Booking Agents find performing opportunities, plan tours, negotiate performance fees and terms, and execute contracts for artists on their roster.
Booking Manager, Agent
$20,000 to $1,000,000+1
How To Become a Booking Agent
Q&A - Quick Answers
A Booking Agent books live performances for the artists on their roster. In this role, they work with Talent Buyers, Concert Promoters, Venue Managers, Festival Directors, Tour Operators, cultural organizations, municipalities, and others to secure dates, negotiate terms, make agreements, and then follow up to make sure contracts are signed and adhered to. These contracts include performance fees to be paid to the artist, plus performance-related costs and needs such as concert lighting and sound, and touring-related costs and needs like lodging, meals, and transportation to and from the event.
Some Booking Agents will work specifically with a certain genre of music or a specific artist whereas others, usually at the larger agencies, represent a variety of artists. Booking Agents work closely with the artists and their management teams to coordinate many or most aspects of planning performances and tour itineraries. They may be managing bookings for multiple artists, performances, and tours simultaneously, so they need to be very organized and efficient in their work.
A Booking Agent must fully understand the complexities involved with putting on performances and managing events. They need a complete understanding of the competing needs of artists, bands, their management teams, and the clients who ultimately are paying the bills. They also need an understanding of the legal framework for contracts and the music business. It can be a stressful job in many ways, but also provides great opportunities for rewards and satisfaction for those who have what it takes and are determined to do a great job for their artists and clients.
To learn what it takes to become a Booking Agent, we talked to:
- Emma Banks (Co-Head of CAA, London)
- Sharron Elkabas (Director/Agency Manager at MN2S)
- Mike Epstein (President of Epstein & Company)
- Jon Folk (Founder of Red 11 Music)
- Katherine McVicker (President/Co-Founder of Music Works International)
- Kiely Mosiman (Agent at Wasserman Music)
Here’s what they had to say.
What does a Booking Agent do?
A Booking Agent is someone who arranges all of the personal appearances of an artist and also looks after the financial aspects of any live performance engagement and tour.
My typical day is in the office during the week, on the phone while answering emails, talking to as many people as I can, negotiating deal points on all of our clients, planning tours, securing support acts, looking at developmental artists, meeting with staff, helping solve problems and helping our artists achieve their goals.
My day is mostly working with Promoters and Talent Buyers on upcoming tours. I negotiate and contract all personal appearances for the artists we represent out of our Nashville office.
Also, [I spend time] talking with our artists to really customize their touring needs. There is always a goal in mind on whatever we do with our artists’ objectives. For example, one artist may want to really focus this year more on solo shows and building his core audience as opposed to another who is really looking for maximum exposure through supporting larger artists, or large festivals, or a large scale headline tour, etc.
In general, though, I am on the phone, the office is buzzing, people are cutting deals. It is a very fast-paced environment: a perfect symphony of controlled chaos.
The role of a Booking Agent is to represent their client. This is their most important job–to work in their client’s best interests. However, Booking Agents must also meet the needs of Buyers, and work to their budget while considering the interests of the talent involved.
In this sense, the role is fundamentally to act as a dealmaker between talent and Buyer–an intermediary who finds the best solution for all parties involved.
In a nutshell, the Booking Agent is responsible for booking shows and tours. In our case, we work with artists who also have a fair amount of educational residency work that they do with organizations. That’s something that we’re pretty involved in. That can mean anything from a sixty-minute workshop or masterclass at a college or university, or it could even mean the artist is there for a longer residency for like a whole week or more, and that residency culminates in a public performance. There are the single shows, larger tours, and then those residencies that we’re always focusing on.
The easiest way to think about it is, anything that’s live, that’s where we come in. We’re the person or the people responsible for the shows and tours for the artists–the whole live aspect of the artist’s career.
I think of my job in three major categories: (1) Discovering & signing talent; (2) Building those artists’ careers by securing opportunities for those artists with a specific focus on the live space; and (3) Negotiating the actual deal structures and coordinating those opportunities in a way that most benefits the artists we represent.
While the major of my focus is in the live space, I am also the conduit between my roster and the other departments within the agency (brand partnerships, acting, social impact, etc.)
There are so many types of Agents so this is obviously specific to a Music Agent. The job is primarily booking touring, live shows. The Agent works directly for the musician.
Whether it’s a band or a solo artist, whoever it is, we normally talk primarily to the Manager. The Manager will be the person who’s telling us what the artist wants. We then go out and put shows in place, performances, be they at the tiniest clubs or at arenas. We talk to the Promoters, we talk to the venues, festivals, county fairs, and then additionally, there are private shows and corporate bookings.
Pretty much every time an artist plays a live performance, be it ticketed or un-ticketed, we’re the person in the middle going, “Okay, yes. We should play that venue in Los Angeles and that venue in London.” The Promoter is the person that will actually physically stage the show and pay the artist. We deal with them, get the deal right, and make sure that the advertising goes out. Some companies have marketing people within the agency to do that. In other agencies, the Agent and their team do it directly.
We’ll then issue contracts for the shows. We’ll make sure that the artist gets paid. We’ll keep an eye on ticket counts, make sure that the shows are selling. If they’re not, obviously we need to try and figure out why they’re not and how we can help to get the sales going.
I suppose part of the decision-making process when booking those shows is working out a career path. A really good Agent will figure out whether you should do three shows in a capital city over a course of a week or so, or just one really big gig. Should you play that festival or should you wait and do your own headline shows first? A lot is plotting and planning, and every move that you make is done to set up the next thing that the artist does. An Agent has to say “no” more than they say “yes.”
