Nobody loves to see a deserving artist make the next jump more than I do! It’s satisfying. With so many acts out there doing it and trying to “make” it, it’s nice to see the ones that do. Whether they are associated with me or whether I’m just a fan, its satisfying to see the good guys get a win once in a while. Should that win be signing with a management firm or record label, getting a publishing deal, going from independent booking to an agency, or signing onto a tour, its great to make that jump whether its one step or a huge climb. Really, I’m happy to see it happen!
Artists take caution! Don’t let anyone take away your freedom to book your own shows! It’s great to have representation in your back pocket so you can say, “hey, that sounds great. Let me give you so-and-so’s number. They handle our booking.” That’s an awesome safety net. But please don’t ever let an agency take the right away from you to book your own shows.
I know, I know. I’ve been around this game long enough now! I’ve gone from the fanboy partying on the bus with the band, to the guy in the band partying with friends, to the agent partying with the band, and the old guy worried that everyone on the bus is over 21. It’s scary to hear and see some of the control artists are giving up.
Here’s what happens. If you’re an independent artist, you’re probably booking your own shows (or at least you are when you start out.) You live and die by making relationships. You play those dark, smoky bars hoping its leading to an opening gig for the next big touring act coming through. You play that noon coffee shop show for tips hoping that the guy who books the big Summer festival might drop in for his next latte! You call, email, stalk and harass talent buyers to close to unhealthy levels begging for a “yes” to these inhumane shows. You are constantly developing relationships with the people in power to get you shows. If you’re good enough, eventually they will seek you! But in the meantime, you’re stuck busking at street market days hoping “it” happens. Eventually, though, someone’s gonna give you that first shot. People will notice and those relationships are gonna pay off.
Fast-forward a year down the road. The booking agency now wants to hire you (because of your hard work and relationships!) They want control of you. They say they’ll put you on tour with the bigger artists on their roster. They’ll get you into the elite venues. They’ll make it all happen…just give them control.
Don’t give them full control!
Remember that coffee house that booked you for that crap nooner on Tuesdays because they saw you outside their shop playing for free? That show turned into Thursday nights at 6 pm. Which led to the Sat slot at 7 where the festival buyer saw you and booked you for your first festival gig, EVER! Remember that place?
Ya, that place is going out of business. They are selling the art off the walls trying to keep the lights on. They are barely ordering the bare minimum inventory every week because they can’t afford the beer orders. They are holding a benefit to try and stay open. They approach you. You do remember this place! It holds a very special place in your heart. It helped you get to where you are. You answer the coffee house call and your reply, “oh my gosh, that’s awful. Of course I will help and come play the benefit. Let me give you so-and-so’s number. They handle our booking.”
- No free shows allowed.
- Even if the artist agrees to play!
- There’s too much overhead to play a free show.
- They are routed the opposite direction that weekend.
It’s all the same answer which translates to the agent isn’t actually making any money, so it ain’t happening.
Also, remember the tavern that you played open mic nights? They offered to let you play a Friday night when you put your first band together. You know it’s only a bar percentage, but you’re cool with it because you love playing that place. They always did what they could to help you out. They let you play YOUR music. You built up a great fan base out there. You wanna play a CD release show out there when your first album comes out? Probably not. That bar percentage isn’t cutting it now!
Besides the initial shock, here’s the additional collateral damage. The coffee house/bar closes. If the bar manager/talent-buyer/person in charge was any good, they are gonna move on to another venue. If there were multiple people in the booking department, just multiply the effect. You just burned that bridge. Your reputation probably takes a hit. Expound that to however many times the agency declines offers on your behalf. Besides all that, you really wanted to play that show! Is that one show in the marble theater every 3 months worth it? Only you can answer.
Now, I’m not saying artists should feel obligated to play 30 free shows a month! In fact, they shouldn’t feel obligated at all. But that’s a different talk!
Just beware! If you’re good enough for an agency to approach you, then you’re good enough to set the terms of the agreement with said agency. After all, you did it for all those years on your own anyway! What’s a few more months?