Market Loyalty and Booking Agents
For my next installment of “The Biz” please excuse me if this comes across as a rant. On the one hand I absolutely love that there are more choices of bands available for me to listen to than ever before. On the other hand is anyone else having a hard time sifting through the murky waters of independent music? How many independent bands are out there? 10,000? 50,000? 250,000? Not only that but some bands that I think are independent at first aren’t. One site boasts over 180,000 independent bands on their network alone. I don’t think there is any concrete data on just how many there are. Has anyone done a study?
If you’re a graduate student or an ambitious undergrad here’s a study for you. How many independent bands are there? First, I’d guess you’d have to define what an independent band is. Is an independent band a couple of guys who have got together some tunes in a basement, given themselves a name and signed up on MySpace? Or is it when you’ve self-released a studio project? Do you have to perform a certain amount of shows to be considered an independent band? Wikipedia defines Indie music as, “any of a number of genres, scenes, subcultures and stylistic and cultural attributes, characterized by perceived independence from commercial pop music and mainstream culture and an autonomous, do-it-yourself (DIY) approach.” There are thousands of bands that have “perceived independence from commercial pop music” that I wouldn’t characterize as “independent.” The “do-it-yourself” attitude is definitely a plus but just about every band you read about on jambands.com, including New Groove of the Month bands, get by with a little help from their friends. And most hope their “friends” work for a serious management company, booking agency, and record label so I’m not sure I buy this definition. The definition at Wikipedia goes on to say that, "Indie" often refers to an artist or band that is not part of the mainstream culture and/or is making music outside its influence. Though the sound of these bands may differ greatly, the "indie" definition comes from the do-it-yourself attitude and ability to work outside large corporations. Although the term "indie" has somewhat come to describe any non-mainstream rock band.” Again I don’t think this definition quite cuts it either. Should we really lump together every non-mainstream rock band and call them indie? There must be levels of indie, but what are they? Signed-indie? Touring-indie? Garage-indie? Major-indie? Mini-indie?
Since the goal with these articles and my workshops is to help the indie musician I would love to know how you define yourself and how many of you are out there! If you think you’ve got a good definition for “independent band” please email it to me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know how many there are send me that number too. Until then we’ll just say there are a plethora of independent bands. Keep sending me your questions!
First: Thank you for your hugely insightful and honest column. It’s good to have a resource such as yours that doesn’t have a pretentious or condescending edge to it.
Next: My question.
I’m a promoter in a secondary market. To date, we’ve presented about a dozen ticketed shows with mid-size, up and coming jambands that, aside from a few minor newbie mistakes have gone relatively smooth. We’ve hit the attendance goals we set; the hospitality is always stellar; and the fans have all had a blast.
Directly in my market, there are two other rooms that can handle acts the size that we are targeting. (Capacity 400 with in house production, 21+). About 45 minutes east of me is another small market with one room of similar size. (The main difference is 600 capacity and its 18/21)
Recently, I submitted an offer to a band that we’ve presented twice (both shows were finegreat sound, great crowd, and recordings of the shows made it to the Archive) but they passed on my offer. (The band recently got a deal with one of the larger booking and management agencies)
I was doing my daily regimen of schedule-watching and found that the band has a show scheduled in the room 45 minutes east of me. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.
What suggestions can you make with regard to establishing and maintaining loyalty with bands that I present in my market? The obvious things to me would be great promotion, great production, great hospitality and an attentive and coherent event staff. I’m sure that it’s not one sidedas the management or booking company would have the final say in what rooms or market the band plays in.
This hasn’t been an ongoing thing, but I want to stay ahead of the game to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.
Thanks, Allen. And keep up the great work.
Great question! Loyalty in business? You’ve got to kidding? Of course I jest but only a little. I understand your disappointment. You’d think that if you took the risk in developing a band that you would get, and should get, to reap the rewards of your work as the band grows. Unfortunately that isn’t the case a lot of the time. Once the band has grown they become a blip on other promoters’ radars or they grow into rooms that have exclusive talent buyers. Let me ask you a question? Why do you think they passed on your offer? Was your offer for the 21+ room and they wanted to play the 18+ room? Did someone outbid you? Did you remove the green M&M’s instead of the brown ones last time? I gather from what you write that you think it has something to do with the new management or agent and you may be correct. They may actually be being loyal to someone they already have a relationship with. If that’s the case then…!
