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by Nathan Horne | December 21, 2017

Nathan Horne of Song DivisionGood music transports us, inspires us, soothes and excites us - sometimes all at once. And people get really excited about popular musicians whose music they know and love. Who wouldn't want to attend a private concert featuring one of your musical idols? With this in mind, you might consider allocating resources towards booking some headline talent for your next major event. It's one surefire way to create significant buzz, provide an extraordinary experience for your guests, and leave behind a legacy of priceless memories.

The basics of booking A-list talent
Developing a strong partnership with a seasoned and reputable talent buyer is the first step in navigating the headline-booking process. That person or group should have plenty of experience in the corporate-event talent-buying world, with good contacts and strong industry relationships, particularly with some key artist-representation agencies.

As in most situations that revolve around live events, proper planning is a must, and booking headline talent is no exception. The majority of currently active, touring artists will begin to book future dates anywhere from eight to 12 months in advance, but a lot of this will depend on their album/single release schedule, public appearances and other factors. Booking talent for your corporate event should follow the same rule of thumb. Starting at least eight months out, you should begin sourcing possible artists and hone your short list.

Talent-booking considerations
The first thing to ask is, who are your target attendees? What kind of music is really going to stir and excite them? Think about the demographics of your group, and which artists would most likely ignite their passions. This should be a key factor in guiding your choice of artists.

The next consideration is, what are the goals of your event? To inspire the attendees, to make them feel like VIPs, to give them an unforgettable evening, to increase morale, facilitate loyalty to your brand? It might be more than one, or even all of these things.

Start with a specific picture of your guests and your goals for the event, and go from there. You can't predict exactly what your guests will walk away feeling, but with the right performer and a trouble-free event, the indefinable power of music makes a huge impact.

Budgeting and negotiation
The process usually begins with determining a budget and your preferred style or genre music, and then creating a list of "generally available" artists who fulfill those two requirements. After that, it's time to work with the numbers.

Talent requires a set "artist fee," plus all related expenses to be covered by the end client. These expenses include airfare from their point of origin, accommodations, local ground transportation, meals and production. They add up quickly, so budget for all of them, and be realistic. Your talent buyer will give you initial guidance on artist-fee ranges and subsequently on specific asking fees.

Once you've honed in on a specific artist, confirmed their availability, determined that they're within your budget, and that you can handle the travel, hotel and technical requirements for them and their band, it's time to make an offer. This asking fee, which is arrived at during the initial talks with the artists' responsible agent, is negotiable to a degree, depending on the artist. Your talent buyer will advise you on the right negotiation tactic for each particular artist.

At the end of the day, the asking fee is just that…an ask. Kind of like purchasing a home, you are free to submit a firm offer for any amount (as long as it's not offensive - that's not recommended), and the artist will consider it and accept it or not. Make sure you've stipulated all the details, as once it's accepted, the offer will be binding.

What you need to know about riders
In addition to the numbers, there will be a detailed list of conditions that your artist will require to be included in your offer. This is called the rider, and it needs to be treated very seriously and examined thoroughly before a firm offer is submitted to the artist. If your offer is accepted by the artist, you are bound to it, and approval of the rider is part of that agreement.

Riders are usually broken into two sections - hospitality and technical. Hospitality requirements deal with travel, backstage, hotel, meals, etc. Technical requirements deal with production elements like staging, lighting and sound. Many rider elements are negotiable and can be modified if necessary. Your talent buyer can help you navigate the often complicated language that can be associated with riders.

You've heard the rider story about no brown M&Ms? That wasn't about rock 'n' roll vanity; it was something that Van Halen used to include in their rider as a litmus test to gauge whether or not that evening's concert promoter had actually ever read the rider all the way through. If the rider came back signed, but that clause was not crossed off or otherwise discussed, they knew that there were likely to be many other elements of the agreement (the really important things) that were going to be overlooked, and they'd be prepared for that.

Other considerations
As the client, you might also have some special requests you'd like the talent to consider as part of their agreement with you. For example, you might want to ask a performer or group to do extra work like participating in a meet-and-greet or an autograph session. You can ask for whatever you'd like - just don't expect the artists to agree to everything on your list.

Typically, requests like VIP meet-and-greets and photo ops need to be submitted as part of the firm offer. An artist can accept your offer, minus the extra asks like an autograph session, or they might agree to it all. However, it's safe to say that you stand a better chance of your special requests being agreed to if you include them in the original offer.

Cancellation
Occasionally, you might find yourself in the unfortunate position of having an act cancel on you at the last minute. If this should happen, your talent-buyer partner will immediately start working to find a suitable replacement artist and spearhead the resulting issues (logistical and financial) that arise. Assuming they have a good relationship with the artist's agency, the two will work in tandem to find a substitute at the same price point and popularity level. Both your talent buyer and the artist's agent will have skin in the game by this stage, so they should each be motivated to find a mutually agreeable solution as soon as possible.

With the right act as a primary draw, think of how you could boost ticket sales to your next conference or fundraising gala. The key is to start early and pay careful attention to all of the details when negotiating the terms of the contract. And who knows, with a little luck on your side, you might even be able to snag some A-list talent between tour dates at a great rate!
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Nathan Horne is senior client executive for SongDivision, which provides interactive musical experiences to companies and brands around the globe.