By Dominique Wald
Behind the show production and live music are a tremendous amount of legal contracts, negotiations and expenses. Every name has its price, and there are more factors than finances that come into play.
Depending on the festival, the planning process varies. Scott Fedale, a member of the board of directors for Moscow’s annual Rendezvous in the Park, says his organization gives early planning responsibilities to a subcommittee that brings forth ideas for headlining acts.
After an initial planning meeting, he said, the subcommittee makes contact with artist management to scope out tour dates and prices. It’s during this time that board members strategize by cross-referencing their festival dates with tour dates of potential headliners.
“If an artist is in Virginia the night before Rendezvous and then Massachusetts the next, they’re obviously not going to be coming to Idaho,” Fedale said. “But if they’re somewhat nearby, say in Portland or Seattle, it’s easier to get them to come.”
That strategy proved to be successful with the most recent Rendezvous, Fedale said. One of the festival’s headliners, Samantha Fish, was scheduled to perform at the Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival in Winthrop, Wash., the day after her performance in Moscow.
“We’ve established a relationship with the people at Winthrop,” Fedale said. “It’s been a very successful model for us.”
Other organizers like Ben Bonfield, general manager of Pacific Empire Radio and a sponsor of Hot August Nights in Lewiston, use the assistance of outside talent booking agents.
Bonfield said planning for Hot August Nights begins in October, and he gives a list of potential artists to his booking agent, Kenny Johnson from Northwest Talent Network in Spokane.
“There’s a lot of middlemen during this part of the process,” Johnson said. “I deal with the agency, the agency deals with management, and then they get back to me.”
Bonfield said it may seem miraculous that this year’s Hot August Nights headlining guest is Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, but it comes down to luck and scheduling.
“Colbie is in Utah before our concert and then in Vancouver, B.C., after,” Bonfield said. “We wouldn’t have gotten her if she wasn’t within the area.”
Lauren Pinney, director of Vandal Entertainment for the University of Idaho, said planning for UI’s Finals Fest, held at the end of every school year, is a nine-month process. She has already started crunching numbers for May’s event.
“Our crowd is between the ages of 18-24, so we try to see what kind of genre would appeal to the majority,” Pinney said. “Hip-hop seems to be the most popular.”
Scheduling and locations can be hardships, but financial obstacles take the cake.
Bonfield said the price for good musical acts starts around $60,000.
In the past, Hot August Nights has taken place during the two-day span of one weekend. This year, Bonfield said he took Friday night’s budget and added it to Saturday’s in order to pay for Caillat.
There’s also a level of price negotiation that can be done, but Bonfield has found Lewiston’s location creates a disadvantage.
“It’s hard to get in and out of here, so you don’t have much to negotiate with,” Bonfield said. “There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room.”
Fedale said negotiating is a matter of “how high up the food chain you go.” This year, the budget for all Rendezvous musical acts was less than $30,000, but Fedale said he has dealt with artists who have a starting quote of $50,000.
Pinney, however, deals with price tags much steeper. For a relatively well-known artist, she said, it’s a rarity to book anyone for less than $75,000. Vandal Entertainment’s budget, funded by student fees, is around $75,000, which is enough to pay an artist but not production costs. Pinney said she makes up the difference by selling tickets.
Lee McVey of Northwest Best Entertainment helps organize Rockin’ on the River in Clarkston and said people believe smaller markets get discounts on booking artists. That’s not the case, he said.
McVey faces the disadvantage of Clarkston’s isolation and small population, two factors that make concert ticket sales subjective, he said.
“People will spend $50 or more to see a show at The Gorge but if the same show is in the (Lewiston-Clarkston) valley, they’d prefer a $30 ticket,” McVey said.
Washington State University’s Student Entertainment Board, which has brought artists like 2 Chainz, Shwazey, Mac Miller and Ludacris to Pullman, spends $10,000-$25,000 for an average show.
“The biggest struggle is making everyone happy,” said Berto Cerrillo, who works as assistant director for WSU’s Student Involvement. “We do our best to make sure a majority of people are interested.”
With big names come big contracts riddled with legal jargon and hospitality requests. Break the contract, Pinney said, and you can be slammed with fees that can cost just as much as the artist.
In the case of Macklemore, who performed at UI’s Finals Fest in May of 2013, Pinney said ticket sales exceeded what was agreed upon in the contract. For that reason, Vandal Entertainment had to pay an extra $20,000.
The show turned out to be one of UI’s most successful, Pinney said.
“That was just a freak thing that happened” Pinney said. “When we booked him, ‘Thrift Shop’ hadn’t come out yet, and then it did and he blew up in fame.”
In terms of unique requests, Bonfield has experienced his fair share.
“When we had Tiny Tim, he requested 12 jelly donuts and 12 spoons,” Bonfield said. “He took each spoon and scooped out the jelly. … We’re still not sure why.”
Most requests are relatively ordinary. Some artists request socks or T-shirts, while others ask for toiletries. The outrageous requests, it turns out, are more often rumor than truth.
“In my experience, I’ve never had anything weird or outrageous,” said Cami McClure, who worked as interim executive director for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at UI for four years. “The artists we’ve dealt with for Jazz Festival have been extremely humble.”
McVey has also found unreasonable attitudes aren’t as common as people may think, and he could only recall one problematic incident, when a certain lead singer refused to play the hits that were agreed upon in the contract.
Pinney said sometimes a line item in the request can be a deal-breaker. One year, she said, an artist couldn’t be booked because their demand of building a mountain on stage could not be met.
Finals Fest’s most recent performer, Chance the Rapper, requested squirt guns that he later used on stage.
The most common request? Alcohol.
“Once we had an artist who wanted a specific type of rum,” Fedale said. “It was the only kind of rum she’d drink.”
With a region that includes four relatively rural cities, the planning, negotiating and scheduling boil down to money — and it talks.
“Artists want to play if the money is right,” Fedale said. “Bottom line.”