The 3 ground rules for successful bookings are: 1. Location, 2. Location, 3. Location.
There are few rules that are written in stone when it comes to organising an event that aims at entertaining the crowd musically, most of them are clearly unavoidable, while some of them can be bent, but both have to be addressed if you want to enjoy a good deal and the fulfillment that comes with it.
Luckily, the great majority of those can be found in an ancient institution that materialises the agreement between two parties, called CONTRACT. It is in this instrument of communication and establishment of consent that we lay out the conditions that hopefully will keep everything on track during the gig.
When a transaction is bound by this instrument, an external document that attests its conformity and the intention of each side of the agreement, everything is more secure and the need to resort to anything other than the business aspect of a relationship becomes completely useless.
So, when someone who knows these fundamentals as well as their importance chooses to ignore them, it is either because trust is involved — in the form of a previous relationship, be it family, friendship, business — or just recklessness. In my case it was a bit of the former but especially the latter for this specific occasion.
One of the most common among these is relying on a perversion of what we usually understand as “trust”, by exaggerating its importance in a trading interaction. This delicate protocol between persons often gets misused, misunderstood or misrepresented and relying strictly on its existence opens up for huge mistakes and unnecessary risk-taking.
Again, this is something that should come as common knowledge to most people who are barely familiar with the basics of negotiating any service that is not offered across a counter and especially deals that are closed across borders. Considering that I had an entire semester of applied learning in the field and was not exactly a rookie on its specifics and functioning beforehand, I should know better.
Considering that, even after being in contact with the biz and, for that reason, having a certain idea that its stuffing was made out of blood, sweat and tears, none is immune from getting things wrong in the most basic ways for the most stupid reasons.
An artist who had already developed an impressive global profile and was no novice to the game either had a tour scheduled in the region and needed to secure two dates. At the end, it was laid out nicely, as his name was an easy sell and the music he played was accessible to a wider audience, both factors that contributed to better fees.
One of the gigs was the anniversary of a club that then held the place as the main one in my boss’ hometown, where he opened a very famous venue that garnered his reputation. So the request came with an extra layer of “trust”, since everybody knew each other and he was something of patron of the arts back in his city.
The club owners loved the offer and the artist’s management was pleased with the amount agreed upon, so we just had to proceed to CONTRACTING the deal in order to secure the dates and look into the logistical details.
The only detail is that, when you work at a local agency that acts mostly nationally and the main ones representing the talent you are trying to bring are located in a completely different hemisphere, you act as a buffer between both ends of the deal.
It means your word vouches for the venue that is interested in the talent, while the international agency simply wants business to be done as usual and this is something, as said above, that not always happens in the best way when you are located in the periphery.
On one side, you have a company whose core business is to secure the best deals for the artist all around the globe, no matter where or how, while on the other, you have people who usually are not very aware of how important things such as deposits, riders, deadlines and other small details can be.
Bridging this gap is basically what an agent working outside of the US-Europe axis does and it demands effort, patience and careful time-management. All of this wrapped up in solid reputation or, at least, the type of financial resources that allow you to pay for everything in advance to one side while waiting for the other to make up for its due share of responsibility.
Most of the times, the buffer becomes sponsor, guaranteeing that the deal will go according to the expectations of people whose standards are much higher than the ones of your local peers. And now, probably the need for a written proof of agreement had become clearer for everyone.
Well, for some reason, not for me at that point. At least not the one concerning the side of it that we all regard as the least important: the location. After all, the international contract that assured the gigs in the vicinity was sent right away, then signed and sent back straight after.
Here is where the problem originated: when you make an offer and it is accepted, it must state the capacity/size of the venue/place where the event will be held at. This is a detail that many greedy (or sloppy) agents or managers ignore when considering offers, but one that is crucial to assess them, because it is unfair to charge a 300 people capacity venue the same amount that you would ask for a festival that holds a crowd even 100 times that size.
The venue in question could hold 800 people, I had been there and saw it first hand, but since it was a special occasion the owners were thinking of doing it elsewhere. I warned them about the fact that any change of venue (or capacity, for that matter) for the event would incur in a change of fees. At the end, they opened up about their struggle in ticket sales as well as the decision for the celebrations’ location to remain at the club itself.
I was relieved, mainly because those changes meant that I would have to renegotiate everything all over again. Something that did not just imply more work, but also could make the international agents to have second thoughts, as we know that very few things raise more suspicious flags than a recap of a previously signed contract.
Anyway, every detail of it was kept in place and payments were done to the international agents accordingly, while the ones due locally were not at that point. Shocker! Still, this was a contingency that we were prepared for, due to the reputation of our brand and the availability of resources to handle these inconsistencies.
As the date of the event approached, the promoters eventually paid their share and it all seemed under control, although not a single signature had graced the contract between them and our agency up to that point. Relying on the previous relationship forged between them and my boss and considering the fact that another gig depended on this one, I decided to go through with the tour.
Another detail worthy of mentioning at this point is that this whole deal happened at the beginning of July, the height of the summer season throughout the most profitable markets for any musical talent and exactly when this one chose to come all the way down to the periphery to perform.
Effectively, everyone was putting some effort into the tour, some obviously more than others, but it seemed to be on track. Here is where you must be wondering “what about the signed contract?”. Honestly, so was I. But due to the weight of “trust”, I let it slide.
Signatures were demanded and these please constantly ignored, but due to the fact that the down payments were done before the eve of the gig,I had one more reason to be relieved about my choice in a form of paperless risk-assessment and risk-taking.
The tour comes together nicely and the artist is about to play at the event. Hotels, flights and restaurants are all arranged and approved beforehand and this looks like just another successful booking. We were all happy… or so I thought.
The artist’s tour manager calls me and brings to my attention the fact that the venue had been changed and it was far from the 800-people capacity club the contract was based upon, this was an open air event for 3000+ people just outside of town. He sends me pictures of the stage and I am speechless… what else is there to say?
Calling the promoters would be pointless at that point, as they cannot even answer a phone call in the middle of their main event of the year, especially one of THAT size. Before I could think of anything else to be done in that situation, the one person you don’t want to contact you under those circumstances starts calling me: the manager.
Explanations are required, shame is felt, blame is placed and a fair addition to the artist’s fee is requested, some 150% more than what was initially agreed and I have no way of disputing it.
What followed was a sequence of excuses and the refusal of the club owners to pay for that difference. Eventually it was absorbed by our agency, which led to a budgetary deficit that ended up on my termination from the company.
It was a relief anyway, that job was driving me insane. But I still regret not insisting more on the one and only thing could have prevented it all from happening: the contract.