Basics of a solid booking strategy, part 1: Agents and Managers.

Photo by  marfis75  on flickr.

Photo by marfis75 on flickr.

In this two-part series, I’ll take a look at the process of booking shows from a musician’s perspective, from the roles of agents and managers and how they work effectively together to implementing a 10-step plan designed to help focus your own efforts, with or without a team.

“How do I get more gigs?” “How do I get an agent?” Every musician I work with asks these same questions—sometimes even if they already have an agent!

Getting paying shows is an essential part of being a working musician. But the prospect of booking your own can seem overwhelming at first. With so many potential places to perform, how do you know which is best? And with so many other bands vying for the attention of promoters and venues, how do you get an offer if no one is even getting back to you? These may seem like difficult questions to answer, but like all big tasks, booking shows becomes much easier if you break things into manageable chunks.

While an agent would definitely be helpful, every musician starts without one. Booking your own shows is a process that requires determination, organization, solid research and appropriate follow-up. It can be a rewarding experience, as you develop relationships that will bear fruit in the future; gain perspective on the work your team does; and can even serve as a way to attract an agent and / or manager.

Becoming successful at booking your own shows is proof that your act is marketable. That proof is essential in building your career. If done well, two things will happen: you’ll get even more shows, and attract a team excited to help you out.

What does an agent do anyway?

Your agent’s role is to find you employment. They are your sales team. Your agent will leverage their relationships with the promoters and venues in each market to set up tours. While their job is limited to booking live personal appearances, this very specific work is important to your career.

Your agent will know which venues are best for your style of music and which are the right size for you at this stage in your career. They will be able to assess your draw (how many people will come to see you perform). They also understand how that draw is affected by the ticket price, the size of the venue, the ability of the promoter to market the show, as well as your own ability to market it. Your agent will know who is willing to book your band, will research others who might be, and then leverage the first against the second.

Using all of this knowledge, your agent will pitch you to their contacts and follow up until they get an offer. If they don't get an offer, they’ll find ways to illustrate your growth, showing that you are continually selling out bigger and bigger spaces, making sure you get an offer the next time.

The manager's role and how they work with an agent.

If you have a manager, your agent will have most of their contact with them. This relationship is an important one, as they must work closely to be effective. If you don’t have an agent, sometimes your manager will be able to help book shows, but in some places (New York and California specifically), managers are actually prohibited from acting as agents unless they’re properly licensed.

Together, your manager and agent will determine what times of year are best in your schedule and which promoters and venues to target. Once your agent gets an offer, your manager will assess whether it will make or lose money and whether it makes sense in terms of your overall career. They will also assess the routing—the cities and order in which you are scheduled to play. Good routing is essential, as you don’t want to waste time or money getting from one city to the next. It’s also important to make sure that you get paid an appropriate (and ever-increasing) fee, but it’s also important to make sure you protect that fee by turning down low-paying offers. Lastly, once an offer is accepted and the contract signed, your manager will take over and “advance” the tour, handling the travel and logistics, renting the gear, planning the marketing and advertising, making sure you get paid, etc.

Your manager will also help develop the tools your agent will use to make the case for you getting booked: they’ll write a strong bio, pick great photos and assemble a presskit. Together with your music and a video or two, these tools will show that you can effectively market yourself to fans, thereby ensuring that the show will be a success. Concert promotion is a risky business, and having all of these tools helps convince promoters that they won't lose money on you.

Whereas an agent’s role is very specific, a manager’s is much more general. Your manager makes sure the agent has all the tools necessary to be successful, and then chases the agent to make sure they deliver. Your manager makes sure that the shows make sense from a creative, logistical and financial perspective, and once the tour is fully booked, ensure things run smoothly while you’re on the road.

Going it alone.

Knowing the roles of agents and managers is important, even if you don’t have one or both on your team. Their functions remain essential to the process, and as an independent musician, you’ll need to execute them yourself to be successful. And remember that attracting an agent (and / or a manager) is a bit like booking your own shows: if you can show success by doing it on your own, things will begin to happen for your career.

In next week’s post I'll get into specifics and describe a 10-step process you can follow to ease the process of booking your own shows.