Many Bookers are self-employed and can set their own fees relative to the flow of work, their artists’ needs, and the ability of clients to pay. Because they represent the artists, they need to advocate and negotiate the best deals they can and must also be sensitive to the venues’ or client organizations’ budgets for live music. Working with the artists on their roster, and Promoters or others on the client-side, the earnings or pay available could fluctuate greatly from booking to booking, day to day, and year to year.
Income levels for Booking Agents can also vary greatly depending on the genre of music represented, the level of artists the Agent works with, and how long they’ve been in the business. This explains the vast range of salaries reported, from $20,000 for Agents on the more DIY-level to $1,000,000+ for Agents at the biggest agencies in music.
How do Booking Agents get paid?
Plain and simple: it’s on commission. The agreement is with the artist. There’s a percentage earned on the artists’ fee. Obviously, everybody wants to get a high artist fee upfront. The artist wants that because that’s money in their pocket guaranteed, and the Booking Agent wants that because that’s also money in my pocket guaranteed, assuming the show happens.
There are many different types of booking deals for shows that happen. I just talked about something called the guarantee, but you could have the opposite end of that which is no guarantee, meaning there’s a percentage of the ticket sales that are negotiated for the artists. You might have a situation where the venue decides, “We’ve never heard of this artist, but if he or she really wants to play, we’ll let them play for 70% or 80% of the door.” They get 80% of the ticket sales, the venue keeps 20% of the ticket sales. Whatever that final number of ticket sales is in dollar amount, the Booking Agent will get a percentage of that number. There are lots of different types of deals that happen.
Generally, the standard commission rate is 10%, so we only get paid based on the income we produce for our clients in bookings. When you work at a large company, the fee structure is a base salary plus some sort of backend or bonus based on what your client roster is bringing in.
Music Agents, 99.99% of the time, earn commission on all the deals that they bring in. A standard commission rate is 10% of the gross income. If you’re paid $10,000 for a show, you’ll pay $1,000 of that to your Agent.
When artists get bigger and bigger and bigger and the numbers get much, much bigger, there’s a negotiation to be had on the percentage of commission taken. If you’re earning five million dollars a show (and there aren’t many artists that do that, but there’s the odd one), you’re probably not paying 10% to anybody on that. You’re paying a slightly lower percentage.
It’s very rare that anyone gets paid a flat fee, and that’s the same across most agencies. When we’re doing a brand deal or a movie deal or something for our music clients, they’ll also be paying a percentage of their income to us as an agency commission. We can book a huge tour. If for some reason that tour doesn’t happen, then we’ll have put all of the work in and we’ll have got no money for it.
Typically, a Booking Agent receives both a base salary and a commission. The commission comes from every deal they make, it’s a percentage of the sale. This percentage–the commission rate–varies from agency to agency. Some agencies just pay the base and no commission, some agencies will pay both, and some will give out bonuses to their employees.
Agents get paid on commission. The thing is that we share the risk with the Promoter. If you don’t sell any tickets, then as an Agent, you may not be able to book that band in that place again.
We don’t do the actual publicity work and marketing work. That’s another professional who does that. But we do want to try to work with the Promoter to ensure that they have a successful show. And that comes back to the artist making sure that they give us the material that the club needs to make a successful show.
When we work, we get paid 10% or 15%, whatever it is, of the gross amount of money brought in. If I book a show for $10,000 and I have a 10% commission, I make $1,000 from that show once it’s successfully played.
What I see mostly these days are salaried positions with bonuses throughout the year depending on gross numbers and artists represented.
There will always be a demand for Booking Agents and Artist Managers who can handle performance schedules for artists and bands. With the resurgence of live music after the Covid-19 Pandemic, the demand for competent Agents is likely to mushroom. For the best-prepared, there should be a wide range of opportunities and roles available.
Although getting a foot in the door at an agency can be tricky, there will always be a need for Booking Agents to help artists secure tour dates and ensure adequate financial compensation and working conditions. Most Agents recommend starting out as an Intern and working your way up over time to become an Agent.
Other Agents start at the DIY level and build a stable of artists whose careers they help to grow. These individuals may run their own agencies. Or if they feel it’s a good career move for their roster and for themselves, they may agree to merge with a larger, more powerful agency when this agency desires to add the smaller company’s roster, or one or two successful artists, to their mix of talent.
Live music is a global industry with ample opportunities for growth. By positioning themselves as skilled and capable go-getters, Booking Agents have the chance to make their mark in a fun and exciting business.
How hard is it to become a Booking Agent?
It’s really hard. A lot of media and entertainment jobs are very hard to get into. It’s highly competitive. There are a couple of ways in. The first is that you actually just start doing it and you find a local artist or somebody that you know and you start booking their shows, and you keep booking them, and that artist is loyal to you and works with you.
Then at some point, you’re officially an Agent and you take on other artists, or you become a very salable commodity to one of the bigger agencies. At that point, if you haven’t already been approached by an existing talent agency, you could reach out and say, “I represent these three artists who are all doing pretty well, but we know we’d be better served at a bigger company. Would you consider taking us on?”
That’s one way to do it: Start small, and then you can join forces with other people. It’s can be hard to do that though because the majority of times, as soon as an artist is noteworthy, bigger and more established Agents come along and may offer representation to your client (or the artist will go out and look for a more experienced Agent). The artist may think, “Here’s a person that’s got ten years’ experience. You’ve got one year’s experience. This is an Agent that has got opportunities and knows all of these Promoters. You only know half a dozen.” So they leave you. But I think if you’ve shown that you’ve got good ears, you can find good talent, and you’ve put the effort in, that always helps to get a job.
