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Ask the... Agent March 2014

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By Pursehouse - follow me on Twitter

One of the most linked posts I’ve done in the past is ‘Ask the A&R’ where I quizzed some lovely A&R folk with your questions which they answered anonymously and fantastically honestly (if you’ve not read it I suggest you go give it a gander).

So I thought I’d do some more in a similar vibe in various other areas of the industry with the mystical world of the agent being my next target.

I get asked ‘how can I get on the bill for festivals?’ astonishingly often with many artists believing if you don’t have an agent you haven’t got a chance. This is usually followed with the question ‘how can I get an agent?’ and then shortly after that the artist either cries out of utter despair or laughs manically whilst ever so slightly foaming at the mouth.

So I requested you to fire over your questions, which I then pitched to three gentlemen who are at the top of their game within this part of the music industry. They work for major players who I’m not going to name to truly keep them anonymous, but needless to say they know their stuff.

Enjoy… (all answers are verbatim except the odd spelling/grammar correction)

Q) Is it true that if I just keep gigging and accruing more fans, a booking agent will saunter up to me and make themselves mine?

Agent One There’s a lot more to it than that. It obviously spurs an agent’s interest if you’ve managed to build up a fanbase and have a strong history of successful gigs, but this alone is not *usually* going to incite an agent’s interest in your band. To really catch an agent’s eye, you should ideally have blogs and media going mental for you, either a strong manager or managers fighting to work with you, a release or two planned, a good number of demos in the bag and have a plausible career in front of you. An agent wants to see global appeal and potential and although strong local/regional support and fans might be a good starting point on the road to success – it’s by no means everything.

Agent Two I guess that could happen, but a few more stars would need to align before that became a reality.

Agent Three In some aspects that’s true, building a fanbase from playing live is very appealing to a booking agent as you know there is momentum to work towards. It depends on what level you get to from just gigging. It’s really useful to have support from other sources such as a record label, radio plugger, press agent, publisher, online PR etc to get onto that next level.

Q) What is the best way to approach you? Or have you never taken on a band from being approached? (I.E just usually from word of mouth/personal recommendation)

Agent One Typically an agent will have a close knit group of contacts or sources (whether it be manager/ labels they work with regularly or even blogs and journalists they trust) who they get most of their tips from and work together with to secure bands and artists for their rosters. Occasionally a band may approach an agent and the connection can be established that way, but this is normally only when the band making the approach already has a good reputation/some level of success. It’s really always best to have patience and allow the agents to come to you. If the agents DON’T come then you know it’s probably too early to be thinking of having one.

Agent Two Very, very rare that something unsolicited would make it to me listening and paying attention to it - a lucky break for example if I was at a gig to see a band and chanced upon another band playing. 99.99% of the stuff I pay attention to comes to me via trusted sources, I.E. from people I know or know of.

Agent Three Generally we get tipped from other contacts about what new bands are out there and from promoters who have booked them in the past. We get sent demos and Myspace/SoundCloud links everyday day. However, its usually suggestions from trusted sources, you'd probably listen to the music and if you were into it go see them live. Best way to approach an agent I would say have a really good live show ready and some good songs. If other people in the music industry and talking to you, it won't be long before an agent pops their heads up. I once found a band through a friend of a friend, whose boyfriend was in the band. Went to see them as a favour and they were ace! There is no formula to getting an agent approach you.

Q) Do you think revered gigs such as high profile support slots or music festivals are attainable if you don’t have a booking agent behind you?

Agent One They’re barely achievable even if you DO have an agent behind you in this currently very over-saturated market. There are thousands of bands competing for the same support slots and festivals currently – to get your head above the parapet is really quite difficult. Festivals and supports with bigger bands should be seen as a reward for success, not just something you’re entitled to because you’re in a band. You should focus on what is available to you and not hope to force yourself by screaming and shouting about how wonderful you are (even if you are truly wonderful!) onto these highly desirable events – wait until everything’s in the right place and *then* go for them – with an agent behind you – and you’ll get the most out of them.

Agent Two They are, but agents will certainly open a door a bit quicker.

Agent Three High profile supports are attainable if you have other people around you that have contacts with such artists or if you are mates with such an act, but that’s rare. The high profile supports look for a higher profile act, so you're looking at those acts having agents behind them already.

Festivals are a bit different and the odd booking could be possible if the festival booker wanted you, but I’d say about 98% of bands that play festivals have a booking agent behind them. Festivals are there to make money, and there are so many, festival bookers only really want profile acts that are going to sell tickets.

Q) This whole ‘financial crisis’ malarkey we’re in the middle of at the moment; has it effected the amount of money you’re able to demand from promoters for your artists?

Agent One If a band’s worth the tickets – they’ll get paid accordingly. Again – it’s all about meriting the reward and not being unrealistic. If you’re playing your first gig in a new town to people who don’t know who you are then don’t expect to have much more than your expenses covered – that’s what I try to instil in my bands anyway.

