How do you book artists to perform at The Kenley Amphitheater?

Our most asked question! Everyone wants to know how we book artists to perform at The Kenley Amphitheater as part of Summer Nights with the Stars. On our podcast, we recently interviewed our Executive Director, Tessa, and asked her to break it down for us. Check out her interview below!

Q: Can you explain the process of booking artists?

A: Every artist is represented by an agency so the first step for me is to get in touch with their agent. For most artists, except for the very largest, what happens is the agency has a regional representative who I will end up working with to do the booking.

So starting pretty early, I get in touch with agents. I pitch them some people I am interested in and they pitch me some people who are on tour this summer that they are hoping to get dates for. 

There’s not a central catalog of who is available at any given moment. It would be so much easier if that were the case. But there is no set way to find out who is available, when they are available, or how much they cost, other than talking to their agent. So just getting in touch with them is pretty much the whole process on my end.

I went to a booking conference in New York at the beginning of January which was a great chance to meet up with some of the agents in person. I got to see some of the artists perform. I  got to interact with a lot of those people face to face. After that conference, I sent in offers on several of the artists I had seen perform live or talked with the agents about. 

An offer is a two-page document that says who we are, who the artist is, what day we want them to come, how much we are willing to pay them, and what other things we cover (like hotel rooms, sound, and lights). It also includes how much we think the tickets will cost and any venue rules (like no alcohol).

Q: So it’s a big puzzle?

A: It is. So after the offer is submitted, the agent will usually say, “I’ll be back to you soon.” And “back to you soon” can mean anywhere from later the same day to two months from now.

Q: So, you have to hold out hope they accept your offer but also be making other offers at the same time?

A: Exactly. And the agents are ultimately salespeople and they want to sell their product. So they will tell me the artist is available and interested, but until the agent says, “It’s confirmed,” nothing is set in stone. I’ve had a couple of people who I thought I had in the bag but they ended up going somewhere else. But when the agent does get back to me and says, “Let’s confirm,” those are the happiest words!

Q: How did you decide who you wanted to go for? Are you looking for booking a diverse season? Are you booking groups you personally want to see? Do you consult with anyone?

A: All of the above. I looked at the last few seasons to see who we’ve brought and what people liked. I’m a data-driven person and I took all of the shows we’ve done for the last eight years and pulled the ticket data on all of them. Then I listed the top 50 acts and looked at who has sold out and who has almost sold out over the last few years. That gives me an idea of the shows people like and want to see. Our audiences have diverse tastes. It seems like the biggest common factor is they like a good show. 

We’ve also taken audience suggestions at a couple of concerts over the past couple of years. I looked at that list and that is how we came up with REO Speedwagon because a lot of people had requested them over the years. 

As I said, I saw some people perform at the booking conference I went to and that is how I found some artists I was interested in. Sometimes agents will send me an artist and say they are going to be going through your area (called routing). They also send their artist page and YouTube videos and say, “If you are interested, let me know.” That’s how I find some of our regular season artists. 

And there were definitely a couple that I wanted to see. I wanted to see Broadway Princess Party because I’ve been a huge fan of Susan Egan for a long time. 

Q: How do you set the price of the shows?

A: Faith, trust, and pixie dust! Just kidding. The starting place is the artist fee, but that’s not all that goes into a concert. Usually, the artists are from out of town and need somewhere to stay, so we provide hotel rooms. Sometimes we have our hotel sponsors comp the rooms, but sometimes we have to pay for them. 

We provide transportation, sound engineering, lighting design, catering and hospitality, and technical direction. There is so much going on behind the scenes in addition to just what is going on onstage. So all of that goes into the price of the ticket. As a non-profit, we are lucky because we can get corporate sponsorships to offset the costs and keep the ticket prices as low as possible. 

From there we need to look at potential turnout and ensure that we make back the money we spend so that we can continue this in the future. We look at the number of seats we have and divide the artist fee by that. We do a little extra maneuvering because some seats are more expensive and some are less expensive. So we take all that into account and produce the gross potential for the show. Ideally, that is a little bit more than the artist’s costs to cover all of the other costs that are associated with the show. I have a very large Excel spreadsheet that does a lot of the math for me!

Did you learn anything new?

Phew! That’s a lot of information but we hope it answers all of your questions about how we book the artists and set the ticket prices for every show. Check out our events calendar for all of our upcoming Summer Nights with the Stars events!