March 25, 2021

How to Run Payroll for Live Events

Anna Keizer
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What do concerts, festivals, fashion shows, and other live events have in common?

The people who set up, coordinate, and execute them need to get paid. That means the sound engineers, production designers, stage managers, and anyone else with a role in making your live event come to life.

We’re going to break down the steps of how to run payroll for live events from choosing your business name to finding competent live event payroll vendors. We’ll even get into ensuring all employee and contractor hire documents are in order for a smooth payment experience.

1. Incorporate a Business

Before any live event planning or live event staffing begins, incorporate your business. While the reasons for incorporating may vary, one of the most important ones is that it will limit your personal liability, which is key when dealing with multiple employees, contractors, vendors, clients and other types of financial contracts.

Protect yourself from potential liability issues by incorporating your live event business.

Ahead of filing the paperwork to incorporate, here are some factors to consider:

Business Name

Perhaps you already have the perfect name in mind for your business. Before getting too attached, make sure it hasn’t already been taken by another company or corporation. Unfortunately, no two businesses in the same state can have the same name. Also, when coming up with a name, it’s mandatory to end it with the fully spelled out or abbreviated version of “corporation,” “incorporated,” or “company.” 

Decision Makers

When incorporating a business, you will be required to list your incorporator—the person handling all the paperwork during the process of incorporation. You’ll also be asked to list the directors who essentially decide what the goals of the company will be and delegate responsibilities to others to carry out those goals. Though they do not necessarily have to be, often the directors are the business owners.

Business Owners 

Speaking of business owners, when a business is incorporated, those individuals are also technically shareholders. When filing to incorporate, you’ll be asked to document the number of stock shares your company can issue. How do you know how many shares your business should have? Though the considerations that go into this decision may differ from company to company, it typically comes down to the business valuation, the inclusion of an employee stock ownership program and current and future investor interest.

Business Address

Every incorporated business needs to have an address on file where its mail is received. While technically a personal home address can be used, consider setting up a PO Box address instead to avoid potential security and privacy issues down the road.  

Physical Address 

Wait, didn’t we just go over this? For the purposes of having an incorporated business, no. An actual street address is likewise required—and must be within the state where the business is incorporated—so it’s on record where legal documents such as lawsuit paperwork can be sent if necessary. The physical address on record might also be referred to as the registered office.

2. Find Live Event Payroll Vendors

Your business is incorporated. Congratulations!

But don’t pull the trigger just yet on your live event production staffing. Though you’ll certainly wear many hats as a business owner, handling payroll for your live event employees and contractors doesn’t have to be one of them. Especially given the intricacies of wage payment laws, leave how to run payroll for live events to the experts: actual live event payroll vendors.

Save yourself time and energy by working with a full-service live event payroll vendor.

What is a live event payroll company?

In the most general sense, it’s a company that manages all the payroll activities for a business. That includes filing the appropriate paperwork for employees, contractors and vendors, making sure each gets paid in a timely manner and even handling special payroll issues such as unemployment, overtime, and workers compensation.

While many business owners may have working knowledge of how to manage payroll, taking on those responsibilities while also trying to pull off a live event can prove more taxing than it’s worth. Especially when you’re overseeing critical factors such as the logistics of your event, the talent performing for it and the crew bringing it to fruition, do you also want to add to your plate having to dole out paper checks or remembering to issue direct deposit payments?

That’s when a live event payroll vendor can prove an invaluable asset by handling those payroll needs and allowing you to focus on the other elements that will make or break your live event. 

While some live event payroll vendors may be able to handle several areas of payroll management, consider Wrapbook, which has an all-in-one suite of payroll services that you can quickly and conveniently manage from your computer or phone.

how to run payroll for live events - flexible payout options - wrapbook
Wrapbook gives you flexible payout options.

As you move forward with your live event staffing, Wrapbook can see to it that any and all of your employment needs are efficiently and accurately handled. Wrapbook includes more than 100 different features to ensure that you never need worry about how to run payroll for live events.

Check out this video demo to see how.

3. Create a Budget

The success of any business, live events included, hinges on solid budgeting. For live events in particular, an accurate budget for all elements of business is critical, as the nature of this business has many moving parts.

Actualizing a budget for your live event and all of the moving parts.

Consider Key Expenses

Before trying to tackle the payroll needs for any event itself, consider other substantial expenses, such as the perennial costs for the business’s office or other rental spaces. Or perhaps the marketing expenses to promote the business and its events. And what about the payroll needs for the year-round employees and contractors who keep the business running regardless of time of year or events happening. 

All of these expenses fall under a business’s operating budget. 

