FAKE REVIEWS

Even the most wary shopper can fall prey to some of the tricks and traps that abound in our business, resulting in wasted money, or perhaps a ruined event. One of those tricks was pointed out to me by a prospective client. “I found a band with over a hundred glowing reviews on WeddingWire, but when I looked at the entire last year on that band’s Facebook page, they showed only four or five pictures of the band members performing together. And many of their online photos seem to be from the same performance. Any idea what gives?”

The first possible explanation that comes to mind is the recent Yelp fake review scandal (see the Fortune Magazine article) where nineteen companies in New York were heavily fined for selling fake Yelp reviews. This was not an isolated incident - 19 companies in New York alone made a business of writing and selling fake reviews. The exact same thing could be happening to Wedding Wire and Knot reviews. No intention to disparage either of these reputable companies, but fake reviews are a growing problem, and it calls for a healthy dose of skepticism on the part of the wedding or entertainment shopper. Here’s another article on the same topic, in Linkedin Pulse.

TRICKS AND TRAPS EXPOSED

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FRANCHISED WEDDING BANDS

If you’re shopping for bands, you need to be aware of exactly what franchised bands are. The best way we can explain them is through the story of Jeremy.

Brides, picture this… You’ve been using eHarmony or Match.com, and then OMG you find this totally gorgeous guy named Jeremy, with a profile that couldn’t be more perfect. You communicate with him through the site and then by phone and email, but you haven’t yet met him in person because you’re both so busy. Life is good. Then one day, on a whim, you decide to search the same dating site for a nearby city, where you’ve had a new job offer.

Hold up… there’s Jeremy’s photo, but… it says “Seth.” His profile is word-for-word the same as Jeremy’s! wtf. Your mind races. Before you go ballistic, you search another nearby city, and there’s Jeremy’s photo and profile again, but now his name is “Sean.”  W.T.F.  You feel yourself fighting tears. So you clock out early for lunch and go to Starbucks alone, where you search several distant cities, and find Jeremy’s picture staring back at you from cities as far as three thousand miles away. David. Jason. Josh. Brandon.

Barely holding back tears, you text “Jeremy” and ask him to meet you in person this evening. You’re concerned enough to  ask a male friend to come along. Long story short, you find out that his real name is indeed Jeremy, but he looks only vaguely like the pictures you’ve seen of him, and not in a positive way. You demand an explanation. It turns out that this poseur purchased a male model head shot, a bunch of selfies by that male model, and a guaranteed-perfect profile description from a company in New York that sells them for the purpose of attracting women. He knew full well that guys in other cities might be using the identical package of photos. You are devastated.

It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit.  Noel Coward

A second possible explanation is found here... A common question prospective clients ask band leaders is “How long have your current band members been performing together?” This is a fair question, because it relates to the band’s stability and the likelihood the group will still be the same at the time of their event. If a band has a big problem with turnover, or never uses the same set of musicians twice, they would be reluctant to show that on Facebook. It could be very bad for their business.

Another prospective client told me that he was so suspicious of the same band mentioned above, that he Googled the names, wedding dates and venues of the “brides” who wrote five-star reviews of them. He couldn’t find most of them. Then he did the same with reviews of Retrospect and some other bands, and found by contrast that most other bands’ reviews were verifiable. Here’s an interesting blog post on this, by Brett of  Birdsong Photography.

Welcome to the tangled web of franchised wedding bands. They are Jeremy. And Seth, Jason, Sean and Brandon. But instead of attracting women on eHarmony and Match.com, they’re attracting brides on Wedding Wire and The Knot. Most of them get their identical websites, inflated resumes, identical photos, identical videos, identical demo CD tracks, and even identical fake reviews from their parent corporation in New York. Online, each band can look all professional and hip, and each can convince you that they’ll sound exactly like Adele, Maroon 5 and Beyonce in concert together.

The corporate headquarters assigns each city’s franchise band a different name, so each one can pretend to be a small, local, independent and self-managed group – an image that many clients find attractive.

Is this real? You bet it’s real. Is this consumer fraud? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. If ten bands scattered around the world use identical CD tracks and identical videos, all performed and recorded by somebody else – that seems pretty sketchy. If those ten bands have word-for-word identical websites, all claiming they play worldwide, but mainly in [insert town name here] that seems equally shady.

