This article is the third part of a three part series I wrote about putting together a team for your music career. The first part can be seen on MusicianWages.com and discusses how to get an entertainment lawyer. The second installment is about how to find a manager and what they are looking for in a potential client. It appears on the Musician section of About.com. I would like to send a special thanks to Heather McDonald from About.com and Cameron Mizell and David Hahn of Musician Wages. This is the last part of this series and it is about how to find a booking agent for your project.
One of the most common questions I get asked by developing artists is “How can I find a booking agent?” I wish the answer to this question would earn me more favor with the musician community but sadly this one is more cut and dry than finding a manager. A manager usually makes between 10-20% of all of an artists income so for a manager a band that doesn’t sell a ton of tickets can still do well in song placement or selling recorded music and be a good client. Agencies make a percentage of what their clients make in ticket sales so the most important thing to an agent is hands down how well you draw and how many tickets you are already selling.
Not too long ago I interviewed a booking agent named Dave Galea from the Agency Group about what he looks for in potential clients. For Dave it came down to performance indicators including existing ticket sales that could be verified by a promoter, plays on MySpace and the way he was approached by a potential client over email.
That is not to say that artists who haven’t built a following for their live show don’t get signed to big agencies. Whenever I mention that you have to build it on your own someone always pipes up with an example of a complete unknown getting picked up by a major agency. This does happen but it is the exception and not the rule and there is usually another strategic partner already in the picture who has leveraged his or her relationships to make this happen. What many people fail to realize is that an agent (no matter how great they are) can get you in several rooms in several different markets but they can’t keep doing so forever without people starting to show up. Many times groups with agents do wind up playing shows in new markets but with very little turn out. A good agent is worth his or her weight in gold but once again – they are not miracle workers.
Like many parts of building your career (or building any business career for that matter) most people start with limited resources and therefore wind up doing everything themselves. While it is usually a strain on any artist just to stay afloat financially while consistently creating great music and marketing themselves- I think it is hugely important that every artist try their hand at booking (and the other roles filled by strategic partners) if for no other reason than to have an understanding of what the job entails so they can ask the right questions when they get to the point of hiring or selecting people to fill these roles. When I have tried my hand at various roles for my business and failed I was always able to make a better decision about who I could partner with because I knew exactly the skill set I was lacking and was better able to communicate that to a potential business partner.
Because the answer to finding a booking agent for most people seems to be selling tickets and getting warm bodies to your show and exposing your music to audiences as efficiently as possible I thought I would include some commonly employed tactics to get people to your shows and building a following.
Gig Swap – can’t get into a new market but do well in your hometown? Trade a show with a band in a neighboring market. Don’t know any bands in the town over? You have every social network to comb through for this – no more excuses. Having trouble finding someone good? Welcome to the music business life – remember this is why gatekeepers (agents, publishers, labels, promoters etc) aren’t always thrilled to meet a new musician. They have been conditioned to expect something less than stellar – it’s not personal. Someone once told me that being an entrepreneur is mostly about separating the wheat from the chaff. Sadly there is some really crappy sounding chaff out there for all of us to dig through.
The more you interact and connect with the acts you play with the better.
I have said from stage to a bunch of retreating bar patrons “be sure and stick around for our friends the next band…” and have watched the same thing happen when I was a member of the opening act. Do your best to overcome this for your sake and the other act’s sake.
How about trying the following:
*Write a song with another band and have both acts perform it live together in between sets or at least getting everyone on stage for a cover song
*A Band Vs. Band set. Share equipment and do a double show where you alternate every other song with another band or artist.
*At the very least make playing a show with another band a co-branding opportunity. Cross promote the show to both mailing lists and give your fan base a reason that they should see this other project. I think we’ve all heard “stick around for the next band” far too often and it just falls on deaf ears.