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Thursday
Jun022011

How to Get a Booking Agent to Book Your Band

Dave Cool is the Blogger-In-Residence at musician website and marketing platform Bandzoogle.

One of the most common questions I was asked by artists during my time as a venue booker was how they could find a booking agent. I inevitably answered that they should just keep playing gigs, grow their fan base, and an agent would find them. But is the answer really that simple? In a word, yes. By far the best way to get a professional booking agent is for bands to book themselves until the point where they are selling out shows on a regular basis on their own.

What does this mean exactly? To put it in numbers, regularly sell-out shows of 100-150 people at around $10 per ticket in your home market. What’s your home market? Your home city, plus maybe 2-3 other nearby cities/towns. If you can sell 100-150 tickets at $10 each in a few cities on a regular basis (once every few months), then you’ll be generating the kind of income that would be interesting to a booking agent, and there’s a good chance they’ll come find you at that point. Easy, right?

OK, all kidding aside, I know how hard it can be to get to that point. And I know what you’re thinking: is it really all about the money? Yes and no. Agents are music fans too, however, they aren’t going to work for free. Think about it from their perspective: if you’re not even making $200 per show, why would they work for a % of that revenue? A professional agent makes their living from the commissions of a band’s show revenues, usually around 15%. So if your live show revenue isn’t in the $800+ range, it’s going to be very hard to convince a professional booking agent to get on board with your career.

So what if you’re not selling that many tickets just yet? What can you do to help build your career up to the point where an agent might be interested in working with you? Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Build a mailing list with 1000+ people, get 1000+ Facebook Fans, and 1000+ Twitter Followers

  • Are there bands out there who have less than 1000 mailing list subscribers, Facebook fans or Twitter followers, but who have a booking agent? I’m sure there are, but once you reach that level, you’re putting yourself a cut above where most bands are at, and then you can start thinking about putting together a team of professionals, including a booking agent. You’ll have a solid following that you can use to generate bodies at live shows, especially if those fans and followers are concentrated in your home market.
    • Work on your live show: rehearse often and pay attention to your set list
    Get your live show to the point where people are going home blown away and talking about you when they leave the venue. So rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again, then play as many shows as you can. And be sure to build your set list in a way that makes for a great show, not just a series of songs played one after another. In a new documentary film about the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl talked about how when the band first started out they didn’t pay too much attention to their set list. But once the crowds started growing, they spent time developing a solid set list that maximized the song order to put on the best show possible, instead of simply writing song names down a few minutes before the show.
    • Work on your “brand”
    Does your band have a consistent look on stage? You don’t have to dress up in uniforms (although that’s ok too if it’s your thing), but having a cohesive look on stage can go a long way to showing that you’re serious about the visual presentation of your band.
    • Develop a good relationship with venue bookers
    This goes back to my blog post about impressing venue bookers, if you develop solid relationships with bookers, chances are they will talk about you to booking agents. And if an agent hears about your band through a trusted source like a venue booker, it’s as good as gold.
    • Use your website
    If you’re generating some buzz in your local scene, make sure that if an agent does check out your band that you have the right information on your website for them to see. Create a “Book My Band” section on your website, which would be similar to an online press kit, but it would include things like:
    • Statistics about the # of newsletter subscribers you have, Facebook fans and Twitter followers

    • Average attendance for your shows: are you regularly selling out 50-seat venues? 100-seat venues? Put that information somewhere on the page.

    • Mention which markets you play in

    • Have a photo gallery with lots of good quality live pics (any photos that include crowds in packed venues are a bonus)

    • Post good quality live videos (good video quality, good audio quality, packed rooms, minimal talking. Audience sing-a-longs are a bonus!)

    • Stage plot

    • Set list

    • Quotes from media that mention your live show

    • Quotes from venue bookers

    • Quotes from fans about your live shows

    Other than that, you should always blog about your live shows. Talk about the turnout, the crowd reaction, and post plenty of pics and live video whenever you can. All of this will help create the impression that you’re a hard-working band that takes their live shows seriously.

    Should I get my friend/family member/fan to book me?

    One last issue that I’ll address is whether a band should hire a friend, family member or fan to do booking for them. Although it’s tempting to delegate booking, which can be a tedious task that involves a lot of follow-up (and rejection), I think it’s best that artists book themselves until they get a professional agent on board.

