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Finding Music Booking Agents: What Independent Artists Need to Know

June 13, 2023
3 min read

For independent musicians, music booking agents are an indispensable addition to the team. They’re chiefly responsible with booking live gigs, be it one-off festival performances or touring opportunities. The best booking agents for musicians are effective salespeople, promoting emerging musicians to increase exposure and pursue new opportunities. In an ideal world, a booking agent should have a handle on many different corners of the industry, being able to reach out to venue managers, festival organizers, and promoters. 

Many independent musicians struggle to secure enough income to cover the bills, let alone anything else. According to some estimates, emerging artists can earn as little as $5,700 annually. If you’re failing to secure live shows or want to propel your career forward and perform on bigger stages, it’s time you invest in a booking agent. 

Types of Music Booking Agents

Some people group musician booking agents and personal managers in the same category. However, these are two distinct roles. While a manager can help identify new ways to market your music and assist with artist development, a booking agent takes charge of your live performance career. 

In many cases, booking agents also maintain a close working relationship with artist management and record labels. They may work for a larger music booking agency, or operate independently. 

Some booking agents may work with more than a dozen individual artists or groups at any given time. Meanwhile, music booking agencies can have hundreds of artists on their books. 

How To Find Potential Booking Agents

Unless you’re already making waves on the live performance circuit, you’re unlikely to be approached by a booking agent. Instead, up-and-coming artists need to take a more proactive approach. Finding a booking agent that’s the perfect fit isn’t always easy. First off, you’ll need to ensure that the agent in question aligns with your style of music. There’s no point negotiating a contract with a booking agent with a background in heavy metal if your material is predominantly acoustic pop. As well as the genre clash, you’ll need an agent with the right music industry connections to take your live performance career to the next level. 

Networking With Other Musicians 

While you can start your search online, it’s often best to follow word-of-mouth recommendations. Are you friendly with other musicians on the live scene? Ask them who they’re using or who they can recommend. If you’re serious about forging a successful career, you should be nurturing a network of contacts anyway. Don’t be coy about asking for advice. 

Do Your Research

Once you’ve singled out a few candidates, it’s time to do your homework. Any good booking agent is going to have an active online presence. See what others are saying about their credentials. Client-facing websites are worth investigating, but these are rarely going to tell you the whole story. Instead, use the internet to get an idea of how these agents work in practice. 

Are they active on social media? If they are, how many high-value followers do they have? Are they using their platforms effectively to promote the current talent roster they claim to be representing? 

If you’re still in the early days of your career, the local music scene probably offers lots of untapped potential. As such, it makes sense to invest your time and money into a local agency. If you’ve exhausted live performance opportunities in your part of the world, a larger booking agency with a broader network is the better choice. 

Making Contact 

Now’s the time to make your introductions. Reach out to potential booking agents with an email. Keep it simple and avoid appearing too keen. Instead, frame it around an invite to your next gig. Don’t forget to link to your online channels and social media accounts. If you’ve invested in an EPK, provide a link to it. 

Interviewing Potential Candidates

Once you’ve heard back from a few potential candidates, you can start scheduling face-to-face meetings. You’ll want to take notes during the course of the interview, but it’s important that you steer the discussion. At this point, you should only be dealing with agents who have a keen understanding of the kind of music that you’re putting out. 

Ask them about the talent roster that they’re currently representing and how they’ve worked to advance careers. You don’t want to be wasting time with vagaries here, so feel free to push for specifics if need be. As with any interview candidate, it’s easy for a booking agent to oversell their abilities and exaggerate their successes. This is why it’s important that you actually check their success rate. Being able to quote a brilliant case study is all well and good, but ongoing relationships with venue owners and industry connections are far more important. 

Ask for References

Don’t feel awkward about asking for references. While speaking to talent that a booking agent is currently representing is a good idea, bear in mind that they might be a little biased if they’re tied into an ongoing contract with them. For a more balanced viewpoint, it makes sense to also speak with musicians that have previously worked with the booking agent you’re looking to hire. 

How Much Do Booking Agents Charge? 

