1/99 - Jens Moller -
Music Business 109;
Working with a Booking Agent
You don't need to use a booking agent, however, they often have exclusive
booking rights at some of the best gigs around. If you find that people
tell you that they book thru an agency, no matter what level of effort
you make to convince them to hire you, they will always work thru the
established Booking Agency.
It would appear that you are offering them a better deal, but the reality of
it is that the club owner (or manager) has a business to run, and they need
to make sure that it remains viable over time. Getting a one time good deal
could jeopardize their ability to get bands 6 months down the road and this
could put them out of business. They would rather get the bands thru the
booking agents they have good working relations with.
Where does that leave you? If you want to perform at these places, you'll need
to play by the rules that others have established for you;
seeking out the booking agency and have them represent you. There
are good and bad points to consider.
Things a Booking Agent gets you
- Booking Agents are aware of the clubs in an area. They already know
who to talk to and have a working relationship with them. Since they
earn money by putting entertainers to work, they will do their best to
keep in touch with what the clubs need. Some of the knowledge they
are probably aware of:
- The kind of people who frequent the club; Dancers? Listeners? Party
- Size of Stage.
- PA provided by club or if you have to bring your own.
- Light System provided or not (you may have to bring your own lighting
system unless you want to play in the dark).
- What are the club owner/manager expectations?
- Any information to be aware of - Club Policies, Sound Checks, Audience
Interaction, Upcoming Events, etc.
- Musical events on Military bases are often serviced exclusively by
booking agents - there are also a great many rules/policies/regulations
that you'll have to deal with. You might even get a report card when
the performance is over that you have to sign to get paid.
- Private parties often contact Booking Agents for entertainment. These
paying jobs are one time opportunities, and they are not advertised anywhere.
Other than the Booking Agent and the people that are having the party, no one
else is aware of it. There are often very specific requirements or needs for
a private party. Many Wedding gigs are booked this way.
- Multi-City tours need to be coordinated by people who have reliable acts,
and also can guarantee enough profit that the Booking Agent and the band
survive the tour. As an example, there are many small scale touring bands that
play in hotels across the United States. There is no way that the bands could
talk with all of the hiring managers to coordinate dates and accommodations
effectively. Booking agents that specialize in this area already have
schedules for bands to drop into and work consistently.
- Major Acts coming to town may need an opening act. Booking Agents are
contacted first to see what local acts might work out. Not all Booking
Agents are contacted when this happens, you need to ask which ones are
- If someone decides not to pay you, a Booking Agent will gladly sue
them. You still may not get paid for work performed, but any club that
does this will definitely have trouble working with any other Booking
Agent to find acts to perform for them in the future. This tends to keep
- If there are problems, the Booking Agents job is to find away to solve
- You still may have to do an occasional 'Free' audition to get into a
club, but once you establish yourself, the Booking Agent should be able to
place you with paying gigs. Doing a 'Free' audition is also called
'Showcasing' - Sometimes a neccesity to get recognition in a market.
Don't turn down too many of these if you are first starting out - they
may turn into very profitable future business.
- They can get a new band paying jobs.
- They can keep you working.
- Once you've established a reputation, they can get you better paying jobs.
- Even if the band books many of its own jobs, a Booking Agent can help fill
in open spots in the schedule.
An Agent will be interested in your success because it means more income for
them. They will get anywhere between 10% and 20% of the bands income, but
only when they are working at gigs that the Booking Agent got them.
What is an Agent looking for?
A Booking Agent will demand that you have a long term plan for your own
success. They expect you to improve over time and stay current (and
book-able). They want to to have an established image - this is easier
for them to book for. They expect you to know what you are getting into and that you
can manage any issues that come along - they don't want to work with
beginners that often cause their own problems. They expect you to be
flexible on money/schedules, and that you work with them to help
you get paying gigs - keep in mind that people coming to a Booking Agent
to hire entertainment often have a set budget to work with and the Booking
Agent will try to get the best fit they can.
No matter what, you should be professional in all of your
actions. This means:
- Showing up early enough to set up and perform.
