Though a tiring process that requires research, patience and perseverance, booking your band is a necessary evil if you want to get out on the road and let the people hear your music. As you continue to play out, you will, if you promote your shows properly (using flyers, word of mouth, e-mail, Facebook/Twitter, telephone calls, etc.) begin to draw more and more paying customers to your performances. This accomplishes two goals simultaneously: First, it shows the club that you are worth something-namely money. And second, as your draw gets bigger and bigger, you become attractive to booking agents.
The responsibility of a booking agent is simply to secure live performances for his clients. That's it. He has no part in career planning and no stake in the band, other than his 10% commission from paying gigs that he secures for you. Here's how the agency scenario works: If you are a new, baby band just starting to play-out, and your worth to a club is zero, then your worth to an agent is also zero because there is no income to commission. On the other hand, if you are being paid several hundred dollars per show, there is an income to commission and, quite possibly, an opportunity for an agent to increase that income with crafty negotiations. This is a definite reason for a booking agent to consider adding you to his roster.
There are many industry directories listing hundreds of booking agents, but the real chore is to find one who books the kinds of venues you play and who works with other artists compatible with your music so the possibility of "packaging" a show exists. Here's a short checklist that will help you in your quest to find the right agent:
Does he understand the music I play?
Does he book shows at the venues I play?
How powerful is he locally?
Can he book me on some "career" shows?
Can he increase the amount of money I make?
Does he book other bands I can play with?
Will he ask me to sign a long-term, exclusive contract?
How accessible is he?
In most cases, finding the right agent is as simple as a telephone call. Most will ask you to send them a complete package including photo, bio, list of clubs you played at and some of your music—a demo or finished CD. If they're impressed, they will ask what it is you're looking for and will then decide if you're "worthy" of their time and effort.
If you are a cover band—playing other people's songs— things are slightly different. Not all clubs book cover bands, so you will need an agent who specializes in those specific bookings. Also, as a cover band performing several sets a night, you will be paid. Many musicians make a lucrative living playing cover tunes three nights a week. Combine a powerful booking agent with a very tight, professional cover band and the sky's the limit as far as income goes.
Since cover bands specialize in playing previously recorded material, their song list is their secret weapon. As far as the club owner is concerned, your job is to entertain and please the audience and keep them dancing and drinking all night long. No easy task. A good agent who knows this territory will be able to negotiate a great pay scale for his bands. In fact, there are many cover bands who work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with no other day jobs.
Because cover bands tend to attract fans at clubs (keep in mind that all cover bands choose a variety of material, so fans also choose the bands playing the songs they personally like), the owners want to keep bringing the most popular bands back, over and over again. This adds to a band's worth.
Now that we've discussed the importance and responsibilities of booking agents, let's take a look at what you should be willing to give up in order to get one:
- No booking agent should receive more than 10% of the gross income from each paying gig he contracts for you. If your agent gets you a gig for $500 and you sell $200 worth of CDs at the same show, the agent's commission is still 10% of $500.
- Make sure there are signed performance contracts for every show-whenever possible. This avoids misunderstandings about the number of sets you are to play and your pay at the end of the night. And, not that you don't trust the agent (laugh, laugh, snicker, snicker), but it's a good business idea to always get a copy of each contract for your files.
- Try to avoid signing an exclusive contract. This means that you are locked into this one booking agent for a pre-determined period of time. If the agent insists (as many do), ask for a 60-day trial period to see if things work out. If all goes well, it's okay to make the deal-but under no circumstances are you to sign for more than one year.
- Try to sign with an agency that has a nice mix of new bands and established bands. This will give the agent the opportunity to package you with other bands and sell the entire show to a venue. Additionally, if you get the chance to open a show for an established act, you have a built-in audience to perform for that evening.
- In your deal (whether verbal or signed), always write in an escalating series of events, so, as the months pass, your agent is asking clubs for better shows and more money for you.
Your booking agent is a vital member of your pro team (personal manager, attorney, business manager, booking agent), and as such, must be dealt with in a professional manner. Do not sit back and let him take control. He works for you. If you neglect to guide him and tell him what you want, you cannot blame him if things don't go your way.
And remember, getting a booking agent is not a cause for sitting back on your butts and taking it easy. It means you now have to work harder to put people in the clubs so the agent has more ammunition to shoot at the club owners.
If you're starting to believe that success is only achieved through hard work and maintaining a professional attitude, then there's hope for you yet!