How To Become A Music Booking Agent
There’s no doubting that you love music, but working behind the scenes suits you better. As a booking agent, you’ll also enjoy a regular paycheck, and–unlike your buddies still playing in dive bars–real benefits, like health insurance. On the flip side, you’ll work longer and harder hours, when the competition isn’t trying to poach your bands–who often push for guarantees that don’t make sense. If you survive those hurdles, however, the rewards can be great.
Start humbly–whether it’s convincing local heroes to donate their skills for a benefit or filling some local coffeehouse’s calendar. Practical knowledge is more important than money at this point; without it, you and your bands are dead in the water.
Recruit bands or solo acts by showing how you can improve their lot. Otherwise, they have no incentive to follow your lead–money has a lot of power over musicians, since it’s so hard to come by. Booking bands is a relationship business–you’re only as good as the contacts that you build, so plan accordingly.
Get all terms down in writing, once you’ve decided how many bands you can handle. Written agreements determine how both parties work together, and add at least a basic layer of defense against competitors who may be trying to poach your promising acts for themselves.
Maximize every contact, whether it’s at nightclubs, shows or industry showcases. Ask how they’re doing, listen to their stories, and hand out your business cards–solving people’s problems or filling a new band’s date sheet is the quickest way to get noticed and build your business.
While you’re networking, don’t forget to build an appropriate database of agencies, promoters and managers to fill your bands’ schedules. Promoters typically fall along regional lines, something you’ll need to remember when sending acts through a particular territory.
Start Small and Work Your Way up
Start working your cell phone, multiple phone lines and emails to line up dates once you have settled on a roster. Keep detailed records of all dealings–staying focused is the challenge as you deal with numerous promoters and venues, often booking two to six months ahead of time.
Pick your shots carefully–you literally can’t afford to throw good money after bad, nor waste time on projects that don’t pan out. If a promoter or venue doesn’t respond after several contacts, it’s probably best to find the enthusiasm that you seek elsewhere.
Match artists as closely as possible to the venues they play–you want both sides to come out ahead, and further your goals. Bands will also appreciate an agent who’s seeking out appropriately-sized venues that make sense, instead of merely chasing the money.
Keep a keen eye on all the logistical issues, including venue capacities, which other acts will tour with your bands, and the routing–nobody wants to live the rock ‘n’ roll cliche of shuttling from Miami, to Cleveland and back again in an eye-popping blink.
Once you’ve mapped out a tour, ask the individual promoters about putting “holds” on a particular venue. This buys enough time to confirm the date, and start negotiating the deal. This can mean playing for the door; guarantees (flat fees); some combination of the door/guarantee; or a percentage split between artist and promoter (80-20, 90-10 or 95-5, depending on an act’s sales and touring history).
Learn to Negotiate
Evaluate a promoter’s date offer based on your band’s needs. Obviously, freshman bands have less negotiating power than their veteran counterparts, but other factors come into play, too. Guarantees or percentage splits put more money in your band’s pocket–but for acts just starting out, or reintroducing themselves to a market, getting exposure may take precedence.
Know how to read the promoters with whom you negotiate. Sometimes, reverse psychology works best (“We’re doing you a favor”); other times, being straightforward is better (“You’re taking something away from us”)–it all depends on the verbal and nonverbal cues that you’re getting.
Always consider the big picture, but never let a promoter step on you–walk away from a deal if it doesn’t make sense. Some promoters bargain for smaller guarantees and a cut of the door, or ticket sales. Avoid this approach unless you expect a big crowd, or you may lose money. If a band draws well, future guarantees and percentage splits should reflect that fact.
Pitch your bands to larger promoters and management company representatives who can book them on headlining tours. Use past ticket sales, press buzz and tour history to make your case, and don’t let up–taking bands to the top level is your primary goal, and the most effective marketing tool that you have.
Build some flexibility into your own schedule. Until dates come through, and your acts work regularly, you won’t see much of the 10- to 15-percent commissions that you’re charging them. In short, don’t quit your day job too quickly until enough bookings make it irrelevant.