Did you know that some bands are making over $3million a year just from playing corporate and wedding gigs?
These are artists you’ve never heard of, they don’t appear at big festivals, yet they get to travel the world playing music. A number of them are represented by Douglas Gillespie of the UK’s ‘Entertainers Agency’ and in this fascinating interview he talks about what it takes to make it as a musician in the corporate and wedding world.
You can watch the short version here or sign up to Gigs Academy to watch the whole hour long interview.
00:06 – Corporate Events, Billy Joel & Andrea Boccelli
01:33 – How to get corporate and wedding gigs?
03:13 – How to make millions playing corporate band gigs?
05:40 – How are corporate music agents paid?
09:40 – How to be a successful corporate or wedding band?
11:40 – The Corporate and Wedding Band Secret!
My name is Douglas Gillespie and I run a company called Entertainers Agency.
THE CELEBRITY CORPORATE EVENT
I can name the artist but not the client because obviously a lot of corporate and private business is down to confidentiality. We had Billy Joel over for a private party for a client. On another occasion we had Jackson Browne and his band. We took them offstage in San Diego and packed them into my clients two private jets and flew the band in one private jet and the gear and the roadies in another private jet over to Scotland for a party. These are such fun things to be able to do.
We had a family birthday party in a beautiful castle in Scotland where at the end of the dinner the wife of the birthday boy told her husband she had a special surprise for him. We opened the curtains at the end of this huge great hall in a castle and we had Andrea Boccelli in a kilt with a soprano from Milan and a piano player with a candelabra. When you have clients who have those kinds of budgets ironically very, very big name acts like Billy Joel and Andrea Boccelli love doing those kind of events.
HOW TO GET CORPORATE AND WEDDING GIGS?
The corporate and wedding market is so, so different from every other form of entertainment. It’s because nine times out of ten if you’ve got a really good act thinking you can make a lot of money in the corporate market, you won’t be allowed to do what you do. Corporate clients have a tendency to book you but to want you to do something entirely different from what you are good at.
Very rarely do I get a client and I give them something and they say “that’s fanastic’. Nine times out of ten they say “you’ve got this swing trio, can you get them to come along and I’ll put them on an iPad and we’ll let the audience choose the songs that they want to hear”. They always try to make it different from what it is. Acts find this very, very frustrating.
To be an act in the corporate market you need various skills:
1. An incredibly thick skin because you have to take an awful lot of advice and instruction from people who know absolutely nothing about you, what you do, or how to get the best from you. This is all going to be very negative but I will come to the positives.
2. You need to want to earn money. There is a huge amount of money in the corporate market but you need to have a very, very clearly defined business plan for doing this.
HOW TO MAKE MILLIONS PLAYING CORPORATE GIGS?
There is a band that have almost cleaned up in the UK for doing corporate parties. They do them for A-list celebs, they do them for Park Lane hotels and they are always working. They work five, six nights a week. They earn on average £6,000, £7,000, £8,000 a night (around $13,000) and there are only five of them. What they have done that is so unique is that they have everything down to the finest degree, everything they do on an event. They can set-up a six-piece band in twenty minutes, start to finish, including the mixer and sound engineer. Corporate clients love that. That’s the opposite of a festival or a big live event where you are allowed the time to do what is going to get the best out of you.
For corporate people they have slots to fill at events and whoever can fill them most effectively, efficient and proficiently are the people who get the work. It’s not about how good a band you are. You have to be a good band to begin with, a good musician or a great comedian. But you have to be able to fit in with what the corporate market wants.
A festival books a big name band because they like their music and they want to see them perform. A corporate will book a band because they want to create an impact with clients and for clients to see how great a company they are to be able to have such wonderful entertainment but they want to do it on their terms. If the managing director doesn’t like a particular song you will not be allowed to play it no matter how good you are at it. If the managing directors wife wants a picture of the band wearing pixie hats you may have to wear pixie hats and have your picture taken with the managing directors wife. It is a very bizarre world at times but the rewards are huge and the work is there. This band as I said are probably earning $30,000-$40,000 a week (around $60,000), they travel all over the country, they are slick, professional and quick and know exactly what corporate clients like. You couldn’t put them on at a festival, it’s just a different thing altogether.
HOW ARE CORPORATE MUSIC AGENTS PAID?
That’s an interesting one. Is it appropriate for me to give away a big secret that not a lot of performers should know but they don’t know. It’s something that’s really annoyed me since day one. This is something that every performer, definitely in the UK and possibly around the world, should know. I would be astounded if anymore than a handful of performers knew this but it is the absolute cornerstone. When you set yourself up to be involved in booking acts for clients you can be one of two things. You can be an ‘entertainment agent’ or you can be an ‘entertainment business’. These are entirely different statuses. I’ll give you a for instance.
