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The Booking Agent Inside

By Tom Gauger As a recording artist, singer or songwriter, finding a booking agent who will actually book your act or show, can be tricky at best.   A well qualified booking agent is like finding the needle in the hay stack.  While many companies offer traditional artist booking services on a number of levels, there are few out there who really deliver.  While a former agent myself, booking many country stars at the William Morris Agency, I am well aware of the inadequacies that many young artists face, in this industry.  Before you begin looking for a booking agent, let’s look at a few concepts that might help serve you in your quest to move your singing career forward.  Booking agencies like booking agents, operate on different levels.  There are the large well- established booking agencies that have been around for years.  These agencies are typically “order taking” agencies with large stars that bring on newer “baby acts” being promoted by the record companies.  The young acts being born and promoted from the record companies now push through radio and of course the booking agency who can put that “baby act” in front of large crowds opening for some of the biggest stars in that genre.  Sound familiar.  That’s how the big boys operate. The next level down on the booking agency chain is the middle guy.  He or she typically books acts that are “has beens” and no longer pull the front-line or large arena crowds.  Artists like many products on the shelves of stores, have a shelf life – some longer than others.  But nonetheless, it’s true and the agents booking some of these acts, actually, do quite well financially.  There’s still enough name recognition and smaller venue, crowd pulling ability, without undue advertising expenses.  While these agencies do take on acts without a record deal, hoping to receive loyalty from the act once they have been signed, they can’t afford to take that much time promoting the act like the large agencies can. Lowest on the totem pole is not always the least powerful.  These are sometimes managers of large acts looking for their next big break-through act, but oftentimes, these are manager wannabes.  They’re friends of the acts or individuals with just enough knowledge to sell an act that they can represent them, most likely looking for the management side and not the booking side.  Booking is not easy work.  You’re out there selling a product while spinning your wheels at the same time.  There are obviously countless versions of this type of booking agent. Now that we’ve looked at agency types and how they operate - What do you have to offer them? – Or don’t you at this point in your career, but maybe one day you will.  If you understand how difficult their job is, and how much time is spent spinning wheels, then you are really beginning to understand the whole booking phenomenon and how you may or may not fit into the picture.  Your act is a product and the question remains, how difficult a sell is this going to be?  But before we move into the “I might as well forget it mode,” there’s one other option you might consider – You become the booking agent. Why not?  There are many advantages to booking on your own.  First off there are no fees to pay.  Large acts typically pay 10% to the large order taking agencies, and the other booking agencies, with more difficult acts to book, usually charge 20%.  Now before you say you can’t or don’t have the know how, let me show you how easy to set up a booking agency is, knowing that booking is not an easy job, yet at least someone is actively pursuing your career.  To set up a booking agency you will need a phone, computer, and press kit info on you or the other acts that you are representing.  You will need to be a good record keeper of your phone conversations, contacts and mail out dates – numerous and affordable computer software out there for this.  You will need a listing of promoters.  There are a number of sources out there to get promoter listings.  You might start with Poll Star – a very reputable industry standard, and purchase their promoter guide along with club and venue guides.  Once these basic elements are in place, you are ready to begin. You will make call after call, placing press kits in the mail to various promoters, managers, venues and clubs.  Keep detailed records of your phone conversations and where and who what was mailed to.  The front end of this start up will be challenging with little to no results and so you will have to stay focused.  Booking dates takes time and energy and most promoters book their dates well in advance to make sure that the particular venue is available.  It will be some time before any money comes in, so be patient and continue on in some form of work that pays that bills, but gives you the time and freedom to book dates.  As you get going you will notice that there is fairly expensive software out there with a lot of valuable features, but quite honestly, you can get going for virtually nothing, if you already own a computer, and you can operate just fine without all the bells and whistles.  Your biggest ongoing expense will be your phone.  Figure out a good way to keep your phone bill down.  I don’t have it, but some of the online phone companies seem to offer a good value with free long distance phone calls included with their basic plans.  As you look at booking and booking agencies, don’t become discouraged.  It’s easy to overlook the fact that (1) you have the talent, or you wouldn’t be here, (2) you have the drive and passion for music and want to move forward, (3) if you continue you on, you will educate yourself on what it takes, and be more knowledgeable the next time you talk with an agent, manager or other music industry professional!

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