How to Start an Entertainment Production Company
Maybe you’ve just finished film school or graduated with a degree in theater arts. Maybe you’ve recorded some of your friends’ albums or found success with a small YouTube channel. Very few people get to say that their hobby is also their job, but if you start an event production company, this dream could turn into a reality.
Luckily, entertainment production companies aren’t really that difficult to start. You can scale your operation from a bedroom enterprise to a full-fledged media behemoth. In this world, vision and creativity are king.
As an entertainment producer, you’ll be producing entertainment. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is. The umbrella of entertainment production encompasses a lot of different industries. You’ll need to pick a focus before you can move forward. Most event production companies focus on one of the following:
- Music production
- Film and TV production
- Radio production
- Theater production
- Event production
These businesses are wildly different. For example, if you’re running a music production studio, you’ll be cutting records with bands and artists. Though music studios may have recording spaces that can host podcasts, podcasts and radio segments are usually done in specific radio production studios.
A film and TV production studio may work on TV pilots, shorts, feature-length films, web series, music videos and even commercials or branded advertisements. Theater production companies put on plays, and event producers put together everything from live concerts and festivals to weddings and corporate events.
There’s no playbook when it comes to an entertainment production company. The one thing that holds true is that regardless of what you do, you need to find a niche. Don't believe it? Take a look at two of the most successful entertainment companies in the world: Disney and WarnerMedia.
Both Disney and WarnerMedia own various offshoots that produce very specific types of entertainment. This allows them to have a hard focus, smooth operations and a clear brand image. For Disney, this includes the acquisition of Lucasfilm, the film company that produces all the "Star Wars_"_ movies, and Marvel Entertainment LLC, which produces the Marvel comic books and the related movies and TV series. WarnerMedia operates both Warner Brothers Entertainment, a film and TV production company, and Warner Brothers Records, a record label, and it also owns HBO, which produces original series of its own.
Of course, WarnerMedia and Disney are some of the richest companies in existence, so you probably want to choose just one specific niche if you’re starting out. If you want to jump into the world of music production, focus on one type of music to really home in on your chops. If you’re launching an event production company, specialize in either weddings and corporate events or live music. In the same way that Lucasfilms made the "Star Wars_"_ franchise its bread and butter, a niche will help you gain brand recognition and customer trust, plus you can always expand once your brand is recognizable.
Location can make or break a business, and your location should depend on the type of entertainment you want to produce. For example, New York and Los Angeles are hubs when it comes to film and TV, Nashville is known as being the heart of country music and Chicago has a booming comedy scene. People specifically travel to these cities to work in these industries, so you’ll be able to foster connections much quicker and draw from a greater pool of talent than if you opened a TV production studio in rural Wisconsin, for example.
Event production and theater operate a little differently. The industries aren’t tied to a specific location, and you may find success with a traveling theater troupe or opening a local community theater company in a small town without many arts programs. A wedding entertainment company might do better in states like New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania, where couples tend to spend a larger portion of their income on nuptials, than it will in Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama, where couples tend to spend the least amount.
All businesses will need general liability insurance and workers' compensation insurance if they have employees, but there are additional plans you should purchase based on the type of entertainment production company you’re launching. This may include:
- Professional liability insurance: Wedding planners and concert producers are often blamed for failed events. Sometimes, production schedules get delayed. Accidents happen, so this type of insurance will protect your company if an unhappy customer sues for damages.
- Commercial property insurance: Most entertainment production companies have a wealth of expensive gear. You should definitely pick up a policy that protects your business’s property but also look into additional coverage that protects your equipment in transit or on location outside of your official headquarters.
- Event liability insurance: Whether you’re putting on a theater production, a concert or a corporate event, live events are unpredictable. You need an insurance plan that will specifically protect your business if one of your employees damages something on the job or someone is injured during your event.
- Commercial auto insurance: Theater, film, TV and event production companies typically use vans filled with equipment that drive from location to location. You’ll need a commercial auto policy in case one of your employees injures someone in a company vehicle.
- Alcohol liability insurance: If you’re producing events that serve alcohol, you will need alcohol liability insurance.
In addition to a business license, the permits and licenses you’ll need for an entertainment production company vary depending on the city and state. This could include:
- Noise permits
- Fire permits
- Alcohol permits
- Health permits (especially if you’re serving food)
- Building permits (this is often needed to erect large tents)
- Filming permits
- Street closure permits
- Raffle and bingo permits
Film and TV production companies will typically have to apply for a permit if they film in a public location like a street, park or municipal building. For example, New York City permits are issued by the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and offer free police assistance and parking to theater companies and film crews. It costs $300, but if you’re using a hand-held camera and don’t want exclusive use of a park or public walkway, you may not need a permit at all.
The permits for events like live music, weddings, theater or corporate events are even more varied, especially if you plan to serve alcohol. For example, any event held in a New York City park needs a permit if more than 20 people will be in attendance. You can visit your city’s website to find out which permit is required for your business.
Equipment is often the most expensive part of launching an entertainment production studio. This can range from things like tables, chairs, speakers and extension cords to expensive recording gear, professional-quality cameras and lighting worth thousands of dollars.
You’ll have to either purchase your equipment up front or find a solid rental company, but weigh the pros and cons. Sometimes, maintaining equipment can be more costly in the long run than simply renting it. You may opt to have a storage unit filled with basics and rent additional gear as needed.
If you’re running an entertainment production studio, odds are you’ll need some helping hands. Scour arts colleges for emerging talent, advertise openings online and hold interviews and reach out to friends and family with creative flair and technical skills. Once you have some talent on board, you can start advertising to the masses.
In a creative field like entertainment production, word of mouth is typically the best way to get new customers. Unfortunately, this is really difficult when you’re just starting out. Before you land your first customers, sign up for Yelp, Google My Business and the like.
Some websites like The Knot also have specific sections for wedding vendors. Services like Soundcloud and Vimeo let music production studios and film production studios showcase their work. If you have no experience, consider doing work at a discounted rate or for free to build your company’s portfolio.