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Music Industry: the DIY Version, Part 1 — Booking

In his interview with Complex, Pat Corcoran aka Pat the Manager, Chance the Rapper’s business partner, discusses what it’s like to work outside of a record label, but still be major. (We major.) Chance’s story is unbelievable. Everything that the partnership does makes the music industry go, “How did he do it?” Reasonably, no one should be able to do what Chance does.

Solid reasoning can lead to wrong conclusions, though. Truthfully, anyone can do what Chance does. (Yeah, homie, we major.)

Pat tells Noah Callahan-Bever (the managing editor at Complex) that he and Chance had already covered the music industry’s five verticals. According to him, those vertical looks like this:

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It takes more than two people to cover these verticals at a major level, but a record label isn’t necessary to cover them at any level. Welcome to Music Industry: The DIY Version.

In this series, we’re going to break down each of the music industry verticals, the purpose they serve, how to get it covered, when to get it covered, and how to do it yourself. Before we begin, I want to disclaim that I’m not a music industry veteran. I’m not secretly Lyor Cohen, or one of Jimmy Iovine’s chamber boys. All I’ve done is collect information from a variety of sources, and paraphrased it to include more non-sequitur rap lyrics. So, before you read this, I need you to sign this contract that says you won’t sue me if you fail.

What Does a Booking Agent Do?

According to most musicians who will never go anywhere, “a booking agent just makes and takes calls.”

What a booking agent actually does is make and take really important calls.

This is a good example of the name being right on the tin. A booking agent is in charge of getting you bookings, which looks incredibly different as your career advances.

When you’re just starting out, a booking agent will be making calls to local venues asking for them to put you on a show. At this point, your less likely to have a booking agent, but you’ll instead have a relationship with one or more promoters. These two positions are often confused because of this. A booking agent is specifically concerned about getting you booked. A promoter is a person booking a show. They may want you on the show, or they may want you to sell 15 tickets and work for exposure because “that’s how you build a career.” A booking agent is not a promoter.

When you’re beginning to build some clout, or planning a small tour, a booking agent becomes insanely important. At this level, a booking agent isn’t making calls to just local venues — they’re making calls to local venues in several different cities, struggling to get you booked, and figuring out if you can make all of those commitments. A booking agent might also have some connections in the music industry they can leverage to increase your opportunities. These are the people who get called when a national act is coming to town, “do you know anybody who could open for them?’

How Much Will a Booking Agent Cost?

Typically a booking agent isn’t paid upfront, but with a percentage of profits. The average deal will have you giving away 10–20% of the profit you make on every show. A booking agent will often offer a higher dealer to lesser profits. 20% of $200 is $20, and 10% of $400 is $20. If a booking agent will do an hour of work to get you a $200 show and they’re happy with $20 (they aren’t, don’t undervalue your team), then 20% works. If it takes them an hour to get you a $400 show, then they can offer a smaller deal. (Quick maffs.)

When Should I Get Someone Else to Do My Booking?

This answer to this question will be the same for pretty much all of these articles: you should get a booking agent when doing it yourself is having a negative impact on your business. If you’re terrible at scheduling, that might mean get a booking agent right now. If scheduling is your jam, you won’t need a booking agent until you’re ready to go national.

You should not look for a booking agent when it won’t be worth it for them. If you aren’t pulling profits that a booking agent can live off of, you will be pushed so far down their priority list that it’s practically guaranteed to go poorly.

How Do I Get a Booking Agent?

A booking agent will probably find you. If you are at a point in your career where you will be profitable for a booking agent, they will start reaching out. That doesn’t mean you should go with the first booking agent to reach out. Take your time and shop around. Alternatively, do some research. Look at, and speak to, local artists and venues about who does their booking. Recommendations are everything.

What Does a Good Booking Agent Look Like?

A good booking agent is 5’4”-6’2”, has long, brown, curly hair and wears CDG Play Chucks everyday that are somehow clean even though it’s snowing all the time. They’re canvas shoes, how are they not wet? How?

Alternatively, a good booking agent has these qualities: a history, a black book, and hustle. These qualities have entirely different levels of importance. A resume is great. If a person has done something once, they can do it a second time, probably better. But it’s not the only thing they need. A black book, a list of contacts, is one of the primary reasons to hire a booking agent. If they can get you an opening slot at a Ghostface show, that is worth paying for. However, hustle is the most important thing. Someone who believes in you and is willing to put in blood, sweat and tears for you will do great things.

A good booking agent looks like they haven’t slept this weekend.

How Can I Be My Own Booking Agent?

Do you have a phone? Do you have a method of transportation? You’re halfway there.

To be your own booking agent, you should be developing relationships with venues, and other musicians. These are the people already booking shows — all you have to do is take an open slot. You can reach these people at open mics, at other events, on social media, and by calling them. Reach out, ask to get put on shows, or learn how to book and promote one. You’ll also need some math skills: if you can book a venue at $300, and sell tickets at $15, you need to sell 20 tickets to break even. Do not book a show if you can’t afford the loss. If you’re looking to get booked on other people’s shows, you need to understand the value that you offer them. You shouldn’t work for exposure, but you also can’t ask for $100 if you’re only making the promoter $75.

I’d love to give you more concrete advice. I’d love to give you a list of people to call. It’s not that easy, though. You need to tap into the scene you want to break into, and that will be a different process in New York City and Omaha. If there isn’t a scene to tap into, you’ll have to build it.

Beyond the local level, you’ll be scaling what you did before. The key to being your own booking agent is to develop relationships, and learn to leverage them. When you’re ready for your first small tour, search through Facebook and Instagram for venues in cities you might hit. Where are people using the hashtag “hiphop” in Philadelphia? Once you’ve got the names of places, call them and pitch a show. You’re not always going to get the venue you want, but you’ll likely get something.

The same is true with musicians. You should be actively on the lookout for people at your level that you otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with. At least in my local scene, the show for show deal is common. “We can book you in Albany, if you can book us in Sydney.” That deal can build your brand with your home market and outside markets.

To be your own booking agent, make friends and be dope. The shows will be there when you need them.

Thank you for reading!

I hope this has been in some way useful to you, and if it hasn’t I hope it was entertaining. Please comment and follow if you liked this and want to see more. Or give us an email if you want to discuss how we can help you get the right kind of bookings.