Every performer wants a booking agent. Who wouldn't? Someone to set shows up, negotiate the fee, keep an eye on legal issues, deal with any problems that might be on the horizon, coordinate a logical succession of dates that create a nice tour, all for a fee that usually hovers around the 15% mark.
Wow, you don't even have to pay them upfront? They just take a cut? Unfortunately, however, like anything good in life, connecting with a viable booking agent takes time, effort, and dedication. The first thing a musical act must do when considering a booking agent is to take a long hard look at the demand for their music. This is different than analyzing the quality of the music, the themes of the music, the cool stage show, or the vibe of the performance.
Venues are created and built to make money. When an act can demonstrate the ability to bring people in, it becomes able to arrange the use of a venue's facilities to stage the performance (compared to singing on the street). Because both the performing act and the venue desire money, it is the booking agent who will draw up a set of agreements to manage the expectations of both. The title "booking agent" is used for someone who matches performing acts with the venues and completes contractual requirements. A booking agent is typically one of the following three types:
In-house: The in-house booker only books for his or her venue, and is mainly in charge of finding bands that fit together with the venue (in theory) and keep it full of paying customers. They may branch out and do a festival or two, but primarily they are responsible for one venue. This is the person who most unsigned bands are dealing with when they first start looking for gigs.
Independent:There is a second class of booking agent. They are independent and looking for bands with some sort of growing demand or large potential. While "potential" is a possible criteria, independent booking agents are not likely to work for free. These types of bookers will book shorter tours in smaller venues. They also may book local festivals, one-off shows, and usually have a few local venues they have a good connection with.
Agency:The booking agent who works for an agency is going to work with bands that have a demand for their music. These agents rarely have to sell the band because any band they work with will already have a solid history. They simply show the venue the results of the last tour and commence negotiation on new tour dates. Agency bookers usually have well-developed networks and contacts with venues across the country or the world. Larger agencies, such as William Morris, will have all sorts of resources to assist the artist – corporate tie-ins, connections to other artists, legal backing, etc. Even the smaller agencies, however, are usually very well run and well-supported. Most performers want to reach this level of booking agent.
This brings us to the hard truth. Most performers do not need a booking agent…yet. There are relatively few performing acts that have such a high demand for their work they actually need to pay someone to keep everything straight.
Countless bands and solo musicians are highly frustrated by the lack of demand for their music, and they constantly point to the quality of the performance, claiming that it is so high that people would love it if only someone else could get them in the door. Many unknown bands are looking for a booking agent who will sweep them from obscurity, slap them on as the opener for a well-known band, and the rest will be history. They see the booking of shows as the only thing standing between them and success.
Others might not imagine reaching the top quite so quickly. They just want a booking agent who will cobble together a nice little National or Regional tour to smaller venues and 200 people per show.
Have there been situations where music from an obscure band with no demand found its way into the hands of someone with power, who then dropped them into a nice tour line-up? Yes. Can you expect the odds of this happening to favor you? No.
MOVING UP THE BOOKING LADDER
Booking agents do NOT determine your success in the music industry....You and more importantly your fans do!
Booking agents exist in part to support artists, but certainly not to create artists. Creating demand can be done in an artificial way using marketing dollars, but music is one of the few things in life that creates demand in a very natural way.
If you can snag an independent booking agent, or even a friend who wants to be involved with your work, more power to you. Some of these types of artist-business teams last for decades and are incredibly successful. We are always more comfortable and more loyal to those who were slugging it out in the trenches with us.
At the bottom level, however, there is much that can be done with in-house bookers. Don't begrudge that you have to deal with the "lowest form of booking agent." Treat them with respect, and play good shows. Play good shows to the point that you can point to ONE venue and say, "I bring a lot of people there every time I play."
Until an artist can say that about ONE venue, spend 6 months, a year, even 2 years building up your show, your vibe, and your audience. A performing act can expect to find a booking agent willing to spend time making the calls, following up, selling the band, doing all the paperwork, and troubleshooting any issues when 15% of your gross amounts to a respectable paycheck for them! Are you a good bet for them? Only you know for sure.
As you perform successfully on a small scale, then access will start opening up at the independent booker level. You may move from one place you can sell-out to a roster of 4 or 5. Now you are getting closer to the point that you need a booking agent. And guess what? When you start needing a booker, you will be shocked at how easy it is to get them to take your calls.