Understanding Entertainment Contracts

Too many casinos are getting into legal binds

Those artist contracts with all the legalese and contract riders with pages and pages of specifications and requests are very difficult to pick through, plus they have a tendency to really drive you nuts. All that information is very important for you to understand because you have entered into a legally binding relationship. However, the process can be convoluted. Let’s take a quick look at what you have entered into, by starting at square one.

First of all, once you have decided on a certain artist for your casino concert, the first step is the actual offer to the artist. In most cases the artist’s concert rider is available to review before you actually submit the offer. This is an important point. Reviewing this rider before you make the official offer can let you know about all the hidden costs, requirements, etc. This is a point where you can say no and avoid a problematic event. It is also a point where you can preliminarily discuss what you can and cannot provide for this artist. Believe me, “no” is the second best answer. Dealing with these issues after you have signed the contract is not a position that you want to put yourself in.

If you are a casino that uses an outside talent buyer, the offer process starts with giving your talent buyer the written authority to act on your behalf to submit the offer. Keep in mind that the authorization is like a contract. You are agreeing to the terms on that document. Then the actual offer that is submitted to the artist’s agency needs to contain all the major points about your concert.

OFFER SHEET:

  • State the date
  • The venue – to include the actual name and physical address
  • The performance time, the door time
  • The ticket scaling, pricing and capacity
  • The amount of money you are offering, to include any additional costs (if needed), like the backline buyout or some production buyout
  • The authorized signer of the contract
  • The venue/buyer contact information, to include names, phone numbers and email
  • Your production contact person, to include names, phone numbers and email
  • You should include a radius clause, to protect your exclusivity in your region
  • Also make sure that you have included an expiration date for your offer

This offer will be reviewed by the agency, and then submitted to the artist’s management for review and approval. Depending on many intangible things, it will be accepted, rejected, or they will come back asking for more money or some other additional need not previously discussed. For example – the hospitality requirements could be a deal breaker. Anyone remember the story about the Green M&M’s? The hospitality rider for this “rock” act wanted only green M&M’s. This was a time when M&M’s were mixed, so they were asking the buyers to separate out only the green ones. The reality of this request was that they were seeing if anyone was actually reading the rider. The point being made here is that once that offer is submitted, you have entered into a legally binding agreement with that agency/artist, if they accept your offer, so be due diligent. If you use an outside talent buyer, the same holds true for you. So you must understand this fact going into this process. For all intents and purposes, this is a high stakes game. There is a lot of money on the table.

Many times the original offer will be countered. There could be a date change, a request for more money, accommodations could change, production requirements could become different because the artist is now carrying much of their own gear, etc. Many times an offer is made many months out in the calendar year, so things can and do change. This is especially true with a current artist who has rising star power, awards, and radio/TV exposure. That $30K offer could easily double or triple after an awards show or a hit on the radio. As you can see, the initial offer is typically the starting point for negotiations. Always remember that the artist and their management determine the price, and it’s based on routing, availability and “supply and demand.” Therefore the 300% variable price range.

Once you have confirmed the date and the price for the artist, a contract with a contract rider will be forwarded for your signature. The artist contract is always one-sided, and the rider can be very demanding. Here’s another reminder – the delivery of this contract confirms your binding and legal agreement to the terms of your offer. It is now a hard copy, and your work is just now beginning. Every word, term and sentence has to be reviewed in the actual contract to make sure that all the points are correct per your offer.

Most contracts are very straightforward and, if you deal with a lot of them, they are fairly simple to navigate. The challenging part will be the contract rider, which accompanies the contract. This is the multi-page document we discussed previewing prior to making your offer. This document contains basic information about what is needed and what is required by the group. It includes details ranging from advertising and marketing information to food and beverage requests. It also includes all the technical/production needs and specifications. This entire document is another point of negotiation. An artist has to have an overall contract rider that can be applied to all venues and dates. There is a lot of information that is not applicable for your date in this document/rider. Hint: “Green M&M’s.”

So your first step is to go through that rider page by page and cross off everything that will not, and does not, apply to you. This can include everything from supplying airfares to exotic food requests. The production part of the rider needs to be given to your production team because they speak the language, and they should also know what your venue can and cannot do or provide. For example, the rider may call for a stage size much different than what your venue has or can provide. Or the artist will ask for some specific production gear that cannot be provided without cost overruns, or it may not be available in your region. Once you have covered all the information in the rider and noted your changes, the signed contract and signed off rider (with your noted changes/amendments) are sent back to the agency/artist for their counter signature.

Once the contract and rider have been sent back to the agency, you have to be very diligent in keeping track of getting the contract signed off and returned to you. This is a point where many managers will sit on a contract. You can help move this process along by informing them in the offer, and again when you send the contract back, that you cannot issue a deposit for the performance date until the contract is fully executed. I swear to God, be persistent. I can’t tell you how many contracts don’t get returned until all hell breaks loose. Holding the deposit until you receive a fully executed contract is your best bet.

All artist contracts and riders are one-sided, like I stated before. You need to create a little balance in the relationship by creating your own casino addendum/rider, so you can send back your own requirements and specifications. The information in your addendum should contain such specific points as:

  • Your alcohol policy
  • Dressing rooms provided
  • General hospitality you provide
  • What your meal comp policy and amounts are
  • Hotel information and contact info
  • Stage dimensions, loading information and power available
  • Your production, venue and buyer contact information
  • Any sovereignty policy
  • And any additional information you want the artist to know about doing business with your casino/tribe that needs to be communicated

This information will help clarify and simplify this process. Communication is very important, and the more that both sides fully understand each other and the relationship, the better.

I touched on some of this information back in a 2015 article, “The Smart Casino Concert Planner.” I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the details and the preparation you need to go through in order to put on a concert. However, once you have been through this a few times, you will start to get the hang of how this all works.

The next step is marketing, advertising, and selling tickets. I will leave that for another time. If you have done your work during the early stages of this process, you should not run into any major surprises or conflicts, unless it’s a Murphy’s Law kind of deal. At that point I recommend finding the bar.

Kell Houston
Kell Houston 14 Articles