How to Hire a Tribute Band

Hiring a tribute band or a “cover” band is not altogether different than hiring any other sort of B2B vendor. You want clear communications, competitive price to value, and a history of successful engagements. Yet, to those inexperienced with booking musical artists, the process of booking a live band is unique in subtle ways. Be sure that you are hiring the best band for your event by keeping the following tips in mind.

Is the band a good fit for my audience and event?

If you’re booking for a private event, you already know your audience well. And if you’ve booked an event previously (as in the case with a summer festival concert series), it’s likely that your audience is similarly well known to you.

For a successful event, you need a tribute band that “speaks” to your ideal demographic based on the age-range of your audience. A good rule of thumb is to figure out the range of years that your audience graduated from high school (e.g., 1976 – 1986), and then hire a band that was extremely popular in (or near to) that era.

Tribute bands are generally not booked year-over-year, as event directors and private event coordinators like to offer their audience variety. Obviously, you should not schedule a Journey tribute band at back-to-back events, even if they featured different lineups.

In a tribute concert series, you should strive to offer a range of acts that complement and do not compete stylistically. For example, if you book a Led Zeppelin tribute band, you probably don’t want to book a band the following week that also features even some Led Zeppelin music in their set list.

Be sure to ask the band you’re interested in booking for a set list. Ask if the band is open to set list adjustments based on your lineup, if you feel it’s necessary.

How talented and entertaining is the band?

Talent is relatively easy to determine, as YouTube and Facebook videos shot by audience members are often strewn about the internet to peruse at your leisure. Ask your board, friends and even Facebook fans of your event for their input.

Building solid consensus as to your artists prior to announcing your concert lineup will help build advance word-of-mouth publicity. Ultimately, if you would be proud to tell your friends and attendees that you booked this band, they’re probably right for your event.

Band performance videos come in two basic flavors: live concert recordings, and studio overdubs. if the band is talented and the mix is decent in a live video recording, you should be able to tell that a given show is professional.

Studio overdubs are another matter, as any bummer notes or pitch problems can be fixed later in a studio. Be wary of band sales presentations that are obviously “staged”. Typically it’s easy to tell a studio shoot, as you will only see the band, and you won’t see any audience members. You should see audience members and band members performing in the same shot. It’s easy to cut away to stock video footage of an audience going crazy, even if they weren’t at the show.

One caveat with live concert videos is that audience members can often be heard singing along in their own videos, so you’re not always hearing the actual voices of the vocalists in the band. Audience members may be inebriated (shocking!), and their voices may not be very good, which can lead to a listener’s mistaken perception that the band is not very good. Find several live videos in different settings and with different camera angles and compare them.

As for the entertainment factor, it varies wildly. Unfortunately, some bands consider it “good enough” that they’re up on stage, performing some of the best-loved music of all-time. However, a truly great cover band will breathe life into their stage performance with audience interaction and movement: choreography (planned or unplanned), audience sing-along sections and other interactions, like jumping off the stage into the crowd.

Additionally, a great band front person may engage the crowd by interacting with the audience between songs, perhaps telling stories about the music and not simply running song after song after song. Ultimately, we’ve all heard this music before – a great vocalist will share something personal. This type of storytelling is the mark of a seasoned professional.

Can I see the band in person before I buy?

The answer to this question is probably yes as the best tribute bands are often busy. However, if you want to see the band live, it’s likely that you will need to make the effort to travel to see them.

Most bands hired from DVP are hired sight-unseen (other than our promotional videos) though occasionally a buyer representing a high-end private event will come see the band. Of course, seeing a band perform live is the absolute best way to know what you’re getting.

How do I know if I’m getting “the best band for the buck”?

Not all cover bands are created equally. Many tribute bands actually have a member of the original band as part of the act. This fact can often be promoted, which can serve to elevate the status of your event and the general public’s level of interest.

For example, if your Queen Tribute band contains a former member of the actual band Queen, most people will consider this social proof that the band will be on average more talented and true-to-form than a tribute band that only features weekend warriors.

Written testimonials and especially video testimonials from previous clients can go a long way towards reassuring that you’ve made the right choice.

How can I promote the band & does the band promote themselves?

Your Promotions

Promoting a tribute band event can be a bit tricky. Photos and descriptions of the band and their show in general are okay. However, great care must be taken with any advertising that contains audio, as you are not automatically allowed to use the original band’s compositions in your ads, even when the music is performed by the tribute band, without getting the author’s permission. If you look around the internet, you’ll notice that this rule is violated all the time, but it doesn’t make it legitimate.

Don’t skirt this rule and make every effort to ensure the rest of your team as well as the band’s promotion team follow the rules.

There are two viable workarounds to this problem:

  1. Use commercially-available classic rock style music beds in your radio and other audio-centric advertising. Try to locate the closest match to the vibe. For example, if you book a “yacht-rock” act, you don’t want to use a music bed that sounds more like Iron Maiden.
  2. If the band is especially talented, they may have recorded their own original music which can be used in advertising.

