“Can you find us a booking agent?”
This is the most common question we get from young artists who visit our website. Our most common response is, “Are you ready for a booking agency and if so, what do you offer that will entice them to take you on? What’s your story?”
Many artists get to a level in their careers where they’ve played shows in their local market (home town) and begin to build a fan base. These artists begin to sell out the largest venues in their hometown and make the decision to go on tour. They often have expectations that they will see the same results in other cities. The search for a booking agent begins.
Shortly after, they find themselves getting turned down by agents and agencies left and right…if they get a response at all.
Why would an agent not respond an artist that is selling shows out in their hometown on a regular basis? This is most likely because the artist or band is simply not ready, does not have strong regional ticket sales, or is lacking the necessary tools booking agents need in order to sell the show to talent buyers in other markets.
What does a booking agency look for?
First, it is very important to realize that most of the time, booking agents get paid via commissions. Yes, there are agents that will book bands for flat fees. There are also tour buy-on opportunities available to some artists; however, this post focuses on long-term career goals and landing a booking agency.
Tour and Ticket Sales History
Most up and coming artists are completely unaware of the Pollstar Pro database. What is Pollstar Pro? It is a database that every major booking agency, promoter and talent buyer uses to report attendance and ticket sales. If we were given a dollar every time we got a call from a band that untruthfully tells us “we sold 600 tickets in X city,” this post would not exist. We would all be living in mansions on personal islands that we purchased with cold hard cash.
A bit of advice for artists looking to land an agent: do not lie about your show attendance. Pollstar gives exact numbers, and if the artist does not exist in the database, most buyers are not interested. In turn, agents will not be interested. Do the research on Pollstar Pro and get your shows and attendance reported.
Where to begin if you do not have tour history.
We’ve now established the fact that you need a solid touring and attendance history for a big-time agent or agency to sign you. What options do you have left and how do you grab the attention of these much-needed people?
The days of recording an album or EP using Auto-Tune or Melodyne, getting the music played on radio stations and growing rich from mailbox money are over. You can no longer sit on your asses and make money in the music industry. You need to tour in order to make real money. Touring forces you to get in front of real people and play your music live.
If you do not have the talent, people will not like your music…in most cases. There are some artists in the pop world that bring the studio to the stage, and the fans are none the wiser. That is a topic for another post, and if you are reading this, you are probably not making the kind of money to afford that kind of production. In short, be the best at what you do, and you will win fans.
At Least One Business-Minded and Tech-Savvy Person in The Camp
Not everybody can have a business and artistic brain at the same time. Make sure that somebody in the band or the camp understands business and technology. This person is essential for the future. They most likely will be the person that communicates with the future agent, manager, lawyer, and so forth.
The music business is the hardest business in the world to earn a living in right now. The old days are over, and the workload has tripled. If you are not comfortable with crashing couches, sleeping in vehicles, or not showering for a few days, touring may not be for you. If you need a steady paycheck and benefits, stop reading and click here to find a different place to work. Be ready to book shows on your own in the beginning. How does that work? Continue reading to find out…
Strong Social Media Metrics
- Do you know your social media metrics?
- Do you know where your fans live?
- How many visitors per day do you get on your website…assuming you have one?
- Where are those visitors located?
- How many people are on your email list?
- How many YouTube subscribers do you have?
- How many Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social networks are you on?
- How many followers do you have?
- How many are active fans vs. unengaged followers?
- How old are your fans?
Do you remember that tech-savvy person that we mentioned earlier? Have them find the answers or hire somebody who can get these answers. Agents and buyers will ask for this information above all else…even before they listen to your music.
EPKs and One-Sheets
If you are thinking about approaching a booking agent or if you are trying to book your shows on your own, at the very least, you need an EPK or one-sheet. These tools contain valuable information regarding your project. They provide links to music, live videos, biographical information, bullet points about your touring goals and more, in one easy to read document or web page.