I should add that the management and agency do have a lot of say into who they use as their promoter in a certain market but the band has a say as well. The manager and agent work for the band after all. However, the band is paying the manager and agent to make decisions like this for them so they can focus on really important things like which kind of beer to add to their new rider! So you need to create a relationship with all the players, i.e.., musicians, managers, and agents. If you want a reason for why this band passed this time I’d call the manager or agent and find out. This may help in the future. The band may never have communicated that they worked with you before. Contacting the manager and/or agent will establish that you want a shot in the future. I’m not saying you should whine and complain but it’s a fair question and a good idea to let them know you want to go to bat for them.
Gaining loyalty will only happen over time and a band, manager, and agent isn’t going to be loyal just because. If they don’t feel you are the best person for the show then they aren’t going to use you. So you have to be more pro, more enthusiastic, offer better services than your competitors and be more personal. If you do this then you make yourself too valuable not to include on the show even if you aren’t the promoter per se. For example, there was a guy in Boston in the early to mid 90’s that broke Percy Hill into the market. He was instrumental in developing the band. He had a phenomenal street team and came to every show, hung out with the band and me and became our friend. As the band grew we wanted to play a specific venue that was strictly a Clear Channel room but we wanted to include this guy and his company on this show. So I negotiated using his company for street team promotion as part of the advertising budget. Clear Channel agreed even though he was a competitor because we insisted, and because he offered an invaluable service that they didn’t (or his street team network was bigger and better than there’s). It wasn’t perfect but everyone was happy.
You have the right idea and you mention the obvious things to establish a good relationship with bands. As a promoter put yourself in the agent and managers shoes and make your show as easy as possible on them. If they are making money and you treat their bands well then they’re going to want to be in business with you. Create a personal relationship with the band as well and be honest. Let the musicians, managers, and agents all know that you are enthusiastic about the band and hope they include you in their game plan as they grow in the market. As a side note, you can add a clause in your offer about any further inquiries into shows at x and y venues must be directed to your company. But lets be honest, if someone doesn’t want to work with you then you’re not going to work together.
I’ve used the word "personal" twice because the better the bands, managers, and agents know you the more likely they are to think of you every time they want to go to your market. Some of the bigger promoters might not go to all their shows for a variety of reasons. I work with some promoters who have never even met my musicians. If we part ways do you think they’re going to mention this promoter to their new manager? No. So create a personal relationship with everyone and the loyalty will develop.
I know this sounds easy but it isn’t, especially as you grow and might at some point have multiple shows in a single night.
I hope this helped. Good luck and keep in touch!
I just read your column on Jambands.com and I really appreciate your articles on getting booking agents and on getting press kits together.
Really quickly, can you recommend a booking agent for an alternative country/bluegrass band? We’re kind of like equal parts old 97s and hot buttered rum string band as far as sound goes. I’m currently the booking agent but I also am the lead guitarist and let me tell you it’s grueling work (as you know). I’ve gotten us gigs opening for hot buttered rum, blue turtle seduction, and ten mile tide. We’ve played as far north as Humboldt County, and we’re playing twice this month at Sherwin’s Folly in mammoth. We’re playing our first real festival this may in Chico, ca with Garaj Mahal, blue turtle, and Zilla headlining.
The gigs are definitely coming in but I think if someone more experienced were at the wheel we could get even more gigs (and I could spend more time practicing and less time clicking and calling).
Thanks and keep up the good work!
I’m glad that the columns are helping. I like the way you describe your band – concise and precise. I know you want me to be specific here but even if I say that I recommend The Agency Group, Madison House, or Skyline, which are all fantastic agencies, the most important thing is the relationship you will have with your agent not necessarily the agency itself. But since you liken yourself to HBR as part of your sound why don’t you contact Skyline (I think Skyline represents them) and see if they’ll give you a listen? I have one warning though. Most agencies won’t touch a band that doesn’t have someone besides a band member acting as a manager and I’m assuming you don’t have one since you didn’t mention one.
I don’t mean to discourage you but prepare you. In your case I think patience might be the best course. It sounds like things are proceeding nicely. You’re playing your first real festival and you’re bound to run into some of the team members for the other bands on the bill. Backstage at festivals are great places to network! Introduce yourself to the other musicians and ask them about their team. If they have good things to say then ask them for an introduction. If an agent is actually there then ask them to check out your set. You might just find yourself on a roster by the end of the weekend.
I also want to add that having an agent won’t totally free up your time if you’re the acting manager. You’ll still need to spend time going over and then re-going over routing, deals, support, production etc etc. As "the guy" you probably know that one thing that takes up a lot of time is just keeping the lines of communication open and flowing and every time you add a member to your team its one more line. That’s why band meetings are essential. As a manager saying things once verses five times is golden!
You can probably tell that I think having someone besides a band member in the manager position is key but things don’t always happen that way.
Good luck and if you want I can put the word out through this column that you’re looking for someone.