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The Biz

Published: 2006/10/12
by Allen Ostroy

Dealing with Agents, How To Get Started

Well, here we are at that time of year again. The leaves are going tie-dyed, semesters are in full-swing, and every band is touring whether they’re supporting an album or not. Pollstar has almost 6,500 bands and over 53,000 events listed! Why is “Rocktober” so packed with shows? They are all vying for your dollars before they’re gone! Musicians are only a tour away from losing your cash to winter vacations in the Bahamas and Christmas presents for Aunt Rita – especially since no one is buying albums for Chanukah anymore. Whether you’ve been naughty or nice help a band out and put some concert tickets on that holiday wish list please. Then it’s a win/win since a packed house is more fun for the band and the fan. Admit it. Although it may sound cool to tell people you saw Phish or Blues Traveler with 50 people in the room it was more fun when those numbers went to 500 and then even more fun when they hit 5000. Now that’s a party! And we all want to see our favorite band(s) in the cool venues and if that means you need to lay out some funds so your friends can come with you then don’t let something like rent stand in your way!

What’s my point? With fewer and fewer bands relying on album sales to feed themselves musicians need your ticket sales. In Rocktober we see a spike in touring. Take advantage and see as many shows as you can. Don’t worry, Christmas money is right around the corner and I’m sure your credit card company can wait until then.

If you’re a musician and want to find out how to get into all the fun please check to find out information on the next music business workshop or if you have any question please send it to See you out there!



This is my second question to “The Biz” on

After your fantastic explanation of Market Loyalty to me earlier this year, I figured I’d write you again with my latest point to ponder.

With regards to Talent Buyingwould you say that the current state of affairs is a “Buyers Market” or a “Sellers Market”? Sure, the biz is quite different than real estate, but there are certainly some parallels.

Considering that dependant on the act in question (over the hill vs. up and comer); there are obviously differences in whether the Agent or the Talent Buyer holds the key to the highway.

But what advice would you give to a guy like metalent buying in the up and coming Jamband market—-with regard to how hard nosed I should be when dealing with agents?

I’ve recently learned that ALL agents calling to sell an act are sweet as pie before the contract is signed, but after the paperwork is done, it’s like Jeckyl and Hyde with most of them.

I can’t always make the highest dollar offers, but I am in a secondary market with no universities close by to draw from.

Thanks again and keep up the great work!

Mike Van Jura


That is a very interesting question and I’m curious and would love to hear some specifics about the Jeckyl and Hyde agents. I wouldn’t equate the entertainment market to the housing market because all houses do the same thing – they all house people. Not all bands draw the same amount. There are more bands than ever trying to compete for dates so I would say in that respect it’s a buyers market if I understand the parallel correctly. However, if I also understand your inference correctly, the bands that you’re interested in are going elsewhere so to you it might seem like a sellers market and I’d agree with you. The number of bands guaranteed to draw a crowd vs. the number of bands trying to book dates is staggeringly different and if an agent has a roster of bands that draw then they’re really in the drivers seat as to where the band plays. There are a ton of options because everyone wants the band that draws. So I’ll answer the question this way and say it’s a sellers market if you have a band that’s "hot" and a buyers market if you have a band that’s not hot. Also it’s a sellers market if you are a buyer in an off market with a so so venue and a buyers market if you are a promoter in a major market with a great venue.

I’m not exactly clear about your point about the difference between "over the hill vs. up and comer" and who "holds the key to the highway." The talent buyer is always in a position not to buy. Maybe you could expand on that.

If I read between the lines I understand that as a buyer in a secondary market agents are asking for high guarantees and full riders filled which is putting extra pressure on you just to cover the costs of the show. This is pretty typical and makes sense from the agent/artist point-of-view. If I’m sending my artist to a major market with a population of millions I can negotiate with the guarantee as long as I’m getting a higher percentage of the ticket sales in general because I have confidence that among the millions I’ll be able to draw enough to make money. However, if I send my act to a secondary market with no universities close to draw from I’m going to need the higher guarantee because its going to be harder for my band to break into points and make money that way.

In addition, as a manager or agent sending an artist on a national tour I need to ensure that the artist is playing the major markets and college markets when they’re in a certain region. For example, it’s very unlikely that a band from the Midwest is going to take an offer for a Saturday night in Trenton, NJ if they can get an offer to perform in Philly unless the money is a lot more in Trenton. Likewise a band from the Northeast isn’t going to accept an offer for a show in Peoria over an offer in Chicago unless the money was really worth it. This is because the band might not be back in the area for months and months. Agents typically use secondary markets for routing purposes to the major markets.

You ask for advice on how hard nosed to be with agents. I’m not sure I can answer that because each situation is different. There are deal breakers for you and deal breakers for them. Its their job to push for as much as possible and yours to cover your ass. So what I’ll say is, do what it takes to get the show without overextending and burying yourself. Stay true to your deal breakers. Keep in mind that EVERYTHING is negotiable and what you’re looking for is a true partnership so that everyone wins including the fans. The last thing you want as you’re trying to build a "scene" is to short change the people buying the tickets so that the artist gets and extra deli platter. The fans have to walk away with the feeling that they are getting what they paid for and every agent and artist is going to agree.

