Have you ever wished you could easily and more seamlessly book yourself more gigs? That you didn’t have to go through writing the perfect pitch email or researching tons and tons of venues only to hear back that they’re all booked up (or worse, hear nothing at all?)
That’s where the Special Guest app comes in. Founded by comedian/Actor Damon Wayans Jr, and Kris Jones, this app is meant to make it easier to not only book yourself as live entertainment but find it as well.
We caught up with Kris Jones to discuss the app and find out more about how artists can use it for their own careers.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me! You’ve created a new app called Special Guest that’s meant to help musicians, comedians, and DJs find work without an agent, correct?
Yes! Special Guest was co-founded by yours truly (entrepreneur Kris Jones) and comedian / actor Damon Wayans, Jr to make it easier to find and book LIVE entertainment.
This kind of app seems like a gamechanger—why do you think something like this didn’t exist prior to Special Guest?
The entertainment industry in general and the talent booking space specifically is very old school. The industry continues to disproportionately stack the cards in favor of managed talent, while non-managed (or poorly managed) up and coming and emerging talent are left to figure it out (which makes it incredibly difficult and discouraging for most talent).
The irony of Special Guest is that the original idea for the platform came from Damon Wayans, Jr – a famous entertainer that has not only been managed since he was in his early 20’s, but grew up in a highly successful entertainment family. Ironic – isn’t it! In truth – Damon has been on the ground floor of how brutally difficult the entertainment industry is and how it treats people without connections with much less respect than they deserve.
Damon floated his idea for “a platform to help talent get paid gigs” to some of his friends and a mutual friend of Damon and myself was singer / actress Christina Milian. Christina thought Damon and I should connect because of my success building tech companies (I sold my first company to eBay). Damon and I partnered, I became the CEO, and the rest is history as they say.
That said – with regard to your question we think that other companies that exist or have existed have played the periphery of the industry and haven’t been successful at solving the fundamental problem that talent face getting paid gigs, while Special Guest is going at the heart of the problem and we are uniquely positioned to succeed. But it won’t be easy so we need talent and talent buyers to sign-up to Special Guest and call us at 877-81-TALENT to learn how you can benefit.
How did you go about differentiating Special Guest so that it could stand out amongst any competition, while still being easily accessible for its users?
Three primary differentiators. First, we launched exclusively as a mobile app. We only later launched a fully functional web app. Think Uber. The ease of use and accessibility of mobile makes the idea of an “On Demand” talent booking app a unique idea. In the same way with Uber you can click the app icon and call a car, with Special Guest you can click the app icon, discover/find talent, and send a booking request all within about 45 seconds.
Second, we launched as a marketplace. Other platforms allow buyers to list open dates and talent to bid on the opportunity. In our opinion that’s a surefire way to drive down the price of the worth of talent as they all bid to the bottom. In contrast, a marketplace (think eBay or Etsy) allows the seller (the talent) to set the price and the buyer to sort by things like availability, price, reviews, etc. This model leverages marketplace dynamics to set a fair price based on demand. This translates into the top talent (most in demand) to fetch the top price, while creating opportunities for up and coming talent to get more gigs – we think that’s the logical way to put talent in control of their destiny and drive the highest payments.
Third, we don’t charge talent anything. It’s FREE to sign-up for Special Guest, creating a talent profile is FREE, and we’ll even help talent create a profile (think talent bio, video, photos, social media, etc – here’s an example), and the app (and Special Guest team) bring booking opportunities to talent. We are unaware of anyone else in the industry working to completely upend the industry by putting talent in control and not charging them. BTW – we make money by charging the buyer to use the platform to book talent.
Our audience is primarily musicians, and as you know, it can feel frustrating to continually pour time, energy, and money into creating a career, only to come up against a wall. Can you walk us through how this app can help our artists take their career to the next level?
As mentioned above – Special Guest is a talent booking app that is 100% FREE for talent (we make money by charging buyers). For talent to be eligible for paid gigs they need to download our app or sign-up for a talent account on our website. Importantly – once talent sign-up they must create a talent profile (think of your talent profile like an EPK).
Your Special Guest Talent Profile includes your bio (use this to sell yourself based on your genre and experiences), talent categories (i.e. Musicians – Singers & Soloists – Classic Rock), pictures (headshots and performance photos), videos (LIVE performances), and social media. In short, Talent aren’t LIVE in the Special Guest Marketplace until they publish their Talent Profile. Once the Talent Profile is LIVE they become available for hire as talent buyers, event planners, and Special Guest staff place talent at establishments (bars, restaurants, clubs, music venues) and public / private events across the United States.
Unlike other platforms that require talent to “bid” for jobs, on Special Guest talent publish a rate (i.e. $300 per hr or $1,000 per gig) and buyers either hire talent directly through the Special Guest App. Our top talent have been hired over 100 times in the last 12 months so we have a large marketplace and it’s growing quickly. On average talent that get booked through Special Guest at least once get booked again within thirty days and continue to get booked a year later. In addition to being a marketplace for talent discovery and booking, Special Guest offers tools for talent to help them be more successful (and professional).
For instance, we have a feature called “Book Me Now” (here’s an example). All talent with a published talent profile have a “Book Me Now” link that they can use to get paid for any gig, even if it doesn’t originate from Special Guest. Why would talent want to use the “Book Me Now” link outside of gigs that originate from SGA? Two reasons.
First – it’s a terrific hack on our system to help talent generate ratings and reviews (i.e. the more ratings and reviews the higher talent rank in search results and filtered suggestions). Second – Special Guest streamlines the payment process for talent. Gigs that are booked on Special Guest are guaranteed since we require the buyer to deposit money prior to your gig. Once the gig is complete, payment is released so talent don’t have to wait around. This also makes the process much more efficient for the venue / buyer. The SGA payment system is super talent / venue friendly so buyers can do door splits, VS deals, and other more complex payments. It also allows for things like agreements, riders, and other details (load-in times, backline, etc) to optimize the entire talent booking process for both sides. Think of the SGA BMW tool as a way for talent to elevate their career why taking control of how many gigs they get from SGA. Win, win, win.
You’ve said that you believe this app can transform the entertainment industry, which has been (more or less) stuck in its ways for a decade. What are some of the other ways you feel the industry needs to shift and change, particularly for emerging performers who haven’t yet made their mark?
Love this question! We mentioned above that the talent booking industry disproportionately favors managed talent over up and coming, non managed talent. While we think bar and club gigs are awesome for making enough money to keep the dream alive what happens most of the time is that talent “over-gig” in a fixed geographical region.
Special Guest was designed to change over gigging. We have a program for venues called “Venue Connect.” The way it works is that Special Guest makes it much easier for all types of venues from all over the place to discover and book talent. That’s cool and saves times for talent buyers. But that’s not exactly the only thing we are up to. Venue Connect also makes it easy for talent to get discovered by buyers that wouldn’t have typically found them because buyers tend to buy local. By making it easier for talent buyers to find regional and National talent we’ve helped talent that have been playing for years (decades in some cases) in a fixed geographical region of Pennsylvania to start playing in neighboring States like New Jersey, New York, and Maryland.
In turn, this minimizes over gigging, allows talent to build a larger fan base, increases the likelihood of getting discovered, and most important – it drives up demand which increases how much talent get paid. This model is working and it’s incredible! For instance, we regularly book top East Coast talent at venues on the West Coast that use Special Guest. It’s a win, win, win and we believe longer-term it will transform the industry. BTW – we have something else in the works that is going to allow Special Guest to make certain talent on the app superstars. More on that in a few months. 🙂
I often say that being an artist is just like being an entrepreneur—you’re a business as much as you are a creative. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to anyone reading today?
Set goals and have a clear plan. Always start with what you want (your outcome) and break it into milestones over time (1 – 5 year increments).
For instance, let’s say your goal is to open for a certain headliner, perform at a certain venue, or go on tour as a professional musician with a major band. You need to have clear milestones that allow you to best position yourself to achieve your outcome over time. Too often “goals” are theoretical ideas and not actual, practical, and actionable. Go from theory to action by writing your goals down and setting as many milestones as necessary to know you are on the right track. Growth (personally and professionally) comes from having a clear direction of where you want to go and whether or not you are getting closer or further from your ultimate destination. Don’t just want or desire something – that’s not enough. Have a clear plan to get what you want and measure along the way whether or not you are getting closer or further from what you want. Correcting course along the way is totally expected and it should not discourage you – it’s life.
One other tip is to not be so hard on yourself! Success is either going to happen unexpectedly or because you worked your ass off to get what you want. You can’t necessarily plan for the unexpected so take ownership of what you can – your goals and dreams, but instead of them just being “ideas” make them actionable and clear steps closer to your ultimate destination.
What’s next for Special Guest, and what can performers look forward to as the app continues to grow?
We’ve spent the last 18 months almost exclusively focused on adding establishments like bars, restaurants, and music venues to the platform as part of the Venue Connect program. We are in the process of focusing additional resources on helping talent get gigs through private events and intimate experiences.
This is super exciting time for Special Guest because Damon and several of our celebrity investors are actively helping Special Guest take the platform mainstream. For instance, Damon mentioned recently on the Pure Grain Audio podcast with Darren Paltrowitz that Special Guest is working on a TV Show with his production company at CBS that will celebrate some of the extraordinary stories of Special Guest talent. Special Guest will be used to cast talent for the show so that’s pretty freaking awesomesauce. Talent can expect ideas like this to become a bigger part of how Special Guest helps talent as we take the company mainstream.
Discover more on Special Guest App here.