Why entertainment agencies are like car dealers and why that’s a good thing. Sometimes.
I’m currently going through the process of buying a car with my older daughter. Her mum and I bought her the little Ford Ka she’s currently driving as a birthday present so this is the first time she’s been involved in the process herself.
Obviously, as her dad, I’m keen for her to get the best deal (preferably for the safest car ever built) and to show off my superb negotiating skills underlining my status as the Alpha Male in her life (currently under threat by the arrival on the scene of her 6 foot, built like a tank, boyfriend).
As I pontificated a little on my vast experience of buying cars over the years, it occurred to me that there is more than a passing similarity between a good car buying experience and hiring a band. Bear with me here, it does make sense eventually.
Beginning the process.
The first thing I did was to work out what the car would be used for. Having established that I wanted to know what was out there and how much my daughter could expect to pay for it.
So straight to my PC to visit Autotrader online. It’s a fantastic web site that lets you filter cars for, among other things, price, features and location. There are photos and in some cases videos. There’s also a brief description of the car from the seller. Some are written better than others but this all helps get a feel for the car and just as importantly, the person or organisation selling it.
So armed with a basic knowledge of what I should be looking for I have the choice of going to a local car dealership (many of the adverts on Autotrader, maybe even the majority, are now from car dealers) or to buy from a private seller.
Dealer or Private?
So do I buy from a car dealer or privately? What are the pros and cons? Here’s the list as I see it of buying from a dealer;
A wide choice of options both online and in the dealership
The ability to finance the purchase, you don’t need to pay everything up front
The chance to test drive multiple vehicles
A warranty – if anything goes wrong you’re covered
Local – you’re never far from a good dealer
You can add extras like service packages, paint treatment etc.
You may not be able to haggle the price down as hard as you can when buying privately
Some dealers are dodgy and can make their stock look better than it actually is
Once you’ve contacted a dealer they’ll probably keep contacting you even if you’re no longer interested in the cars they have
So how is a Car Dealer like an Entertainment Agent?
Well some would say that they’re held in equally poor regard, a bit like estate agents, time share touts and double glazing salesmen. But in reality a good entertainment agent, like a good car dealer is actually a very useful person to know. In fact I tend to buy cars from the same dealer almost all the time. I’ve tried a few but I always tend to end up back at good old Arnold Clark.
But if we go back to my list of pros and cons, the similarities are quite obvious. Let’s assume you’re trying to make your mind up whether to hire a band with the help of an agent, or to book them direct with only you and the band involved in the process.
Pros of booking with an agency
Choice. Agencies tend to represent several bands. In fact Hireaband represents nearly 800 different bands and acts across the country. There’s bound to be one that suits you more than the others so there’s less need to compromise on what you really want
A small percentage of the fee normally secures any band with the balance payable, in the case of Hireaband at least, one month before the event. A good agent will operate a separate client’s account where your money is kept apart from their everyday current account. You should also be able to make payments to your account at your convenience thus avoiding one big bill
Showcases are the agency equivalent of test drives. A band may look or sound great online but only be hearing them and seeing them live can you get a true idea of whether they’re the band for you. Most agencies will arrange for you to see a band live either at a showcase or at a performance open to the public
An agent’s reputation is your warranty of good service. They have a vested interest in only representing bands they know to be talented and reliable. Like car dealers, they know what to look out for and of course their clients are very quick to let them know if there are any shortcomings or negative experiences with a particular band or act. Other things, like getting your deposit back if you change your mind within a set period of time should also be looked on as standard. Finally, the best band in the world is useless if for whatever reason they don’t turn up. A good agent will already have vetted their roster so that bands with a reputation for unreliability just won’t get on the books, but even if something out of the control of any band or performer should happen, a well-connected agent with hundreds of bands and musicians on hand is your best guarantee that you’ll have entertainment at your event no matter what
An agency like Hireaband has offices across the country so we’re able to offer local bands making it easier to see them live in advance and also cheaper to book as travel costs will be kept to a minimum. Sure, some bands are in such demand that people will book them even if they’re at the opposite end of the country. Much like that Aston Martin in the perfect shade of blue can only be found miles away, some bands tick all the boxes that paying that bit extra for them to travel is worth it
Want to extend the time the band will play? Fancy a piper or a string quartet to enhance your event? Think it would be a laugh to have a Ricky Gervais lookalike turn up and surprise your guests? A good agent can organise all of that and you’ll only ever need to have one contact for all that’s happening with your event entertainment
Cons of booking with an agency
Agencies don’t dictate the price a band or act charges. They’re told what to charge by the band and for that reason you’re only ever going to get quoted that price. That’s not to say that you can’t negotiate on price with an agent; they will contact any band on your behalf if the quote you have is a bit over budget, but don’t expect massive savings. An agent is much more likely to recommend a cheaper band instead.