The other thing is, a lot of people join the agencies as Assistants, and you then hope that you can work your way through. Not every Assistant will become an Agent. There’s a relatively small pool of Agents in the big scheme of things. That’s not to say there aren’t going to be new ones, because there always will be. At the moment, some of the elder statesmen of the agency business are Agents who were in the business almost at the start of it. They’re not quite that old, but you’ve got Agents who are in their 70s that are still working. Until they retire or give up, they have their artists and they’re not going to give those artists up.
It’s not the biggest pool, but I think that if you absolutely love it and you really want to do it, there are a lot of great agencies now. It’s about applying. You won’t earn very much money at all for the first few years. It’s definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme, although people certainly make more money now than when I started. I got paid an absolute pittance for the first five years, and I was booking big artists. But I was booking artists that belonged to the company that I was at. If it wasn’t me, it would have been somebody else, but it was a phenomenal grounding to learn what to do.
I think with all things, I was very much a yes person, and by that I mean if I was asked to do something, I just did it. It didn’t matter what it was, whether it was inputting data for contracts, covering a show for an artist I didn’t know or didn’t even like, or helping to book some club gigs. Whatever it might have been, I just said “yes,” and I did it because it expands your contacts, it expands your knowledge base, and that’s what everyone’s really looking for. The more people you can get to know, the more likely it is that at some point someone will go, “Oh, I remember that person. I’ll give them a job,” or, “I’d like them to represent my artist.” It’s not an easy thing to get into.
I would say historically, the music industry is one of the trickiest industries to find a way into, and the role of Booking Agent is one of the hardest to get into. It’s a chicken and egg situation–often, an agency will only hire you if you have relevant experience, but if you are starting out, this can make it very difficult. You have to start somewhere.
This will often involve coming into an agency as an Intern, moving up through more junior roles such as Booker and Junior Agent before becoming a fully-fledged Booking Agent. There’s definitely a path to take, but it’s not an easy role to get into. A referral from somebody you might know within the industry is always helpful.
Realistically, anyone can be a Booking Agent if they find a band they love and have an agreement to help get them gigs locally as that artist develops. We all have to start somewhere!
In a more formal sense of the word, being a Booking Agent at a major talent agency does take years of hard work and effort, working your way up either within a larger company or sometimes starting on your own and building up a book of business from scratch. I can only speak for myself, but I started in the contracts department before moving to an Assistant role, then Coordinator, before finally becoming an Agent.
I think it’s fairly straightforward. I often encourage artists or people who are trying to figure out how to be an Agent to get knowledgeable about the clubs and the performance areas in your general area or region. If you’re an artist that wants to start to build a professional career, you play all the places in your local town. Or as an Agent, you book all the places in your local town. Then you start thinking of the other places you can go to that are like an hour’s drive away and start getting to know those venues. Then you just start to radiate out.
If you look up a club, you can see how many seats they have. You can see what they generally charge for a ticket and then you know how much money a Promoter can generate from a show if every ticket is sold. Then you have to understand the risk. How many tickets can you actually bring in? If you’re completely unknown, then you could probably count on your friends and family to show up, so that’s something that’s probably guaranteed. But then you have to figure out how you’re going to market the show so you can get more people to come out and take a chance on listening to the music.
There are differences between what we call soft tickets and hard tickets. A soft ticket is an event that somebody would go to and it doesn’t matter who’s playing, people are there for the event. Like a festival. They’re there to have a good time. A hard ticket event is when someone is going to actually buy a ticket to go and see your show. I think it’s a question of starting to look and see what places there are to play and understanding the financial capabilities of those particular venues.
Soft tickets are great, but the thing is that once you play the festival and you get a lot of exposure, you need to capitalize on that. You need to go back to the same city or place where you played a festival and then play a club because then you’re going to know how many people were really interested in your music. You don’t get that from a festival. They’re there just to see the event, and hopefully, they see something they like. But if you go back to Cincinnati where you played a festival, Tri-Rivers, or whatever it is, then you go back and play a club, now you’re starting to build an audience because you know people will come and pay money to see you.
There are many opportunities to intern at agencies these days. Work with a reputable agency. Start at the bottom as soon as you can so you can work your way up faster. I’ve never seen a case where someone gets an entry-level Agent position with no experience.
Right now, meaning post-COVID–well, we’re still in a pandemic–I don’t quite know what the opportunities are like compared to how it would have been a year and a half ago, although I have to imagine the process is very similar to what it was then. From my own experience, when I realized I wanted to do this, I wanted to get into a different agency. I was persistent about being able to do that and being an Intern there.
I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Somebody had left, so I got to start answering the phones. Then I got to work my way up a little bit, and slowly, over time, got to get more and more experience.
If somebody is interested in being a Booking Agent, my advice would be to do some research and figure out what booking agencies are out there. There are thousands. There are lots of booking agencies, but which agencies represent artists that you really like? Figure that out and then knock on their door or email them and see if they’re taking Interns. My advice would be, even if their response right now is, “We’re not accepting Interns,” I would figure out how to still network with the people that work there and figure out a way in. You don’t want to be obnoxious, but at the same time, just make an introduction so these people know that you’re very interested and ready to help them.
Maybe that means starting in roles that you may not ultimately like. For example, it’s not uncommon for booking agencies to also be management agencies. If you have it under the same house, you can represent an artist for management and you can represent an artist for booking. Maybe there’s an opportunity to do one or the other before you have an opportunity to do what you really like. For me, it was years before I had an opportunity to get booking experience.
Most Booking Agents start their careers by working as an Intern or Assistant at an established agency. Some start out by applying for and being accepted into a large agency’s Agent training program. Another way to break in is by working in another aspect of the music industry, such as doing A&R at a record label or working as an Event Manager.
At outset, it’s important to build relationships with others in the music industry, and there are many ways to do this. Some Agents might start out working on a road crew or as a Stage Manager and then work hard to build a strong network of relationships directly with artists and their Managers.
