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Desperately Seeking Representation - The Search is On

Okay, onward and upward. You read the last column and you now have a shelf full of beautifully presented materials, including great pictures, a CD that nicely represents what you do, a mailing list full of ardent fans and a respectable touring schedule that is paying the bills. However, you are having a hard time staying on top of your bookings because you are on the road so much and you have a sneaking suspicion that someone else might be able to negotiate some better deals for you. Let's take a look at some possible ways of finding an artist representative.

Personally, I've never been impressed when an artist sends me an e-mail request to submit material and the address line contains about 150 other names. If you are going to use this blitz approach, you need to learn how to suppress a recipient list or use blind carbon copy at the very least. More to the point, however, this scattershot technique suggests to me that an artist really isn't doing their homework. Instead of doing the necessary research to get a fix on people who truly might be suitable for them to work with, they are just copying names out of some directory. Feels like the electronic equivalent of getting a letter addressed to "Occupant". The relationship between an artist and a representative is an important one. You are going to be entrusting that person with your dreams, your vision, your income (!) - it makes sense to put some time and effort into the search. This is someone with whom you are going to be working closely and communicating with quite a bit. It's important that you feel comfortable with the way they represent you and that you basically get along.

Obviously, one way to try and zero in on someone is to ask other artists. You can also check in resources like the Kerrville Directory or websites like songs.com to see who is representing artists that you feel are similar to you. It may be well worth your time and money to go to the Folk Alliance, especially if a regional one is available to you. Don't tell yourself that you are going there to find a rep. Look upon it as a chance to gather more information: attend panels where particular reps that interest you are speaking, check to see if they have displays in the exhibit hall that can tell you more about their agency. Another good source of information is the venues where you are playing. Ask the venue booker whom s/he works with that s/he likes and/or thinks is good. The bookers know both you and the reps and may be able to stir you toward someone reliable who handles your style of music.

Don't overlook your own backyard as a possible source of a home-grown rep. After all, it's not like any of us woke up one day at the age of six and said, "Hmmm, let's see. Fireman? No. Teacher? No. I think when I grow up, I'll be an artist rep." You don't go to school for this. If you have someone in your life - relative, friend, lover, spouse - you might want to take a look at them representing you if they have both an interest and aptitude for doing so. However, they do have to have certain attributes to qualify for the job over and above being a big fan. (However, don't discount "big fan" as unimportant -your rep should be a "big fan" since part of what we are selling is our own enthusiasm for the artist.) To some extent, you decide what those characteristics are. What are the areas in which you are weak and/or dislike so much that you put off doing them? What tasks are consuming so much of your time that you feel it's interfering with your ability to pursue other things that are vital to your career? You want to find someone who picks up the slack on things you don't enjoy doing or at which you aren't good. Personally, I think you want someone who is pretty organized so they can keep track of the myriad details that are involved - who they called when, what's been sent, who said what, etc. As I alluded to before, this is sales. We may be selling a fascinating product but it is selling nevertheless. You need someone who is relatively persistent because it's easy to get to the point where you never want to pick up a phone again. (On the other end of the scale, I've met some wonderful people through this business who have become friends via phone calls - bless you - you know who you are!)

Think of the quest to find a rep as a process. I get far too many people calling me who make it clear that they want to find a rep right now. This is a relationship and, like all good relationships, it takes some time to get a feel for each other. You need to know that you have a shared vision and are comfortable working together. Hopefully, you are starting something that will prove beneficial to both of you and will be long-term. It makes sense to approach the process with some respect. Periodically, when someone contacts me, I get the impression that they aren't contemplating for even a nano-second the implications of forming a long-time partnership. Their primary interest is finding someone to take over the phone calls. I've never been particularly flattered by that approach.

There should be several discussions about expectations on a variety of topics. You also need to assess to what degree you wish to involve someone else in your career. Some artist/artist reps prefer strictly a working relationship with distance built in. I tend to work the other way; the more I am involved in what's going on with an artist, the more ideas I have of things to do for him/her. You have to break through the money taboo and discuss how much you are currently earning, upper and lower fee limits and talk about how commissions will be calculated and paid. You need to know who will be paying for what: phone calls, mailings, etc. This can vary. Every rep has some idea of what they need to take in monthly to make it worth while to work with an artist. If you aren't regularly making an income which is going to generate the necessary monies for an agent, perhaps you want to discuss guaranteeing them a certain monthly figure vs. their commission percentage (whichever is greater). It's a nasty bit of "harsh reality" that the artist who currently generates the least income represents the most work from the rep's point of view.

In the final column in this trilogy, I'll discuss some of the factors that things that help you hang on to a rep after you have found one. If you are looking for me, I can be found chatting away on 410.268.8232 (in which case, Bell Atlantic will be happy to take your message) or at mcshane@mcnote.com.

© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions

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