this week?” You would probably lose your sh*t. That is exactly how we feel when we have to wait for payment for our services. We arrived on time, performed, and were professional, and we expect to be paid accordingly.
It is customary to pay an entertainer prior to the start of the performance. Most of us require a deposit of some kind along with our contract or invoice signed. Those who don’t require a deposit (well, they should) should be paid in full on the day of the event. Please be aware of this when hiring entertainment for your next party. Not only will your performer thank you kindly, he or she will be sure to make your event a huge success.
Tipping: Gratuity for a performer, DJ, or artist lets us know you really enjoyed our work. We do not factor gratuity into our fees (at least I and my friends don’t) so any extra tip you have for us will be greatly appreciated. Don’t be afraid of what to give for a tip – we are grateful you thought of it at all. Most people don’t usually think to tip entertainment, so when it comes we are always very happy. This is especially important amongst entertainers you didn’t book, like street performers and carnival or fair artists. Most of them accept tips and some get paid ONLY in tips. Keep that in mind after you watch the street performers in Fanueil Hall in Boston during the spring and summer months.
That should give you a pretty good understanding on how to go about booking live entertainment for your next event. Remember, not all of these points are followed by every performer and some will require things not listed here. If you like them, and they have great references, work with them and you will have the best event possible.
June 7, 2014
Mentalist & Mind Reader