If a client came to me and said “I’m looking for a band to play at my daughters wedding, I’ve got £1000, can you get me someone?” And if I said “Yes, I’ve got the very band for you” and I called your band and said “my client has £1000 to spend on their daughters wedding and you are available, would you like to do the gig?” And you say “yes, absolutely”. And I say “I would like 20% of that £1,000 by way of a commission”. That makes me an ‘entertainment agent’. The reason it makes me an ‘entertainment agent’ is that the client knows how much the act is being paid and the act knows how much the client is paying me. My percentage is agreed with the performer, not the client.
Now ironically if the client two weeks before the wedding goes bankrupt or decides that the wedding is off and decides to be stubborn and not pay the band, and the band come to me and say “oh we’ve been cancelled but you booked us and we want £1,000”, I am not in the least responsible because I am not a principal, I am an agent. The contract exists between the act and the client and I sit squarely in the middle as the agent looking at both sides but I have no contractual responsibility whatsoever other than a duty of care to the client and to the act (which most good agents would do).
Very few acts know that because the alternative scenario is when a client comes to me and says “I’d like a band for my daughters wedding, it’s in a beautiful venue, I’ve got £1000 to spend, have you got someone for me?”. I say “I’ve got the very band” and I call you up and say “James, I’ve got a beautiful wedding that your band would be really good at, I’ve got £750 for you, would you like to do it?” And you say “Yes”. I would then become an ‘entertainment business’ and ironically acts don’t really know this but they should because on the confirmation that gets issued to you by me as an agent or acting as an entertainment business should clearly show how I am acting. In the second scenario I would send you a contract that would say ‘Entertainers Agency – acting as an entertainers business’. The ramifications of that is that I am then a principal in the contract. Your contract is with me as the band. And the clients contract is with me. The money that comes from the gig belongs to me and I pay you as a sub-contracted employee.
It’s an interesting one. Which one is better to work for? It’s a difficult question.
HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL CORPORATE OR WEDDING BAND?
The corporate entertainment world has specific slots that need to be filled all around the world, no matter where you are. Every corporate dinner, every after conference dinner, every corporate party will have; drinks, dinner, some form of entertainment and then dancing. The golden spot is that little spot at coffee stages. If you’ve got an act that can communicate in 30 minutes or less, is polished, professional, very clean and sparkly, very original, very entertaining, and communicates from the first note, then there are a number of artists who have cornered the market in this and are earning, in the United Kingdom at the moment, between £3,000 to £8,000 for this 30minute set. That’s what I call the ‘Golden Set’. When you find a performer that’s able to fill that slot, that’s an absolute goldmine for the agency and the performer.
The reason being is that corporate clients value the slot more than they value the act. They have this slot when everyone from the company is there, the managing director down to the latest recruit and all their top clients are there and this is when they want to put the company on show. When it comes to the dancing afterwards anything goes but this little 30 minute golden spot is the one that counts.
In Great Britain there are literally seven or eight acts that go round and just fill those slots all over the country and it’s absolutely marvelous…..for them.
THE CORPORATE AND WEDDING BAND SECRET!
The cheaper you are and the more willing you are to reduce your costs, the less successful you’ll be. People in the corporate market equate cheap with very poor. You’ve got to set your stall out from the very beginning and you’ve got to be absolutely adamant that this is what you charge and if people want it they get something absolutely wonderful. If they book something cheaper they’ll get something less than you. They will lose something that you can provide. Far too many acts are driven by the false comprehension that every client is driven by money.
The other thing to remember, and this is something I’ve told to other entertainment agents in giving them advice when they start up (and this is a free piece of advice), always remember it’s not your money. What I spend on a bottle of wine is not necessarily what you would spend on a bottle of wine but it is my privilege to do so. What I spend on a meal is not what you would spend on a meal, it’s my privilege to do so. No one will tell me: “no, you shouldn’t go to that restaurant for dinner, you should go to this one.”. I will make my own mind up on what I spend my money on. So consequently when a client comes to me and I say; “you don’t want to book them, they’re too expensive”, it’s not my money it’s the clients money. As long as any performer remembers when speaking to someone that it’s the clients right to decide how much they want to spend, it is a really good tip if you remember that. If you are confident and secure that you have something good to offer do not undersell it. Undersell it once and you’ll never get that price again.
Similarly, and here’s a strange one, putting your price on a website is suicide. I actually refuse to book any performer who appears on any other agencies website with their price because once the price is up there some clients will take that as gospel even if the gig is 500 miles from your home and involves eight ferry crossings to get to the gig and overnight accommodation. If you put your price on a website that’s what people believe. When you go to Amazon and see what CDs cost that’s what they cost. When you put your price on a website that’s what you cost. This business is not as cut and dried as “you will always work for £X’. Every single gig has to be costed on what you have to do. That is one that sadly some agencies are dragging the business down. This is me as an old fart now giving you this. Dragging it down by putting prices on because they think clients want to know that. No, don’t put your price on a website. It will get you nowhere.