The Band’s Promotions

Today, social media is one of the most important elements of show publicity. If you intend your event to draw in the public, the band you hire will effectively act as your co-publicist. If they are active and engage with their fans on social media, you can rely on them to help you promote your event. Look for unique ideas, contests and promotions in their social media posts.

Be sure to look for follow-up from previous events: audience member’s posted videos, thank-yous and testimonials. Do tag the events they play and use hashtags (e.g., #summerfest2020) in their posts? These are all clues that the band or someone associated with the band is up on social media.

Don’t purchase a band based on social media alone. Especially be wary of “fake news” as it pertains to a tribute band’s popularity in social media. For example, one Led Zeppelin tribute band might show 400K likes as compared to another Zeppelin tribute band with 80K likes.

One need only consult Pollstar (the bible of the live entertainment industry) to determine the box office winner. Nearly all legitimate touring acts who regularly perform are listed in Pollstar.

Is the band ‘fan-friendly’?

As the demand for experiential entertainment increases, one of the more recent event developments are event add-ons that can help increase your bottom-line. Many bands simply leave after the show is over, with the attendees hungry to meet the band members responsible for making the music.

An experienced and wise tribute band will offer your fans or attendees a meet-n-greet opportunity before or after the show. The band can sell their merchandise (and many events take a small cut of those sales) and increase the “stickiness” of the event with your buying public or private event attendees.

A truly promotionally-savvy band may offer an optional “VIP Experience”, a VIP-only meet with band and your ideal audience members, which you can stage before the show. DVP bands often do these private pre-show meet-n-greets, and include an acapella vocal warmup, which some fans recount as their favorite part of the show.

What’s a “rider” and why should I care?

General Riders

A rider is a document that details the requirements for booking the act, other than the fees.

A band might have one large rider or multiple riders (hospitality rider, lodging rider, technical rider, etc.), each of which you should evaluate for cost and realism. It is not unusual for bands to ask for separate rooms for each band member, as most of these band’s members are in their 40s, 50s and even 60s and 70s (the same age as your audience), depending on the act!

Most bands also need meals and “hospitality” (snacks and beverages at sound check, for example) and transportation to/from an airport. Be sure to ask if the band all arrives together, as you may need to consider multiple airport runs.

Many bands also have a publicity rider which details how the band or show is to be promoted. Even private events need to know how best to publicize the details of the show. It is a good idea to speak to the band’s publicist early in the timeline to create the most effective plan for promotion.

If the band has no full-time publicist, it’s a good idea to stick as closely as possible to the terms of the publicity rider. The most successful bands have a lengthy history of self-promotion and know what works best to incite potential attendees to buy tickets to your show.

For example, if you book a tribute band that features a former member of the actual band, it may be wise to promote the show using that band member’s pedigree, rather than lumping the band in with the rest of your tribute series.

Ideally, you will blend your promotional ideas with the band’s publicity requirements in order to arrive at the optimal PR solution for your event.

Backline Rider

The backline rider details the musical equipment that the band requires in order to do their show. A band that flies to your event will not carry their own drum set (unless you want to add another $2K for baggage fees!)

Common backline gear includes full drum kits, large professional-grade “half-stack” guitar amps (Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Blackstar, etc.) and bass guitar amps and/or cabinets (Ampeg SVTs are very common and very large!) Specific models of Les Paul or Stratocaster guitars may be included in a tech rider as backups.

Your band’s backline rider will be as specific as they want it to be. For example, if they say “half-stack guitar amp”, anything fitting that general description will satisfy the terms of the rider. DVP riders always specify specific brands and models to ensure consistency of sound.

The Technical Rider

Pay careful attention to the “tech rider”, or the band’s technical requirements. Many bands have very detailed power, lighting and sound requirements which must be taken into consideration. You don’t want to end up in dangerous situation, such as:

  • Inadequate staging – The band simply doesn’t fit on your stage.
  • Unsafe staging — Lack of guardrails on raised stages, broken stage panels, or flooded areas after Midwest rainstorms.
  • Lack of Power – Inadequate power supply with insufficient amperage or voltage fluctuations, which may cause delicate musical equipment to reboot or fail in the middle of a show.

Does the band have a good representative?

Whether you’re speaking with the band leader, a manager or a booking agent, is the band’s representative professional, caring and courteous? Or do they seem rushed, hushed and anxious to put out the next fire? Monosyllabic answers to your questions are not your friend when there are a million details to manage. Curtness can lead to disastrous misunderstandings.

You need to know that the band you’re hiring is going to show up on time for the load-in and soundcheck, not to mention for the performance itself. The more information you have, the better.

A successful event starts with easy and clear, three-way communications between you, the band’s representative, and the band themselves. If communications are challenged during the sales process, you can bet it won’t improve once they have you under contract. If you find the band’s representative to be a poor communicator, walk away early and save yourself the heartache.

Summary

If you have checked off all the above factors, the band you’re interested in passes muster and you hire them, you are very likely to present a successful, well-attended and crowd-pleasing rock tribute show. As with any complex B2B interaction, careful screening and planning, attention to detail and clear communications are your best friend.

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