Booking Agents negotiate deals and plans tours for the 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 and Concert Promoters to secure dates, make all arrangements for the concert, and ensure contracts are signed and kept. These contracts include agreements on the price the artist will be paid to perform, 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 whereas others, usually at the larger agencies, will represent a variety of artists.
To learn what it takes to become a Booking Agent, we talked to:
- Sharron Elkabas (Director/Agency Manager at MN2S)
- Jon Folk (Founder of Red 11 Music)
- Kiely Mosiman (Agent at Wasserman Music)
Here’s what they had to say.
What does a Booking Agent do?
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.
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.)
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. 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?
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.
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.
What I see mostly these days are salaried positions with bonuses throughout the year depending on gross numbers and artists represented.
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. Most Agents therefore recommend starting out as an Intern and working your way up over time to become an Agent.
Other Agents went the DIY level, building up a stable of artists whose careers they helped 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.
How hard is it to become a Booking Agent?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Education & Training
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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