Entertainment can make or break an event. No one wants to sit in silence or listen to outdated, dull music. They want musicians that make them jump to their feet and artists that dazzle them. Creating that sort of entertainment takes a cohesive force—the planner, venue, entertainment and booking agency working together. And each has their own take on their role in making sure guests walk away from an event talking about it for weeks to come.
A budget clearly plays a huge factor in the specific entertainment a client will end up booking. That’s why Sarah Parlos, owner of One Fine Day, an event planning and floral design company in Avon, Connecticut, starts looking for entertainers before she finalizes cost expectations. Once that’s settled, Parlos discusses the vision and gets to work. She sifts through her electronic Rolodex full of reliable vendors she’s used over the years and implicitly trusts to deliver on a client’s dream. As well as aligning with the budget, the entertainment must not overcharge on travel accommodations such as overnight stays and miles driven. Everything must stick to the budget, as it can quickly add up.
“It’s really important to listen and understand the plan before I proceed and encourage them to book someone,” she says. “Listening is important.”
Event entertainment costs can quickly add up. Behind the venue and catering, it’s the third most expensive part of an event. Because of Parlos’ location in Connecticut, it’s possible to find a band for $10,000, but sometimes it can get as expensive as $25,000-$35,000.
About half of Parlos’ clients can afford only one major source of entertainment, which typically would be a band or DJ. The other half really want to impress their guests. Many times, this can be a charity event to raise money. They need their guests to get involved and get intrigued, so they find unique ways to really draw their attention.
Prior to the event, Parlos and her team maintain contact with their vendor, communicating the floor plan and providing them with the itinerary. This allows things to run like clockwork and eliminates stress on the day of the event.
“For me and my staff, being proactive before the event is key,” she says. “As an event planning company, and as those in the industry know well, unless you communicate prior, you’re going to fall apart on the day of.”
During the event, Parlos carries the contract with her so that if something goes wrong on the day of, she can immediately refer to it before approaching the entertainers. If they’re taking a 30-minute break instead of 15, she’ll go speak with them and very kindly inform them they need to go back on, noting that the client is upset.
As Parlos works with trusted vendors, she’s never really had to deal with unprofessionalism, save for one time where the entertainer—who came as a referral—was nowhere to be found. Needless to say, she never hired him again.
While event entertainment usually means bands and DJs, it’s not always music that can liven up an event. Parlos has worked with Santa Claus impersonators, living statues, singing bartenders, jugglers and more. Virtual reality games are also becoming popular. But it’s safe to say music (and great cuisine) will stay around forever.
“Every event planner knows the things that don’t go out of style are quality food and quality entertainment,” says Parlos. “People want guests to have a blast. That’s not going out of style.”
THE EVENT PRODUCER
Like Parlos, Max Janoff, managing partner of Crystal Plaza Group in New Jersey, a fourthgeneration family event production company that also owns a catering company and the Crystal Plaza, a venue in Livingston, New Jersey, has a list of recommended vendors he typically doesn’t stray from. “These people are tried and trusted,” he says. “We know their energy, their flow and their specialization.”
He matches his clients with entertainers (typically bands or DJs, florists, photographers and videographers) from the list based on what sort of energy they’re looking for in their event and if they want anything specialized, such as a Spanish or Jewish musician.
The company also has an entire category of entertainers that they call “acts,” which includes everything from aerial artists to people on stilts and balloon artists.
There’s something for everyone.
Leading up to the event, Janoff talks with the entertainer a few times over the phone and they come in person to see the space in which they will be performing. They discuss the timing and what’s important to the client. Because Janoff tends to work with preferred vendors, he doesn’t have to do heavy oversight as he trusts the way they operate and their professionalism.
During the event, Janoff and his team adhere to a strict time line. Every minute is accounted for. And to ensure this, he follows a few patterns. As a way to stay on schedule, Janoff always feeds the vendors before the dinner service for the event even starts. This allows them to be on the stage as long as possible during the event.
“A lot of places overlook that,” he says. “They feed them last or never do. We really harp on that as staff so that the entertainment can get on the stage.”
During the cocktail hour of an event, Janoff mingles throughout to read the crowd and give final tips to the entertainer. It gives the team a good opportunity to talk about whether they should push the start time or whether they need to start off with high energy right away to get everyone going. Janoff always flashes them a five-minute warning, which means they need to move on to the next part of the act just to stay on schedule.
“There are certain time lines we have to stick to,” he says. “We’ve been really blessed. We’ve never had an incident that overpowered an event or put a negative damper on the day.”
The first thing that likely comes to mind when thinking of event entertainment is music or maybe even performers.
