I was talking with a fellow manager recently. We agreed it’s a great time to be one.
In the first part of this two-part series, I described the roles of agents and managers and how they work together to book shows. In the final part of this series, I’ll describe 10 steps to help streamline your own efforts, with or without a team.
The music business is driven by relationships. Being able to develop and leverage these relationships will be instrumental to your success as a working musician. The best way to get more gigs. . .
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.
At the recent Jazz Connect conference in New York, I checked out a discussion that my client Dave Douglas took part in as a panelist called "The New Paradigm for Record Labels". While it turned out to be a lively conversation on the state of independent jazz record labels, one question from the moderator, Jim Cuomo, stuck out for me.
To paraphrase Jim (who's the General Manager of eOne Distribution): "How can artist development remain relevant today?"
I thought this was a striking comment when the source and context is considered.
Is artist development dead?
Much has been written about how artist development no longer seems to be a priority for labels. It once was, and I witnessed things change during my career in the majors. It's a lengthy, expensive, messy (and therefore risky) process. Given the increasing short-term, bottom-line driven attitude of many corporations, it's no wonder they no longer have a place for it in their business plans.
The important aspect here—and what I think that Cuomo was trying to get at—is that artist development isn't unimportant just because the traditional record company may no longer see it as part of their business. In practice, "artist development" is a metaphor for an artist's career and the steps they take as they progress both creatively and commercially. That certainly isn't any less important for any artist!
Why is it relevant?
Each new project an artist undertakes (whether it's an album or a tour or anything) builds on the last. Each needs to be taken in the context of what was done previously and what is planned for the future. Careers are cumulative. Each experience informs future decisions; each decision relies on past experience.
What this means in the marketplace is that any investment an artist makes (in time, money or both) cannot be discounted as they prepare for coming projects. To record and release an album or book and perform a tour requires an investment in educating an audience (whether consumer or otherwise) and realizing how that investment is a building block for future activities.
This approach to an artist's career requires the acknowledgement that lots of third parties are responsible (at least in part) for an artist's success, and that they see their time and effort as an investment too. Again, in the marketplace, this means that for every minute an artist spends engaging a consumer or developing a relationship with a business partner is a minute that consumer or partner could have spent with somebody else. Nobody can afford to have their time wasted and their time—and time is money—should always be viewed as an investment which nobody wants to risk losing.
The bottom line.
What all of this means is that when we talk about "artist development" we're not just talking about an insular process whereby an artist builds a career on their own, but a more expansive one that involves others. After all, artists owe a part of their success to those "others": not just fans, but also the business partners who put them in front of fans. Any investment that is made on the artists' behalf must be protected. It's important for artists to realize that, as by doing so, they can build stronger relationships and therefore a longer, more fulfilling career.
Jim spoke from the perspective of a distribution partner, one of the most important and powerful partners an artist can have. His question was actually a suggestion, even a command. Artist development is certainly not dead, and certainly no less relevant now than in the past. What is relevant is how an artist goes about the process in the current marketplace.
If you're an artist, you want motivated, engaged fans and partners on your side. Given them what they want, including the assurance that their efforts won't be wasted. What could be any less relevant than that?
I was recently profiled by St. Lawrence magazine in a feature devoted to alumni entrepreneurs. The interview contained some insights on starting my management company and working with artists, as well as my involvement with SLU's New York City Semester for students in finance and the arts.
Check the whole piece out here.
Every artist gets asked to perform a bad gig or a gig for no money. It happens at every level. Everybody gets asked: new artists (though maybe they don't think they are asked quite enough) and career artists (though maybe they are asked to "donate" their services because their fee is "too high for our small budget").
If you're an artist, every time you're asked to perform, ask yourself the question: "Can I say no?"
Few artists actually do. It's Pavlovian: they get asked to do a personal appearance and their instinct is to immediately say "Why yes, thank you. When do I show up?"
The problem is that they don't ask any other questions, especially of themselves.
The real answer should always be "Let me get back to you."
Artists love to perform—it's their job, their vocation, their calling, their purpose; it's what they wake up every day longing to do. What makes their life—and their career—so difficult, is that their opportunities seem so fleeting that they feel they must accept every one—or risk losing all of them.
Gaining control of this is the goal of every career artist; it's done by carefully considering the offer and deciding if it can be turned down. It's also difficult. It's counterintuitive that an artist's goal is to be able to say no, especially when they undoubtedly feel like their entire career has been about trying to create situations in which they can say yes. However, creating scarcity adds value, and shouldn't make anyone feel like they are losing money.
Turning something down actually means you have something better going on. It's a good thing.
If you're a new artist, you'll be told: "This is all promotional for you, so it's okay [to work for free]." But is it? Only you can decide. Don't just accept the offer blindly. Ask yourself some questions: "How does this fit into my overall strategy? If I do end up performing for free, how much money do I stand to lose, factoring in the costs of my band, the backline, transportation and anything else I may have to pay for? Am I being taken advantage of? What is the true value of this performance and how does it increase my value and further my career?"
Career artists find themselves in the same position and must answer the same questions. The only difference is that the question asked of the career artist is more along the lines of "You are such a big star that we can't afford you; would you be willing to take a lower fee and help out a good cause?" The irony here is that instead of being told that you can't be paid because you're too little, you are being told you can't be paid because you're too big.
At every level, you must stop and ask yourself some important questions in order to determine whether the offer makes sense for you and your career. Remember: it's okay to say no.
Saying no will be scary. You are turning down work after all. But what kind of work are you turning down? Are you losing money on a show that helps somebody else profit without providing any benefit to you? Or are you losing money performing in front of an audience you actually want to target as potential fans? Can you sell merch to make up the loss? Is there a potential relationship to nurture, or possibly lose? If you're a career artist, does the lower fee set a precedent that impairs your ability to get a bigger one in the future? Does it prevent you from appearing in that market again, and for how long? (For some, accepting a gig may mean being prevented from playing again in that market for a while.)
These are the questions artists must ask when they receive an offer to play. This happens at every level, in every market and at every price point.
The bottom line is that every offer calls into question your value as an artist. That value can be enhanced through creating scarcity via an appropriate strategy. It's your (or your manager's) job to continually try and increase your value, so a smart artist will take a hard look at the situation and decide what makes the most sense. Sometimes it will be to say no, as hard as that may seem.
It's okay to say no—as long as it pays off in the long run.