Making music comes natural to you. Performing your work in front of enthusiastic fans is a special feeling. But when it comes to the process of booking shows that are in your best interest, the process can become extremely stressful if you aren't working with qualified people. Once you've established yourself to the point where you have a consistent schedule of shows, partnering with a booking agent proves to be a wise option, especially if you're looking for opportunities outside your local area and are ready to organize a tour.
Unfortunately, not all booking agents are desirable people to do business with, because taking on that profession as a career means some decisions will be strictly guided by financial factors as opposed to the appreciation of your art form. Taking this into consideration, it's important to take the time to evaluate not only the skills and connectivity of a potential booking agent, but also his or her character. To help in this endeavor, here are six qualities to seek out in the booking agent (who will play a vital role in sustaining your livelihood as a professional musician) you choose to work with.
1. Venue relationships
The first topic to delve into when speaking with booking agents is their relationships with venues you're interested in performing at. When doing your own self-evaluation, be honest with yourself when forecasting what kind of draw you can pull. From there, organize a list of venues in your local area that are realistic options, and don't hesitate in saying, "I want to perform here and make X dollars. Can you make this happen?" Most establishments have a preference in genre, and this is a reality that's out of your control. However, relationships with the right people pay dividends, and if a booking agent has been successful before when bringing in talent to a particular venue, it increases the incentive to continue working together.
If a booking agent can prove he or she has a large number of connections at venues both in your area and desirable locations around the country, that's a great place to start because you can only gain a certain number of fans by performing at your go-to spot over and over again. With the right relationships, you'll have the chance to entertain new crowds at a lively location – while making a good chunk of change doing so.
While there are plenty of successful young booking agents, it's important to work with someone who has at least a decent amount of experience. Booking can be a ruthless profession, and putting such an integral aspect of your career in the hands of a rookie booking agent is an extremely risky decision. This is by no means a recommendation to avoid booking agents in their early 20s, because there are numerous cases of business-savvy college students who have been responsible for bringing nationally known artists to their schools. Experience can come in many different shapes and forms, so be sure to inquire into the background of potential candidates. What have their success stories been, and what have they learned from their mistakes? Hearing how someone made a misguided decision but recovered from it is a better gauge of qualification than having no story at all.
Whether a booking agent is 40 or 20, knowing that he or she has gone through the highs and lows of the business provides you with assurance that he or she will know how to deal with any obstacles that come along the way.
3. Organizational skills
Organization is an important attribute in any job, but it's especially important to have as a booking agent due to the nature of the position. When working with multiple venues and artists simultaneously, things can get confusing very quickly if an organized calendar isn't up to date.
Right from the first step of contacting booking agents, pay close attention to their communication methods. Everything from timely, professionally crafted emails to the presentation of their websites can be leading indicators of their organizational skills. If a booking agent doesn't seem to have information in order when meeting with you, there's no reason to have confidence that he or she will have everything prepared properly come showtime.
Timing is everything when it comes to booking shows, so you need to make sure your booking agent is on top of things at all times. It could be the difference between earning a promising show placement or missing out.
4. Negotiation skills
For a job that requires constant communication with musicians, managers, talent buyers, and venue owners, being a skilled negotiator is another desirable trait for a booking agent to have. Booking agents are the people who ensure you get paid for the shows you play, and with that responsibility comes the need for someone who knows his or her way around contracts and agreements, which are filled with "legal speak" that may read as a foreign language to you. If something is off on a particular deal with a venue, your booking agent should be able to quickly spot any errors and see to it that the issue is corrected. This process usually involves some form of negotiation, and that's why a booking agent who gets bullied around is one who won't last, and is certainly not the person you want as representation.
When coming to terms with a booking agent, show him or her any previous contracts you've had with venues as a test. If he or she has recommendations on the documents you present and lays out the details of your own business agreement with clarity and precision, it's a solid indicator that he or she will be able to effectively negotiate on your behalf.
All musicians know that gigs don't always go as planned. In fact, it's relatively common for little things to go wrong before a show, and while sometimes these missteps are the fault of venue, it's the job of the booking agent to be there to save the day. With this in mind, resourcefulness is a key attribute for booking agents to have because in the wild industry that is the music business, you can never predict what will go wrong on the night of the show.
Over the course of your music career, you'll see your peers fall victim to the classic double-booked scenario in a which a venue and/or agent accidentally books two acts at the same location at the same time. Avoiding these types of scenarios is easier when working with a booking agent who can cleverly navigate through dilemmas that inevitably come up. When something goes wrong, figuring out a way to fix it should come before any sort of panic attack, and that's when the talent of a booking agent comes into play.
6. An active passion for music and the local scene
Last but not least, an underrated quality booking agents should have is being musically engaged and in tune with their local scenes. When booking agents have a genuine appreciation for music, they can better pinpoint how much you should be getting paid and what type of venue would best suit your style. Not every booking agent is as passionate about the craft as you are, so keep that in mind when evaluating prospects. A booking agent who has a similar taste as you and expertise in your genre will be a better fit than someone who can't relate to you on a musical level.
If a booking agent has the connections, resourcefulness, and passion for what you do as an artist, he or she is worthy of booking you shows and helping you advance your career.
Eric Bernsen is a marketing/public relations professional and music journalist who specializes in the genre of hip-hop. You can find more of his work at HITPmusic.com (where he is an editor/writer) as well as HipHop-N-More.com, where he contributes album reviews. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebernsen.