In an age when it seems screens dictate almost every facet of our existence, live entertainment can turn any event, from a small local meetup to a multimillion dollar conference, into an experience attendees will remember for years to come.
Making something unforgettable takes a bit of effort, but live entertainment is well worth it because of the added “wow” factor, the marketing reach and the social capital. Fortunately, some basic principles apply whether you’re booking your neighbor’s garage band or big name entertainment.
Consider Your Audience
Before selecting an act for your event, you need to think about your attendees. What will add to the experience and take it to the next level? It’s key to match the entertainment to the event, even in high-wattage instances – Justin Timberlake is probably not the greatest fit for a happy-hour gathering in a restaurant’s back room. If you’d like your attendees to interact with each other, a DJ pumping out high-volume Top 40 hits probably isn’t either.
Also think about your attendees/audience. While you’ll never please everyone, what will be right for most of the audience? A three-piece jazz combo will work with a different group than, say, a zydeco band.
“And humor or comedy can be a risk”, says Chris Cherek, executive producer at Aquarian LLC Entertainment and Event Production Services. “I’ve known of up-and-coming comedy acts who try out new material at a corporate program and offend every segment of the audience. If your client wants humor, I go with groups who have a long-standing, positive reputation working with corporate audiences.”
Turn Limitations Into Opportunities
Once you’ve thought about what sort of entertainment would best match your event and audience, it is important to consider your constraints before reaching out to any artists or managers. What is your budget? How big is the venue?
“You won’t get the Rolling Stones if your budget is $5,000,” Cherek points out. “And the limitations of the venue can help define or inform who you ultimately choose. If you’re doing an event for 500 people and the room has a 12-foot ceiling height, you’re not going to do a Cirque-style aerial act.”
Instead of thinking of these restrictions as negative, think of them as a chance to figure out how to come up with a uniquely memorable experience. A small party featuring a local singer/songwriter can have as much impact on an audience as a massive concert in terms of enjoyment.
“If you decide to throw a live event in a week’s time, plan for a more intimate affair,” says marketing expert Jamillah Warner. “If it’s a big event, prepare several months ahead. If the budget is small, you may have to counterbalance with creativity and a lot of do-it-yourself work.”
Once you’ve identified the goals of the event and the audience you’d like to bring in, the constraints will help you select your entertainment options.
Know the Entertainment
The requirements of an act might not be obvious – some constraints might not be immediately clear. Through researching the acts, you can get a better idea of how they fit your venue.
“A few years ago a colleague of mine hired a magician for a national sales meeting,” Cherek recounts. “The magician was highly talented and did some amazing tricks. One of them was to change his assistant into a tiger. While the trick was impressive on stage, the fact is the magician needed to store a tiger in a cage backstage. This required a good amount of space, permits, approval from the venue and training for the venue staff…as well as storage for the tiger’s food and space for the person watching the tiger. In other words, one simple aspect of an act can be a major series of thoughts and decisions that affect the behind-the-scenes of the event.”
The same goes for budget – some acts, especially famous ones, come with a rider detailing travel, meals and lodging requirements. Entertainers need a “backline,” which, in the simplest terms, outlines the additional audiovisual equipment the act needs to perform.
“Depending on the act,” notes Cherek, “this can add tens of thousands – if not more – to the overall cost of hiring the act.”
Keep the Entertainment Happy
It is crucial to plan for how to keep your entertainers healthy and happy – this includes giving them space to prepare before the show and rest afterward. Beverages, food and some comfortable seating in a green room can go a long way toward an act giving their best onstage.
“By all means, make the backstage experience for your band or act as nice as possible,” Cherek continues. “They are performing for your audience and you want them at their best.”
Just like you want to know about your audience, so do your entertainers. Brief your act on who is there and why they are attending. Tell them of any VIPs. Communicate your goals and the purpose of the event – they want to give the audience the best show they can.
Beyond the actual show, which is the heart of your event, there are other ways you can use entertainers to engage your audience. For example, Cherek recommends setting up a time before a performance where a big-name act can meet-and-greet with a select group of VIPs to chat and snap photos.
Build a Reputation With Audiences and Entertainers
Of course, after a show you also want to give your performers and their backstage help plenty of time to decompress, unload and get ready for their next show somewhere else. Make their exit as smooth as possible.
The way you organize the backstage and the entertainers’ experience, both before and after a performance, can make a huge difference in how readily they choose to book with you and your organization going forward.
“Having a positive reputation for caring for the acts that perform for your audiences can go a long way in getting the acts you want, and having them go the extra mile when performing for your audiences,” says Cherek. “And when an act goes the extra mile, it can make the difference between a good event versus a ‘wow’ experience where your client, the act and you look like a star. And that’s a win-win we all want.”