Just as there are dodgy car dealers, there are dodgy agents. How can you tell? Look for membership of professional bodies. The Agents Association of Great Britain is the regulatory body for entertainment agents – the agency you choose should be a member. Also, you wouldn’t go into a car lot with a porta cabin for an office and a muddy car lot full of poorly presented cars. A successful agency will not be based at home but will have proper offices with staff and will encourage visitors. Their web site is their shop window and should be well regarded by Google, be easy to navigate on both mobile and desktop, should ideally provide instant quotes and availability and should absolutely have videos of all or most of the acts they represent along with reviews from previous clients. Of course this doesn’t guarantee great service or a great band but at least you’ll know you’re dealing with professionals.
There’s nothing worse than finding out you’ve been sold a lemon; a car full of filler, a pair of tights jammed in the gear box and a sunroof that leaks the minute it rains. Sure the car looked great on the forecourt but you soon realise you’ve got a heap on your hands. Some agencies try and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with their bands too. Modern technology can make any band sound good which is another reason showcases are important. But your number one guarantee of quality is feedback from previous customers. And although every agency started somewhere, if the agency you’re considering has been trading successfully (with the same name) for a long time, you’re pretty much on to a winner. Hireaband has been matching bands with clients non-stop since 1999 – experience you should take advantage of.
Desperate agencies will pester you to book one of their bands long after you’ve lost interest in what they have to offer. We know of one agency who proudly claim to be ‘ruthless’ in their pressure on clients to book one of their bands. This has never been our policy. We’ll keep in touch to make sure you have all the help you need to decide on who to book, but as soon as we’re aware you’ve made other arrangements or just need more time to make up your mind we’ll leave you to it. There are aggressive agents just as there are aggressive car and double glazing salesmen – what they don’t seem to realise is this approach is ultimately counterproductive. We’re easy going mainly because our bands sell so well anyway – there’s just no need to be a hard ass.
In fact with that last point in mind and to bring my hard worked analogy to a conclusion, my daughter initially spoke to a lovely chap from Arnold Clark’s Vauxhall dealership in Linwood. Steve, the salesman, was so polite, accommodating and informative but totally non pushy that when she eventually found the car she wanted in a different branch, she made sure that Steve would be able to arrange the sale for her and earn his commission. A lesson for us all in the entertainment industry.
So hopefully this article will have helped you decide on whether to book your entertainment direct or with an agency. I know lots of bands will read this (because I’ll ask them to) and so to head off at the pass some controversy I’d like to point out right at the end that it’s perfectly possible to book a band or an entertainer without the involvement of any agency and still get a great deal and a fantastic night of unforgettable entertainment.
There are bands who have never used an agency and who have thrived. They can cover unforeseen events with a network of deps (stand-ins) and they have a well-developed admin set up to avoid things like double or forgotten bookings. I know because I was in a band like that myself.
However, those bands are hard to find, either because they’re already booked or because it’s just so hard these days for any one band to stand out and be seen. Search results are dominated by agencies and many venues have an ‘agents only’ policy simply because they want the back up and resources only a reputable agency can provide.
The choice is yours and whatever approach you decide on, I hope that your event goes without a hitch and that you get to hear a great band that you and your guests can’t resist dancing to. All I’ll say is that if you book through Hireaband you’ll have the back up and support of the nation’s favourite entertainment agency at your service. I hope you’ll give us the chance to prove it.