    The biggest reason for this is that most of the time, a friend/family member/fan is a very temporary solution, so all too often I’ve seen situations where someone starts booking a tour for a band, but then bails on them halfway through. And if you have reliable friends who will stick through it? I still think it’s better to do it on your own. The more you learn about the industry as an artist, the more informed you’ll be when your career starts to grow. So if you book yourself 200+ shows, including a few tours, you’re going to have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a good booking agent, so you’ll know what to look for when you are at the point in your career when hiring a booking agent becomes a reality.

    Reader Comments (24)

    ...regularly sell-out shows of 100-150 people at around $10 per ticket in your home market.

    There lies the big problem with posts like this one: it is talking to the one band in 2000 that is fortunate enough to have found this size of an audience, not to the typical musicians reading it.

    I really think these little articles are sort of like fantasy novels that people read just to dream and think about "what if my dreams were to come true?"

    Well, at least by identifying the bar you'd have to get over, the article is accurate.

    June 2 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

    The one band in two thousand isn't "...fortunate..." to have found that audience. It 'found' the qualities in itself and worked it's ass off.

    But I sidetrack: Dave, (I can't bring myself to address you as "Mr. Cool") you left out niche marketing and niche audiences.

    Jeri Goldstein's book "How to be Your Own Booking Agent" led us to playing farmers markets and house concerts cross country, booking the house concerts from the people who bought CDs at the market. We hired a stranger, not a friend, and trained her. We now have a national sponsor (Real Time Farms), a booking agent (20 hours per week paid hourly, not %), and a publicist (paid wkly) - both of whom we trained ourselves with Jeri's advice.

    You might be right on the mark for mainstream musicians, but maybe a lot of these mainstream musicians should be looking for niche stream opportunities.

    And working their asses off instead of moaning about how "fortunate" the successful ones are.

    Just wanted to plug Jeri's book. I owe her.

    -lafe
    cocolafe dot com

    June 2 | Unregistered CommenterLafe

    @Glenn I think Dave was exagerrating a bit for the point of telling a story. However, your home market is an hour and a half to two hour radius around your own city. Through hard work, you can get there. Closer to reality is 50 to 100 people paying $5 per show.

    @Lafe: You beat me to it! I was thinking if your band is booking that successfully, why not train someone to do what you do. I'm thinking specifically of Virtual Assistants. You can outsource the most mundane aspects of booking while still being hands on with your contacts. From my experience, booking shows requires a lot of online mundane tasks. Hire someone else to do it!

    Calculate how many hours it takes you to book shows. Create templates for everything you do. Then see if the cost of hiring someone is worth it. If a band is making $200 per show and is playing 10+ shows a month, hiring an employee or VA is more than worth it.

    The only question about this article is the "1000" number. 1000 FB fans, email list subscribers, etc. Why is 1000 a magic number? Just wondering if there is some study around this other than the obvious "it's a lot of people".

    Good article ! Thanks for the tips. I like the idea on creating a "Book My Band" section.

    I think to many bands rush into the "I need a booking agent" idea before they've worked on the first 3 items in the article. I totally agree that you need to build a work on your music/show, build your fan base, and get your "business" up and running before a booking agent is needed or interested in working with you.

    Bands need to remember that they're building a "business" and just like any other small business owner they need to think hard before increasing their costs by adding staff our outside services.

    Thanks again!

    Greg

    June 3 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Brent

    Sometimes a reason to come to the bar like free beer 10 to12 then they can get hooked on your music . I am on itunes under Mama and the Crack Pipes freeform9101@hotmail.com bob

    June 4 | Unregistered Commenterax man

    very interesting and informative.
    thanks

    book yourself 200+ gigs plus a few tours to "understand booking agents better"? you gotta be kidding. If you book that amount you are heaps ahead of most booking agents

    June 5 | Unregistered CommenterYOHAMI

    Do a lot of twitter/facebook (it's a pain but it seems to be unavoidable). Pay attention to the right people. Sooner or later a booking agent will contact you.

