By Karin Elizabeth I got a call from a festival client the other day asking me to help book his entire festival weekend. Normally this is something I would charge a lot for, however the guy was so earnest and so nice, I couldn’t help but help him. Let’s call my client “John.” John spent about a half an hour telling me about the awful band he had last year; how unprofessional they were – swearing into the microphone in front of children at the festival, their terrible sound and appearance, the lead singer forgetting the words etc. Unfortunately I have heard similar horror stories from many clients. After working in the entertainment industry for many years I have found the difference between professional and unprofessional all comes down to one thing: your budget. At the end of the day, the old adage is true - you get what you pay for. That’s not to say anything bad about low-budget festivals, or bands who are inexperienced or just starting out. Everyone has to start somewhere. And there are a lot of great bands and musicians out there at all types of prices. However a lot can be gained by knowledge attained and I am here to educate only, that is my disclaimer. Please do not think I am here to say anything disparaging about my fellow live bands out there. We are all in this together and anyone who knows me knows that I am very supportive of other musicians, especially those very young and just starting out. There are several things that a client should be aware of prior to booking entertainment. The first thing is that there are generally two types of bands out there; those that do it for a hobby and those that do it professionally; the majority of which fall into the first category. As a seasoned performer it is pretty easy to tell who is green and who isn’t, but the client can’t always tell. Anyone can buy good marketing, stage clothes, equipment and instruments however one thing you can’t buy is experience. Experience is the difference between a show where the lead singer doesn’t swear in front of kids, where there isn’t an entire minute of dead air between songs while the guitar player switches instruments, where the lead singer knows how to engage an audience and keep the pace of songs, where the band has a look, a sound and a feel that has developed over time performing together. This is where the professionals start. If you book professional entertainment your audience will have a whole new level of trust in your ability to put on a good show and entertain, which is the whole point. The second thing a client should be aware of is logistics. This is extremely important. When you want three bands in one night and you want them to run their own sound you also have to remember that A. this is going to cost more (the more people you have to pay, the more it is going to cost) and B. the bands are going to need at least an hour to load in, set up non-chaotically, and check sound, leaving your audience bored. Bands also need things like parking, food, a stage, and a place to put their stuff. Sound, lights and a rain contingency plan are all a good place to start for logistics. Everyone can see the festivals that have done good logistics with their entertainment and the ones that don’t are the horror stories. Don’t be a horror story. Work out the details before your event and discuss the fine print. This is especially important for weddings, where similar rules apply. Getting back to my point of working professional musicians; those groups start with a good experienced group of performers and a good show that is catching on and becoming more and more popular. At that point bands decide whether or not they want to go “whole hog” and perform for a living. If that’s the case there are many other costs to consider: hiring top-notch musicians (who expect to be paid more per show), marketing, equipment, lights, transporting of said equipment, sound (and paying a professional sound tech), not to mention business costs such as insurance, accounting and staffing. This is why bands who go pro and do it right cost so much. It takes all of those things just to exist as a business entity. To survive and make payroll, these bands have to have a certain price point. Keep in mind too they would not exist without audience popularity supporting them and making it worthwhile. These bands are popular for a reason. Those in the know are willing to pay that and more to get good results. If you are booking an event this summer, do your homework. Check with the top-notch bands and see what the real cost is of booking good entertainment. Be wary of low-cost advertising sites such as gigmasters and gig salad etc. I just found out we are the most expensive wedding band on there from one of my brides. This after hearing all summer how some wedding planners won’t even talk to me because I don’t charge ENOUGH. Personally you couldn’t pay me enough to book an inexperienced band at a wedding as this is a whole other animal so I do see where they are coming from. Club owners have a different situation as festivals but with regard to costs it is still the same situation. If you spend $300 on a band who brings all their high school buddies and packs your bar for one night, what about all the rest of the nights and what happens when new customers come in and see a terrible band and walks right back out? Don’t ruin your image as a live performance venue for one cost-saving night. Whatever your reason is for hiring a band, don’t risk your event and reputation. Ask around and get references from whoever you are hiring. Experienced bands should gladly provide references and reviews. Look for bands with repeat customers and big names on their calendar, which should be full. Most pro bands have a very professional appearance in their photos and videos, no ripped jeans or lawn-mowing shoes. Check things that indicated popularity such as Facebook likes. Also, most pros book up to a year in advance (sometimes more) so if you want to get your event done and do it right, start ahead of time. Most importantly, ask questions and get educated. I hope I have helped with that. It’s important to be honest about what you really want out of your entertainment professionals and remember the one thing that’s true in any business but especially the music business: you get what you pay for.