There is a lot of artists out there saying “I need a booking agent to have more gigs” and actually it doesn’t work like that.
Do I need an agent? At what stage should we approach one? Will a booking agency even work with an unsigned or emerging band? If you’ve ever wondered about any of the above, this blog is for you!
We share with you the vision of some of the booking agents from the best booking agencies interviewed by the Unsigned Guide.
Jack Cox and Beckie Sugden work for X-ray Touring, an established agency working with a huge range of acts from Blur and Coldplay to Courtney Barnett and Black Honey. Adam Gainsborough is the Founding Director of This Is Now Agency, home to Molotov Jukebox, Beans On Toast, Too Many T’s, and many more.
So, what does a booking agent do? What can you achieve that bands and artists won’t be able to do for themselves?
A: A booking agent seeks as many opportunities for their clients as they can to help progress their profiles and careers. Having a good working relationship with both promoters and festivals enables agents to speak directly to the powers that be which artists find hard to do. Having a good reputation with successful acts helps to get quick answers instead of bands themselves having to go through the application process to play at events and festivals.
B: We scout, pitch to and sign a roster of acts. Our job is then to apply a personally tailored, strategic, international touring plan based on an artist’s releases and general activity. It’s about putting the artists in the right place at the right time, in the right way. You don’t need an agent until you have stopped asking yourself this question and you know the answer! We take everything to the next level!
J: A good agent will have the contacts that artists will not have and will be able to give insight into the best live choices for an artist. It’s essential for an agent to elevate an act through the venue and promoter choice along with which cities to play and when. In short, on top of booking shows and tours, a good booking agent will guide and advise on an artist’s live career. They will also fight for their act to get the best possible slots in an ever competitive world of live music events.
In my opinion, the role of an agent is evolving into a more personal member of a musician’s team, along with the manager, lawyer, PR etc. that it didn’t necessarily use to be. Agent’s opinions and advice is being sought after more often than ever as the live career of the artist is now normally the largest revenue stream.
A mistake many unsigned and/or un-represented artist make (including myself when I was in a band) is overplaying and touring in a disorganized, poorly routed and poorly promoted way. As briefly mentioned before, the live career of an act is the largest revenue stream now, so it must be correctly exercised – a good agent can ensure that this happens.
At what stage in their career should a band or artist approach a booking agent? Is there any point unsigned acts doing this?
A: Bands should really get in touch with agents when they’ve reached a level that they can no longer manage themselves. Bands obviously can be picked up quite quickly by agents and management due to the potential that’s seen in them, but more often than not a band really needs to do a lot of legwork in raising their profile as much as they can until they need to increase the number of the team that they work with.
B: My rule is that you should not be approaching me until you can sell out a hometown show AT LEAST! I personally think being signed is now less important than it has ever been; for me, it is more important to have a manager. Different agents will take on bands at different stages and be looking for different things, so I am a big advocate of the saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained!”. Just make sure when you are approaching an agent everything is at its peak i.e. people are clamoring to see you, your branding is strong, you have a clear and infectious vision, the songs are the best you can produce at that moment and the live show is flawless. It’s hard to get an agent’s attention so when you do you need to be undeniable, as competition is fierce.
J: Yes, there certainly is; agents tend to sign bands way before record labels nowadays. I would advise that unsigned acts/artists approach agencies through their lawyer or after you have a manager in place. Do not bother doing so before.
What do you look for in a band or artist?
A: This Is Now Agency’s ethos is unique entertainment and we believe the performance is just as important as the music itself. If you make us say “Wow” or make our jaws drop or go, then we’re more likely going to want to say hello. Yes, you’re a hard-working band who tour relentlessly, but do you sound any different to the millions of other acts out there? If you don’t, you need to take a look at what you’re wanting to achieve and how you’re going to make yourself stand out.
B: The complete package. As I said above, you need to be undeniable in every respect. You need to have songs that stick in my head. I want to see an image forming that fits the band. Your live show should impress and I want to know you have a clear and realistic vision of who you are as a band and where you want to go.
J: The clear ability to write songs of musically-contextual competitive quality and an amazing live show.
How do you source exciting new acts to keep an eye on?
A: We receive a lot of emails from bands looking for agents but more often than not we find new acts through our own network. Whether that’s through friends in the industry, other acts on our roster or at events themselves.
B: Honestly I mainly find my bands through tips within the industry or through my bands’ recommendations. Rarely do I sign a band from a speculative approach. You can be clever with getting on an agents radar i.e. find one of their bands you fit with and do everything you can to get on as a support. Make friends with that band and get them to watch you and hopefully they will recommend you to the right people.
J: I find them myself in the majority of cases. If I receive an email out of the blue from an unsigned and unmanaged act, I can’t treat it as a priority as I need to concentrate on the artists I represent. The best way to find new bands is to get to shows and build up a network of individuals who have good musical taste and who are also positioned to help acts. These can include artist managers, label and publishing scouts and (sometimes!) promoters.
What do you take into consideration when you book tour dates or festival slots for an act?
A: It really depends on which acts we’re booking the shows for. Unless you’re one of the biggest artists in the world who will sell out shows no matter what you have going on, a tour really needs to coincide with a new release so all cogs work together – PR, radio, TV etc. If you have a release coming up, you’re also more likely to get bigger and better slots at festivals as these shows can also be mentioned in interviews and listings, which in turn is free promotion for the festivals.
B: Absolutely everything! This is actually a really tough question as you are thinking about things in different ways at different times. So firstly you will look at what releases they have out and when it makes the best sense to tour, then when you have the green light to get it all started, you start to look at what other artists are in the market, public holidays, major sporting events in the area, what avails you can get in venues. There are so many variable factors to consider and take into account when deciding the best course of action. It would probably take a small book to explain this in depth!
J: Every act’s live career and strategy is different. In a very basic sense, a release is usually needed to tour. When considering tour dates and festival slots, I consider placement – a certain act must appear in a live space or at a festival that will benefit them the most. You aren’t going to book a very gentle singer-songwriter onto a heavy metal festival. Another thing to consider is how to deliver an incredible show; hard work and creativity is required to elevate a band and an element of this is considering alternative venues and spaces for the act to play in.
How does it work financially? Do you take a straight percentage cut from money made from the gig?
A: We work differently from other agencies out there as we manage a lot of our artists as well as doing their bookings. We look after social media, promotion as well as being the ‘tour manager’ delivering the itineraries for each show. We have a lot of different deals with our clients, so there’s no real rule of thumb as such, but a straight-up agency deal is normally 10%. That is generally for solely booking the show and passing over the details to the band directly or to their manager or tour manager to sort the logistics.
B: 10% of gross is the industry standard.
J: An agent takes a cut of the fee they negotiate for the artist, the cut is completely different from act to act.
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