    I think this is slightly misleading. Some of it is true. The part about agents wanting to make money is true. Everything else is kind of wishy washy and circumstantial.. really based on your market. Selling out a 100 person club in New York isn't that impressive. Really selling out anything under 300 doesn't turn many heads in the bigger markets.

    The website bit is accurate - Having widgets on the side of your website with your feeds helps show your social media clout.

    Where this article is misleading is this... My band has been pulling these numbers regularly in our home market for quite some time, and surrounding markets. In addition we have built up a few markets in Western part of our state and two surrounding states. For over a year we have drawn 200+ in our market at $8 - $10 a head, with our biggest show being 400+. This does a lot for you in your market but you need to stretch that out over a couple markets before anyone turns a head.

    Most venues have their own booking agents, anyone whom gets involved in the equation after that is just digging into your pocket. I would advise to only use booking agents if you are new to that market and work on developing your own relationship with the production and booking so you can handle yourself the next time in town. This is of course true if until you are with a powerful booking agent, then you don't want to block them out because they will block you out. It's a dirty game.

    A lot of these "promoters" and "agencies" that start subbing on booking for other clubs are just cannabils looking to showcase your band so they can dig in your pocket. You will end up paying more in production and lose more off the door, which isn't easy to swallow, even in your own market.

    So don't work with "promoters" that have less followers/likes than you do. Go hang your own posters and tell them to walk into oncoming traffic. How many people do you know that follow promotional companies to find out where shows are at? Not in our market.

    Last year we played 100 shows, about 90-95% of them self booked, and yes you learn a lot. You learn that the relationships you build with clubs are the most important and that friends in bands and venues make the best booking agents. You learn that guaranteed slots are hard to come by and if you find them you keep a good rapport with that club in particular because they will be your saving grace. You learn that touring indepently is so common that clubs are booked 3 to 4 months in advance so if you are planning a fall tour you better start booking today. You learn that playing 5 markets within 4 hours of your homebase is smarter than driving across the country. Playing California is so cool bro. NOT. You learn that sleeping in your van saves you.... $8,000 over 100 shows - so tell your singer to shut the f*ck up and go to sleep.

    It is best to work with an agent where you have clout (draw). This way you can say no to bad production deals and know that you aren't going to tarnish your reputation. Be honest with agents outside of your market and tell them what you are good for. This is a very small business. Guaranteeing a packed house and drawing 0 is a good way to never get a call back... Well most of the time - *Its good to have friends at the venue.

    I left out my band's name, my market and anything else traceable because I don't care to have my band judged for my tone in this comment.

    June 8 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

    I agree, the first reason why we're not having an agent is WE HAVEN'T WORKED ENOUGH FOR IT!!!... or have we?...
    It may not be just the case of "not having rehearsed enough", it could be the case that we have rehearsed to the point that we can play our songs backwards, but we cannot AFFORD to play at venues where there is a potential audience who likes our music, so we just play at the occasional pub whose clients include the average Joe - beer in hand - who doesn't give a damn about our music style (Gloria Estefan meets Madonna meets Sting), he just wants to hear a 3-chord strummed sequence with loads of grit. It may happen that my type of music is not suitable for the type of venue I can afford to perform at. It may also happen that, luckily one day we have a gig in an amazing venue (not paid) and I might get a few fans from it who'll remember how great and different this was but then do not have the chance of watching us live ever again, only on the internet in home-made videos...

    It's complicated.
    xx

    June 10 | Unregistered CommenterGraciela

    Stephen - and here's the funny thing and Lafe is finding this too. You don't need a booking agent. They're a hindrance more than a help. Certainly with bands of our size - we don't need booking agents, we need to do the work ourselves but... here's the problem booking agents will start to find:

    As time goes on, with bands using the new technology resources and knowledge like this at their disposal, they won't need you. Not small bands, not medium sized bands and eventually not bigger bands. OK - right now you won't talk to bands who don't bring in 150 or 200 or 500 or whatever to every gig they play. OK - that's fine - your risk - we understand. But the time will come that the bands pulling 1000 and 2000 and 3000 won't talk to you... you will have sidelined yourselves. We can pay for our PR and our pluggers and our promo and market our own gigs - we can do this ourselves. What can YOU bring that we can't do for ourselves?