To wrap your head around this, you really need to see it, so here are links to the websites of ten actual franchised bands. Click on two or more to see for yourself. You have to see it to believe it.

Parody ad for a fictional wedding band franchisor called Puppet Master Bands

We expect ads like this to start appearing soon.

To show that the reviews on our client page are indeed real,
 Retrospect includes photos of the couples. And our Facebook
 page has over a thousand photos of us performing at real
 weddings and events. There’s no fakery in our reviews.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTIOM

www.BluewaterKingsBand.com   Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis
www.HawaiianWedding.Band   Honolulu
www.DiamondEmpireBand.com  Denver, St Louis, Salt Lake City
www.BlueLionBand.co.uk  London, Manchester
www.BakerBoysBand.com.au   Sydney, Perth

www.BachelorBoysBand.com   Baltimore, Washington DC
www.EmeraldEmpireBand.com   Atlanta, Charleston
www.BayKingsBand.com   Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville
www.SilverArrowBand.com   New York, Boston
www.RoyalDukesBand.com   Dallas, Austin, New Orleans

All these identical websites and videos naturally lead someone to be skeptical about the free demo CDs etc offered on every site. If they are all identical CDs recorded by somebody else, why bother to send for one? Meanwhile, if you continue to see that fraud Jeremy – or if you fall in love with one of the many franchised wedding bands based on a cloned website, an inflated resume, a bogus video and a bogus demo CD, prepare to cry your eyes out.

Here’s another article on this exact same topic in Linkedin Pulse.

This ugly practice may have been eradicated, but then everybody thought that about tuberculosis too. If you get one of these calls, do not – DO NOT under any circumstances – accept the agent's explanation. Demand a full refund immediately, plus a full explanation in writing, and get back on the phone to other bands or other agents. (You kept your notes, right?) If this happens to you, please file a complaint with the county consumer protection office where the agency is based.

 If ten bands in ten different cities
each send out demo CDs with
identical tracks, all performed
and recorded by somebody else,
that seems pretty sketchy.
Is it consumer fraud? You decide.

COMMISSIONS

How much money goes to the band, and how much to the agency? The standard has always been a steep 20% commission to the agency. But some bands allow their agent to keep any amount he can get from you, above an agreed net price. Realize that the net might be as low as fifty percent of the agent's quote to you, meaning there may be some price flexibility. But how can you know? At some agencies, you can figure that the advance deposit percentage is the agency’s cut. The explanation for this practice is somewhat involved, so jump three paragraphs ahead if you’re not at all curious.

Some states – Maryland used to be one of these – require an “Employment Agency” license to operate an entertainment agency. But in Maryland, there was an exemption from this requirement if the agency did not actually handle the money paid to the entertainers. So to take advantage of the loophole, agents would take their 20% commission as the advance deposit with the contract, and ask the client to pay the balance to the band directly on the night of the performance. Clients were asked to make the final check payable to the band leader, not to the agency. Okay, that was a legal and fair system.

DIRTY TRICKS

What if the first entertainment agent you contact tells you a certain band is already booked on your date, but then the SECOND agent you call says they're available? Why would this happen? To keep you from considering another agent's band (or an independent band like us) an unethical agent –  the first one – may tell you that he knows the band is booked on your date, even though he knows that's a lie. Or he may tell you they're out of your price range, even if they're not. You can't check up on his veracity if you're sitting in his office, and now he's greatly increased the chance you'll sign one of his bands today before you leave the office! Don’t get taken – never never sign a contract on the spot. Take it home, do more research, then decide whether you should sign. More of this type of deception is discussed on our page For Band Leaders Only.

FILE THIS AWAY, JUST IN CASE

At one time, it was a common practice in our area for an unscrupulous entertainment agent to book a band into more than one wedding on a given Saturday night, knowing full well that they couldn't possibly be two places at once. In reality, the agent would put one of the events on a different band's schedule, never telling either band leader what he was doing to them.





Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't going away Competition is always a good thing.  It forces us to do our best.  A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.  Nancy Pearcey

INVISIBLE CONTRACTS

Some agents or bands may not want you taking home their contract to look it over before signing, so they won't email it to you. There is no reasonable justification for this. Insist on having the contract mailed or emailed to you, so you can read the fine print carefully. As mentioned elsewhere, some vendors will go so far as to tell you there is no written contract, just whatever was discussed in an email exchange. Best to walk away from that.

TIME PRESSURE

You’ve expressed interest in one particular band. A week or so later, the seller calls you in the morning to say that another customer is looking at that same band tonight, so you'd better book today, if you don't want to lose this band. Yeah, right, it might be true, but it probably isn't. This is just a time-honored pressure tactic to get you to sign on the dotted line and fork over the deposit right away. But it’s quite transparent, isn’t it? Don't fall for it.

NOT DIRTY TRICKS

Here’s an almost identical-sounding situation, that’s totally different in reality, and not really a trap, but more of a misunderstanding on your part. The first agent you contact tells you a certain band is available, but then on the same day a second agent says they’re not available. This may be the reason… Did you express an interest in the band, and allow the first agent to put a “hold” on them? Putting a hold on a band for your date seems like a smart move, until you realize that the option is offered only to keep you from shopping around or looking for a better price on the same band. If you call a different agency after requesting a “hold,” they won't be willing to quote you a price, because that band really is unavailable for your date... which is because… the first agency is holding the band out of circulation... for YOU! Oops.

PRICING TRICKS

Realize that an agent may not start by quoting his best price. It may be the highest price he thinks you might accept. And the expression “a $10,000 band” does not necessarily mean that the band regularly get that price. It usually refers to the most they've ever made for one night, possibly a five hour convention party for two thousand guests in another city. Don't compare apples and oranges. You're not asking for that same party, and you certainly don't want to be their all-time highest paying client, do you?

An agent may try to entice you with a big discount for your weekday or afternoon or Sunday event. Don't be impressed. Everybody gets this discount. It's just a clever way to put a positive spin on the fact that entertainment prices are usually higher on Saturday evenings, and lower the whole rest of the week.

At least it was fair until certain agents figured out that (1) many bands were willing to play gigs without seeing the written contract involved, and (2) certain round numbers could be easily manipulated to disguise the real amount of the commission. If a band was going out for $5,000 and their agent took his 20% commission by taking a 20% deposit, the band picked up the $4,000 balance at the performance.

But the agent was sometimes able to sell the same band for $6,000. So all he had to do was take a 33% deposit to disguise the fact that he was taking far above the agreed commission. Then the band still picked up a $4,000 balance check at the end of the night, never knowing that their agent doubled his own take behind their backs. It was my impression that some band leaders knew what was going on, but none were willing to sue their own agent for breach of contract.

Just know that still today, if the agent asks you to pay the balance directly to the band, that’s probably what the band really makes, and the deposit is his commission amount.

A big discount for your weekday
or afternoon or Sunday event
is just a clever way to put a
positive spin on the fact that
entertainment prices are usually
 higher on Saturday evenings,
and lower the whole rest of the week.


Unfortunately, these con artists were seldom caught. What bride would dare question the white knight riding in to save the damsel in distress? Some really unscrupulous agents did this to other agents' bands to ruin their reputations. The band leader never knew any of this until much later, when he heard through the grapevine that he had supposedly no-showed a client.

A few days before the wedding, the agent would call one of the two brides, and invent a story about the band being snow-bound somewhere far away, or the band just broke up, or whatever story was believable at the time. To be certain the agent would come out smelling like a rose, he would then offer to “save the day” by pretending to get another band on short notice, claiming it was a higher-priced group that had a last-minute cancellation, but that he would “take a loss” and send them out at the same price.

Next: For Band Leaders Only

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WeddingWire.com  
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,
2014 , 2015, 2016 and 2017  
“Couple’s Choice” awards.

Washingtonian Magazine
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017
  “Best Wedding Vendor”
 awards.

Larry Elliott, band leader
3429 Huntsman’s Run
Ellicott City, MD  21042
301-438-2400           
Larry@RetrospectBand.com

© 2017 Retrospect Band

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