It’s important to consider that there isn’t one set pathway to becoming a Booking Agent. Individuals come into their roles in so many ways, whether starting out as an Assistant or Intern at an agency, transitioning from another role in the music industry, or just starting a business to do artist booking. Some Booking Agents started out as musicians!
For an established Booking Agent, advancement should come in the form of working with more well-known acts, getting hired by a more prestigious agency, or by handling a more lucrative regional territory. Other ways an Agent could advance in their career include assuming a position with more power within the company, such as department head, Vice President, or agency partner. They could also branch out and found their own booking agency.
Experience & Skills
Experience as an Intern or an Assistant at a booking agency will give those just starting off in their career the skills and knowledge necessary to eventually become a full-fledged Booking Agent. Apart from industry know-how and strong people skills, adaptability, and the ability to work in a sometimes high-pressure environment are paramount to success.
Booking Agents can gain experience and skills by working in just about any aspect of the music industry. At its core, booking artists and bands into venues, festivals, and tours has a strong sales component, so doing any kind of sales is great training for an Agent. Knowing the different steps of a sale, how to negotiate and close a deal, and how contracts work is important.
Whether inside or outside sales, selling products or services, at a retail or wholesale level job, learning to sell is going to be very helpful to any booking professional. There are many great books, blogs, videos, and even courses available for anyone looking to acquire selling skills. Understanding the process and function of sales and selling is crucial for anyone in the Booking Agent role.
Additionally, having super-sharp communication skills is important to success. Knowing how to leave a proper phone message, use email etiquette, write a cover letter, and mastering face-to-face (or remote) business and social protocols is something that further enables Agents to ply their trade. Social graces, a firm handshake, and the ability to look someone straight in the eye while speaking clearly to introduce oneself are the kinds of interpersonal or “soft” skills required for success, as in any business.
Agents should also understand marketing psychology and have at minimum a basic grasp of social media analytics. They should have delegation skills and know how to manage others in teams. Over time the successful Booking Agent will be able to build up a plethora of experience-based skills and knowledge that will help them advance and grow as a professional.
What skills do Booking Agents need?
Being a great communicator is important, you’ll need excellent verbal and written communication skills. You also need negotiation skills, but this often only comes with time and experience. Booking Agents must learn how to read the interests of the Buyer and talent, and be sales-driven–after all their job is to make deals.
Another skill is to understand and know your talent. You’ve got to know the strengths and weaknesses of the artists on your books, to understand their needs and how they can meet the needs of Buyers. This comes with experience, too.
First of all, within the definition of a Booking Agent, there’s a difference between someone who is a Booker and someone who’s an Agent. What I mean by that is there are a lot of people who book shows and that’s the end of their activity. It’s transactional. The Booker connects the artist to the Promoter and arranges a show. The skills needed are understanding show costs and production, what to charge for tickets, and how many tickets the artist can probably sell. An Agent is much more of an entrepreneur, who books shows as a way to develop the career of an artist through live performance. Being an effective Agent requires much more knowledge and skills than a Booker.
To be a good Booking Agent, you have to have a good working knowledge of the industry as a whole because the Agent has to work with the artist, the Manager, the record company, and the Publicist, all the different people that are part of an artist’s career.
In addition to a basic understanding of the industry, you also need to understand how the various markets work in the territory you are focusing on. Where are the right places for a particular band to play? Is there an audience for their kind of music? How many tickets can this artist sell? Should the artist play at a festival or can they actually sell tickets? How does this performance help establish the artist?
Artists have a lot more opportunities now because of the internet. You can do research and see where bands similar to you are playing. That cuts out a lot of trial and error which didn’t exist even ten or twenty years ago.
You can research other artists’ websites to see what they’re posting and how they are marketing themselves. You can get information from Spotify. There are lots of different ways you can get information to make the search easier, but I think it’s really important to understand that you put bands in the right places so that they can reach their target audience.
What I typically look for when hiring someone are motivation, positive energy, enthusiasm, and the age-old question, “Would I want to hang with this person at an airport bar during a 6-hour layover?” In what we do, personality, willingness to adapt to any given situation, ambition, teamwork, and being able to think on your feet are just a few keys to success in our field.
Our business is based solely on relationships: relationships with artists, relationships with Talent Buyers/Promoters. There is a mutual trust between both that you have to always respect.
[Be] outgoing and open, with that willingness to talk to someone you don’t know. A person who knows how to find a common ground with someone at the opposite end of the spectrum and knows the end result is there and it’s just a matter of finding it.
I think successful Agents need to know geography. It’s not something you need written down, but if you don’t know where anywhere is, you can’t logically put a tour together. It’s important that you know where places are.
Some of the places look like they’re easy to get to but they’re actually very difficult. You need to be aware of that, be aware of geography, and be aware of some of the political climates. I work internationally so I need to know about Brexit in the UK and how that impacts touring. You need to be aware of things like that.
You need to be able to negotiate a deal with Promoters, be that on a ticketed headline show or on a festival. You need to understand when to push for something. You also need to understand when to actually accept a deal and be happy with it. Lots of that you learn as you go along. Negotiating skills are something that you have to really practice.
You need to be able to get on with people. If you’re the person that’s representing a band, that band may never talk to the Promoter that’s lost maybe $100,000 on their show. A good Agent will do everything they can to soften the blow when things don’t go well and to maximize everybody’s revenues when things do go well.
You need to be reasonably gregarious. It’s a social job. You need to be able to get on with the clients that you have and also the people that you’re selling to, the Promoters. If you don’t get on with them, if they don’t like you, if you can’t have a good chat with them, then there will be things that you miss out on. There are some artists that are no-brainers that everyone will want to sign and everyone will want to book, however obnoxious the people around them are. Then there are others where, if there are two acts that would work equally well in a slot, it could be that the Agent that has the better relationship with that Promoter will get the gig for the client.
