How To Become a Talent Buyer
“A Talent Buyer is the person who books artists/concerts at a venue,” says Elena de Soto, who books bands at Atlanta club The Masquerade. “My typical day is in the office of the venue I work at, sitting at a desk. I spend all day making offers, signing contracts, talking to [Booking] Agents, etc.”
Much of a Talent Buyer’s day is spent on the phone or email, firming up details of a show and negotiating performance agreements. Buyers place holds on their calendar then reach out to Booking Agents with their offers; if the Booking Agent accepts, the show gets added to the venue’s official calendar.
A lot of factoring goes into each decision the Talent Buyer makes about a band. Talent Buyers must consider likely attendance numbers and projected alcohol sales, the best price for tickets, how the show will be marketed, if any competing events are occurring nearby on the night of show, and whether a touring band will need local openers.
Talent Buyers work with a range of venue staff, music touring professionals, and bands, of course. They may work with Nightclub Managers, Production Managers, Tour Managers, Club DJs, and Recording Groups on tour, to name just a few.
The average yearly earnings for a Talent Buyer are approximately $47,400. Talent Buyer salaries can range from $37,000 to $60,000.
In general, Talent Buyers are salaried, but financial arrangements can vary based on the venue. De Soto says, “I have a salary decided upon by The Masquerade. However, every Talent Buyer has a different situation.”
Talent Buyers have set office hours during the weekdays but often find themselves at shows on evenings and weekends, either because they need to be there to settle the show or because they want to see the band for professional or personal reasons.
Since it’s important for them to always be aware of the latest musical trends and talent, going to see bands at night is as much a part of the job as fielding calls behind a desk. De Soto says, “I work in the office Monday through Friday. I tend to stick around for the shows as well. I’m definitely here more than my apartment.”
Many Talent Buyers begin their careers as Interns before landing an Assistant Talent Buyer position. As a Talent Buyer, advancement means working for more prestigious venues or landing a position in the club with more responsibility and a higher salary, such as a General Manager position.
Aspiring Talent Buyers usually start from the bottom and work their way up. “Get an internship!” De Soto recommends. “Book some house shows or small DIY things! Talk to someone who is already established and have them mentor you. I wouldn’t be where I am without my booking partner and mentor, Greg Green.”
If an internship isn’t available or if you’re out of school, look for a street team or entry-level staff position at a venue. It’s important to build relationships in the live music scene and let people in management roles see your work ethic — that way you’ll be on their radar if a position in the talent buying office opens up.
- “Get involved with your local music scene and make contacts in bands.
- Start booking local bands at your house, friend’s basement, a coffee shop, etc.
- Start networking on Facebook with smaller regionally touring bands.
- Build up some experience and then talk to a venue about an internship.”
Experience & Skills
If you want to become a Talent Buyer, “any venue experience or DIY booking experience would help,” De Soto says. “I interned at The Masquerade and worked in their marketing department before I started to book shows.”
It’s a good idea to gain a more well-rounded background by working in different departments at a live music venue, but booking experience is essential to prove you can do the job. This experience can be gained through putting on events at a campus venue or at smaller venues around town, such as an arts center or gallery.
“You need tough skin for this industry,” De Soto says. “It’s fast-paced and stressful and you need to keep your cool.”
Since so much of a Talent Buyer’s success comes from building and maintaining relationships, it’s also important to be a people person and a good communicator. When they’re in the planning stages and haven’t yet secured a band for a certain night, Buyers are often dealing with several different event possibilities, so it’s important to be organized and responsible.
Obviously, a passion for live music is essential, as Talent Buyers spend much of their time dealing with musicians, sitting in on soundchecks, and watching bands at their own venue and at other venues.
Education & Training
If you’re in school and trying to pick a degree program that can help you land a talent buying gig, De Soto says, “I would suggest a business or marketing education. However, it isn’t necessary. It will definitely help when trying to negotiate deals on tours and bands.”
Music Business programs are another good option. Experience in the live music industry counts more than an academic degree, though. Many Talent Buyers started in different positions at a venue or within the touring industry, built connections and learned the business, then worked their way up.
There aren’t any professional groups specifically for Talent Buyers. However many attend conferences like Aspen Live, SXSW, Pollstar Live, and the International Entertainment Buyers Association annual meeting.
These gatherings provide useful networking and educational opportunities. They also give Buyers a chance to see many up-and-coming acts within a short period of time, which can give them an idea of which new buzz bands will appeal to their clientele, therefore bringing in high ticket and alcohol sales.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Don’t give up. A lot of Agents have history with other Promoters and will continue to honor that history. Be persistent, though; eventually, they will sign a new band with no history.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Talking to bands behind their Agent’s back.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Elena de Soto
De Soto is a co-founder of indie label Deep Rest Records. She is also a Photographer who specializes in live music. In the past, she has shot photos for Pure Grain Audio and written for Vice. De Soto has been profiled by Voyage ATL and Kill the Music.