But Trevor Furrer, managing partner for Riverhouse Hospitality, which boasts two Connecticut venues and a catering arm, notes that food, too, is a form of entertainment. Ice sculptures, raw bars, even cigar rolling, all capture guests’ attention and elevate an event. Once, Furrer catered an event at a museum that featured two WWII-era planes. People dressed as USOs, a nod to the event’s theme, stood in a hole cut out of a table on wheels that was covered in hors d’oeuvres.
A different event at one of their venues included bands playing Roaring ‘20s music and Italian opera music back to back, with full costumes and the works.
“There are interesting ways you can go with entertainment,” he says. “We’ll help people choose that at each location.”
While the entertainers themselves and the planners work in the booking process, Furrer and his team help in the process if the client is unsure what to do. They ask questions to help narrow down what they’re looking for.
“One of the biggest things we say is talk to each other and talk about what your guests and what it is you want,” he says. “Think about your audience. You want all of your clients and colleagues to have a good time.”
Like Parlos and Janoff, Riverhouse Hospitality has preferred vendors they work with that they recommend to their clients. They do, of course, allow outside entertainment, but don’t typically stray from their own vendors to ensure the client is satisfied with the outcome.
Furrer’s team is always ready for mishaps. He recalls one episode with an outside DJ who was disrespectful and did not come prepared with the proper equipment. His team came together to support the entertainment, because they wanted to ensure the client was pleased with the event and unaware of what happened on the back end.
“We scrambled to make it work for him because everything is a reflection of us,” he says. “Once you’re into it you’re at a point where you can’t change. All we can do is everything on our end to solve the issue.”
Pre-event, if their clients are using a preferred vendor, Riverhouse doesn’t need to hold much communication as they’re familiar with the space and expectations of their performance. If they are using an outside vendor, they walk through the spaces and make sure the entertainers understand where they need to be and the time line.
Day of, staff is there right along with the entertainment, making sure the set-up process goes smoothly. They also encourage the entertainment to come earlier than they think they need to so that no surprises pop up. The team is always prepared because they know their name is on the line.
“In the end, it’s the building you’re in that is the ultimate barometer of how your event went,” says Furrer. “It has nothing to do with the DJ. If anyone messes up, the client will feel upset about Riverhouse.”
The venue, planner and production company can do as much preparation as possible before the event, but the success of its entertainment ultimately rests on the shoulders of the entertainers.
Shawn Christie is one such entertainer. A guitarist, Christie has played about 400 events over the course of eight years and 3,500 shows in total throughout his 20-plus-year career.
Instead of handling his own bookings, Christie works with an entertainment agency that specializes in corporate bands. If you’re working as a sole proprietor, Christie says, it can be more difficult for clients to find you. While the agency does take a percentage of their profits, the band still works as their own entity.
Clients go to these agencies with a specific idea in mind, date of the event and, as Parlos mentioned, a specific budget. The agency then matches the client with an entertainer. In Christie’s case it’s a six-piece band made up of seasoned professionals with a cohesive look of dress pants and button-down shirts—not tuxedos or bow ties. While located in the New Jersey area, Christie and his band have traveled to Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and even Turks and Caicos.
People, Christie says, are leaning toward bands that have somewhat of an edge—both in styling and music selections. “No one wants to hear ‘Celebration’ anymore,” he says. “We’re playing more modern music while sticking to certain classics that are timeless but haven’t taken on any sort of cheese factor.”
Today’s event bands tend to be younger bands (think those in their 30s) who have left the club scene after a number of years. This is partially due to demand, but also because bands are struggling to make money in today’s market. Many more bands have switched to the event world as a way to make more money. This could be to the disadvantage of a client.
“Many bands are moving from the club scene to the private event market simply out of financial necessity. The downside is that a lot of those bands that have existed solely in the club work are not of high caliber. They may be weak in certain disciplines,” says Christie. “This could mean that they’re not necessarily wellversed, qualified instrumentalists/vocalists that can provide a high level performance in many different genres. They might excel in many areas of popular music, but a lack of experience in crucial areas for event work could be a disad - vantage for clients and planners.”
Outside the entertainment agency, the band leader is typically the one who communicates with the client to work out the details prior to the event. Day of, he or she will work with the caterer and/or party planner to finalize the time line, whether that be a short dance set during cocktail hour or the breaks needed during the main affair. While typically this is worked out before the event, things do tend to change. Something like a kitchen emer - gency or other aspect could happen, and the entertainer needs to be prepared to perform at any time.
“You have to be flexible to make it seem seamless to the client,” says Christie. “You have to work together to make it seem like nothing is going wrong.”