Being honorable, honest, and straightforward is really important. I think if you try and lie or you’re not totally honest about what’s going on, it finds you out. In the long term, that’s a bad thing.
You’ve got to be pretty thick-skinned. Occasionally, you’ll have people that are mean to you, you’ll lose clients, and sometimes you’ll have no idea why you’ve lost the client. Sometimes they won’t tell you why. It becomes one of those, “I still love you but I’m not in love with you,” kind of breakups. That’s really hard when you go, “Look, I’ve done everything I possibly can. It’s not my fault that your album hasn’t worked or your single didn’t get released,” whatever it might be.
You’ve got to be tough but you’ve also got to be empathetic to the situation. It’s really important that you can put yourself in the shoes of the artist that you’re representing and understand that, actually, while it looks like great fun, being away from home for months on end isn’t that easy. Being able to understand the way of life that they’re having to deal with means that you can be a better Agent to them. Occasionally, you’re the one that’s going, “You don’t have to do this. Do you really, really want to do it? Because that’s the only time you’re going to get to see your dog for the next six weeks?” Whatever it might be.
Attention to detail has to be number one. A close second would be an ability to talk to anyone and be personable. The music industry is very small, and things get a lot easier when people know you as a human being. Having a good ear, organization, basic math skills, and understanding geography are all very important as well.
I’m still learning them every day. At the end of the day, the way to think about it is, it’s a relationship business. My background before I got into the music business side of things, I was going to be a performer. I’m a Drummer. I started out on that track as a performer and everything. A really good analogy for people who are performers and people who are behind the scene is, just like an artist is only as good as their last show, I think a Booking Agent is only as good as their last booking.
As far as some of the skills you need, it’s really not that complicated. Certainly a high level of organization. Certainly a good deal of being personable and everything. Making sure you’re not treating business relationships transactionally–even though, of course, it’s a business–because it’s a very small world. Our best chances of success for our artists are entirely dependent on the relationships we have with Promoters, venues, and arts organizations. Your reputation spreads really quickly. I think if there’s one positive thing that came about from COVID, it’s that the whole live industry really took a step back and realized everybody’s success is contingent on everybody else’s success. It is a total domino effect.
Again, just some basic skills: how you manage relationships, how you build new relationships, how you not only come across yourself, but also how you’re selling your artists to somebody who’s running an organization. All those things really come into play. I think at the end of the day, it’s really about just managing successful relationships for as long as possible, thinking as long term as possible, and also being extremely organized, because whether you’re representing ten artists or fifty artists, you have to have a high level of organization to manage all their schedules and calendars and everything.
Persistence for sure is a major key trait to have or to be able to develop. One of my mentors always likes to say: “No doesn’t mean no. It just means not now.” You have to constantly remind yourself that even though you might not be getting a response from somebody, in my case for a booking, it doesn’t mean we’re not interested. It just means that, for whatever reason, it’s not the right time. Sometimes it’s as simple as if you call them at 10:00 a.m., and then you call them at 1:00 p.m. You got them on the phone, right?
But also, sometimes it’s even more than that. I can think of lots of examples where I was trying to book an artist with an organization for years–two years, three years, four years–and finally, the booking happened and they wanted to present the artist. Again, it wasn’t because they didn’t necessarily like the artist at the onset, it was because, for them, it wasn’t the right time.
Education & Training
There aren’t specific college majors for booking, but more and more colleges and universities now offer diplomas and degrees in music business or music industry as a major. Students learn about all aspects of the music business and get an idea of what is needed to succeed in a highly competitive industry sector. Alternatively, students might choose to study only business.
Common degrees offered by colleges are the Bachelor of Science (BS or BSc) in music business or business administration, a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), and a Bachelor of Music (BM or BMus). There might also be an Associate of Arts (AS) at a community college, and there are a few Master’s degree programs for music business, as well as the Master of Business Administration (MBA), sometimes with a music industry focus.
While these degree offerings have significant differences, for the most part, all are worthy programs where students can learn everything about business and the music industry while preparing to enter the field. Students in music industry programs study marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, organizational behavior, management studies, technology, and other areas of interest useful for becoming a Booking Agent and music industry pro. They also offer excellent opportunities for networking with current and future industry participants, among the faculty, alumni, and current students.
Choosing to attend a college program in a city that’s a music industry hub such as Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York will automatically give an aspiring Booking Agent more opportunities for internships, simply through geographic proximity and established relationships between the schools and the agencies. Earning a degree and having work experience will help to get your foot in the door, but your personality and skills are what, in the end, will get you hired.
What education do you need to be a Booking Agent?
A lot of my friends in the industry went through great music business programs at Belmont, Berkeley, NYU, etc., but I personally got my degree in Political Science from the University of Arkansas. I know a lot of Talent Agents have law degrees, and some Music Agents do too, but there is no official education requirement. In order to get hired at a talent agency you likely do need a bachelor’s degree in something these days.
You don’t really need any specific music education. A good all-around regular education will certainly help you. You do need to understand math and be able to read a spreadsheet and understand it; understand the finances of a deal. Particularly at the top end, there’s a lot going on, so you want to be able to understand the deal better than anybody else to make sure it’s the best deal for your client.
There are plenty of music business courses that you can go and do at colleges and universities. You don’t need it, but it’s a good way of showing that you’re keen, meeting people, and getting some experience of the academic side of what we do.