- Don't bring along any people that don't belong there - if they don't have
a specific job to do, they have no reason to attend. This particularly applies
to members boy-friends and girl-friends.
- All band members and road crew will wear appropriate clothing - Those
dressed wrong should wait outside during the performance.
- Don't drink to excess (or at all if this has caused a problem in the past).
- Don't stretch your breaks out.
- If the people who hired you want you to stop to allow them to make
speeches, or have a special event (Weddings frequently do this, as do some seasonal
events. Performances at military based often have presentations planned.),
allow them to have the time to do what they want - you might
ask before a performance if and when this sort of thing may happen.
- Don't upset the people that hired you for the gig.
- Give a little extra.
- Never get mad on stage.
- Watch your language - keep all stage banter appropriate for the audience.
- Make sure all of your equipment works - fix anything between gigs.
- Be prepared for the unexpected and deal with it intelligently.
- Make the experience good enough that you will be requested again for
Limitations and other areas of concern
Rest assured if you don't treat your Booking Agent well, they won't bother
to book you. This could cause you enormous problems if you sign an exclusive
contract with them. I advise against an exclusive contract with any Agency
unless they can prove to you that they will keep you working and put it
Any performance contracts issued by the Agent will be the Agents contracts.
They normally include a clause that places restrictions on future performances
at this same location (often for at least 12 months), requiring that the Agent
get a percentage of any performance salary, no matter who did the booking
for a gig. This is fair - they don't want to place you once and never be able
to maintain a steady income from all of their efforts.
Booking Agents often are not exceptionally supportive of bands that play only
originals. The reason is obvious - there is far less earning potential for
them, unless there happens to be a strong market for it in the area.
Some other areas of concern:
- Money - You may not be making much money to begin with. Can you
afford to pay the Agent and have enough left over to make the effort
- Are the Jobs really there? Some Agents paint a very rosy picture,
then don't find much in the way of paying work.
- Agent reputation. What do the club owners think of them - this could
drag you down if there is constant trouble that has absolutely nothing to
do with your performances.
- Scheduling difficulties - you may get 5 jobs, but they could be 500 miles
away from each other, and on sequential days. Agents don't like to work
with entertainers that turn down work, even if the problems are caused by the
- Gigs that don't materialize - You might turn down a self booked Gig
for one the Agent promises, only to find that it fell thru at the last
- You often need to call the clubs to verify the dates to make sure nothing
changed from what your Agent may have told you. This is especially true if
you have never performed there before - you might be quite surprised by
what you discover. If you are touring, you should always call ahead to your
next gig to make sure that there are no problems.
Qualifying an Agent
Sometimes there is only one to work with in the area you are in. Other times
you need to seek out a specific Agent because they are the only one that
the establishments you want to perform in use. If you have an option to pick
from more than one Agent, find out:
- What percentage they charge.
- The names of the Clubs they represent (either full or part time).
- Other Bands/Entertainers they currently represent.
- How often the people they represent are working.
- Do they book tours? You may be interested in doing this at one time
or another - find out what services that can provide you in this area.
Study any contract that they use to see how it affects you. Have someone else
check it over as well. Find out where you stand if you sign it.
I have worked with a number Booking Agents. In the Larger cities, there is
more opportunity and as such a Booking Agent often has far more raw material
(Acts) to work with. I've had many problems with inconsistent bookings when
working with Agents in larger cities far more frequently than when I
lived in a smaller city and there were few opportunities available. I suspect
that the Agents reputation is more an issue when there is less to work available.
I booked myself at least 50% of the time. Booking Agents often got me the best
paying work and got me into places that I never could have done by
myself. I also made a lot of contacts as a result. This helped me get
more of my own bookings. There were also a number of bad matches made and
sometimes big money making gigs vanished the day before they were supposed
to happen (I thought that there was a signed contract, but alas, there
wasn't). I've also driven many late night hours to out of the way places
that stressed out everyone in the band (and didn't earn much money for the
effort). This is often what 'paying your dues' is all about - you'll
learn something from every experience.
I've had excellent working relationships with some Booking Agents and
I find them a valuable tool for finding work. Getting to know who you are
working with can make a huge difference in the level of your success.
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