In the narrow definition of the word, a music agent is a person who is responsible for booking shows for bands. Agents, more broadly, also approach promoters about shows, negotiate contracts for live performances and basically make sure the wheels of a concert tour, or just a single show, turn smoothly.
An agent will work with a promoter to make sure that everything a band needs will be at the venue, that there is an appropriate soundcheck period set aside for the band, and of course, what the payment will be for the performance and if the accommodation will be provided by the promoter. Want only red M&Ms backstage? Your agent is the one who will make sure the promoter knows.
Music agents, also called booking agents or talent agents, make live music happen. A good agent with well-placed connections can get a band in front of the right audience and increase their profile. Agents work closely with promoters and record labels to make sure the bands on their books get the proper exposure.
Responsibilities of a Music Agent
While the level of responsibility for a music agent may differ depending on the visibility of band they're working with, the basic tasks remain the same whether booking club shows for a smaller indie band or an arena show for a major label act. Agents tasks include:
- Liaising with bands/labels/management to agree on a window for tour dates, the financial and logistic requirements of the tour, and the goals of the tour (eg, promote a new album).
- Contacting promoters and venues to pitch bands and agree on performance dates.
- Arranging contracts with promoters regarding pay, rider, guest list and equipment.
Pay Rate for a Music Agent
Music agents typically earn a percentage of the proceeds from a tour or performance. The amount is limited to the actual payments for performances and does not usually include money earned from merchandise sales sold at shows, such as T-shirts or CDs. The most common arrangement gives the agent 10-15% of the money paid to a band for a gig, though 18% or even 20% is not unheard of. Thus, it's obviously in the agent's best interest to secure the most money possible for a band from a promoter - the more money the band makes, the more money the agent makes.
What a Good Agent Can Do for a Band
Music agents hold the key to the good shows, and as an up and coming band, a good agent on your side can mean playing in front of bigger audiences sooner than you probably would by booking your own gigs. If you sign with an agent who works with larger bands, you'll have the inside track on getting the support slot on tours with these larger bands. Music agents also have the ear of all the good promoters, which means you have an immediate foot in the door with venues and promoters instead of having to convince them to give you a shot. Agents likewise have the pull to get you more money than you could on your own.
Contracting an Agent
A contract will help fend off any misunderstandings down the road and will also lay out what the musicians expect of the agent and the agent expects of the band. You won't be fighting about money or arguing over who was supposed to arrange for a drum kit if everything is documented on paper.
How to Become a Music Agent
Approach established agencies and seek an internship; you'll make great contacts and learn the ropes from the pros. Or if you're a real go-getter, try your hand at booking gigs independently. If you're interested in building your own agency from the ground up, look to friends who are in bands and start out booking local shows for them. Make use of those contacts to expand to booking with promoters outside of your area. Be prepared to put in long hours for little pay (or no pay) while you proving yourself.