Why would anyone need to ask the question: Is your entertainment booking agency ethical? I have never planned on writing a blog post on such a question. It never occurred to me that some booking agencies might be taking advantage of their venues and artists.
Many agencies are run as mom and pop shops who may be ethical but make mistakes. These mistakes often have a negative impact on the artist or the venue. Forgetting to add motel rooms and meals in the hospitality rider is an example of a mistake that is going to cost someone money after a contract is already signed. I even know booking agents that run their business all with paper out of the trunk of their car. While I would advise against using such agencies, they have the right intent in their dealings.
My concern is that there are agencies that play fast and loose and close to the edge when dealing with artists and venues. Of course, the music booking industry is like most industries with businesses who mislead and do unethical things to turn a bigger or faster buck. These agencies typically have no staying power because the word creeps out over time.
There Are Entertainment Booking Agencies that Cross the Line
This post was prompted by a conversation with one of our new artists. He told me that they had been using an entertainment booking agency in the city where they are located. The agency is probably the largest agency in the city which makes it a major regional player in the booking business. At one of their shows he had a chance to talk to the talent buyer. During the conversation, he learned that the booking agency had added their booking fee to his performance fee.
Now that’s the way the industry normally works where booking fees are included in the fee the venue pays. What made this experience different was that the booking agency was also charging a booking fee to the artist as well, to be taken out of their performance fee. The agency was double-dipping, getting booking fees from both venue and talent. Evidently this went on until the artist found out the truth while talking to the talent buyer at one of their gigs. No telling how long it would have continued without this spur-of-the-moment discussion.
Sometimes It Works Both Ways
There are times when the booking fee should be paid by the artist out of their performance fee. That usually occurs when the artist books themselves into a venue violating a contractual obligation. The first is clear. The artist has an exclusive booking agreement with an agency, but books themselves into a venue. Often they will attempt to hide the booking from the agency so as to reap what is normally paid to the agency for the booking.
The second occurs when an artist or venue violates a contract clause on a previous agreement. It is not unusual for a contract provision with a venue and artist to include a clause stating that if the same artist is booked into a venue for a certain period of time, then the venue/artist must pay a percentage to the booking agency who booked the original performance.
It can take a lot of work by a entertainment booking agency to get an artist and venue together. Such a clause is to prevent either the venue or artist, for a certain period of time, from going around the agency who worked to get them booked into that venue. If the venue or artist violates this contract clause, the artist is obligated to pay the booking agency a booking fee from the fee paid to them.
For scrupulous agencies and artists, the above doesn’t apply. Artists and venues know that if they book a gig behind the back of an agency, then it’s likely that the agency will no longer book that artist or book into that venue. As the saying goes; It’s penny wise and pound foolish.
While it’s unethical and may also violate civil contract law, it’s also just not good business. Trying to gain the system for a short-term gain doesn’t make sense. In business, we look at the lifetime value of a customer, whether it be a venue, artist, or agency.
That means you want to build a long-term relationship with the customer for your services and keep them buying what you are selling. Who is most willing to buy your product? It’s someone who has already bought it (if the product and customer service were okay to the customer).
In the entertainment booking business, artist, agency and venue depend on each other. When all three are doing their jobs well, it creates a win-win situation for all three. Damaging this ecosystem by cutting out the agency, double-dipping on booking fees, etc. hurts the long-term business prospects for all involved.
How many bookings would an artist lose over a lifetime because the agency no longer wants to book them? How many bookings would an agency lose over a lifetime because the artist no longer wants to use them to book their services? How many artist performances might a venue lose because an agency no longer wants to book acts for them? You get the picture.
A good entertainment booking agency will have long-term relationships with artists and venues build on trust that is earned over time. That trust is created by delivering what you advertise and being honest and transparent with those you deal with.
We can’t control what others do, but we can control how TSE Entertainment treats its artists and venues. We don’t play loose with ethics. We have our own moral compass: “treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
It can be a balancing act because you want to get the artists you book a fair and good price for their performance, while helping the venue get the best talent possible for their budget.
For artists that we book exclusively or directly through their management (not another agency), our goal to establish a fair performance fee that is consistent with what other similar acts charge for their services. Our booking fee is based on a percentage of what the talent buyer pays to book the artist.
For acts booked through other agencies for regionally, nationally or internationally renowned artists, we work for the venue to get the performer at the lowest price possible. Our goal with venues is to save them money when they use us to book artists for their events. We often negotiate the performance fee and rider costs down as part of the booking process. By doing so we actually cut our booking fee as well because our fee is based on the percentage of the total costs.
This is an example of sacrificing a little income for building trust and a long-term arrangement with that venue. Transparency with our artists and venues is the way we keep them coming to us. Some of our venues have been using us for about 25 years or more.
At TSE Entertainment, we pride ourselves on honesty and integrity when it comes to booking entertainers. We are in it for the long haul, not to maximize revenue at the expense of artists or our venues.
We ask our artists and venues to work with us to achieve their objectives. After all, we are all in this business together. Together we are the perfect blend to achieve all our goals.
Bob Brecht, PhD.