It takes a lot of skill to be a successful professional nightclub and bar owner. It’s unlikely that you are going to be both an expert in your core profession and an expert in booking live talent. Still, you need to know enough about booking talent to make smart decisions.
If you have access to a professional talent buyer who will keep your needs and interests in mind, use him or her to help you navigate the complexities of hiring talent. If you go it alone, it can be risky; the entertainer’s agents will detect right away that you’re inexperienced and be ready to take advantage of the situation or, as they would call it, “leverage their client’s assets.” However, a talent buyer is an expert in dealing with agents, is an extension of the club or bar and is paid by and works for the venue.
According to Richard Pollock of Rainbow Entertainment, “The talent buyer should know the entertainer — along with their fees and habits — to perform. The talent buyer should also know what kind of draw a particular act can bring at the door and their performance reliability.”
Can’t find a professional to buy your talent? Then you have to seek out a lot of information before you make the buy yourself. Here are some crucial questions to explore:
How does the comedian, performer or band you are booking drive traffic in equivalent venues in your town and other towns on the days of the week they will be performing for you? Make a reasonable assumption of attendance — not the attendance that could occur if the entertainer draws to gross potential — and determine what your projected door revenue is going to be. For established talent, be prepared to give up almost all of your ticket sales or cover charges to them, as well as production and promotion. If you have an event promoter who packages entertainment, you can afford to allocate the door money to him or her in exchange for taking all of the risks, such as the possibility of low patron attendance.
Find out when the talent last played and will play next in your area. Ask for a “radius clause” or “barring clause” in the contract, which prevents them from playing your market for a quantity of days before and after your gig; 60 to 90 days would be fair.
How much gross profit is their appearance going to push to your bottom line? Multiply that reasonable attendance number you computed previously by your per person average (the average amount each guest spends), then subtract your variable costs, including cost of goods sold and extra labor scheduled for the event.
Assume ticket sales will cover the costs of the event. Determine if you have the financial wherewithal and stomach to attribute some of the cost of the event to boosting the overall profile of your nightclub or bar, because if all does not go to plan you still have that opportunity.
Once you’ve done your legwork and run your numbers, written contracts are very important. Any deal worth doing is worth writing down. So many times bookings are done by the seat of our pants or over a quick phone call, which can cause room for error or misunderstandings to occur.
“A simple written agreement on who, what, where, when and for how much is necessary to ensure no surprises come your way on the night of the show,” Pollock states. “The entertainment has the upper hand until the show starts. Venues should insist on paying the act after the stage is set.
Entertainers should insist on being paid in full before the show begins. It all needs to be in writing: from the length of a show with how many breaks to the number of green M&Ms in the entertainers’ rider that accompanies a contract.”
Once you have made the buy and the day of the show arrives, switch your perspective from being a smart, skeptical buyer to treating the talent like the rock stars they think they are. The marginal cost of being friendly and welcoming are small compared with the value of being successful with an act or agent who would prefer to work with you over others in your market in the future. Often, we look at the talent as the enemy, as the guy who just wants to come in and collect a check. The reality is they are artists who have as much passion for their craft as we have for selling whiskey. Don’t you think that if the artists are happy they would do a better job on stage and maybe even offstage?
Here are a few things you can do to ensure your bookings go well from start to finish:
First, create an environment that makes the artist feel welcome. Start by making the dressing area clean and inviting; if it’s messy or unkempt, he or she might get the impression that you don’t view him or her as a serious artist, which could affect a performance.
Second, buy the performer a meal and a drink. They aren’t called “starving artists” for nothing, and being hospitable will make him or her feel appreciated. The more they get to know you and see that you care about setting talent up to give a good performance, the harder it will be for your competitors to book the same acts in the future. Show you care, and you will start building great relationships and making talent happy. And if talent is happy, that spreads to your guests…
Lastly, hold yourself accountable. When the event is over, compare the actual numbers to the ones you relied on to make the buy. How entertained are you feeling now?