    Bookers - the acts that you turn away (or most likely ignore - there are so many of us - all those demos, it's like flies buzzing round you) - you may find that they end up squeezing you out of your own market. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and agents and bookers are not magicians or wizards by any means...

    June 10 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Brown

    Graciela there's a book called "Playing Live" by Paul Charles. Buy it, read it, do what it says. Also follow the advice on this page, but that book will give you a blueprint to follow.

    June 11 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Brown

    There are a lot of good points here, some abject and almost unrelated ones as well, but albeit a few decent points.

    The problem for me, is that people are arguing cross purposes and not necessarily focusing on the same issues. First and foremost I think the nature of the article is actually asking the wrong question. I agree with much of it, such as working on your brand, your live show, rehearsals, creating your strongest set, optimizing your online presence etc etc etc - bands are going to have to work harder and harder to get noticed in an industry that is becoming ever more saturated by the hour, this is all true and almost self-explanatory. The steps you need to take in order to do this are one thing, and may lead to an agent being interested in your band. The more important question however, should not be how, but WHY do you want a booking agent? When you ask this question, you can be specific to what a bands individual and unique requirements are, and an agent might not always be the correct solution.

    I've written a more in depth blog (link below) in relation to this article which focuses on the question WHY not how. Please feel free to comment, respond or email me to continue the discussion.

    http://xanderproducer.tumblr.com/
    xanderbeats@gmail.com

    Thank you Simon, I'll check it out, I just bought the book.
    Cheers.

    June 16 | Unregistered CommenterGraciela

    Okay, here's the problem with this piece: what if your music is not "mainstream" enough for the bar-flies & hipsters in your little town? Or the medium sized city an hours drive from where you live? Let's say you are truly on a par with Porcupine Tree, Animals As Leaders, OSI, Gazpacho or Glass Hammer. Wait - you've never heard of any of them? Most of them sell thousands of tickets when they tour, but I can guarantee if they came to my town & got the same promotion local venues give to other bands, they might get a couple dozen people to show up.

    So if internationally known artists, with strong niche followings can't fill a 150 head room at $10 per outside a major market like NYC, what should I do? Switch to playing the same style as everyone else? Switch to oldies? Become a wedding band? No thanks.

    But wait! Dave said if you can't fill the local beer joint to work the website, Facebook, Twitter, bla bla bla like every other band in existence is doing. Sorry, the noise floor is just too high for most of us to get noticed on those platforms. Useless.

    Here's what you need to do:
    1- Work a day gig & live on 20% of what you earn & bank the rest for 2 or 3 years. (Yeah, lots of ramen noodles.)
    2- Use the evenings & weekends during that period to write, record, & rehearse 45 minutes of jaw dropping music. The live show needs to be so well ingrained that you could do it in your sleep. And it HAS to be undeniably entertaining.
    3- Here's the really hard part: find a band similar in style to you, make contact, offer to open for them for FREE for as many shows as you can possibly negotiate. Offer to help fund the promo or something until you have the dates. Get it in writing, every detail. Use the money you banked to fund this & for day-to-day living.
    4- Quit the day gig, play like this until the budget runs out. Maybe by the end you'll have enough fans built up to actually make a meager living playing your own shows.

    Easy? No. Simple? Yes. Do it.

    my band is looking for a booking agent ... but we also need help on a whole bunch of other stuff too

    January 6 | Unregistered Commentertigris ducky

    I hear what your saying and feel that you make some very valid points...but at the end of the day I am putting in countless hours for no pay to get "no" response from some Band Bookers, who are consistently unavailable, never answer their phone nor email and then have the balls to turn around and say they have asked for the details to be sent to their email address and have not yet heard from you! What crap!
    One Melbourne band booker who shall remain nameless did just this!
    If it was at all up to me (mind you, this had been one of my favourite venues in town) I would'nt see a gig nor play this venue ever again, and as for the majority of their line up of artists, I could seriously get better acts in that would draw a crowd, this was brought to light after going to see a band that should have pulled a good crowd to enter the venue and find about 20 people!
    Would you really want this venue to be batting on your behalf, surely the promotion of shows should fall equally on the venues shoulders!
    Gusto

