Finding a Booking Agent
by Ben McLane, Esq.
Mclane & Wong
At a certain point in an artist's career, it is advisable to bring on an agent to book the act. Although an agent is not an option for every act, if the artist has a large following, it is probably the time to consider an agent.
Agents in the music industry generally book live shows. Their duties consist of lining up club and concert dates all the way to organizing tours and tour arrangements. It should be pointed out that an agent is different from a personal manager. A personal manager attends to career matters, while an agent seeks the actual gigs. Moreover, agents are generally regulated by laws (especially in California and New York) which require that they be licensed to find employment (namely, by filing a bond) as well as which limit an agent's commission. Conversely, under the law, a personal manager is not allowed to find work for the artist; however, the manager can charge an unlimited fee. In the beginning of a career, an artist will only be able to attract a smaller agency to book small clubs. Nonetheless, it is worth it because the agent will have prior relationships which should lead to more - and better paying - gigs. Perhaps the agent can even pull off a support slot for a big name act. Usually, an act cannot get a major agency to handle them until the act has a record deal. Up to that time, there is normally no great demand for the artist which would require a tour. Packaging tours is what agencies are interested in because that is where the big money is.
It is difficult, although not impossible, to locate an interested agent if an artist is unsigned. If an agent has not already approached the act, the artist should pick up a directory of agents, and cold call the smaller agencies. They will probably want to hear a tape and definitely see a live show. It is important to locate an agent that not only the artist can trust to handle his or her business, but who is enthusiastic about the music, who will work hard for the act, and who has the time to devote to the act.
If an artist decides to sign with an agency, there are a couple of main points to consider. First, the agent's fee should be limited to 10%, and only for money generated from bookings, not from records, publishing, producing, television, etc. Second, it is also wise to try to limit the term to one year. If not, the act should be able to terminate the deal if, for example, they do not earn a certain amount each year. Third, since an agent is usually exclusive for a territory, if the agent is not skilled in certain regions (such as foreign countries), these territories should be excluded so that the act can find a more competent agent in those areas.
An act does not have to be arena level to have an agent, but usually only a smaller agency will be interested until a band has a record out to promote by touring. However, a popular local act which is performing often to capacity crowds should be of interest to a local agent/agency.