What happens when Gadhafi's on your guest list?

From the "problems you probably can't wait to have" file:

Artists at all stages of audience development have discovered that house concerts, private events, and corporate bookings can often result in far more revenue than traditional club gigs. And while it's questionable about whether playing a single song at a sales conference amounts to "selling out," the practice has become an essential, fiscal reality for many of today's top touring acts.

Los Angeles Times writers Reed Johnson and Nick Rojas chronicle some of the recent frustrations of big time performers who've wound up apologizing to fans after discovering they played special concerts for family members of dictators, mafia bosses, and accused war criminals. The Gadhafi family alone has paid big bucks to book events with big stars:

  • Mariah Carey played a New Year's Eve celebration for the family in 2008,

  • Nelly Furtado delivered a quick set to the family during an Italian visit in 2007, and

  • 50 Cent remembered a private gig the Gadhafis attended many years ago.

In all three cases, the acts donated their personal appearances to human rights organizations, and other charities. The donations have placated fans, who might otherwise have found links to the besieged dictator unbecoming.

If your tour's already landing at the top of the Pollstar charts, you might find yourself getting approached by some large organizations to headline special events like fundraisers, weddings, and private parties.

Even if you're not yet pulling down seven-figure concert grosses, booking private events and house concerts should still be a part of your overall music revenue strategy. Use some of these tips to make sure you're not going to have to stare into an audience you'll regret later:

  • Talk to your manager about any hot button issues or people who might cause you embarrassment later in your career. For instance, if you're an avowed vegan, you may not want to get booked at a fur industry convention. Now's the time to really think about your perfect audience and the things that might cause them to lose faith in your authenticity.

  • Ensure that you and your manager know the background of any prospective concert hosts. Do a preliminary interview with the talent buyer, then compare your notes to public reports online and in newspapers. (When you Google your concert host, do the phrases "indicted" or "organized crime" show up a lot?)

  • Require concert hosts to run the guest list by your manager. If someone you wouldn't have approved up shows up, and they're not on the submitted list, you'll at least be able to say you didn't plan to play in front of them.

As an interesting footnote, Johnson and Rojas quote Sting, who mentions that it's sometimes more important to bring culture to an audience than to worry about where funding for a concert came from. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.