How To Become a Booking Agent
Booking Agent Jon Folk, who is the founder of country/Americana booking agency Red 11 Music, says “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.”
He adds, “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.”
Most Booking Agents start their careers by working as Interns or Assistants. Some start out by applying for and being accepted into a large agency’s Agent Training Program.
Once an individual has attained the position of Booking Agent, advancement would 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. He or she could also branch out and found their own booking agency.
Education & Training
“My degree in Music Business opened the door to an internship and was the beginning of my career as an Agent,” Folk says. Attending 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. However, he stresses, an aspiring Booking Agent’s degree and work experience may get their foot in the door, but their personality and skills are what, in the end, will get them hired.
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, people skills, adaptability and the ability to work in a sometimes high-pressure environment are paramount. As Folk says, “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.”
In such a relationship-driven business, what kind of personality makes for a successful Booking Agent? “Outgoing [and] open,” says Folk, 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 know the end result is there [and] it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Booking Agents hold regular office hours but often work late at night or on the weekends to seal deals or attend events. Since so much of the business is built on relationships, the line between work and entertainment can blur. Folk says he spends much of his workweek talking to artists, Promoters and Talent Buyers and, “in addition, being on the road many weekends throughout the year at as many events as possible.”
Internships are key to landing a first job as a Booking Agent. “There are many opportunities to intern at agencies these days,” Folk says. “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.”
Income levels for Booking Agents can 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. “What I see mostly these days are salaried positions with bonuses throughout the year depending on gross numbers and artists represented,” says Folk.
Unions, Groups & Associations
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.
- Research Music Business degree programs with courses or internship opportunities related to agency work. Apply to the schools that are best suited for your personal goals.
- Folk advises potential Interns and Assistants that the best way to land a Booking Agent gig is to simply “work with a reputable agency.”
- Consider Agent Training Programs at major agencies. See if they’re a good fit for your career goals and if they handle the types of artists you’re passionate about.
- Work harder than your peers and create your own opportunities.
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?
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.