Then you have the budget for the actual live event. Live event planning requires budgeting for a host of different needs, including production design, transportation, equipment rentals, catering and more. However, one of the most significant and necessary monetary figures that every business owner must assess and include in their live event budget is the payroll expense for employees and contractors brought on specifically for said events.

Given all the different budgeting balls that a business owner might have in the air at any given time, it again can prove beneficial to remove the live event payroll ball from the equation and let the experts handle it instead.

Payroll as Percentage of Budget

It’s important to keep in mind that when determining employee expenses, you’re not just factoring in their income. It should likewise include overtime, holiday pay, unemployment taxes, workers compensation, reimbursements and benefits.

Factoring in workers compensation is especially important, as any number of accidents can occur during the set up, execution and tear down of a live event. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a slip and fall or head bump can quickly turn both dangerous and costly should the person in question require medical care for a sprained back necessitating physical therapy or a concussion resulting in mandatory time off work. 

Most states require workers compensation insurance, but even if you’re planning a live event in a state that does not, it cannot be overestimated how important having insurance is for not only the safety of all people working during the live event, but also for the future security of your business. While speaking to an insurance broker is always a smart move, some live event payroll vendors such as Wrapbook can also help with a business’s workers compensation needs. 

Overall, what percentage of your budget can you expect to have payroll take up? On average, anywhere from 18 to 52 percent.

Budget & Payroll Mistakes

Approximately 40 percent of small to mid-sized businesses are hit with incorrect payroll filing penalties each year. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can avoid being one of those businesses when you leave how to run payroll for live events in the hands of a trusted vendor that specializes in that very type of payment service.

Some of the biggest errors a business can make that both impact their payroll budget and can lead to IRS penalties include incorrectly classifying employees and contractors, processing your payroll with the wrong state and miscalculating overtime. When you use a trusted vendor, though, you have at your fingertips a resource that knows how to run payroll for live events—including how to avoid these types of mistakes.

Financial Tools

Even with a live event payroll vendor at your service, it never hurts to have ready financial tools to ensure that you’re setting up your business budget for success. 

Wrapbook offers a budget calculator that can quickly and easily help you determine your labor costs.

It can also prove a huge benefit to your company to have other financial and budgetary tools like up-to-date accounting software, expense tracking and a business credit card to manage not only your payroll but also the entirety of your budget health.

4. Determine Employee Versus Contractor

What is a live event payroll company for if not to sort out the details of an employee versus contractor, right? 

While true that such a company can be helpful in that regard, as a business owner it’s still important to understand the fundamental differences between these categories, as it may impact both your payroll budget and the live event production staffing process.

Federal & State Labor Laws

Before you bring on labor for a live event, consider the federal and state labor laws that define who an employee is versus a contractor. Some of these factors include the duration of the working relationship and how essential that person’s role is to the company’s overall success.

Let’s say you’re bringing on experienced managers for live event staff. Are they employees or contractors? Before making a unilateral decision that may later turn out to be incorrect, check with state laws relevant to where that person will be working. 

Keep in mind that even if you become well-versed in the employment laws of the state where your business is incorporated and full-time staff works, those laws may be vastly different in another state where you’re hiring for a local live event. Feels overwhelming, right? Again, you don’t have to go it alone. Live event payroll vendors are experts in this field, making the decision to use one for your live event payroll needs one that can save you time, money and worry.  

Union Members

It’s critical to keep in mind the considerations of hiring union members regardless of whether they are part of the talent for your live event or the crew involved in the live event planning and execution. Should you not bring on a trusted vendor, this particular aspect of how to run payroll for live events can become especially confusing and potentially problematic.

Union members are typically hired at a higher rate than someone who does not belong to one. In addition, the hire of union members generally comes with other stipulations such as set working hours, working conditions, residual pay, and so on. That being said, union members often come with greater experience and expertise, which can make for a smoother-running and more successful live event, making their hire worth the added expense and considerations.

Local Hires

Part of how to run payroll for live events should always include finding legitimate ways to lower expenses. Hiring local talent and technicians is one key action you can take to improve your financial bottom-line.

Let’s say your business and day-to-day dealings take place in a city such as Los Angeles or New York, but you’re planning a live event in Omaha or Nashville. Rather than flying in your talent or crew from those cities and having to pay for their room, board, and other necessities in addition to their salaries, you can hire locals to get the job done.

Hiring locally can also be of benefit for seasonal live events. These are extremely common. Global entities like Live Nation frequently post about needing seasonal Live Nation event staff for their on-and-off hiring needs.

Another reason to seek local talent and crew for your live events? Avoid confusing legalities. 

Live event businesses have to take into account payroll implications that more traditional businesses—where the employees work at a single location 365 days a year—do not. 

But trying to navigate the employment and wage payment laws for individuals who live in one state and work in another can get frustrating fast. 

So don’t. 

Cut out the middleman and hire locally instead.

If you’re still hesitant to bring on board local hires because you’re not sure what the payroll implications and wage laws may be for the state in question, that’s exactly what live event payroll vendors are for! 

Your vendor is also an expert resource you can go to for answers to any and all payroll questions.

5. Get Onboarding Information

Understanding how to run payroll for live events becomes a lot easier when you have a vendor like Wrapbook that can collect all necessary onboarding documents in a single secure place that’s accessible from any computer or phone. That being said, you may need to communicate to potential employees and contractors exactly what documents are required of them, so it never hurts to get familiar with each of the standard hiring forms.

Just throw in a few details on who you’d like to pay, and Wrapbook will generate the necessary startwork and execute on it. 

how to run payroll for live events - onboarding - wrapbook
Easily track and manage your hires' paperwork.

You can track the status of your forms whenever you want. From I-9’s, W-4’s, W-9’s, and more. 

View the demo here.

Form W-9

Seasonal labor like the Live Nation event staff we mentioned typically fall under the contractor category, which would require them to complete the standard IRS Form W-9. This document, a request for taxpayer identification number and certification, is mandatory for all contractors to complete and submit to payroll in order to process their payments.

Form W-4

This particular IRS form is required of all business employees so that their employer knows exactly how much in taxes they should take from each paycheck. Because this form takes into consideration life events such as having a baby or getting married, it’s important that it is revisited each year if updates are necessary.

Form I-9

Every employee will likewise need to fill out and submit the IRS Form I-9, which verifies their identity and certifies that they are authorized for employment in the United States. It’s important to keep in mind that this form must be completed by U.S. citizens and non-citizens.

Other Documents

Pending the nature of the hire, you may need an employee or contractor to submit other required paperwork such as background check documentation or an employee agreement. As with all other onboarding paperwork, it’s vital as a business owner to be aware before the hiring process of what documents will be needed for each labor hire to ensure that all rules, regulations and laws are abided by.

6. Set Up Payment Schedule

We’re finally at one of the last key tasks involved in how to run payroll for live events: determining the payment schedule for your hires. While you may have in mind a particular schedule that you feel works best for your company’s needs, be sure to check first with all federal and state labor laws. Multiple states have in place regulations regarding how frequently an employer must pay their employees, and those stipulations can vary depending on the state, the industry in which the company does business and the size of that business.

Pay Periods

Pay periods are the standard for most employees. More often than not, the most common pay period is bimonthly, meaning that an employee is paid twice within a single month. The dates set for payment often fall on the 1st and 15th of each month or every two weeks according to another set date. However, even for temporary or seasonal contractors, having a pay period in place could be needed should they be hired for more than a few weeks.

Pro tip - use digital timecards and pay people faster.

how to run payroll for live events - timecards - wrapbook
Digital timecards make life easier for you and your cast & crew.

In Wrapbook, your staff can fill out timecards on their profiles, and those cards are automatically sent to your project dashboard. There, you can approve, edit, or even decline them. As an admin you can choose from unique overtime options and enter dual rates if ever necessary.

Employment Duration

If you have a contractor who is part of a live event for perhaps less than a week, a single payment might make the most sense for your business. If your live event is planned for several weeks or more, you may be required by law to pay via a regular period as you would an employee. Whatever decision is made with a temporary hire, it’s key that they are made aware of the payment schedule ahead of time to avoid any miscommunications or grievances.

Wrapping Up

The decision to incorporate a business for live event planning comes with a host of responsibilities, and how to run payroll for live events is only one of them.

While it’s in the best interest of every business owner to educate themselves on payroll management, having a dedicated live event payroll vendor to handle this integral part of your business comes with several advantages. 

Not only can you better concentrate on the live event planning and staffing that will have a significant impact on the success of your events, but you can better ensure that those working for your success will be more loyal when paid fairly and accurately for the duration of their hire. 

Get in touch with us to remove the legal complexities that paying and onboarding live event staff often comes with. 

Last Updated 
March 25, 2021


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Anna Keizer

Anna Keizer originally hails from the Chicagoland area. After receiving her B.A. in Film/Video from Columbia College Chicago, she moved to California and finished her M.A. in Film Studies from Chapman University. She has also graduated from UCLA’s Writing for Television Professional Program and is currently in post-production on the short She Had It Coming, which she wrote and is executive producing.

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