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Artist Managers and Booking Agents

By Tom Gauger As a former talent booking agent with the William Morris Agency, I am always amazed at either the scope and talent of an artist’s business team or the why and how an artist exists within the mediocre framework which they are operating from.  And believe me, I’ve seen plenty of both.  It would seem that many managers fall into these positions, like in many fields, not out of genuine talent or know-how, but by mere presence alone – They were friends of the artist or a brother to one of the members of the act and so forth. If a manager, important at every turn of an artist’s career, is so important, than what exactly is it that makes up a good manager or booking agent? Most everyone thinks of contacts.  No doubt that contacts are important in this business.  The thinking is – “Just as long as they act like they know what they are doing and talk a big game dropping some names along the way,” than they must “know” what they are doing and they can get the job done – Or can they? Many a talented and well-known manager today got into the field, yes, because they knew an individual in the act, but the big difference in their particular operating style, is that they had drive and authenticity and still do today.  They got the job done, and still do, because they were approachable, authentic, and had the vision to see the end result.  Many a manager today just drools all over the potential end result without the authenticity and approachability that is needed to maintain crucial and vital career lifelines along the way.  Artist career pathways are much like a product off the grocery store shelves – There’s a product life expectancy, and the marketing exec’s and everyone else know this.  Same in the music industry with a few exceptions as there are in any business. While we’re addressing artist management, have you ever asked yourself the question – “What makes up a good artist manager? or Who can truly get the job done for me?”  Another way to say it is, “I want a record deal with some industry success and who can take me there?”  While obviously not guaranteed, and any authentic and honest manager will tell you this, that not every deserving and incredibly talented individual or act makes it – And we’re not talking to the top, but even to the small break or single CD release.  This hit or miss approach has frustrated many a well-intentioned artist along the way. Let’s take a closer look at what is helpful and what might give you some clues to what a potential manager looks like and what he or she can and should be doing to get the job done. As already mentioned, some immediate traits that you should recognize when talking with potential artist managers are authentic, honest, approachable, creative, thinking of your absolute best and not their interests, qualities.  And these qualities ought to exude from who they are and not a put-on, or faked front.  Great managers never promise, but deliver.  Don’t over-hype, but convey your act in such a way that labels, booking agents and others in the industry just “Have to be involved in the project.”  The bearer of the news commands respect and a listening too, because they are at a minimum seen as an individual with scruples, morals and with solid belief in the act.  Great managers deliver on what they perceive as genuine and alleged talent and not a musical whim or fleeting musical industry fad.  So if you are to find a great manager you to will have to be honest, approachable, think from their perspective of how difficult their job is and appreciate that, and deliver your artist pitch with a non “artsy fartsy” mentality.  You’d be surprised at how many “What’s up dude” artists are out there.  You want a professional manager than you’d better come across as a professional and well-intentioned act. Let’s talk a moment about booking agents and the qualities that you will be looking for and I will finish the remainder of this article on finding and securing the “right” booking agent for representation.  The talent agent like the artist manager is not always easy to spot or find.  Many a booking agent will sell you a bag of goods on what they can do and then really never get around to doing it.  Your artist manager, if you have one, will be working on this as well, but you should be talking, making phone calls, and emailing potential agents and individuals who can steer you in the right direction.  In short, you need to find an agent who really believes in your act, who can either book you into appropriate venues as a solo act, or book you as an opening act for headliners.  Yes, I’m sure you already knew that, but let’s go a step further. Finding these agents is not an easy task.  As an agent do you really want to spend your time, your dollar on the phone and mailing out press kits on no-name acts with little in return? You look at all of the acts out there who want to be booked, but don’t want to help out with any costs associated with the basic costs of doing business as a “baby act.”  It’s just expected that, especially with the smaller booking agencies, that the agencies will absorb the costs.  That being the case, agents and mangers have to deeply protect who they represent and who they pump valuable time and resources into – Somewhere along the way there has to be something or someone who pays the phone, postage, etc.  Try to look at your securing an agent from that perspective and your insight will greatly increase along with your ability to secure an agent.  Volumes more could be written on this subject, but for the sake of time, and from the reality that you’ve got more to start working with, with just the last paragraph alone to get you moving, that we will leave it here and pick up in a future article.  Just be aware of not only the “big” talkers in the industry, but the individuals who are working hard, but need something to work with as well.  Understanding their issues and frustrations will go a long ways in your ability to secure a manger or booking agent.  A good talent agent is worth their weight in gold.  Before you set off looking for an agent, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, how am I going to make money with this act?  How much of my time and energy is going to be purged with little to no financial results?  Figuring out an angle whereby you can help the agent out will not only tell them that you care, but that you’re on the ball and that you won’t have your hand out the entire time.  You do your part and in time someone will come along and take the necessary risk on your talent.
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