I think what’s equally as important though (if not more important) is actually showing that you want to do the job and going out and getting hands-on experience. Whether that’s managing your friend’s band and getting involved in putting their shows on and all of those things, or promoting shows in your local bar or club or pub, or working for the Promoter that does that. That, to me, is always really impressive: someone that’s gone out and organized the club gigs at their university or their college.
Really get your hands dirty and show you’ll do this, because a lot of the time, it’s long hours. It’s really long hours that you have to put in to be an Agent. You’re in the office all day. It’s an office job because you’re dealing with phone calls and emails backward and forward, much of which makes you no money. You spend as much time saying “no” to things as you do saying “yes” to things.
An Agent only makes money by commissioning events, gigs, and deals that actually take place, but if you’re representing somebody, then you have to say no to many of the deals offered to make sure that you are doing the right thing and not just on a money grab which will only be beneficial in the very short term. It’s important to be responsive to people and let them know the bad news along with any good news, You can’t just ignore stuff. You need to let people down in a pleasant way as much as you possibly can, because the gig that you don’t want for artist A, you might need for artist B down the line. That person that you didn’t show the time of day to, in two years’ time, turns out to be the Manager of the next biggest artist in the world. They will remember that you were rude to them, that you were disrespectful.
Of course, you need to like music. I haven’t said it before because it goes without saying. But you have to love music, love live music, and when you start getting clients, love those clients and want to protect them, want to look after them, want to represent them, and want to see them do well.
An artist doing well can mean all kinds of things. It doesn’t necessarily mean they play the biggest shows or they earn the most money. There are some artists that may be very happy doing smaller shows, having an easier, less stressful lifestyle, so you need to understand that and accommodate them in the best way you can.
Persistence is really important. I would think that there were some transferable sets of skills for me as a music student in as far as being persistent, and practicing, and trying to book my own gigs. Stuff like that definitely carried through.
I know lots of Booking Agents that have no traditional music background. They don’t necessarily play an instrument. They were certainly passionate about music but they weren’t necessarily going to be musicians. I think the similar characteristic that I see across the board regardless of people’s backgrounds is they’re very passionate about the music or the artist that they represent.
I guess the other thing is from a business standpoint, you definitely have to be interested in sales. I was a telemarketer and I guess I learned some skills from that, like being persistent, learning how to speak clearly on the phone, all those things. That was certainly beneficial, but I can’t imagine making my living trying to sell something that I didn’t really care about. I’ve had experiences in the past where I worked at a larger agency and I was responsible for booking artists that I wasn’t that passionate about, and I always found that really challenging.
I think the other thing that’s very helpful is thinking entrepreneurially. I know more and more music undergraduate degrees are offering entrepreneurship courses in music and in the music business. That’s very helpful because musicians are obviously entrepreneurs in their own right, but Booking Agents (and really anybody in the music industry) have to think entrepreneurially, just because it’s constantly changing. Whether we’re talking about, “How do you navigate the challenges of a pandemic,” or “How do you take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology,” there’s this reinvention that’s happening constantly, and that can be hard to keep up with. But I think any opportunity to take any sort of entrepreneurship class or learn from other entrepreneurs would be totally valuable.
My degree in Music Business opened the door to an internship and was the beginning of my career as an Agent.
Having qualifications and education has obvious benefits that are going to help you excel in a role like this, however there aren’t any specific requirements that employers look for when you’re become a Booking Agent. It’s really down to your skillset and your abilities, your determination and drive to succeed in this type of role. A real willingness to work hard might get you further than a formal education.
I think anybody who’s going to be an Agent should be really, really self-driven. They should be passionate about the arts and understand the value of culture. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rock and roll or whether it’s jazz or classical. Somebody who has a passion for understanding how audiences consume culture is really important.
The industry has changed quite a bit. The collapse of the record industry has created an environment where people who want to be in the industry really have to learn DIY skills. I think it used to be that in the industry, everything radiated from the Manager and the record labels, but that doesn’t exist anymore. Now you can put your music out on Bandcamp, and do your own distribution. You can post content on various social media platforms. You can stream live content and charge tickets through various platforms like Stage It. There are a lot of different opportunities to get your music out there.
The flipside of that is that you really have to be driven as an Agent or as an artist to make an impact. It has become much more complex than it used to be, but today’s industry also gives you a lot more freedom because you don’t have as many roadblocks. You can do it yourself if you can make a good plan and implement it.
The program that we launched [Anyone Can Book a Gig] came out of my desire to teach artists about the industry. I wanted to teach people who are in music school (high school, but probably mostly college) to understand the basic elements of the music industry so that they can go out with confidence and advocate for themselves. The course walks artists step by step on how to build a performance career: What kind of career do they want to have? What do they already have together? The course teaches artists how to put their assets together and gives ideas about the different ways to make targets and strategies for how they want to build their careers.
Most young musicians are not going to be able to hire an Agent, so they may have to do it for themselves. If somebody wants to learn to be an Agent or if they want to learn how to book themselves, they can learn all this stuff in a step-by-step way through this course.
We teach artists how to make tour history, how to do the research we spoke about, how to talk to Promoters, and how to understand the different financial deals that you can make. It has examples of contracts and different things that you need in order to book yourself or work as an Agent. We also talk about marketing and how to grow your career through a live performance. It’s all interactive.
I’ve been doing workshops at school for a long time. With an audience of students, everything you say to them is wonderful at the time, but they don’t come away with something in their hands that they can actually use to take that information and start to build it for themselves. That’s what this course is intended to give. It just demystifies everything.
I got into this industry because I was a musician myself for many years, and I had to figure out how to do it. It was a lot more difficult in those years. I started in the ‘80s and we didn’t even have personal computers. There are a lot more possibilities now.
Musicians have to have so much confidence to play music. They need the same confidence to advocate for themselves. It’s a learning process and everybody has to pay some dues.
