The thought of signing a deal with a booking agent makes most musicians get all misty eyed. After all, doesn't touring the world, without all of the hassle of booking your own gigs, sound downright delightful? The trouble is that most bands don't really need an agent when they first start playing live - signing with an agent (provided you could even get on interested, which is a bit unlikely) would just mean sharing a cut of the $11 you made on the door of that tiny show. No, instead, it pays to cut your teeth a bit on the live circuit before you start thinking of booking agents. Do you think that maybe you've got enough shows under your belt to court agents? Consider these four signs:
When you first start playing shows, booking a gig typically involves lots of calls and emails that go unanswered, and an eventual response at the last minute when it's too late to do a good job with promotion. Then, after you've established yourself a little bit, the calls get answered, but you're still the one making them. Then, oh glorious day, people start calling YOU to see if you're interested in playing a show. Out of town promoters want to know if you're going to be available on a particular date. Venues start coming to you as their go-to opening act. All the regional festivals think that you'd make a fine anchor for their line-up.
When people start actively selecting you to play shows, instead of simply responding to your requests, it means that your name has some gas on the live circuit. Now is the time to let an agent capitalize on what you've built and start negotiating better deals for you then you might be getting on your own. They can also take your successes to new markets and convince their contacts there that you're worth a show.
So, you may not like talking about what you're getting paid for shows, and many of your fellow musicians feel the same way. Despite that, word gets around about what people are getting paid for their shows. And wait a minute, why is this band being paid more for the festival, that band getting more money for the show you played last week, and that other band getting travel, accommodation, and the good beer on their rider, while you're sleeping in the van and sharing one bottle of warm malt liquor? The answer: either they have a really good negotiator in their band, or they have an agent taking care of it for them. If you find out that you're making less than similar bands with similar draws for the same gigs, it might be time to send an expert out there on your behalf.
3. You'd Like To Write Music Again
Remember when you used to write music and practice with your band? That was before you took on the job of booking, right? Once you start moving beyond the occasional local gig, booking takes an incredible amount of time and organization, and well, something has to give somewhere. Usually, that means you have to put your new music on hold. A booking agent can take all of that responsibility off your hands and deliver you a nice tour package, all while you spend your time making sure the shows are going to be great. Kind of a nice deal, huh?
Are you pretty much selling out every place you play? Although erring on the side of a venue that is too small is preferable to overshooting at a big place, you know when you've outgrown your usual spots. The thing is, many big venues only respond to agents. Rightly or wrongly, they tend to ignore the queries coming directly from the bands because they assume that if you don't have an agent, it's because you're not big enough that you need one - and therefore, not big enough to play their place. An agent can open these doors for you. Ditto larger music festivals - you will need an agent's existing relationship with the festival promoters to get you on their radar in many cases.