Book aEm

This spring and summer, bands and DJs will take to the stage and booth to liven up crowds across the country. But if you are a club owner looking to put a toe into these waters or improve your game in booking talent, it pays to put a bit of thought into how to manage the process, the relationships and the events. Poor management of any element in the equation results in dissatisfied patrons, artists and owners alike.

The perspectives of national and regional success stories can help cut through at least some of the frustrating trial and error. Recognized live music venues typically have talent buyers on staff. These clubs depend on relationships with big name acts to remain a top choice for patrons, and it’s essential to network and solicit feedback from artists.

Megan Jacobs has worked as the talent buyer at The Roxy in Los Angeles — a live music icon since the early 1970s — for three years; previously she represented bands and DJs. She knows how to work the right deals for the
club, but also recognizes that it’s a two-way street.

“My loyalty lies with the Roxy,” she explains. “When you are a talent buyer, industry standard is you talk to the agents. I speak with them, and we negotiate. It is 50/50, with me trying to get bands, and bands trying to get in here. The agents know which artists will sell out, and I go after bands that are hot. I need to keep the interest of the club at hand, but I want a good deal for the club while also cutting one for the singer.”

It takes time to build a club to the level of reputation The Roxy enjoys, but Jacobs believes that it starts by making sure band members feel important when they come in your place — either for a gig or just to party. It’s also critical, she advises, to have a staffer dedicated to finding and obtaining talent, rather than relegating this role to a harried owner or manager.

“If you are a serious live music venue, it is crucial to have a talent buyer on staff in house,” Jacobs says. “Hire someone who is going to keep your music calendar organized, be at every show, work well with agents and band members and stay on top of the music scene. I think the most important thing is organization. I want production moving quickly, security to be kind and respectful and to have someone there to shake the band members’ hands.”

When it comes time to promote a show, marketing is the responsibility of both the club and the band.

“We are a marketing team,” Jacobs says of the Roxy staff. “I buy the shows, but we all promote them. I check with bands to see who is in charge of posters, flyers, the MySpace page — everything — and to ensure that someone is doing all of those things.”

And when a show is over, the next day is devoted to following up with the staff and the band to assess the show’s successes and failures, all in preparation for the next showcase.

Texas Talks
Guests at the eight Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub & Grills across Texas enjoy music most nights of the year; the venues host more than 5,000 shows annually. Houston-based parent company Hospitality USA co-owners and CEOs Edgar Carlson and Larry Martin decided to hire a talent buyer approximately 12 years ago. At that time, a third location had opened, and the pair found they could no longer handle the workload themselves. Today, the management depends upon talent buyer Nathan Looney to line up Sherlock’s music calendar.

“It’s simply a matter of doing the math,” Carlson explains of the decision to hire a full-time talent buyer. “Once you are booking enough bands through a talent agency, and their commission equals or exceeds what you could pay someone on staff, then it’s time.”

So what is a reasonable salary for a talent buyer? “It depends on the amount of bookings,” Martin says. “The bigger the company, the more talented the buyer needs to be. We pay our talent buyer a salary comparable with that of our general managers, and he gets stock options as well.”

Like Jacobs at The Roxy, Martin places high importance on whether the buyer is highly organized. “[He or she needs an] understanding of the venues and the talent and to be able to put those together and have an outgoing personality,” he says. “The buyer should be a good communicator who can deal with bands and owners and managers. Also, the willingness to work in advance and all hours of the day or night [is essential]. He or she has to have a bit of a music background — not necessarily be musician, but it helps.”

Dealing with DJ Talent
For the last year, Doug Jacob and his partners Rachid Kallamni and Matthew Rowean have owned and operated True Talent Artist Management in New York City, placing their clients at events in clubs such as Bungalow 8, Marquee and Goldbar. While in the present economic climate prices for live bands are trending down and becoming more affordable by most accounts, DJ fees are holding strong and, in some cases, rising.

“The price increases according to the amount of commercialism,” Jacob observes. “For example, DJ AM dating Nicole Richie has helped raise his price. All of the clubs have gone to smaller budgets in the recession, but in the last couple of years, the per-booking price for well-known DJs has still been going skyward.”

“The price also depends on the event and the sponsors,” Kallamni adds. “For our newer, less recognized DJs, we set a quote from $500 to $1,000 an hour, but as that person gets more press, the price rises. Also, playing a club for an evening, it might be by the hour, but at a big event, like the opening of the W Hotel, a DJ like Nick Cohen might get $4,000 for the night.” So what should an operator expect from a DJ for $4,000 a night for an out-of-town gig?

“When it comes to a big event that involves travel, a rider is sent with the DJ. They need certain equipment, and we will have a contract with the club. That rider sets up transport and what equipment they like to use,” Jacob explains.

For most of the events in New York City, however, True Talent Artist Management forgoes the contract in favor of a handshake. Kallamni and Jacob also attend some portion of every show to check that everything is running smoothly.

“Feedback is important because these guys need to stay fresh and current,” Jacob says. “It’s a matter of customer service as well, so we ask the club owner how it went. If they are unhappy, we use another DJ in the roster for the next show. We have learned that every venue has a certain sound, and it’s our job to place the right DJ in the right place.” NCB