One of the things that I get asked about the most is tour booking and getting a good booking agent to help bands out. Everyone seems to think that all they need is a booking agent to ensure them a path to grow their band. In some ways, this seems true. In the current era of bands, people seem to be less and less focused on needing a manager and more focused on the person who can get bands what they actually want – sick shows. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. So with all this in mind I wanted to put together an article that outlines why booking agents pick up bands, how to make yourself desirable to one, what they can actually do for you, and of course the simple fact that a booking agent might not be what you want at the end of the day. There’s going to be a lot to unpack here so hold on to your hats for a wild ride.
For the record – everything I’m saying here is for agents who work on a percentage based deal and have rosters with multiple bands who are worth a few hundred people a night. There is a whole sub-niche of agents though who will book your tour for a flat fee and these are very legit. Just make sure you hire them judiciously.
4. How Booking Agents Decide Who To Work With
Booking agents are just like anyone else in the professional world. They want to make money for the least amount of work possible. It’s really that simple. So when booking agents are signing bands they look for acts who are the most money for the least work. Aside from things like the draw though, agents are also looking at previous touring history, the quality of the stage show and for better or for worse the age and life obligations of the band members. I know that sounds rough, but it’s the reality. However – every agent can tell you of countless bands who have reached out to them saying, ‘We’ll tour our faces off if you are our agent bro. We can even figure out what to do with the kids!’ Those bands simply have too many limitations and not enough past evidence, unfortunately. This is the struggle we all must confront.
3. How To Make Yourself Desirable To A Booking Agent
The previous point is why it is frequently difficult for a newer band to get a high-level agent even if they are great. In fact – basically the only way for a newer band to get a big-league agent is to have a kickass manager who manages to make it happen for them. This is because if the agent sees there is another outside party working to develop the act too then they aren’t alone in this gamble and are more willing to engage. Still – you can get a mid-level agent without a manager simply by playing your face off and starting to get a strong regional draw. One of my favorite paths towards getting an agent is to first become a band who makes sense as a strong regional opener by frequently playing and building up an audience in a handful of cities. Once your band is a regional opener it will be a lot more justifiable for bands to take you on full national runs.
2. What An Agent Can Actually Do For You
So if things like tour history and present draw matter then what can an agent do for you? Wasn’t the agent the one who was supposed to help you build your draw and get you the cool tours? The answer is that they are. They just don’t want to start from scratch. In 2019 a good booking agent can take your band from being a non-player into a major force in the scene. The booking agent is basically the primary person who a manager or label is going to want to coordinate with as they develop their bands. They are going to build out plans based on you being on the road and trying to reach that next level. That being said – an agent can’t make people care if your band doesn’t have that intangible ‘it’ factor. So often you see personal friends of an agent getting booked regularly and going nowhere. So remember, even if you think your band is good if you’re not seeing real growth… there might be a reason for it.
1. Maybe you Don’t Actually Want An Agent
There are a LOT of bands out there who have in fact gotten really far without a booking agent In fact – self-booking your own tours is an awesome way to start building up a strong network that will pay off over the years. Remember that the promoters of today are the booking agents and label reps of tomorrow. Getting down and dirty with it also gives you a good sense of your worth. It might end up being a more valuable experience than paying some dude $20 bucks a show to book you a national tour that no one attends. Sometimes it’s good to build up a stronger foundation and go from there. If nothing else it might stop you from burning a bunch of money on an infeasible ego trip like so many bands in this scene.
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Matt Bacon is a consultant, A&R man, and journalist specializing in the world of heavy metal. Having worked with everyone from Glam Rock icon Phil Collen of Def Leppard, to post Black Metal titans Alcest, by way of legendary thrashers Exhorder as well as labels including Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, he has dedicated his life to helping young bands develop. Having started his own blog at the age of 14 he views his career in artist development as ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. In 2015 he formed Dropout Media in order to better support the artists he loves. We sit here now, years later with countless tours booked, records released and deals signed, and loving every minute of it.
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