Using a booking agent: what musicians need to know

booking-agents-panel

A booking agent is like the ultimate middle man for any musician. She books live shows and helps develop an artist’s career, specifically in relation to live performances.

But how do you get one? When should you get one? And if you do find the right one, how do you convince them to add you to their roster?

Australian Music Week pulled together a panel of booking agents this week, who explored the ins and outs for artists keen to take their bookings to a whole new level.

Luke Morton from Premier Harbour Agency, which is part of Mushroom Group joined Harry Moore (123 Agency), Craig Corse (UK) and John Addicott (Scotland) for the conversation facilitated by Jon Howell from Australian Music Week.

Collectively the agents work with artists like Sticky Fingers, SAFIA, Kate Miller-Heidke, Kisschasey, Trophy Eyes, Ash Grunwald, Opiio, The Delta Riggs, Tash Sultana and Shapeshifter.

The one thing that becomes obvious as the panel speaks is that there is no one size fits all approach to booking agents and their approach to supporting clients. How they find them, how they sell them and the types of relationships they have come down to many personal and sometimes ethereal factors that are a bit hard to describe.

But there are plenty of commonalities too. Here’s what I gleaned from Australian Music Week’s panel of booking agents.

 

BEFORE YOU APPROACH AN AGENT

Word of mouth works wonders. Luke says a booking agent will usually come to you rather than the other way around. “There’s only a few occasions that an act has come to me,” he said. John agreed and says 95% of the acts he works with have come through referral. “That’s the way we’ve taken on most new artists,” he said. “From someone we know and trust… and through other agencies as well.”

Do it yourself before you engage an agent. All the panelists agreed that it’s much better working with an artist who has done the hard yards booking their own tours and shows in the past. An ideal situation is where an artist does this to the point of not actually having the capacity to continue. “Do it yourself until it’s really, really hard and you can’t handle it any more,” says Harry, adding that that also means more money in your pocket in those early years.

Know an agents’ roster. If you are approaching an agent, it helps to know what sort of acts they book, what sorts of venues and major events they have relationships with and what sorts of genres they specialise in. They’re not going to take on an EDM artist when the rest of their clients are punk.

 

WHAT ARE AGENTS LOOKING FOR

That you’ve got a team. Most booking agents will look at the team you have around you – and that doesn’t have to mean management. Harry says he likes to “know someone’s pushing your track and getting your music out there,” before he takes on an artist. All of the panelists agreed that publicists are critical. “If you’re getting good press and radio, it all connects together,” Harry said.

That you’ve got an audience. “I want to work with an act when there’s evidence of them having an audience,” says Craig. “Agents don’t establish an audience for you,” he adds, though they will help you build on what you’ve got, in partnership. “If your act is a goat that shits in a tin can and gets 10,000 people every time, I’d be an idiot not to book it,” Luke adds, eloquently. Ultimately an agent has to pay the bills as much as you do, so there’s got to be evidence of there being a market for you.

If your act is a goat that shits in a tin can and gets 10,000 people every time, I’d be an idiot not to book it.

That you’re willing to work. There’s no point having an end goal (like being booked for major festivals) and not being prepared to work to get there. A booking agent will help you creatively build ideas and environments that will help you get to that level, but you’ve got to do the hard yards.

That you have the numbers. It’s not just about Facebook likes, but things like number of spotify plays or view of a video on social media can have a big impact on your ability to sell out a venue. They watch that stuff. And artists like Tash Sultana have had incredible success as a result of having a strong social media game (which is not just about FB likes). Another example give was of Ocean Alley. They’d had no media and no radio play but 1.5 million Spotify streams. They sold out Max Watts in Sydney as a result. Having data from sources like Spotify and Soundcloud also helps your agent plan your tours or shows based on real data about where fans are rather than aiming for any venue any where any how.

That you’ve toured before. “Our job is to sell you,” says John. “The first thing we’re asked is how many tickets a band can sell. For us, it becomes a hard sell if you haven’t been to these regional towns before off your own back.” There needs to be evidence that you’ve been getting around, creating your own networks and getting your face out there.

That there’s trust. Harry says you’ve got to be able to have a beer and get on with whoever you’re working with. “That matters,” he said. “You need to just be mates and kind of have that trust with eachother to work as a team. If you don’t trust them or get on with them, just don’t bother.”

 

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