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How Meeting Planners Can Rein in Entertainment Riders

Big-name artists and corporate events can be a match made in heaven—or somewhere else, if you don’t get some good advice about dealing with artist contracts and riders.

Headline entertainers take your annual incentive or sales conference from amazing memory to experience of a lifetime. Big-name artists and corporate events can be a match made in heaven—or somewhere else, if you don’t get some good advice about dealing with artist contracts and riders. (A rider is a document that specifies what an entertainer needs, from both a hospitality and technical perspective, in order to perform at your event.)

“When booking headline entertainment for private, corporate events, agencies will still nearly always send you contracts and riders that are more aligned to public, ticketed shows, and outline the artist’s needs for touring dates,” says Adam Kahan, senior vice president at Empire Entertainment in New York, who has spent more than 18 years booking headliners like Lionel Richie, Flo Rida, Train, Kevin James, Seth Meyers, Kevin Spacey, and dozens more for a range of corporate clients. “The reason is usually that artists simply don’t have separate riders for private, ‘one-off’ events.”

So his job—and yours—is to go through the documents and bring any discordant notes back into harmony, so to speak. Here are his top tips for doing that:

• Many artists are willing to modify their technical needs for private shows, but their level of flexibility will vary, and can only go so far. For example, if a concert artist’s rider says they need a stage that is 60 feet wide by 24 feet deep, you may reasonably anticipate that they could work with a 40-foot-by-20-foot stage, but not necessarily a 16-foot-by-12-foot stage. In any case, you’ll want to have a conversation with the tour manager and make sure everyone is on the same page. You want as few surprises on site as possible.

• Similarly, riders will generally have catering and security requirements that are geared to public shows. You should not be afraid to make handwritten comments on the rider that make it more appropriate for your private event, or at least to request a conversation with the tour manager to determine where they can scale back. Artists will often be willing to work with fewer backstage rooms than are “required” in the rider, and to scale back on the catering and security as well.

• When making an offer, it makes sense to specify that you will provide “technical and backstage requirements to be mutually agreed-upon.”  

• Note that you shouldn’t be too aggressive at the outset. You want to be sure the artist knows that if they work with you, your team will be doing everything possible to make them comfortable, and to make sure they have a good experience on site. Don’t take the approach that because you are paying them a lot of money, they shouldn’t expect much else on site. Celebrities are accustomed to being treated a certain way, and it will often make for a better experience for everyone (including a better performance) if the artist can see that you and your team have taken good care of their backstage needs.

• When going through the legal terms of a rider, you might come across provisions that you are not comfortable with. Pay especially close attention to consequences of a force majeure occurrence, as most riders will specify that an artist is to be paid in full, even if the event is canceled due to force majeure circumstances, such as a fire, inclement weather, natural disaster, etc.

There are several possible options when negotiating force majeure language. Some artists may agree to a 50 percent cancellation fee in the event of force majeure. Some may accept a sliding-scale cancellation fee—for example, a 10 percent fee if canceled more than six months out; 25 percent at three months out; 50 percent at two months out. Some may even agree to return the full fee in the event of force majeure. But most will require payment, possibly in full, if they are already on site for the event and “ready, willing, and able to perform.”  

One other term you can try to negotiate: If you have to pay any amount as a cancellation fee due to force majeure, you can ask the artist to agree to apply that amount to another performance to be booked within a year of the canceled date.

One more piece of advice about booking headliners, Kahan says, is that you don’t always need the big name. Entertainment companies can help you discover lesser-known entertainers that deliver a huge impact to clients without huge budgets.

Find more at the Empire Entertainment Web site

Note: This article was originally published on January 24, 2015.

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