Before you start researching booking agents and knocking on doors, write down in summary form what it is you want an agent to accomplish for you, based on your goals and what you now know in general about the agency role. Then, based on a realistic self-assessment, create a check list of what you are able and prepared to do for them and their hiring clients. This is a useful reality-check exercise that helps you concentrate an agent search on the most appropriate candidates and can even lead to a constructive re-evaluation of your short and medium-term career focus.
What your summary and check list will end up looking like will be based on your aspirations, your self-acknowledged limitations and your self-imposed limits. Keep in mind that wherever you answer “yes” on your check list, you have to be sure your answer is realistic and in keeping with your personal priorities. For example, you may like the idea of touring, but if you have a young family you may only be able or willing to go on tour for short stints and not during peak festival circuit time in the summer when school is out and important family activities are planned. If you are in a band, the situation is more complicated because any one member’s limited availability will impinge on the whole group’s ability to accept gigs, unless the member is not considered indispensable and a temporary replacement can readily be found whenever necessary.
Now that you’ve completed this first step, it’s time to turn your focus to finding prospective agents. Compiling a list is a fairly straight forward process. You can start by looking through relevant directories, both physical and web-based. Also talk to artists and others in the biz to get leads and valuable insights. Something many artists neglect to do that can be really useful is to make enquiries with venues, event organizers and others who hire acts. Find out which agent(s), if any, that they use, and why. In this regard it’s important to know that some venues and event organizers only book acts through agencies. In fact, some will only book through one specific agent with whom they have an ongoing relationship. So, you can forget about getting work at such places and events unless you are a client of an agent they will deal with.
As I inferred in the opening paragraph, it is critically important to come up with a short list of potential agents that are actually relevant for your needs and your overall situation. Here’s a few things to consider about the agents you’re looking at:
1) What’s their level of experience in this area of activity?
2) Do they already have a fair number of acts in your genre and are they keeping most of those acts happy? If so, all other things being equal, you probably stand a better chance with them than many others of getting more gigs or a decent tour. That’s because they know the ropes and have the necessary contacts. As well, there is a reasonable possibility that you could get opportunities to be an opener for one of their other acts, perhaps even on a tour. Of course the flip side of this is that, as the newcomer, if they have a substantial number of acts it is possible you could end up not getting the attention you hope to get from them.
3) Are they well-connected? If you are an un-established act, it can be a big plus to be with a well-connected agent because they can sometimes persuade venues to try you out even though you are inherently more risky to the hiring party than one of the agent’s other proven acts. Such an agent may also be able to get you a spot as an opener for a more well-known act that’s not on their roster.
4) Are they insisting on also representing you in some (or all) other areas of work (film, commercials, song shopping, etc.). If so, try to set the relationship up so that their role is to find work for you in the particular types of jobs that you have determined they are good at getting and that you are capable and desirous of filling. Besides limiting their role to what is best for you, you can reject any and all gigs they offer that lie outside the scope of your agreement without having to worry that such refusal or finding such work through other avenues could provide them reason to claim breach of contract.
5) Do they want you to sign an exclusive arrangement with them? As I talked about at greater length in my previous blog on agents, not all require exclusivity. You may, in fact, prefer to work with more than one and be better off for it.
6) Do they want you to agree to have them represent you in places quite distant from where they are based? Check out how hard they work a particular province, state or country before deciding on whether to include that area in your agreement.
7) Do they have a good reputation in their field, both with hiring parties and artists?
8) After your first meeting, did you get a good feeling in your gut from them? If not, it’s probably not worth the risk of signing on, despite other things in their favour that might have you thinking of getting on board with them.
Keep an eye out for my next blog on agents, in which I’ll discuss the realities of working with one and include some pointers on the agency contract you could be asked to sign.