How to Get a Booking Agent to Book Your Band
One of the most common questions I was asked by artists during my time as a venue booker was how they could find a booking agent. I inevitably answered that they should just keep playing gigs, grow their fan base, and an agent would find them. But is the answer really that simple? In a word, yes. By far the best way to get a professional booking agent is for bands to book themselves until the point where they are selling out shows on a regular basis on their own.
What does this mean exactly? To put it in numbers, regularly sell-out shows of 100-150 people at around $10 per ticket in your home market. What’s your home market? Your home city, plus maybe 2-3 other nearby cities/towns. If you can sell 100-150 tickets at $10 each in a few cities on a regular basis (once every few months), then you’ll be generating the kind of income that would be interesting to a booking agent, and there's a good chance they’ll come find you at that point. Easy, right?
OK, all kidding aside, I know how hard it can be to get to that point. And I know what you’re thinking: is it really all about the money? Yes and no. Agents are music fans too, however, they aren’t going to work for free. Think about it from their perspective: if you’re not even making $200 per show, why would they work for a % of that revenue? A professional agent makes their living from the commissions of a band’s show revenues, usually around 15%. So if your live show revenue isn’t in the $800+ range, it’s going to be very hard to convince a professional booking agent to get on board with your career.
So what if you’re not selling that many tickets just yet? What can you do to help build your career up to the point where an agent might be interested in working with you? Here are some key areas to focus on:
Are there bands out there who have less than 1000 mailing list subscribers, Facebook fans or Twitter followers, but who have a booking agent? I’m sure there are, but once you reach that level, you’re putting yourself a cut above where most bands are at, and then you can start thinking about putting together a team of professionals, including a booking agent. You’ll have a solid following that you can use to generate bodies at live shows, especially if those fans and followers are concentrated in your home market.
- Work on your live show: rehearse often and pay attention to your set list
Get your live show to the point where people are going home blown away and talking about you when they leave the venue. So rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse again, then play as many shows as you can. And be sure to build your set list in a way that makes for a great show, not just a series of songs played one after another. In a new documentary film about the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl talked about how when the band first started out they didn’t pay too much attention to their set list. But once the crowds started growing, they spent time developing a solid set list that maximized the song order to put on the best show possible, instead of simply writing song names down a few minutes before the show.
- Work on your “brand”
Does your band have a consistent look on stage? You don’t have to dress up in uniforms (although that’s ok too if it’s your thing), but having a cohesive look on stage can go a long way to showing that you’re serious about the visual presentation of your band.
- Develop a good relationship with venue bookers
This goes back to my blog post about impressing venue bookers, if you develop solid relationships with bookers, chances are they will talk about you to booking agents. And if an agent hears about your band through a trusted source like a venue booker, it’s as good as gold.
- Use your website
If you’re generating some buzz in your local scene, make sure that if an agent does check out your band that you have the right information on your website for them to see. Create a “Book My Band” section on your website, which would be similar to an online press kit, but it would include things like:
- Statistics about the # of newsletter subscribers you have, Facebook fans and Twitter followers
- Average attendance for your shows: are you regularly selling out 50-seat venues? 100-seat venues? Put that information somewhere on the page.
- Mention which markets you play in
- Have a photo gallery with lots of good quality live pics (any photos that include crowds in packed venues are a bonus)
- Post good quality live videos (good video quality, good audio quality, packed rooms, minimal talking. Audience sing-a-longs are a bonus!)
- Stage plot
- Set list
- Quotes from media that mention your live show
- Quotes from venue bookers
- Quotes from fans about your live shows
Other than that, you should always blog about your live shows. Talk about the turnout, the crowd reaction, and post plenty of pics and live video whenever you can. All of this will help create the impression that you’re a hard-working band that takes their live shows seriously.
Should I get my friend/family member/fan to book me?
One last issue that I’ll address is whether a band should hire a friend, family member or fan to do booking for them. Although it’s tempting to delegate booking, which can be a tedious task that involves a lot of follow-up (and rejection), I think it's best that artists book themselves until they get a professional agent on board.
The biggest reason for this is that most of the time, a friend/family member/fan is a very temporary solution, so all too often I've seen situations where someone starts booking a tour for a band, but then bails on them halfway through. And if you have reliable friends who will stick through it? I still think it’s better to do it on your own. The more you learn about the industry as an artist, the more informed you’ll be when your career starts to grow. So if you book yourself 200+ shows, including a few tours, you’re going to have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a good booking agent, so you’ll know what to look for when you are at the point in your career when hiring a booking agent becomes a reality.