According to some estimates, a booking agent that works exclusively with independent artists takes home around $45,000 annually. Fees can vary between agents. It’s not uncommon for a booking agent to take a 10% commission from any earnings you make from live shows. However, some agents may charge upwards of 15%. If you’re using a musician booking agency, additional fees can lead to even higher costs. 

Dealing With Demands 

While you might be chairing the interview, it’s the booking agent who holds a lot of power in this scenario. After all, they’ll be the ones booking gigs and securing your lucrative live performance revenues that will pay the bills and advance your career. You might have a pretty solid idea of what fees and contractual obligations you’re prepared to agree to, but these are unlikely to align perfectly with those of a booking agent. 

It’s a good idea to decide beforehand how much leeway you’re prepared to give. If you instantly respond well to someone and feel confident that they can deliver what they’re promising, you may be happy to make some compromises. 

Making the Final Decision - Choosing the Right Agent for You

Once you’ve interviewed enough candidates, it’s time to weigh up the finalists. Trusting your gut might seem like a good idea, but instinct alone isn’t sufficient. Instead, you need to go back and look at those cold facts and figures. 

Which candidate has the best track record of championing unsigned talent and securing lucrative live opportunities? Have you been able to verify their claims after talking to references and doing a little research online? 

You’ll also want to crunch those numbers. Most booking agents will charge a similar amount in commission, but there’s no one-size-fits-all fee structure here. Don’t dismiss a slightly more expensive candidate if the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment. 

Once you’ve done all that, you can allow personal preference back into the equation. Who did you gel with? If all goes well, you could be working with this booking agent for years to come. Some artists keep booking agents on the payroll, long after they’ve made a name for themselves and made the jump from scattered live gigs to nationwide touring schedules. 

It’s important that you pick someone you’ll be able to maintain a healthy working relationship with. What’s more, think about everyone else involved in your artistry. While a booking agent works independently a lot of the time, there will be some crossover with your manager. You want to avoid personality clashes. 

Know What To Avoid

You might have lucked out with artist management and other support roles, but you still need to be wary before signing on the dotted line with a booking agent. For starters, read over that contract and study the fine print carefully. Make sure the commission you’ve already agreed to stands and no legalese has been added that might work against you. 

Non-exclusive agreements can be advantageous for artists. These leave you free to pursue your own live performance opportunities independently, outside of what a booking agent has arranged. However, just make sure you’re not breaking any clauses. 

Does a contract sound too good to be true? Take a step back and consider whether or not you’re dealing with someone genuine. If they’re promising the moon but only charging a modest fee, it could be a sign that the agent in question isn’t particularly experienced.

Establishing a Contract

If you’re struggling to establish yourself on the live performance circuit, it’s tempting to keep things casual with a booking agent. However, this approach rarely ends well. It’s important to hammer out the specifics of your agreement by drafting and signing a contract. 

A contract will clarify what a booking agent expects to earn as a commission. What’s more, it should provide a timeframe for the agreement and underline any exclusivity specifics. More importantly, it should define the remit of a booking agent. While their obvious goal is to secure you live performance opportunities, you’ll want the agreement to go into more detail. 

Play your hand during the negotiation and make it clear how many gigs you expect in any given period. If you’re aiming to capitalize on the festival circuit or commit to a regional tour in the future, this can also form part of the agreement. 

How Booking Agents Can Boost Your Earnings and Raise Your Profile

If your live performance career could do with a boost, now’s the time to scout for a booking agent. You can look online or approach booking agencies to make the process easier. However, the best connections tend to come from existing relationships. Reach out to your network for recommendations. Once you’ve found someone who interests you, make contact. Email and social media interactions are fine, but ensure you’re providing them with sufficient information about yourself and a link to your EPK. 

You’re now ready to schedule interviews with potential candidates. You should be doing your homework before and after meeting with prospective agents. After you’ve met, chase those references to ensure they align with what you’ve been told. Made your decision? Before agreeing to anything, make sure both parties are comfortable with contractual agreements. If things don’t go as expected, you don’t want to be tied down to exclusive agreements. 

While some musicians expect booking agents to do all the heavy lifting, it’s better to think about things as a two-way street. You need to be generating enough income from ticket sales to make it worth their time. If you’re not bringing in the crowds, you’re unlikely to maintain the relationship. You need to be an active force when it comes to self-promotion.

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