Are you interested in getting a booking agent?
Wouldn’t it be nice to unload all your tedious, menial, administrative work on your artistic team?
While it sounds amazing in theory, it’s not based in any version of reality I’m aware of.
I understand where you’re coming from, but the most realistic outcome is that once your team is in place, you’ll end up working harder and longer, and need to be more vigilant about your career activity, not the other way around.
And, this is one of the reasons many artists aren’t ready for a booking agent – they assume they’re going to be able to kick back and work on their art without being bothered by other tasks (especially business tasks).
If that’s how you’re thinking, you’ve probably got it backwards. Building your team is going to require more awareness, discipline, and diligence on your part, not less.
But a booking agent is what you want, which is why you’re here. So, here are my best tips for getting one.
Disclaimer: Read This First!
Let me be clear about one thing:
I am not a booking agent.
And, while I can point you in the direction of agencies, I am not going to make a personal recommendation for you unless I know you well and think you’ve got something special.
If I make a bad recommendation, it reflects badly on me, and impacts my working relationship with the contacts I’ve worked my ass off to build. You can see why I might be reluctant to give my seal of approval to just anyone.
This is underscored by the fact that I don’t work unless I am paid upfront.
I need to set this hard boundary in place, because I get all manner of inquiries every single day (sexually frustrated Instagram women included).
Many messages come from musicians who can’t adequately string two sentences together and are under the delusion that I’m going to kick money their way merely because they contacted me on Messenger:
It’s a complete waste of time contacting me on social media (or anywhere else, for that matter), asking me to become your agent or manager (you’re always welcome to reach out to say “hi” and “thank you” though).
When such an opportunity becomes available (and it will), I will bundle up the offer and present it to you. It will not work the other way around.
And, if you’re still desperate to know how you can get an agent, focus on becoming endorsable first.
With that disclaimer out of the way, we’re ready to get into process.
Here’s what you need to know about getting an agent:
The Right Fit
So, throughout this guide, I will be weaving in Jack’s advice while offering some commentary around it.
When I asked him how artists get to work with agents, Jack shared:
It’s important for me to have an act that I love and can get behind passionately. If I don’t, it’s going to show through very evidently whenever I’m talking to a buyer or just about anybody.
Even in dating, some people take a shotgun approach, going after anyone who gives them a smidgen of positive attention.
Unless you’re ready for the rocky, bumpy, turbulent ride that will surely ensue, this is a horrible approach to finding your one and only.
You need a way to filter out the bad fit from the good, so you can cultivate the strong, supportive long-term relationship you desire faster.
It works much the same way with an agent. Even if you had all the “goods” (more on this later), not all agents are going to be interested in working with you.
Since you may end up needing to “go through the numbers”, you may as well take a marathon approach instead of sprinting, huffing, and puffing.
I know, taking a long-term mindset sounds like the trope of all tropes, but it has stuck for a reason.
If this doesn’t compute, perhaps take a moment to reflect on this quote:
A Strong Brand
The next thing Jack shared was this:
If an artist can have a package for me from the get-go, that really makes me visualize what selling them is going to be like, it’s more attractive for every type of agent.
Most artists try to go about this the other way. They come to an agent hoping they will figure out the selling process for them.
But when you think about it, this makes the agent’s job harder.
Is an agent more likely to work with artists who are already selling out shows, or are they more likely to work with artists who don’t have their poop in a group?
It’s a rhetorical question, but if you’re still scratching your head, the answer is “the former.”
There are a lot of things at play here, including how long the band or artist has been around, where they’ve played, how they’ve been building their fan base, whether they have a website and email list, and so on.
But I can basically boil it all down to one thing – branding.
If you’ve got your branding sorted out, the rest tends to fall into place, because your brand embodies the impact and difference you want to make in the world. It’s your core message.
If you know your purpose for existing, the rest will sort itself out.
By the way, you can also listen to/watch my full interview with Jack Forman here:
You should be collecting data from every show you play.
If an artist comes to you and they have wonderful promotional assets, they’ve got data they’ve collected from wherever they’ve put their music out or done shows, that really helps me. You can only be that good of a salesperson until people say, “okay, but how many tickets am I realistically going to sell?” And, if I’m able to pull out of my back pocket, “well, the last time they were in the market, their average ticket price was this, and they sold X amount of tickets at this venue, knowledge is power.
So, at this point, you might be saying to yourself:
“I didn’t know I was going to need to become a data analyst.”
I get it.
But as I pointed out in my book, The Essential Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship, even if you hate data, there are a lot of great tools that make it easy for you to figure out who your audience is and what they’re interested in.