If you are selling out local venues and do not have a professional video with a professional mix of your show, you are missing the boat. If you are going to buyers in other markets, they need to see you live. They are not going to fly to your city to watch you play. There is no time for that. Talent buyers want to sell tickets and pack out their venues. They do not take chances on acts that can’t watch live beforehand.
What’s your story? Who’s talking about you? How many reviews of your record or show are on the internet? Hiring a publicist is something any artist is capable of doing to help you get attention. They will write your biography, send your record or EP out for review, help to populate your EPK with the information that agents and buyers want to see and most importantly, develop your image and brand.
Radio / TV Appearances
Is the radio still relevant? In short, yes. Although terrestrial there are plenty of arguments that terrestrial radio technology may be dying, it is not dead yet. Securing local radio and news appearances in the markets you are looking to play in greatly increases your chances of getting a show booking in those areas. If you already have a show booked in that market, these appearances will help you sell ticks and generate a buzz about the show. This is another reason to hire a publicist.
Other than talent, marketing is the most important piece of the artist’s career. What does marketing entail? Almost everything. Web design, print design, logo design, branding, advertising, social media, release campaigns, email campaigns, e-commerce, online presence and above all… stats. Once again, it is all about the numbers. Great marketers know how to target market, where to target market and provide stats about your fans. You work in the music “business,” and great business owners know everything about their customers. Music marketers give you the power to know your fans.
Touring is an entirely different game than playing local. You need to travel light and travel with a plan. Who will act as your tour manager? Who will book your hotels? Who will communicate with the venue’s production contact? Who will settle-up with the buyer and who will collect the settlement sheet at the end of the night? What vehicle will you be traveling in? Who will drive that vehicle? Determining who in your group will handle each of these tasks is essential. In the early days, you can do these things on your own. As you begin to see success, you will travel with a tour manager, sound engineer, production manager and more crew members. It makes sense to start assigning those tasks to band members before you get to that point.
Tour Support (Money)
A common mistake that up-and-coming artists make is expecting to make money on their first tours. Unless you are playing cover songs in local dive bars, this is not going to happen. Unknown acts do not get paid guarantees. You must earn that money and the way to do it is by accepting door deals and proving that people will come out to see you.
Once you’ve played a market a couple times and prove that you have a following there, the buyers will be willing to send you a deposit for the show. Until then, you need to be prepared to lose money.
Start saving the money that you make locally and bank it. Don’t spend it on new gear unless it is on travel cases. If you have not already gotten merchandise made, do so. Save the rest. Chances are you will not break even on your early tours. You need to have money saved to cover your travel expenses while you are on the road. If you are betting on making money from ticket sales on your first tour or two, you will be in for a massive surprise.
You probably wouldn’t open a a bar or restaurant without saving money or approaching an investor to help you with startup capital. Touring is no different. It takes money to make money.
This sounds like a ton of work. Should we get a manager to help? This answer is a catch 22. If you have an experienced manager willing to take you on, yes. They have many connections that can make this process easier. On the other hand, most managers are paid via commission, the same way a booking agency is.
Now, many managers are starting to offer their services on a consultative basis. Depending on your situation, hiring a manager on an advisory level could be a smart move. In a scenario where you have a friend who is interested in becoming a day-to-day manager for your project, it could be a sage decision to pay someone to “show them the ropes.” If you do not have that, it is probably not a good idea. A better bet would be to hire a publicist, book yourself some shows and make sure to put on incredible performances.
Managers, Booking Agencies, Record Labels. The Rest Will Follow.
This post is only a brief overview about booking agencies and touring, but it involves a lot more than most would expect. Our best advice is to do as much of it as you can on your own. Once you start touring and gaining good publicity, booking agents will come to you. Once you prove that you are capable of making money agencies, managers and even record labels will find you.
I originally wrote this post for Consonant Music in 2014 and later moved it to Medium.