    February 7 | Unregistered Commentergusto

    I started when I was 16 yrs old for a friends band .Local , the regionally. Soo I decided to move to Los Angles and look me up on linkedIn. I spent 40 plus successful years , and also managed, made record deals, promoted, had a studio and won a Grammy for doing Ike Turner's last album. I did it because I loved Music first then the money came.
    Dennis Rubenstein

    December 13 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Rubenstein

    It's not impossible to reach the 1.000 likes. All you have to do is dedicate. My band got more than 1000 likes in 1 year. We had 700 people in the beggining of 2012, but then we decided to change our name. We had to do it all over again. We released new songs and played more gigs and updated our fanpage more than ever, Today we have more than 1400 likes and still going up. Furthermore, I believe that the most important thing is that the fans are REALLY into it now and we have more likes and comments when we post a picture/video/whatever than bands that have 5-7 thousand likes. They even shout our name in gigs! Bands that give up early are the ones who make the way easier to bands that really dedicate themselves. We're still on it, and we'll keep working to have an exponential growth this year.

    February 14 | Unregistered CommenterTiago Carneiro

    ...at the end of the day, it's the MUSIC that does the talking. Bands with talent and dedication to hard work and sticking together will get where they want to go. On the other hand, Booking Agents, Venue Owners, Talent Buyers, and Promoters all have a holier than thou attitude - Most ignore bands at best, nevermind taking a few seconds of their oh-so-precious time to respond - not even a thanks but no thanks sentence. No, that's beneath them. One goofball agent I worked with had an artist I was trying to book in a 600 cap room. He was so big-headed (and so is the artist) that he kept saying in his snotty, surfer dude California voice "Its not gunna work" "the venue is muccch tooooo smaaaaall". Well, guess how many tickets his "superstar" sold for their next gig? That's right - less than 600. Dumbass fools will never learn.

    April 9 | Unregistered CommenterMusician

    I am onvolved in two bands! And we have one gig booked for the whole year so far in June!
    The Highlighters is a five piece pub and fun party band with a reasonable following, a great sound with covers from Stones, Beatles etc to Shadows, Eagles to Pink, Van Morrison etc
    Blac/Kandy is a new four piece with a gorgeous young female vocalist, covering everything from Elton John, to Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera to Adele, Foo Fighters etc . A great mix of acoustic and keyboards to electric guitar, with a touch of ELO thrown in!
    We need an agent to help us all get on the road. Every agent I've emailed has 'auto response' and you think 'Wow, that was quick!' Only to find it was just their computer set to reply, and they don't even bother!! Then you find they bring in those old bands from the 70's, getting venues to pay a fortune, tiny crowd, shit sound, and local bands go begging! Wake up Adelaide. If the current trend continues, most music shops will close down.......get us a gig guys! 0402061758

    April 10 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Ferraro

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Good article. It's nice to see someone encourage a do-it-yourself approach. Too many folks expect everything to fall in line simply because they have a band and a record. It's becoming increasingly more difficult to get attention as an artist. I've met the criteria that Dave Cool suggests and I haven't had any booking agents come knocking. That's not a complaint. I do fine getting gigs on my own. But I do want to let some of you know that even if you have a few thousand fans, followers and email addresses, it doesn't guarantee a thing. It's difficult and tedious booking a tour, but I keep all my earnings and get to know many of the venue owners and talent buyers very well. So don't depend on anyone to come rescue you. If you're not willing to do the leg work yourself indefinitely, you won't last. Being completely independent is more slow-going, but I've found that the grassroots fans are more loyal than any other. So keep on plugging. If you have endurance things will gradually improve.

    May 25 | Unregistered CommenterLee Koch

    My band has 10,000 likes(and growing) on Facebook. We have established a solid reputation in WNY. We have toured the entire country and even into Canada. Our music is available in almost every online outlet, and are selling our music as far away as Germany. Everything is published. We have built up an entire clothing line and work with several artists and designers from around the world. Our live show lights the crowd up every time we play. We have been complimented on our stage presence from a multitude of national acts. We recently just released a music video. There have been several articles written about our music and have even had video interviews from several online radio stations. We have the fan base, the experience, the music, the brand, the image, and a full throttle live show. Still have yet to see a real booking agent/agency contact us.

    August 19 | Unregistered CommenterGuitar Dude

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