Some agents represent actors and actresses, and unless they have a department that handles variety acts and bands, they would be of no help to you.
Some other agents handle only major attractions and celebrities, and unless you’re working with a serious budget, they won’t be able to help you get a band for Aunt Sarah’s 50th anniversary party.
A variety agent is able to help you get that close-up magician, band, and sometimes even name entertainers like Reba McEntire or The Temptations. Those that specialize in variety entertainment are sometimes called “full-service” agencies.
How do you tell who is a competent agent? That’s a good question, because if you asked an agent if he’s competent he’d be a fool to say anything but “Of course!”
Having been in the entertainment business for over forty years, I’ve seen a lot of people set up shop as agents. Some last, some don’t.
A huge percentage of my business comes from people who either have used my services before or were referred by someone who has used my services.
Finding your own entertainment can be fun. I have spent years watching other acts, bands and attractions, and I never fail to enjoy it.
The internet or the Yellow Pages are a good starting place. Try using a search engine to find what you’re looking for. You’ll find listings in the Yellow Pages under entertainers, party planners, entertainment bureaus, and maybe some other categories.
Try a search for something like “bands in los angeles” or “juggler orange county” or whatever is appropriate. See what you come up with.
Beware that a beautiful website may not mean the best entertainer. Many website are not built by the entertainer and even it is, a nice-looking website does not translate to great entertainment.
Referrals from friends might be useful to you if you follow the reviewing procedures outlined below.
Watch your local newspaper for entertainers that are scheduled to appear for other groups in your area, and make it a point to catch their acts if possible. Of course, if you start going to other events, you’ll see some poor entertainment, too. (I guess it holds true that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince!) But even that can be helpful, if you are observant and make a note of what made the act good or bad.
Reviewing An Act/Band
If you’re not working with an agent, you will need to review the act yourself. There are three methods of reviewing an act: You can (1) go see the act perform live, (2) watch a video of the act, or (3) have the act come audition for you.
By far the best way is to see the act perform under roughly the same set of circumstances as your event. Seeing people perform in Las Vegas to a night-club crowd does not mean they’ll be able to perform for little Gloria’s 10th birthday party (or vice versa).
The problem with going to see live performances is that it is certainly very time consuming, and you will only be able to see a limited number of contenders before it’s time to make a decision. But on the other hand, think of the fun you’ll have!
Watching DVDs is an excellent method, as you can cover a lot of ground in an evening. Unfortunately, not all acts have DVDs or videos, and it would be a shame to eliminate a topnotch act just because they could not supply one.
Another BIG problem with video is that many acts supply a short, edited version of their act. This can be very deceptive. When reviewing an act by video, I always insist on (but don’t always get) an unedited version of the show. I never hire an act based on an edited video. I’ve heard of instances where an act was hired because they had a very powerful video, only to find that in their entire show, the only part that was any good was those few minutes on the video.
Don’t be overly impressed by a DVD or video of a movie appearance, guest spot on a TV show, or commercial. That still does not mean they can do the job you want them for.
Unless you’re an agent, you can just about forget about having the act audition for you. Maybe an act will drop off literature. In the case of a magician, mime, or similar variety act, you may receive a short demonstration. However, this small segment along with its glib pitch can be very deceiving.