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Hireaband will be 25 years old next year. What advice would I give myself if I could?

25th Anniversary Blog

I started Hireaband as a fresh faced, wet behind the ears 33 year old wedding singer back in 1999. I’ll be 58 by the time we celebrate our 25th year in business next January.

Now I’m a grizzled cross between Dickie Attenborough in Jurassic Park and Santa on the last hour of his shift at Christmas. If I could go back in time, what would I tell my 33 year old self before I set out on the road I’ve been travelling for so long?

I won’t bore you with the details of our early struggles trying to build our business. I’ve already documented that. If you’re interested you can read more here.

There is one completely essential, absolutely priceless piece of advice I’d give myself. If you read to the end I’ll give it to you too – you may not agree with me, but if you take it, I guarantee that one day (if I’m still around) you’ll thank me of it.

But as far as Hireaband is concerned (and this applies to all entertainment agencies and many small business) there are 4 gems that I wish I knew back  when Robbie Williams was having a hit with ‘Angels’ and Tom Hanks was busy saving Private Ryan?

People Not Profit

Don’t chase the dollar. It’s a quick fix and very fleeting. There’s always someone who’s making more money (or at least claiming to), being more successful, or doing more deals. It’s all bollocks! In the process you overlook people who will add value to your life in so many other ways. Worse, you’ll alienate people that could and would help but who are too wise and mature to be bothered with a brat on the make (ask me how I know).

I may have been naïve but I learn quickly. Just in time in fact to appreciate some wonderful people who helped me along the way with absolutely no expectations. The list is too long to include here but if you know me and you’re reading this, you know who you are.

I’m still building relationships with interesting and talented new people and nurturing long standing friendships with others that are important to me. Many of them are in the bands I’m privileged to represent. Some are in the wider events industry and a few, despite all my faults, still work with me at Hireaband. Their value is worth more than any (usually hugely exaggerated) amount of profit.

Compatibility Not Compromise

Never, ever compromise on quality.
When I was a snotty young agent, I had one major challenge; No band in their right mind wanted anything to do with an agency run by one guy who was still in a band himself and who had no customers. I was just Del the singer from Original Sin and Atlanta.

Through bribery and a lot of begging, one or two gave me a go and bit by bit I built a roster. But boy did I make some poor choices. I took on anyone and everyone. If they could just about hold a tune and stand upright for a couple of hours then I was their man.

Let me tell you something that may surprise you; not everyone in the wonderful world of music is an angel. I had some rascals on my books (word choice based on advice from our legal people) and I inflicted them on unsuspecting clubs, pubs and the odd private party.

I justified getting them bookings because I felt I had no choice. But I did. I could have told clients that I didn’t have an appropriate band available.

I put up with bad attitudes, late payment of commission (or alarmingly often, no payment at all), and a lack of respect both for our clients and the reputation of my baby agency. It didn’t take long to realise that this short sighted approach was bad for business.

For many years now Hireaband has only offered bands to clients that can live up to our very high standards of performance both off and on stage. But we still had some ‘difficult’ people on our roster. As the business has grown we’ve been able to weed them out and now can say sincerely that if a band is on our roster, it’s as much about us just liking them as how talented they are. We can’t be bothered with divas or ill-mannered people.

Is this the correct approach? Aren’t there bands out there we should really have on the books? Yes and yes. But for us success isn’t just about having the best bands, it’s about having the best people. If we can’t offer a client a band we feel is the perfect fit, we simply won’t.

Service Not Sales

Play the long game.

Everyone needs to make money. As my mother in law says, money isn’t everything but it’s handy when you’re going for your messages.

We want to make as many bookings for our bands as we possibly can. After all, that’s what they pay us for. But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. A quick buck is still a buck, but you’ll only ever see it once. Offer an exceptional level of service and you’ll see the same customers (and their money) time and time again.

If we don’t believe that one of our bands isn’t exactly what the client needs to make their event perfect, we’ll tell them. We’ll even recommend other bands from our associates in other agencies if we feel the customer will get a better experience.  

Roll Of Honour

There are three main groups without whom we wouldn’t have the successful business we have today. The first is our loyal customer base. We still supply some of the same venues and businesses that we did in our early years. We won’t list them as it would be a bit crass, but we and the bands you book time and time again are grateful.

Over the years we’ve been able to count as our colleagues some of the finest human beings you could wish to meet. From the early days when our office was the size of a stationery cupboard, through the days when we franchised the business and had ten UK offices to oversee, till now when we’re planning our next twenty five years in business, I’d like to thank from the bottom of my heart the following wonderful people;

Elizabeth Stewart
Nicola Fitzpatrick (twice!)
Janice Kelly
Amanda Blythe
Karen Robertson
Heather Stewart
Janine Marriott
Gill McKellar
Rebecca Kerr
Julie Lewis

And our current crew

In England
Irving Walker
Libbi Mattick

In Scotland
Gaye Young
Karen Cunningham
Rachel Cotton
Lisa Cotton
Sophie Cotton (told you it was a family business)
Paddy Cotton (the office dog)
Del Cotton (that’s me)

Last and by no means least, the wonderful musicians we’ve worked with over the last twenty five years. They are our employers. Without them and their incredible talent, we’d have nothing to sell. They are our bosses, the ones we answer to, the ones who entrust their diaries to us and the absolute core of our business.

The list is huge and even if I did have the space, there would be someone we’d miss out. So if you are or have ever been on our roster – thank you from the bottom of my heart for your trust and faith.

Even in a world of stars, there are some landmark superstars that contributed even more than most to helping us build Scotland’s favourite agency and they must be mentioned. Believe it or not, some of these musicians and bands were around when we first started. Many others are still with us and are as much friends as clients.

Sneaky Treacle – our best-selling band for years – thanks Tommy, Dougsy, Stuart and Matt.
Our sisters at F3 Entertainment, Tracey, Donna and Laura.
Euan Halkett of DeVille – one of the first musicians and bands on our books and still with us.
The MacDonald Brothers – with us before and after their huge success on X-Factor
Replay – now Killer City Sound who showed us that wedding bands don’t need to sound like wedding bands.
Bill Matthews.
Ben Stones of Northern Star and KC and the Nightshift – now also our media guru.
Tom McGuire – now hugely successful with The Brassholes and filling venues up and down the country.
William Hitchell of Ernest and Vintage Explosion who showed us what could be achieved with a great band and frankly ridiculous amounts of talent.

So what’s that last piece of advice I’d give the 33 year old me? Here it is; stop worrying; everything will be fine. Don’t believe everything you think and enjoy the journey. Tough times teach you how to deal with tough times which are, after all, a part of everyone’s lives. Oh, and don’t eat yellow snow.


Del Cotton