Managing Event Talent

How can you make working with corporate entertainment a more seamless experience — and what's the one song that gets every crowd on their feet?

At your next conference, your Millennial, Gen-X, and Boomer attendees will get to choose the sessions that best suit them — but they’ll all be together for the opening reception and closing party. So what kind of music will get everyone onto the dance floor? 

“No matter what you do, you’re not going to please everybody,” said Michael Owen, managing partner of EventGenuity, in the latest video in The Intersection by PSAV series. “You want to please the most amount of people you can.”

That can mean choosing a corporate-event band with a deep back catalog over a band with star power, Owen said. “The biggest enemy to success is a CEO music aficionado who wants what he wants. And it’s very hard to tell the CEO, ‘Listen, it will be good, but it kinda doesn’t make sense’ in the scheme of everything else you’re doing.”

Both Owen and Gary Rorman, creative director of PSAV Creative Services — also in the video — have spent decades honing how to choose and negotiate with musicians for meetings and events. “You get quality musicians playing quality music with good lyrics, a story well told, and it resonates with people,” said Rorman. And while business-event strategists can manage booking themselves, an event producer can help smooth the process. “We can take that stress away from you.”

Rorman and Owen both urge planners to pay close attention to contracts. “It’s as complicated dealing with your artist rider as your hotel contract,” Owen said. Entertainment-contract riders can swell to 40 pages — so it’s prudent to pinpoint “the five or six pages that are really important, because the rest of it is boilerplate.”

What is important to look for in a contract? Darin Murphy, music director (as well as guitarist, drummer, and vocalist) for SKYROCKET!, a seven-member band that often plays corporate events (including Convening Leaders 2016 in Vancouver), said those particulars can involve travel details and local equipment rentals. “[Our contract] has evolved over time according to our needs, to allow us to do the job that we were hired to do and put on the best show possible,” Murphy said. 

For successful performances, it’s usually preferable to deal with one point person rather than a committee, he said. “I try to get as much info as I can about the kind of crowd we are performing for. Everyone in this band is ready for anything at anytime, but the more information that we have about he kind of people we are performing for, the better.” Likewise, it’s useful to let a band know if they’re expected to get people out of their seats — or simply not drown out attendees during a networking reception.

Murphy said that even if most aspects of the contract negotiation go smoothly, there is one detail that often becomes a tug-of-war between the band and a meeting professional: where to place the sound-mixing board. “Most event planners insist that the sound engineer mix from the side of the stage, which is difficult because the engineer can’t really hear the band,” Murphy said. The ideal place for a mixing board is 10 to 15 yards in front of the stage, he said, though “that can come into direct conflict with a planner’s vision, and becomes more of an aesthetic dispute than a technical one. But we try to make our mixing booth look attractive, so it doesn’t look like a big, robotic machine.”

So, is there one reliable song that can get a crowd dancing? Yep. According to Murphy, it’s “‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA.”

Tips for Working with Event Talent

1. Treat your entertainment as a component of holistic event planning.

2. Be sure the entertainment is aligned with your meeting’s overall messaging and objectives.

3. Consider a great cover band to resonate with multiple age groups, as well as save cost.

4. Find a producer who is experienced; any increased cost will be worth the reduced stress.

5. Learn to examine and negotiate a rider as you would a hotel contract.

Want to earn CEUs? Watch the Intersection video at www.pcma.org/theintersection.

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.