I love what I do because I’ve been able to see real results for the clients I’ve worked with, where I’ve been able to take them from the very beginning to having a lot of success, and that’s really interesting. The other thing I would say that’s changed in the last couple of years, and this also goes for the record industry, is I think that the focus for most artists is much more on the live performance piece than it is on having to move your career forward through an Agent or a record company.
There are countless online groups and associations that can be useful for Booking Agents, depending “on what type of music you are working with,” Folk says. “There are many avenues that will be available to you.” Some of these organizations include the American Federation of Musicians and the Association of Talent Agents.
Is there anything else you think aspiring Booking Agents need to know?
I really hope that people will check out the course because I think it goes step by step through the elements. We even have a lexicon in there so that you can understand what the heck people are talking about, because every industry has its own lexicon.
It’s really about understanding the risk. I think people have a warm and fuzzy idea about the glamorous music industry, but it’s not any different than any other business, right? We have to make the money work. As an Agent, we have to make sure that we protect the artist, make sure that we understand how much money can be generated by a show, and make sure that the artists get paid. That’s a big responsibility for us. There are a lot of things that we try to put in place.
You obviously want to work with people who are reliable, but I think that you have to make sure that you’re protecting the artist because the artist pays you; the Promoter doesn’t pay you. That’s something that people get confused about as well. They try to make friends with the Promoter, but sometimes you have to have tough conversations with them in order to protect your client. You have to be comfortable with that, and that’s what takes a while to think about: how to negotiate fairly with people and share the risk with people. This is one of the parts I love about this job: meeting new people, expanding contacts and possibilities for our artists and getting great music out to the world.
I think it’s important to make the distinction between an Artist Manager and a Booking Agent because they’re very different. We talked about a Booking Agent being responsible for trying to book shows and tours and other live performance opportunities, but a Manager is really responsible for everything. The artists that I work with, some of them have Managers and some of them don’t. With the artists that have Managers, we’re really only interacting with the Manager. We never really have a chance to interact directly with the artist.
The Manager has to simultaneously work with the record label if there is one, work with the booking agency if there is one, facilitate marketing, and facilitate travel and logistics. It’s a whole 360, CEO type of position. Some people love that and that’s what they want to do for the artist. I was lucky to have experience in the artist management realm before I realized I was more interested in booking. That was good because, on the one hand, I realized what I didn’t want to do, but more importantly, I got to experience and see firsthand what it really takes to have world-class artist management.
There are lots of people that masquerade as Artist Managers and sadly don’t do a great job for them. I’m sure if you were to interview an Artist Manager, she would say there are lots of Booking Agents that don’t do a good job for the artists. That goes back to this whole thing being a relationship business because we’re not just managing relationships with venues, we’re managing lots of relationships with Artist Managers, too.
In a nutshell, if the artist is at a point where they’re definitely building a big following and it’s starting to happen, that’s a sure sign that you should probably have someone helping you manage your touring career. But before that, when you don’t really have the fanbase … before you worry about a Booking Agent or before you even worry about a Manager, you should have somebody helping you with your marketing big time. It’s a better use of your money to have someone who has really good marketing experience and content creation experience than it is for you to worry about a Manager or a Booking Agent.
With everything being digital, it’s so easy to find music online and watch music videos online. That’s always somebody’s first impression of you as the artist. If the quality of that is poor … that will turn off a lot of Booking Agents and a lot of Artist Managers, and I would imagine a lot of Promoters, too. Because what does that say about the artist?
That they’re not willing to invest in their art form at this stage. What is that going to look like on a stage in front of 100, 10,000, or 15,000 people? Do you know what I mean? I always say you would never book an Airbnb whose photos for the location are just atrocious. You would never do that. The same is absolutely true for artists.
It’s so much more valuable to invest in someone who really knows social media platforms and really knows video creation and editing and all that. If you don’t have that, don’t even worry about a Booking Agent or an Artist Manager.
I just wanted to make sure I made that point because I think that’s lost on a lot of people.
There are some really good Intern programs that a lot of the agencies run. I think if you’re looking at those, get on it early because they’re set up way in advance. There’s no point looking in May to start an internship in June because they’ll all be sorted out. Make sure that you’ve researched the company that you’re talking to.
If you’re going to write to people with your resume, please just check it and check it again. When you’ve put in there that your attention to detail is spectacular but then the covering letter to me says, “Dear Marie,” or whatever, it doesn’t look good. Honestly, it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a big number of people who apply where I look at something and I’m like, “Oh, right. This has just been cut and pasted,” because halfway down paragraph two, they tell me how much they really love Queens of the Stone Age, inferring that I represent them, when I don’t.
When I started–and that’s back in dinosaurs and stuff so it’s tedious to even say it–there wasn’t a mobile phone and there wasn’t word processing, so I hand-typed every letter I sent. It took way, way longer than it does to cut and paste the same thing over and over again. Get somebody else, get a sibling or a parent or someone at school to look over what you’re going to send because first impressions are so important.
Write with proper sentences. Things like that help with getting any job. I know it sounds ridiculous but if you’re an Agent, we’re issuing contracts, and contracts are legally binding documents. They have to be right.
If you’re a musician, maybe you don’t need to worry about it so much. You can write in text speak, you can do whatever because someone else will deal with it. But an Agent needs to be very precise and detailed when it comes to paperwork. I want to see that when people are applying for a job in the first place that there’s been some time and effort put in.
Attention to detail is an important trait for Agents to have. Not all of them have it, and if you’ve got a really great Assistant, then they will potentially pick up some of that detail for you. But I think the really good Agents cover all of it and can actually make sure that what they’re doing is very accurate.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Work harder than everyone else, especially when you are the Assistant. There are a lot of people that would love to have your entry-level position, knowing what it could lead to. If you get complacent or lazy, the opportunity will pass you by, more than likely not to come back around.
