Why I Am Not an Agent and Booking for the Failure-Inclined
As my first column for the Folk Alliance newsletter, it is most appropriate that I extend thanks and congratulations to Joann Murdock on the thoughtful and thorough job she did with this column over the last year. I am hereby serving notice that there is no way that I will be able to live up to the high standard she has set. So, lower your expectations and read on or skip over to that nicely done section on what the Canadians are doing these days.
Let me admit to a semantic bias: I rarely refer to myself as an "agent". I prefer the more cumbersome term "artist representative" (or "artist rep" to my friends.) Particularly if you are the only other person involved in an artist's career, your role (and concurrently your billing) expands to include lots of other functions besides booking: Press releases (publicist); rumor control (public relations); product sales (merchandising) and career planning and consultation on a myriad of things (management). Some-how, "agent" just never seemed to cover the territory to me.
Some people seem to see negotiating a booking as a competition where either the artist/artist rep or the venue wins (or loses). It seems that the best approach to booking is based on teaming up with the venue. After all, we are all have the same goals here: we want an overflow crowd of cheerful people who are spending money and, when all those happy souls have gone home, we want both the venue and the artist to have made enough money and had enough fun that they are eager to repeat the experience.
Now, there are plenty of books out there outlining all the different tricks of the trade to use in landing a booking. I want to take a different tack here. I have done a totally random and highly unscientific survey of venue bookers and they have shared some of the things that you can say or do that will absolutely insure that they will never hire you. Instead of "Booking for Dummies", this takes things one step further. It's more like "Booking Where Success is not an Option."
- "I would love to come and play for your audience": Not what most bookers want to hear. Chances are they were hoping that you might be bringing some audience of your own. It also neatly places all the responsibility for the people showing up on the venue's side of the ledger, a situation that they are actively trying to avoid for all the obvious reasons.
- "Sure, I've got a photo but I need you to return it to me when you're done": Every venue booker knows that they need to do publicity to get the crowds to show up and you have just informed him/her that you cannot supply the necessary materials for them to do that. In one amazing instance, a club told me about an artist rep directing them to an agency where, "for a few hundred dollars", they could get everything they needed! Same thing; different dynamic.
- "Nope, don't have a mailing list. Too much trouble to carry": Once again, you have just laid all the responsibility for audience procurement at the feet of the venue because you won't be doing anything about it. There may be a horde of fans out there just dying to come to your next gig but you don't know how to find them. The venue may find that it is "too much trouble" to book you.
- "I don't have demo tape but I can come in and audition": (You can substitute "sing you a song over the phone" or "arrange to get you in to see me at a gig" for "come in and audition".) Venue bookers are generally overwhelmed with materials from artists/artist reps which have sufficient information for them to decide whether or not they would like to consider that artist for a gig. In most cases, they are able to do that decision-making in their home or office. (Although some bookers do like to see artists live, they generally want to have some idea of what the artist sounds like before taking the time to go to a show.) By and large, they have more artists in which they are interested than available slots. Given all that, why should they get involved in the time and inconvenience involved in taking up the slack for the artist's lack of materials?
- "I've got this great song. All my friends say Reba should record it": Unless your friends are executives at Starstruck, this kind of statement does nothing but let the venue know that you and reality have only a passing acquaintance. If you are this detached from the real world about songwriting, they have every reason to suspect you will be equally out of it in matters concerning doing a gig at their place.
- "Let me tell you why you need to hire me…": Rather than a particular phrase, venue bookers said this is often more of an attitude. It totally ignores the team aspect where all players have strengths they are bringing to the table. In a good deal, everybody puts something in and everybody gets something out. To come across with an attitude of "Here, let me do you a favor and allow you to give me a gig" not only suggests that you don't get it, it is likely to alienate someone with whom you want to work.
- "I always get 100% of my CD/tape sales": Whether or not a venue takes a percentage of product sales varies from place to place. However, what doesn't vary is that their policy is what they do each and every time. Merchandising, unlike artist pay, is generally not up for negotiation and several venues I talked with said they get really tired of re-iterating this over and over. Whether or not you think it fair is not the issue. If you can't go along with their policy, then either don't do the gig or don't sell product.
- "[silence]": Probably the most sure-fire way to not get a booking: just say or do nothing. Don't initiate any contact with a venue and, if you do, make sure not to follow up in a timely fashion. The real beauty of this one is that it's guaranteed to work 100% of the time for any venue of any size or type located in any area.
Disclaimer: I have written this as if the artist is the one seeking the booking but all of the above applies to artist reps too. It just gets a bit too grammatically tedious to keep try-ing to add that aspect. Use your imagination.
Unwittingly or otherwise, the following people helped me develop this column: Andy Goddard; Michael Jaworek; Fred Kaiser; Bruce Pratt and Joyce Sica.
Any and all feedback is welcome - although lavish praise is generally more wel-come than scathing criticism. Let me know what you want to see addressed here. After all, if you refrain from comment, then you leave me to my own devices and you will have no one to blame but yourself. Worse yet, if you don't join in the fray, you lose all your complaining rights and will have to suffer in silence. You can reach me at 410.268.8232 during normal working hours (Ha!) or firstname.lastname@example.org
© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions