How to play gigs for agencies/booking agents. Tips and tricks to get yourself on the roster and be in demand.

This article is designed to educate you (and give you tips) about how to perform gigs for booking agencies. I’ll talk about the Pros and Cons and give you an overview of my experiences in this world. Hopefully there is a lot you will be able to take out of this article and apply to your own lives. Playing for agencies can be great but I want you to understand it and know what you’re getting into.

Some PROS and CONS about using a booking agency.

PROS:

  1. You get to work in venues you may not typically have access to perform in
  2. Agencies book all kinds of venues and events. You can be working on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. You may have mid day or early afternoon work. I often can squeeze in an extra gig after these shows
  3. You work in great venues, sometimes in a suit. This is great for being taken professionally. It goes a long way if a client is thinking of hiring you to perform their wedding and you invite them to see you play in a ritzy venue where you’re all dressed up
  4. You can fill in some holes in your schedule where you didn’t manage to book anything
  5. You are the backup for a long list of performers and there are tons of instances where artists have to cancel or can’t perform for whatever reason (obviously, try to limit cancelling if you’ve agreed to perform a gig). It’s nice to get calls to cover for other people, especially last minute!
  6. You can hand out business cards to high end clients (See point 2 in cons).
  7. You are building relationships and increasing you network
  8. Access to great new opportunities such as performing on cruise ships, hotels, casinos, and resorts (domestic or abroad)
  9. You learn tons of stuff and your game will get better. Playing in-demand venues and high end places teaches you next-level lessons in professionalism, reliability, and presentation. The devil is in the details and this will help you be a pro in all your other gigs. Great training for booking and playing corporate gigs and weddings of your own.

CONS:

  1. You usually make a lower rate of pay. That’s undeniable, but playing early on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday makes up for that I think.
  2. You can’t always hand out business cards (I know this contradicts point 6 in Pros, some agencies stipulate this, use your judgement. There are some instances where it’s possible, be smart about it).
  3. Red tape. You have to send in invoices and wait a week or two for your pay. You often have to pay for parking. It’s not as simple as finding a gig on your own, playing it, and getting paid.
  4. Your music can be in the background. People may not clap and cheer you on. Thats just the way it is. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The ball is in your court as the musician but generally we shouldn’t interact with guests until approached. These gigs really aren’t about us and being offended by someone not caring about the music is super redundant and unnecessary. It accomplishes nothing. Your job is to sound great, look great, and not extend yourself too much into the guests’ evening. This brings me to my next point,
  5. It’s a job. We all love music and it sucks to think of it “as a job”. But it’s so much better than actually having to go work a “job” that you hate, that has nothing to do with music. Try to take away the good side of things and you’ll have a good time and learn a TON of shit to REALLY make you a more valuable and sought after music entrepreneur.

Here are things you should have to increase your chances of working for agencies:

  1. A good reputation
  2. A good network of musicians
  3. A good attitude
  4. 3 X 45 minute sets of upbeat covers (You won’t always need that much but having tons of tunes in your repertoire is never a bad thing). It doesn’t all have to be party music but you can’t be a downer. Your music will often not be in the forefront but they still don’t want quiet minor chords with depressing lyrics. Think cocktail style (so jazz is great, old school RnB, well chosen top 40 covers from the last 5 years, easy listening basically. Instrumental works too often).
  5. A website
  6. Business Cards
  7. Good sounding gear for rooms that do not provide a PA
  8. Some promo really helps too, especially when there aren’t auditions being had
  9. The desire to grow, learn, and expand what you do, and how well you do it.

Below is my personal experience regarding this matter (There’s tons to takeaway from this to apply to your career). It’s about a 10 minute read but I think the benefits you will reap extend way beyond the time you’ll spend acquiring the information. Please enjoy! 🙂

It is so rewarding to find gigs on your own. It really sharpens your tools as a businessperson and you learn a ton from getting out there and convincing venues to give you a chance to perform for them. You are your own boss so what you get out of it relates directly to how hard you hustle to find the gigs, and how pro you are to keep the gigs re-occuring. That being said there are some really great music venues that deal exclusively with music booking agencies. The door closes pretty quick in these places when you try to book a gig directly with the venue.

It’s great to hustle and book your schedule with as many gigs as possible. Never stop that. That being said, when you become a trusted member of the roster of a booking agent/agency the work comes to you. Instead of chasing venues you receive calls and emails to perform regularly in some pretty great venues. I’m going to talk a bit about what it is like to play for booking agencies and give some tips that should help you become a member of a booking agency in your area.Thanks for checking out my list of pros and cons…now it’s story time.

What is it like to play for a booking agent/agency? What to expect…

The first agent I ever played for was an independent booking agent and he was pretty sleazy. He used to pay me and a buddy $200.00 as a duo (The venue paid out $300.00) and would pocket $100.00 to himself. That is pretty shady. I mean, I get that it’s a free market and all, but there’s a reason why this guy got fired from booking that venue when the manager caught wind of the extortionately low rates he was paying the musicians to play there. I want to issue a word of caution to you all, stay vigilant and don’t let yourself be underpaid because people will start to expect that you’ll work for very little. On the flip-side, I was pretty new to the biz back then, and I had a bunch of openings in my schedule so I would take the $100.00 rate to play for 4 hours (yikes! “It” really does float :P). When playing for agencies you have to walk the line between being underpaid and receiving a fair pay for your services! I’ll also touch base on this further in this blog post.

So when did things get better?

Basically, I would accept bookings with the sleazy agent whenever I had a hole in my schedule. After all, $100.00 was better than nothing when I started out. I constantly hustled to find more work though as I knew I deserved better. One day I tried to book a gig in a venue that used a booking agent and so I asked for their contact info and got in touch. I also have friends in the business that worked for that person and I was introduced that way. As I was pretty new to the business I still had a pretty open schedule and I remember getting a call from this new agent one day and he offered me like 15 gigs over the next 2-3 months. I hung up the phone feeling like a champion. The gigs paid $125-150.00 which was an improvement for me at the time. I kept working hard and learning new things and I got better. Eventually I was booking more gigs for myself and did not require the agent as much. Outgrowing an agent is great thing!

Whether you have a connection to the agent or not, they’re always looking for new performers. You find them by networking with other musicians (Open mics, etc) and by looking for venues in which to perform (So a pub manager might say “Hey we actually book through an agent and here are their details, get in touch!”.

This is what the business is like. Don’t expect to get into this knowing how to handle playing the best steakhouse or most swanky cocktail bar in town. There’s baby steps you need to learn to attain the next level, and there definitely are many levels.

Fast forward to now

In Edinburgh I was a lone wolf. I used a couple booking agents here or there but generally I really learned to hustle and make it happen for myself there. Now that I’m back in Toronto there are a bunch of venues that were taken over by various booking agencies. You can’t play direct without an agent in these places anymore. By using my network of musicians I was able to play a gig as the duo partner of an artist booked in to perform at one of these venues. We did a great job and I sent in an email to the agency letting them know that I was the duo partner and that I would love to be considered to perform more gigs. I provided my website details and they looked into me and got back to me offering me some work. I also heard about another agency that books a ton of super high end gigs and so I wrote an email to them and managed to be booked in to play a room for them.

The way it works is like this: Some agencies require you to audition, so google “music booking services in” your area and get in touch to try and set up a rehearsal. Other agencies will give you a booking (if your promo checks out) and will use the feedback of the venue to determine if you are good enough to continue booking. This is pretty par for the course so go in there and be the complete image of what a pro is! Do whatever they need and do it with a smile. You want the best review possible and that comes from sounding good and being easy and great to work with. Provide the service they are paying for. Thats basically how you get your shoe in the door. Work with your musician network, find out who books what venues, get in touch and be friendly, try out/book a gig and crush it, await more gigs, and repeat. 

In the last month I’ve been driving into the city from my suburb to perform in a suit and tie up to 2-3 times a week. It feels great to be taken seriously and to be respected. The money can still be hit and miss. It’s never under $150.00 and often more, but it’s early and mid week work. The thing is that the more good work you do for the company the more valuable you are to them. You have the right to request more money if you feel you deserve it. It’s up to you to feel it out and request a higher pay and to deal with the agencies response however you see fit.

I hope this was all very helpful. I would love to hear from you for your candid input about this topic. Please Comment below or on the Community Page”Also PLEASE LIKE and SHARE this article if you know people that might benefit from it. The better our network of musicians do, the better we do. Not only is there enough work to go around but by being great at what we do we are creating more jobs! Keep kicking ass, good luck!

Bradly

2 comments

  1. I hate to play devils advocate here, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you need to knock.on the door many times before anyone even takes a listen to your promo material, and sometimes you may just not be what they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s a series of arbitrary reasons why an agency won’t give you the time of day. I’m speaking as someone who has worked for many of these agencies over the years, and trends change all the time. I may have gotten plenty of work through one agent, but when their job is taken over by someone new, that person may have an entirely different roster of favorites to book. It’s not always logical, but the same applies to any venue or booker I find. Sometimes you just have to do what your do and be positive, and professional, and eventually the right opportunities will arise.

    1. That’s a very nice addition to the cons Phil. Things change and it can be a bit unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen so it’s good to have multiple income streams/ways to book gigs!

Leave a Reply