Agents are different from managers. A true booking agent is a licensed entity that is, essentially, a specialized employment agency. Virtually every state in the U.S. licenses such agencies and additionally the American Federation of Musicians (AFM – the musicians union) has their own special franchise rules for approving agents who subscribe to their minimum contract requirements. It is strongly recommended that you secure the services of agents who are franchised by the union and you can obtain a list of local agents for a nominal fee of between $2 and $5 from your local AFM office.
Booking agents generally charge a fee of 15% and usually get a deposit of around 50% of the act’s fee up front and the rest is paid to the act at the gig or collected by the agent after the show. In theory the booking agent is supposed to see to it that you collect your pay, but even with AFM contracts this sometimes doesn’t happen and even the Union will tell you that nothing can be done in such instances. Generally the franchised booking agents only deal with reputable venues or “rooms” with a good pay history, so these no pay situations are not common.
Booking agents generally handle hotels and larger restaurants. They also book “civic center” type acts in theater settings.
The prestige of the entertainer has a direct bearing on the booking agent they can secure. The biggest booking agents also offer management services. Here I’m speaking of agents such as William Morris, CMA, CAA, APA and other top level agencies. Only top grossing, well recognized acts can secure the services of these organization.
Even in the middle levels companies such as Associated Booking pick and chose which acts they will represent.
The status of your booking agent also determines what venues you will be able to play. There are some gigs that only William Morris can secure for select touring acts. A company such as William Morris also packages movies, which may help get an act or song into a sound track.
It is very hard for an act starting out to obtain even the lowest level of agency representation. Usually you have to get your own entry level “gigs” at smaller bars or restaurants, build up your promotion, then contact the agents on the AFM list by sending them a picture, song list and audio recording. Once you have been picked up by the agent you will have to supply these promotional items in quantity so they can provide them to perspective employer “rooms” for which the agent will pay the postage for sending out your package. After a while the agent may start paying for the pictures and tapes, provided your are a popular act making them lots of money.
Few people understand that agents are a totally commissioned sales group. They make their entire income off the 15% fee they collect for the bookings they get their acts. So they pick and chose these acts carefully to make sure they generate income for everyone involved. Bands and performers who generate the largest percentage of the agent’s income get the best gigs and most preferential treatment.
It is the mid-level booking agent that can put an act into the college event circuit or place them in state and county fairs for the shows included in admission price. It is the upper level agents they get you to paid show slots at the fairs and civic centers and it takes getting on the Billboard charts for radio airplay to rate these types of agencies. A good management firm or record company recommendation will also help the act secure a higher level of representation.
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