By Susan Heaton Wright, managing director, Viva Live Music

Event planners have frequently revealed to me that one of their biggest fears is that the entertainers won’t show up, that they’ll behave badly or will disappoint. This saddens me because great live entertainment enhances an event making it truly memorable for guests.

Having been a musician myself, I still have memories of naughty musicians who make my toes curl in shame. However, I believe any problems have been caused by one or more of the following:

  1. Communication
  2. Riders
  3. Alcohol
  4. Fees

1) Communication: A good contract, which states everything you, the client require, is a must. By clearly stating what time you wish the entertainers to arrive, what they should wear, details of the entertainment and the event, when they should be set up by, you reduce any misunderstanding on the night.

When I was a musician, I arrived at an event to be greeted with the outburst: ‘Where is your Tudor costume?’ The agent had not included this information in the contract and in my pre-event telephone call, the client didn’t mention this. There is no way I could have known this information. I was the target of an angry client!

I would always advise putting timings into the contract very clearly. Not all entertainers look at contracts in detail. I would recommend you ask for all the entertainers to be at the venue at a specific time, so you can ‘tick them off’. Also, ask for mobile numbers in case of emergencies and speak to the entertainers before the event to develop a rapport.

It is also absolutely fine to ask entertainers or their representative to adjust volume levels, change music or even timings during the evening. I would recommend you just touch base after each set to keep the rapport going. It is too late to give feedback after the event ends.

2) Riders: The beloved of the tabloid press, world famous artists’ riders are incredible: cream sofas, Jo Malone candles, room for 30 minders – these are the norm for them! However, riders are there to ensure entertainers are able to do their job properly. A chef has requirements to enable him/her to cook and it is the same for entertainers.

Entertainers do need somewhere SAFE to leave their personal belongings and equipment. I have heard many stories of entertainers doing their work and finding their wallets, handbags and clothes stolen from the insecure room in which they had left their belongings.

At Viva Live Music, we always send a reasonable rider: provide a room for the entertainers (it is important as they will want to let off steam when they have performed, but also for changing), soft drinks, refreshments and somewhere secure to leave personal belongings.

Some events also require technical riders, which we confirm in writing and verbally. However, we have had two recent situations where the production company failed to bring any of the equipment confirmed in the contract and detailed rider. Our entertainers were put in an impossible position of potentially performing without vital equipment. The production company sorted it out, but I have no doubt they blamed the musicians when it was their fault.

Feeding entertainers

Some clients ask why entertainers should be fed. If you are asking them to arrive at 6pm to set up and to play until midnight, then take the equipment away, that is a long time. It is tiring and often the venues either don’t have any food to order on the night or it is very expensive. Most venues will provide a ‘Suppliers’ dinner’, which is more basic and cost effective. As a rule, if they are performing for two hours or more, or are required to be at the venue for at least two hours, you should provide them with a snack and soft drinks. If performing for more than two  hours, a hot meal is required.

3) Alcohol: This is never a good idea when performing and I am sure you want to avoid the Blues Brothers’ gig scenario where ‘The fee was $200 but your band drank $300 from the bar.’

We have a policy of no alcohol while performing; the client should provide only soft drinks. However, some clients wish to ‘thank’ the entertainers or make them feel part of the party by having free access to the bar. I always recommend clients to offer drinks after they have finished, a gesture that is very welcomed!

4) Fees: In this age of limited budgets, all event planners are wanting to reduce spending on suppliers. However, there is a fee level threshold that if you go below it, there is no guarantee the entertainers will show up.

We have recently had enquiries for a cover band and DJ/disco for £800 on a Saturday night and an Irish band to play on St Patrick’s Day for £250. In both cases, Viva Live Music wasn’t able to assist because the fee levels were too low for professional musicians.

We use minimum fees as recommended by the Musicians’ Union and Equity as we only use professional performers and if you want reliable, high quality entertainment, you have to pay a reasonable rate for it. Clients don’t necessarily realise that the entertainer isn’t just working for three hours at the venue, but also the time rehearsing, planning the entertainment and his/her years of acquiring expert skills.

A number of clients look on the Internet for the best price, but entertainment isn’t a product and the quality of the entertainers, including their experience and expertise, does cost more. We regularly hear cases of DJs or entertainers having let down a client at short notice. In most cases they were booked at the pub, from the internet, or because they were a friend of a friend.

To discuss your event entertainment and to ensure it is stress free, do give me a call on 0844 576 3015 or email [email protected].