“It is a very fast paced environment; it is essential that you are able to learn fast, keep up and make sure your responsibilities are taken care of above and beyond.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Greed! Valuing money instead of the relationship is a career killer and soul crusher. You have to respect the relationship with Promoters as well as the artists.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“Do you have a hangover cure?”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Emma Banks is a Music Agent at leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and Co-Head of CAA’s London office, where she represents many of the world’s leading musicians, including Katy Perry, Muse, Arcade Fire, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + The Machine, Lorde, Kylie Minogue, and Green Day, among others.
She attended Reading University and has an Honours Degree in Food Science. She started as a Junior Booking Agent at Wasted Talent Agency in London in 1990 and after a series of ownership changes, the company was renamed Helter Skelter in the late 1990s. Banks built Helter Skelter into one of the premier music booking agencies in Europe and was Managing Director of the company before leaving to join CAA in 2006 when she established the agency’s London office and further developed CAA’s music business internationally.
In 2018, she received the highly prestigious Music Industry Trusts Award in recognition of her contributions to the music industry. She was honoured twice by the U.K.’s Woman of the Year Awards for the Music Industry – winning the Special Achievement Award in 1997 and Woman of the Year in 2007, in what turned out to be the final year of the awards ceremony. She has won the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) Second Least Offensive Agent Award an unprecedented six times and in 2020 was honoured with their premiere award ‘The Bottle Award’. She is a nine-time winner of Pollstar’s UK Agent of the Year Award. She has also been named to Billboard’s Women In Music and International Power Players lists numerous times. Banks is a Trustee of the charity Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy.
Photo Credit: Lee Carter
Sharron is one of MN2S’s original co-founders. Always ambitious, he was the driving force behind the company’s evolution from a London event promoter to an international booking agency.
Sharron’s focus has always been on staying ahead of the curve. The music and entertainment industries change constantly, yet over the last two decades, Sharron and MN2S have managed to foresee and take advantage of trends and developments.
Never content to settle for a “safe” roster of established names, Sharron is always working to identify underground sounds and emerging talent he believes in. He is dedicated to signing talent at every stage of their careers, from new starters creating a buzz on the underground music scene or social media, to big-name stars looking to stay current.
Today, besides managing the company, Sharron works closely with his team of Booking Agents, evaluating offers, negotiating fees, discussing requests with artists and Managers, and ensuring that performances and campaigns are flawlessly executed.
He splits his time between the MN2S offices in London and Miami.
Mike Epstein is the President of Epstein & Company, an international booking agency representing Grammy Award-winning artists since 2013. The agency works with artists of all genres and has developed a unique process for helping clients achieve their goals in a highly dynamic and competitive industry.
In 2015, Mike launched “Speaking of the Arts,” a podcast that has since featured over 65 world-renowned presenters, artists, Agents, and Managers. The purpose of the podcast is to create a resource for the arts community. Each episode features an informative interview and conversation with a key industry leader. (You can check out the full CareersInMusic.com interview with Mike on the podcast here.
In addition to leading the agency, Mike has been featured on Careersinmusic.com and TheJazzSession.com, and has appeared as a guest speaker at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, the Berklee College of Music, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the New England Conservatory, The Hartt School of Music, the University of Tennessee, Western Michigan University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Mike has also been a guest presenter at Arts Midwest and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals annual conference in New York City.
In 2016, Epstein & Company announced a partnership with the Music Link Foundation, which serves music students who would otherwise not be able to afford private music instruction. Each time an artist from Epstein & Company is booked, a part of the agency’s booking income is donated to the foundation. Mike is a member of the Strategic Coach, the world’s leading entrepreneurship coaching program and he is also a member of the Western Arts Alliance, Arts Midwest, and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. Mike graduated from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a bachelor of music degree, followed by Boston University with a master’s degree in international marketing management.
Jon Folk is the founder of the Red 11 Music booking agency in Nashville. A Houston native, Folk attended the Music Business program at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he interned for Randy Wright at World Class Talent, which was later acquired by Buddy Lee Attractions.
Folk worked his way up to Vice President of Buddy Lee while handling the company’s South/Southwestern booking territory and clients such as Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert, Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery, Jeff Foxworthy, Mark Chesnutt, Jason Aldean, Ronnie Milsap and Bill Monroe. In the fall of 2009, Folk left to open Red 11, whose roster includes country and Americana acts such as Old 97’s, Rhett Miller, Charlie Robison, and Cody Johnson.
Director KATHERINE MCVICKER founded boutique agency Music Works International (MWI) in 2014 after three decades in the music industry as an Agent developing the touring careers for dozens of artists such as Michael Brecker, Esperanza Spalding, Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Brad Mehldau, Lizz Wright, The Bad Plus, Jason Moran, Kurt Elling, Richard Bona, Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer, Norah Jones and noted world music artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, and The Gloaming. MWI is also a leader in cultural consultancy and has developed cultural arts networks with partners in Africa and in Latin America to facilitate collaboration on initiatives such as cultural exchange, professional development, education, and economic development through culture.
Katherine is available for artist consultation, interviews, appearances on the state of the industry, international touring, and artist development. Her course, Anyone Can Book a Gig is available online.
Kiely Mosiman is an Agent at Wasserman Music in Nashville. Her clients include BENEE, Briston Maroney, Cigarettes After Sex, Delta Spirit, Durand Jones & the Indications, Gus Dapperton, Hippo Campus, Margo Price, Nada Surf, Saint Motel, SAMIA, Tanya Tucker, and WALK THE MOON.
Photo Credit: Christine Harazim