David Priebe is a managing partner at a Green Room Music Source and has been booking and managing artists for over a decade. Here are his inside tips and thoughts on if you're ready for an agent and if not, how to prepare yourself!
When you’re a developing artist there are lots of missing pieces to the puzzle that can be more than difficult to find. It often feels like the box just came incomplete when you don’t know where to look. I remember agents being one of those elusive puzzle pieces when I started performing. Now that I’m an agent, it’s no surprise that the question I get asked most by artists is, “how do I get a booking agent.”
Good question. I wish there were easy steps I could list out and anyone could accomplish. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. What I can do is go over criteria that myself, and other agents I know, use to decide if we should pursue a relationship with an artist.
1. Understand Quid Pro Que.
It’s the basic law of all business interactions. The music business is no different. “This, for that.” YOU want an agent. What do agents want? We’ll go over some of the general things agents look for, but specifically, it may depend on the agent. Doing your research is very important. You can tell a lot about what an agency is looking for in artists by examining its roster. The assets the artists on a roster have will tell you a lot about what you need to attract the agent.
2. Great music is just the prerequisite.
There are a lot of artists who believe that the only piece of the puzzle is great music. If you have that then everything else will fall into place naturally. I’ve declined to work with more than a couple of artists whose music I loved. I’ve stopped working with artists whose music I loved too. Why? Because music isn’t everything. I have the great perk of being able to work with ‘passion projects’ from time to time. Projects that financially don’t make much sense, but I take on because I love the artist. Even in those situations, I’ve learned music is not everything. A good relationship needs a good foundation and requires lots of work. Great communication, common goals, and common expectations are just a few of the absolute necessities. If I can tell that a good relationship will be too hard to achieve I’d rather just be a fan.
3. Numbers, Numbers, Numbers.
Do you know how many people attended your last show? Could you look it up if you needed to? Would you also find the ticket price and the final payout? Would all of the pertinent details be there? Or would you be guessing to piece together a picture of the show?
These days, everything revolves around analytics. If you’re asking someone to set up your shows for you, it makes sense that they’d like to see the information surrounding the shows you’re already doing. If you aren’t even tracking this information, it’s a dead give away that you’re not doing the kinds of numbers that would be of interest to an agent. Track everything. Review it, and follow your own trends. Use last years data to help you while setting up this year’s shows, and keep it all in an organized format that you can share. Any agency you approach will want to see this information.
Additionally, managers, labels, and others will also want these numbers if they’re considering working with you. Here are the specific items I look at. Date, Venue, Market (actual city of the venue, or, the primary city in the metropolitan area.) Ticket Price, Attendance (tickets sold or rough guess) Final Payout from the venue, Pertinent Notes (such as “on tour with So and So”) Sometimes all of this information is just called “history.” If someone asks you for your touring history, this is the information they’re expecting.
4. Understand the relationship you’re asking for.
Working with new artists is difficult for a number of reasons. Typically, you need to spend more time getting them shows because they have less history. You also get paid less money for that time because venues are not going to offer the same deal to an unproven artist as they will to a headlining act. And, on top of all this, if they haven’t had an agent before, they don’t know what to expect in the relationship. And… very few of the new artists I’ve worked with have done any sort of homework to try and gain perspective.
This is so very problematic.
There are usually big issues with expectations that come up. There can also be disagreements about contract terms or terms with contracts with venues. When an artist doesn’t know what to expect they can easily think a fair arrangement is unfair, or the other way around.
Either way, it can sour what could be a productive relationship. It’s not actually that hard to do the leg work of researching booking agreements, chatting with other artists, etc to get a better idea of what to expect so you can navigate the relationship. If it’s clear that you haven’t done these things, it’s a big enough red flag to keep an agency from wanting to discuss working with you.
5. When Are You Ready to Reach Out to an Agency?
You might be going through this list recognizing that you don’t yet have some of the things an agency might be looking for. Or that you don’t know enough about any specific agency to make that call. More than likely, if anything is giving you pause, it’s the idea of being asked for your numbers. Are they big enough? Well, there is no solid answer for that question because it really does depend on the agent. But there are some milestones agents are likely to require. Can you draw people out to a ticketed event in more than a couple of cities? If the answer is “no,” you really need to hit that mark before you think about looking for an agent. If the answer is, “yes” the rest will likely depend on the agent/agency. If your numbers are growing (40 tickets in May, then 75 tickets in Sept, etc…) it’s easier to sell the idea that you will soon be large enough to warrant an agent even if you currently are not.
All in all, the specifics may vary, but if you don’t both have a firm understanding of what an agency is looking for and know that you have or will soon have those things, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get their interest. And, if you’re grossly unprepared, it can do more harm than good to reach out. No one faults an artist that’s almost ready reaching out. But when artists who clearly aren’t ready reach out it can easily make the wrong first impression and come back to haunt them.