Here are a few questions you won't find on your CMP exam.
1. Which of the following musical acts can typically be produced for less than $150,000, including travel?
a. Tony Bennett
b. Kenny Loggins
c. Huey Lewis
d. Earth, Wind & Fire
e. Lionel Richie
f. Jimmy Buffett
2. True or False: Assuming you have the budget for it, name entertainment provides the highest quality and impact, and is most satisfying to attendees.
3. What is the single most important thing to keep in mind when selecting entertainment?
Question 1 If you picked any of the answers given to the first question, guess again: None of them can be produced in that range. In fact, even if you had a good deal of sound, lights, and staging already in place, some would cost substantially more.
Some of you have these types of budgets (you can call me collect) but most planners have much less to work with (we'll still take your calls). Therefore, it's increasingly important to know where to turn for entertainment that is reasonably priced and can still knock your audiences out. More on that later.
Many expensive acts, whether in the six-figure range or not, may not be "current" but are considered one-of-a-kind, some even legendary. As time passes, fewer of yesterday's stars remain on the circuit, and fewer options are available to replace them. But while their shows may be great, many people have seen them before or don't have much of an interest in seeing them. Base your choice on your group's culture, demographics, and past shows rather than how big the name is--particularly since the list of name acts in the lower prices ranges has diminished.
Audiences' tastes change with the times and can be even more challenging to please, especially the younger groups, and particularly when you're working with lower budgets. Today's stars--Ricky Martin, Celine Dion, Jewel--play huge arenas, commanding enormous sums through ticket receipts, so they're hard-pressed to play corporate dates unless you throw big money at them. (Comedy is very different from music; I'll address the differences, and some opportunities, in an upcoming column.)
Question 2 The answer to the second question will depend largely on your groups. If you plan more than one event that calls for entertainment, then you know how different your audiences can be--even within the same company. For some groups, name entertainment is the only way to go: They need to be impressed as well as entertained.
However, if you haven't the budget for the star quality you want, fear not. It's still possible to get great talent for $10,000--or even less. The trick is to be open to ideas and know where you can compromise. It's just the opposite of an Internet search where you want to narrow outcomes; in the case of talent, you want to keep all options open.
In general, the more you spend, the better the entertainment. That's the market and the way things usually work in business and in our personal lives. (Again, comedy and novelty acts offer different opportunities and are often the exception.) But you do have options.
Some planners do a great job keeping track of lesser known entertainers. Otherwise, you need help--from your producer, fellow planners, or another trusted source--to find acts that are on their way up, talented but not well-marketed, or available at good prices for some other reason (e.g., routing, relationships, special situations). We regularly attend shows on Broadway, the cabaret circuit, comedy clubs, and other venues looking for up-and-coming talent.
Question 3 The most important thing to keep in mind? That's easy: Your audience. Because the right price will turn into the wrong one if the act is not on target for them. A big name usually means a big success. But you can often spend less and get more.