If you permit me to offer two ideas for you. One would be to focus on an off night for nationals. For example, offer up Wednesdays to the agents of nationals. If you have a nationally touring act on every Wednesday and promote "National Wednesdays" then your regulars will know that and may start including the night in their weekly activities budget. You’ll also be able to get the artist for less because of the off night and help them with routing. The other idea, which is in conjunction of the first, is to use Thursday-Saturday to build locals and regional acts. Unlike nationally touring bands regional touring bands can play an off market one Saturday and then the major a month later because they’re always in the area.

One more thing. Business is give and take a lot of the time. You can offer an agent a proposal to take one band from his roster that you may not particularly want as long as he gives you another band on his roster that you do want.

Just a couple of ideas. Good luck and great questions. I hope I helped.

Please keep in touch.




Just wondering how to get into Talent Buying. I breath and bleed music and
would love to get more information on it. How to start… where to start,
etc. Anything helps. I really appreciate it. Thanks.

Tyler VanBrocklin


_If you are interested in getting into it then I'd try and intern with a
local talent buyer or promoter. You need to be involved with a few shows
before you take one on yourself. Check out my column on 3/21/05 and see if
it helps some. The question was:_

_"Hi. Could you explain the concept and some advice about talent buying?
Wondering how it works and what is the best way to get started?"_

_Thanks for the question. Talent buying usually applies to the person at a
venue who books the schedule of bands to play. Talent buyer and promoter are
usually the same person and mean the same thing although there are some
talent buyers who don't promote (actually there are some promoters who don't
promote but that's another topic). I would think of it this way. A talent
buyer works for the venue and a promoter usually works for themselves or a
company like Clear Channel that rents out a venue and promotes a show. But
there are also plenty of in-house promoters. When I teach my workshop I have
a section called promoter/Talent Buyer because its pretty much the same
thing. My first piece of advice is to start out small. Don't try and do too
much until you get your legs and know what to expect. The bigger the show
the more there are issues. What I did when I started was talked to the owner
of a local bar about giving me a night (which was a Wednesday and the
hardest night of the week). So, to get started you need to find a venue that
will allow you to put on a show. Hopefully they won't charge you rent and
will give you a slow night where you can bring in people for drinks._

_Then find a local band and "buy" a show from them. Talent buyers are paid
either by the venue (per show, salary, a percentage, or some combination) or
they get a percentage of the ticket sales either with a "promoter profit" or
straight percentage. It depends on the deal you have worked out. "Promoter
profit" is the industry standard and is 15% of expenses (is this starting to
sound like Chinese?). Here is how a deal with promoter profit might look:_

200 people come to the show and paid $5 to get in = $1000_

_Costs of the show:
Band = $100 guaranteed
Sound = $100
Advertising = $100
Promoter Profit (15% of expenses or $300 in this example) = $45
Split point (total of all) = $345
Amount to split ( total income $1000 – total expenses $345) = $655
Band gets 80% after split = $524
Promoter gets 20% after split – $131
Band total ($100 guarantee + 80% after split) = $624
Promoter total ( promoter profit + 20% after split) = $176_

_But at first you can go straight percentage after expenses. So lets say the
venue charges you $100 for rent and you spend $100 on flyers and posters for
the show. You can split the money that comes in any way you want after the
$200 in expenses. Using the above example of 200 people paying $5 to get in
then it could look something like this:_

_$1000 – $200 in expenses = $800
Band gets 70% = $560
Promoter/Talent Buyer gets 30% = $240_

_You can split it anyway you can negotiate. But if you want to work with the
bands again then be fair. You can also just pay the band a flat fee and you
take the rest but then the band has nothing to gain or lose and its always
nice having them work to get as many people through the door as possible and
rewarded for this work. My second piece of advice is don't become a talent
buyer/promoter to make money, do it because you love music and can't see
yourself doing anything but this. If you do it for those reasons then people
will want to work with you and your shows will be better. Think about what
you like at shows like ambiance and sound quality._

_You are going to need someone in charge of advertising, production,
hospitality, security, and box office. The venue will provide some of this
stuff, the band may provide some of this (like sound and lights) and the
rest you'll either have to do yourself or hire someone you trust to help

_My last piece of advice is that you need to consider what happens if someone
gets hurt at your show? This is an unfortunate topic but necessary to
consider and you need to be protected. There are insurance policies out
there you can buy but these are expensive and have to be considered into a
show expense. As with all insurance you hope you never have to cash it in
and if you choose to put on shows without it then know that you're at risk.
The venue where you do your first show might have entertainment insurance
and you can ask them to have you named on it for the show. It'll cost a
little but its a good way when you start out. If this is something you see
yourself doing a lot of then you should contact some insurance companies and
get a year policy set up._

_I could teach an entire semester on talent buying and promoting there is so
much that goes into every show. As you grow you will learn about increased
expenses like insurance, security, box office, production, ASCAP, BMI,
SESAC, police, fire, etc. Thanks again for your question and let me know how
it goes!_

_Let me know if this helped or not. If not be more specific and I'll do my


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