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Desperately Seeking Representation…and Keeping It

You have found an artist rep with whom you want to work and who seems genuinely interested in you, diligent and honest. Does this necessarily mean that you will ride off into the sunset together? Of course not. The interaction between artist and rep is, like all relationships, a learning process where both people must change and adjust to make it work. Even assuming you have proceeded cautiously, getting to know each other and making sure your goals and style are compatible, periodically time brings new information and people part company.

Although this is a given in any relationship, there are some things which an artist can do to insure some longevity to this collaboration (or, alternatively, not do if you wish to hasten it's demise, I suppose!). Transitioning from doing your own bookings to trusting someone else to do it for you can be a particularly confusing time. An ongoing discussion of roles and how to deal with specific situations is important. There are always some presenters who prefer to work directly with the artist and making the move needs to be handled as sensitively as possible. But it does need to be handled. Most reps want exclusivity (If anyone out there isn't clear on the ins and outs of why on that one, let me know and abracadabra, it will be a column), and an artist should be committed to transferring any and all contacts. In some cases, I have found that the artist was more concerned about the change than the presenter; the presenter was fine with it. For whatever the thought is worth, the more comfortable the artist is with working with the rep, the smoother the change-over seems to go.

There needs to be a consistent message that the rep is the one to call regarding bookings. This can be tough for an artist when they are approached directly since they often feel that the gig will be lost if they don't accept a date right away. Imagine the scenario of an artist out seeing a fellow musician in a club that they know the rep has been contacting on their behalf with no luck. After the artist does few guest numbers, the booker rushes over, calendar in hand, and says, "You were fabulous. We need to get you in here next month." The right answer here is, "That would be great! I know you and Cathy Calendar have been in touch and I'll have her call you right away." despite the fact that the soul screams out to say, "YES! I've been dying to play this club for the better part of my natural life. Is next Tuesday open?" Quite apart from the question of not usurping your rep's role, think about the dynamics here. How would you feel if you had sent out the promo kit, followed up with e-mails and phone calls, had several conversations trying to get something going and then the artist calls you to say, "By the way, I booked a date at the Clef Café." You have all the time and work invested and someone else gets the emotional payoff.

Once again, we are back to my favorite concept of working as a team. That means you hold up your end of the bargain and you support the other person in their roles. For the artist, this involves making sure the rep has all the materials necessary to properly represent you and keeping him/her informed on things they need to take into consideration. Every rep has a horror story or two about finding out something significant about one of their artists (like the group is breaking up, moving to Tahiti or both) because the artist discussed it with the sound guy at a gig or posted it to the Internet before filling in the rep.

If possible, try to maintain a positive attitude toward getting out there. Reps generally don't bring an artist offers that they don't think have some merit. (In actuality, I run everything past my artists but I do say upfront if I think a proposal makes no sense.) It can be a frustrating experience to finally get an offer from a presenter, negotiate the best deal you can and then have the artist react with a long series of concerns about the length of the drive, the neighborhood, whether it is a "worthy" gig and so one and so forth down to the color of the towels in the hotel. There are always decisions and logistics to be worked out relative to a date but these should be done as expeditiously as possible. Since it is, let's face it, a rep's fate to have to deal with a great deal of non-response and often very delayed gratification, I try to respond quickly to any offers since I chose not to do unto others what I don't like done unto me. Periodically, you run into artists who always need a week or more "to think about it" even when it's not clear what they are thinking about. That's not really fair to anyone in the equation, as other artists/reps aren't hearing from a presenter while they wait on your reply.

It also means making a serious effort to pay the commissions in a timely fashion. Remember that the rep's efforts are put in long before the gig happens so work done from November, 1998 to June, 1999 may not provide income until January, 2000. In addition, that income will also be used the cover the costs of those leads that got followed up on but never paid off. Sadly, it all takes time and costs money whether it works out or not. Letting money matters slide is an easy trap to fall into. Although the relationship between an artist and a rep is a business one, it inevitably takes on aspects of a friendship. It is impossible to work so closely with someone in helping them realize a dream and have it be otherwise. It is a short leap from that to "So-and-so won't mind if I don't pay this right away" whereas the Electric Company is rarely perceived as that understanding. Anyway, imagine how you would feel if some of your gigs suddenly decided to postpone paying you right after the show without consulting you about it. Enough said.

Every rep has dealt with an artist who, in essence, turns over their career, saying something like, "Well, go to work. Call me when I'm famous." Not exactly the team approach needed to produce maximum results. The artist has to walk a delicate line between being legitimately interested in what's going on (Hey, it's your career - you are entitled!) and obsessing to the point where the rep is spending more time talking to the artist than they are the venues. It's understandable. If you have been booking yourself for years, it can feel very strange (do I hear "scary"?) to hand it over to someone else, no matter how long you have been dreaming of doing just that. However, It can take months from the time of initial contact until a rep actually has a meaningful dialogue about booking an artist with a venue. If the artist starts asking whether you have heard anything every couple of days right after you sent a packet off to the Happy Folkies Club, it can be a long couple of months. Multiply by 50 promo packs times five artists and you have a nightmare.

Actively seeking out and passing on information on possible new venues to explore is a much more effective outlet for that energy. Any filtering that can be done prior to passing on the information makes the process even more effective. It's one thing when an artist brings me a listing of events by state that they picked up in a rest area vs. sending me information on a new club that includes the contact person's name, phone number and booking fees of similar artists that have played there. The latter is likely to get acted on right away because I've been given all the tools to do so and it has a high probability of a positive outcome. The former is going to take some wading through and research to even determine if there is anything useful in it so it may vanish into the black hole of "Things I Intend to Get to Eventually". Both types of information are welcome but the latter is ultimately more useful.

Last but not least, occasionally say, "Thank you." All my artists are outstanding in this area and it makes all the difference in maintaining my level of enthusiasm about what I am doing. By definition, the focus is on the artist and his/her/their career and the rep's hard work can get lost in the shuffle. Strangely enough, artists also should stay cognizant of the things a rep does not do, such as not providing an instant replay of the twenty-minute music critique of the artist's last show that a presenter shared with them. Whereas reps need to let an artist know when they are experiencing particular problems with a venue, it can be a kindness to skip the gory details.

Those are a few of my thoughts on the care and feeding of reps. Comments and reactions will reach me at or 410.268.8232. After all, the opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and may not actually be shared by anyone else on the planet.

© McShane Glover/Noteworthy Productions

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