For many artists, booking agents are a logical first or second team member to bring on board. Playing live is a huge part of how most artists earn an income, build a fan base, and gain press coverage.
When you start booking your own shows, you’ll quickly realize how difficult and time consuming it can be. Researching venues, organizing bills, tracking down promoters, negotiating, and promoting is literally a full-time job.
At a certain point in an artist’s career, these things are typically handled by others. The booking and negotiations are handled by a booking agent, manager and a promoter. The show itself is handled by a promoter and a publicist, and the technical details are worked out by a technical team and a manager.
Ah. What a beautiful thing. This is what I mean: If you’re booking your own tours and shows, there is simply no way you can do it as effectively as an entire team of people doing it.
This is why artists want and have booking agents. They identify where you should be playing, who you should be playing with, and do most of the legwork for you. It’s also beneficial to have someone handle negotiations. Experienced agents can almost certainly get you a better deal.
If you’ve identified an agent as a team member you want to bring on board, read on.
Are You Ready For An Agent?
You may want a booking agent, but wanting one and being ready for one are two different things. For many years, my band and I hounded agents to come out to our shows, but we never got the response we were looking for. We weren’t ready.
When will you be ready for an agent? Consider the following.
Your Show Needs To Be Whip Tight
Like seriously. It needs to be all there. Your show should have transitions, or at least a general vibe and theme. There should not be obvious, show-stopping mistakes. You should be road-testing your show and constantly editing and revising it. There are so many artists out there, your show needs to be among the best.
Not every show will be the same; obviously, a folk singer will tell stories and interact with the crowd, whereas an indie-pop act might have a heavily transitioned, smooth show. It doesn’t matter what form your show takes, the point is, it needs to be incredible.
Take things your fans say seriously. If you’ve changed some element of your show, and are all of the sudden getting a much better response, take note. This could signal a change in the direction of the whole show.
Having Your Branding In Order Helps
It will be much easier for agents to pitch you if you’ve already cemented a solid brand, have high-quality promo photos, a great bio, and great live video. If you don’t have these things, your agents will just have to tell you to get them, which is annoying.
Get your social media, branding and press kit in order. It will not only help you in the short term, but it will help you for years to come. It’s an investment in time and money that is absolutely worthwhile.
Having Management Helps
I’ve now heard from many different agents that they do not like working with artists who do not have management. Management is well-trained and versed in the ways of the music industry, and they are quick to get back and make decisions.
Artists, on the other hand, are notoriously unreliable. I’m not saying that’s you, I’m just saying that’s the reputation we’re stuck with!
If you secure reputable management, it won’t take long to secure an agent as well. This is not possible for most indie artists, but it’s important to realize that part of the reason you haven’t seen the success you’re looking for could be the lack of a team.
Having A Track Record Helps
Having a track record is sort of a Catch 22. Many of the major stepping stones in the career of an artist relies on a track record and a well-crafted story. But it’s difficult to build a track record without already having one.
For example, it’s much harder to get any sort of radio play if you have not already had radio play in the past. It’s harder to get publicity if you have never received any sort of press coverage.
If you’ve developed a touring track record, then you will have a much easier time securing an agent. Whether it’s with your current act or with a previous act, you will have developed relationships and fans that an agent can then capitalize on.
Having A Draw Helps
Having a local and touring draw relies on the combination of the above forces. If you’ve been a DIY artist for a while, putting together a wicked show, and getting some good opportunities, you’ve (hopefully) been building up a fan base that wants to come out to see your shows.
Agents get paid on commission. They take between 10 – 15% of your gross income on a given show. If you’re already putting 100 butts in seats in eight cities, you’re guaranteed to make them some money, which is what everyone wants to do.
Agents are always paying attention to local bands that can draw a crowd, and touring acts that swing through and bring out a crowd. It’s usually a good indication of a great band that is working hard.
These are a few of the things that agents (and any team member) will be looking for when they sign a new band to their roster. That said, most of these items will only be of some help. None will guarantee you an agent, nor will a lack of one thing necessarily disqualify you.
If anything, the single most important factor is your music. If the music is great, it can open doors for you.
How To Contact Booking Agents
If you’ve decided that you’re ready for an agent, it’s time to start reaching out and meeting them. The best way to meet agents is to meet them after they’ve caught one of your shows. This way, you’ll be full of confidence and you’ll have something worth discussing.
Agents (especially new ones) are often out checking out new bands, and it is totally possible to get them out to a show. Here are some first steps.
1. Target Specific Agents And Agencies
There are all sorts of agents out there. Just like labels and managers, agents have their areas of expertise. In certain scenes (punk and folk music), there are agents who are 100% devoted and immersed in a certain genre and scene, and wouldn’t step out of it very often.
Do your research. Look at other similar artists and bands, and find out who their agents are. This will lead you down a rabbit hole of agencies big and small, and you can often find their emails on the websites of bands they work with.
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