(As for how to use them, that’s a whole other post. If you’re interested, request it in the comments.)
I recently interviewed Ben Mendoza of Beatchain, and that’s another fantastic platform for artists (seriously, go sign up for it and connect your social media accounts NOW – you won’t believe your eyes).
The point is that there’s just no excuse. You don’t need someone following you around 24/7 to know how many tickets you sold at your last show or where your top fans are located.
Just don’t be lazy. And, if you need to make the process as simple, repeatable and predictable as possible, read my guide on creating systems as a creative.
A Clear Path Ahead
This is what one might call an “intangible” or “ineffable”, but it’s a key point, nonetheless. So, don’t skip it.
Jack expressed it this way:
If an artist can really show you the path of what your job with them is going to be, they become a much more attractive client.
You might need an agent, but an agent doesn’t necessarily need you.
If you’re clear on why you need a booking agent at this juncture of your career, you’re far more likely to get a favorable response.
And, if you can show them what their duties and responsibilities might be like working with you (as opposed to the “figure it out for me” approach discussed earlier), there’s a better chance you’re going to set the wheels in motion.
The Right Timing
Jack said it well when he shared:
Not every artist is necessarily ready for an agent, nor would they necessarily need an agent who’s going to be having to take a part of whatever they book for the artist, and it may be premature. So, I would encourage any artist to really do your homework on what it really means to have an agent, and do your homework on the agent you’re reaching out to, to make sure it’s the appropriate kind of agent. You may be reaching out to somebody who doesn’t even dabble slightly in the types of things you’re doing.
This also goes back to what was said earlier about the right fit.
There are a couple more factors, however, that will determine the right timing. Let’s discuss those factors.
I will let Jack do most of the talking here, as he had a lot of great things to share about timing.
Let’s start here:
Typically, artists don’t just approach us. A lot of the people we work with were referred to us by a manager or somebody we know at a venue. When you’re at the point where you see the steam picking up in your fan base, in your ticket sales, and you’re launching a national campaign with whatever it is you’re doing, whether it’s an album release or something similar to that, and you want to have the infrastructure there to really get it out, that would be a good time.
Jack elaborated by saying:
Come to an agency with a plan and say, “I’ve got this in the pipeline. This is what I’ve done so far on my own or with my own team that exists right now.” An agent still may say “no.” But you’ve got to ask everybody. You can’t just approach one or two agents. I would recommend finding all the agents that you think are appropriate to you and give it a shot. The only thing stopping you is you at that point because agents do want to find new clients and they are looking.
And, finally, the key takeaway:
You may want to search for a manager before you search for an agent because most of the people I deal with are managers.
A Financially Viable Opportunity
This is not something Jack and I discussed at length. But for most booking agents (including Jack), I would imagine this is a major factor.
We’ve got to be realistic here. Agents need to make a living like anyone else. We shouldn’t be trying to send them to the poor house!
I know it can be tough seeing things from someone else’s perspective, but when pitching and striking up deals in the music industry, you’ve got to keep this in mind.
So, just for a moment, let’s step into the shoes of a manager…
Roll This Scenario Around in Your Mind
So, let’s say you’re a new agent and you’d like to make $4,000 per month.
Agents typically get paid 10 to 15% of what an artist earns. Since you’re new to it, you’re probably going to earn closer to 10%.
If you were booking artists who make $400 per month in performance revenue, you would only make $40 on each artist. So, you would need to work with 100 artists to reach your monthly quota.
We’ll be generous and say these artists are making $200 per gig, so basically you would need to book two gigs for each artist. That’s 200 gigs you’ve got to hustle for each month!
No matter how ambitious and hardworking you are, this just sounds unrealistic.
Meanwhile, if you were working with artists who make $4,000 per month, you would make $400 on every artist and would only need to work with 10 acts to making a living. Sounds more reasonable, right?
So, you’ve got to assume agents are thinking the same way. They may love their work, but if they can’t make a living on it, they’re not going to be able to put their time and effort into booking you.
Getting a Booking Agent, Conclusion
So, if you want an agent and you:
- Haven’t found agencies that work with artists like you
- Haven’t established your brand
- Don’t have a sizable, engaged fan base
- Haven’t collected actionable data
- Don’t know how an agent is going to fit into your team
- Don’t have a manager
- Aren’t sure you’re making enough money to hand off booking
It’s going to be an uphill battle.
Nevertheless, the above tips are there to help you figure out your next steps. If you can get clear on that, you should still consider it a win.
And, don’t forget:
The Essential Guide to Creative Entrepreneurship is a great resource to help you achieve more clarity on your path. Be sure to pick up a copy.