Why would anyone need to ask the question: Is your entertainment booking agency ethical? Believe it or not, some booking agencies may be taking advantage of their venues and artists. When it comes to booking entertainment, not all agencies that book bands or non-musical acts are run the same way.
Not All Entertainment Booking Agencies Are the Same
Many entertainment booking agencies operate as mom and pop shops who may be ethical but make mistakes or omissions when they are booking entertainment. Such mistakes may have a negative impact on the performing artist or the venue where they perform. Forgetting to reserve motel rooms and meals called for in the hospitality rider is an example of a mistake that is going to cost someone money after a contract is already negotiated and signed. Believe it or not, some entertainment booking agencies even run their business all with paper out of the trunk of their car. While we would advise against using such agencies for booking entertainment, they are ethical and strive to do the right things in their dealings.
The big concern is the entertainment booking agencies that play fast and loose and close to the edge when dealing with their talent buyers and artists. Of course, the music booking industry is like most industries with businesses that 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.
Some Agencies Booking Entertainment Cross the Line
What prompted me to write this article was a conversation with one of our new artists on our roster. This new artist told our team that he had previously been working with an entertainment booking agency in his hometown. This particular entertainment booking agency is probably the largest agency in a large metropolitan city. That makes it a major regional player in the booking entertainment business. At one of their performances the artist had a chance to talk to the Venue’s talent buyer. During the conversation, he learned that the booking agency had added their booking fee to the artist’s performance fee to price the performance for the venue.
Actually, that’s the way artist pricing is normally done during when booking entertainment. No problem there. However, what made this experience unusual was that this booking agency was also taking the booking fee out of the artist’s performance fee as well. Let me explain further with an example of what I mean.
For this example, let’s assume that the artist expects to receive $10,000 for his performance and the agency booking the entertainment charges a 10 percent commission. Normally the performance fee offered the venue would be the $10,000 plus 10 percent for a total of $11,000. In some cases, the agency may book the show for $10,000 and take their 10 percent commission from that fee, leaving the artist $9,000 as their net. You can find both types of payment systems in the music booking business. Most agencies and artists prefer that any booking commissions be on top of what they expect to receive for their performance.
The particular entertainment booking agency booking this artist was doing BOTH! Let’s continue with our example to show the impact of such a behavior.
The entertainment booking agency charged the talent buyer, $11,000 for the artist (their fee plus the 10 percent commission). But instead of paying the artist their $10,000 performance fee, the paid the artist $9,000 (their performance fee less the 10% commission). Using this approach, in the end the artist gets $9000 and the agency booking him gets $2,000. That represents a 22 percent markup, instead of the 10 percent that the artist and talent buyer was told was their booking commission.
In the case of our new artist, the previous agency was double-dipping. Getting booking fees from both the venue and the 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 revelation.
Sometimes It Works Both Ways for an Agency Booking Entertainment
There are times when a booking commission should be paid by the artist out of their performance fee. This may occur when the performer books themselves back into a venue directly violating a contractual obligation. The first is clear. The artist has an exclusive booking agreement with an agency but books themselves into a venue. By doing so the artist is attempting to hide the performance from the agency in order to keep 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 entertainment booking agencies 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 for the initial live show in 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 trustworthy entertainment agencies and artists, the above doesn’t happen intentionally. Artists and venues know that if they book a gig behind the back of industry professionals, then it’s likely that the agency will no longer book that artist for future gigs. It’s possible that such a thing could harm the venue’s relationship with the booking agency as well. As the saying goes; It’s penny wise and pound foolish to do such things.
While it’s unethical and may also violate civil contract law, it’s also just not good business. Trying to squeeze more out of the process for a short-term gain doesn’t make sense. In our business, we look at the lifetime value of a customer, whether it be a venue, artist, or agency.
That means building long-term relationships with our customers so that they return to us to use our services again and again. TSE understands that our best customers, and marketing assets, are our past clients.
In the music business, artists, agencies, and venues depend on each other. When all three are doing their jobs well, it creates a win-win situation for everyone involved. 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 booking entertainment 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 live performances? How many artist performances might a venue lose because entertainment booking agencies no longer want to book acts for them? You get the picture.
Reputable entertainment booking agencies will have long-term relationships with artists and venues built 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 our approach to our 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.” Don’t take my word. Here’s a reading that can help you understand how it works: Strong Ethical Business Practices Have a Lot of Value.
It can be a balancing act because you want to get the artists you book a fair and good price for their performance. An agency also wants 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 concerts. Our booking agency will negotiate the performance fee and rider costs down as part of the booking process. We understand that by doing so we actually reduce our booking fee as well because our fee is based on the percentage of the performance fee..
This is an example of sacrificing a little income in order to build trust and a long-term relationship with that venue. We want the venue to know that we have their best interest as part of ours during the booking process.
Transparency with our artists and venues is how we keep them coming back. Some of our venues have been using us for close to 30 years!
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. That’s a big reason why we are still booking entertainments from our founding in 1975.
We ask our artists and venues to work with us to achieve their objectives. After all, we are all in this business together.