There’s still a lot of money to be made from the live sector, but the bands making the real money are much fewer and far between. Hardly anyone’s making a career from touring anymore and that’s likely to be the case for a while yet. We, as agents, are responsible for this and need to work with promoters and our artists to collectively re-build the live industry and to re-structure the rather dated way in which tours are put together and get creative to generate new ways of our artists making money whilst at the same time allowing the promoters to pay their way and earn something too. Promoters are wising up to the typically high, lazy, demands of agents and their artists and want a little more ‘bang’ for their buck. Much more often now we are seeing flat fee (rather than vs 80% deals) offers, incentivised festival offers (I.E. an artist’s fee increasing once the festival has sold certain numbers of tickets) and reduced fees at an earlier stage in a band’s career. To me this shows the start of a more symbiotic relationship between promoters and agents where it becomes less about agents ‘demanding’ money from promoters and more the two of them coming to the correct and appropriate conclusion to what the promoter is able to pay and what the artist physically requires. Not that we’re getting all soft or anything!

Agent Two Not specifically as every deal is different, but I’m noticing a small recessionary downturn in people spending money on gigs currently.

Agent Three It’s definitely effected the mid-level artists; those people who go to one concert and one festival a year will still pay the £75/£90 for a Rhianna/Take That ticket, but for the newer, emerging acts it’s a lot tougher to get a higher ticket price and the financial offers for covering your touring costs. The 'financial crisis' is a problem where record deals are involved, as more often than not, touring support isn't included in the deals, so to take a new band on the road for the 'toilet-tour' is getting tougher and tougher as you're losing money as soon as you play your first date.

Q) What do you look for in an artist? Are you more influenced by personal taste, or will you only take on an artist you’re confident will do well in the live sector?

Agent One Personally – I just want good music. I have a rather eclectic taste (I work with guitar bands, singer-song writers, techno producers and pretty far leftfield weirdo electronic acts) and I get a kick out of working with bands I really LOVE as opposed to purely looking at their potential live success. I subscribe strongly to the ethos that ‘the good will out’ and if someone is making genuinely brilliant music then they are worth my time and investment. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s far more likely to do so, over time, than looking purely at high-spend major label artists who, 9 times out of 10, will flop into oblivion.

Agent Two That I like them first and foremost but also that they have a team around them that gives them a chance at success – in terms of people who can guide their career properly.

Agent Three Every agent is different. For me, I look at strong songs and a good live set. Personal taste is great as you have more passion in selling the act. However, this is a business and for an act to be selling tickets means you're doing better business. Its very hit and miss at times, something that you think will go on and sell lots of records and tickets could easily not connect with a wider audience and be dropped within six months. I think you need to believe in the music, the live performance should be good and for them to have the right approach to the music industry - that would be an instant attraction for me to work with someone.

Q) Are you more likely to take on an artist if they already have a team around them? A manager, plugger, label, publisher etc?

Agent One Definitely. It’s really a must. Sometimes we’re the first ones talking to a band and we’ll help introduce them to the right team, but we’ll always do that before booking their shows/trying to establish a live plot for the band. You *need* the team more than ever now. As I say, the market is so crazily saturated that to get noticed and to achieve success you need to be held up on a very, *very* high pedestal. Otherwise, even if you are the best thing out there, you’re not going to get noticed and you’ll fade away. It scares me to think how many good bands are probably going to waste out there and how many I’ve probably not even given my time of day purely because they have nothing set-up around them who could have gone onto great things.

But really – going back to the question earlier about approaching agents – even if you have no-one around you, don’t focus your efforts on *just* approaching either a manager or agent or plugger etc. Approach them ALL simultaneously. If a radio plugger and a lawyer, for example, pick up on you out of your 100 e-mails then the next time you mail that agent you really want to work with then at least you’ve got something to update them on and a bigger team behind you.

Agent Two Yes.

Agent Three It does help and is a huge advantage as you have other people working the artist at different channels, not just you on the live front. To say you are more likely is difficult, there are bands out there that have all that in place but don't have an agent. In my experience they just aren't good enough, but those other members of 'the team' think otherwise. They have to be good live for me to take them on.

Q) What do you think your area of the industry will look like in the future? Is live booming and set to fall? Or will it continue to grow?

Agent One Live music, fortunately, will always be here and will continue to do well. Can you imagine the world without live music? That’s a serious question. I don’t think you can.

It may have reached its peak a few years ago but it’s not going to crumble or destroy itself. It will reach some bumps in the road and situations which will test its strength but ultimately it will continue to evolve, meet its market’s demands and continue to be one of the strongest areas of the music industry.

We’re in a very interesting time of change where artists, agents, promoters, sponsors et al all need to take a step back and look at what they’re doing and assess their practises. Perhaps agents will start to invest in their artists in a similar way to label tour support has done so for the past however many years. Perhaps promoters will start slashing their ticket prices and relying more on corporate sponsorship. Perhaps the main ticketing companies will crumble and the artists will reclaim the power of selling their own tickets. Whatever happens – it’s going to be here, agents will be here, promoters will be here – we might just all be doing things in slightly different ways.

Agent Two Haha – if I could answer the first question… The live industry has been in a strong position for the last decade and a bit – we face certain threats, but if those in charge do the right things by the audiences and the artists then we should remain healthy.

Agent Three I think the live industry is looking really strong; you can't download a gig for free! I imagine that we'll see more packages of acts going out on the road together, so the fan is getting 'more for their money' and festivals are booming so can see that staying strong. But who knows, you might be able to experience the live gig from your living room one day via google-street-gig-mapping-moshpit.com.

So there you go! A big thank you to the agents involved for their honest contributions.

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