A Guide to Working with Agents for Folk Clubs, Small Venue Organisers and Independent Bookers

Every so often one of my artists calls me to tell me they’ve been approached by a venue or folk club organiser to do a gig, and that person has stated categorically that they don’t work through agents. Ever. Full stop. End of subject.

Except, probably eight or nine times out of ten I know that the organiser does work through agents because I know the organiser and they’ve worked through me before.

So why the posturing?

  • Some club organisers think they’re doing the artist a favour by ‘saving’ the artist from paying the agent’s commission.
  • Some simply like to play the old pals act. It makes them feel special.
  • Others think they’ll get a better price by cutting out the agent.

In almost all cases, what the organiser has done is put the artist into an awkward or embarrassing situation by forcing them to discuss business. One of the reasons artists employ agents is because it allows them to concentrate on their music and take care of the social side of being a performer without having to mention money or haggle over fees. It allows them to be a musician, not a sales person, and it shelters them from the reality of being a business as well as an artiste. An agent buffers the performer from the harsh realities of business and saves them from trying to do paperwork between rehearsals and travelling to the next gig.

logo-jacey-nameIdeally…
In an ideal world an agent should be a matchmaker, putting the right artist into the right venue at the right price, so for venue, artist and agent it’s a win-win-win situation. If a venue organiser builds up a good relationship with an agent they’ll fall over themselves to make life easy.

Why Artists use Agents
Many artists, especially full-timers, use a booking agent because they are too busy to deal with arranging their own gigs. If they are constantly on the road, playing music up and down the country and abroad, they don’t have time to sit behind a desk making and taking phone calls, following up on potential gigs, arranging tour schedules for nine to eighteen months in advance, sending out contracts, packing up posters and hauling them to the post office, and making sure venues have all the promo they need. They’d rather pay someone else to do it, so they know it gets done efficiently whether they are at home or abroad.

A few artists simply don’t like doing the job; they’re bad at paperwork and they hate dealing with money, and even more dislike negotiating fees. They’d rather curl up and die than pick up the phone and call someone they don’t know to ask for a gig. They hate coping with the responses such as ‘never heard of you’ or ‘our audience doesn’t like [insert music genre here]’. Frankly, they are tender, shy souls and prefer to avoid getting their confidence knocked five times a night.

Besides, the other advantage of using an agent is that they already have a database of potential gigs which an artist taps into. An agent’s database is her living, built up painstakingly over time.

Why You Should Respect an Artist’s Decision to use an Agent
So if you’re an organiser/booking person why should you go through an agent when the artist has stayed with you after your club gig? You bought him/her a pint at the last festival you went to. You have his/her phone number, and feel you know him/her well enough to call direct, don’t you?

An artist who has an agent most probably has an agreement to ONLY work through that agent and to pass on all gig enquiries to the agency. If they arrange gigs on their own behalf it’s going to muddy the waters between an artist and an agent, breaking trust, and possibly lead to the agent dropping the artist from the agency roster if the diary gets too complicated to maintain.

If the artist accepts a gig privately, but still wants to square it with his agent to keep relations sweet, he’ll probably just inform his agent, get her to send the contract and pay her the standard commission anyway. So you’re causing the artist to do half the work and still pay the full commission.

You may also be causing the artist some embarrassment if s/he’s one of the ones who hates discussing money and haggling over fees. The price is usually the price, but if you end up bartering the artist down you can leave him/her feeling all kinds of resentful.

So please, if an artist works through an agent, please respect that. Book the artist through the agent. By all means drop the artist an email or call them up for a chat if you know them well enough. Tell them you’re looking forward to the gig, but don’t ask them to negotiate terms or discuss fees. Keep friendship and business separate.

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Robb Johnson

Robb-official-smallI’m delighted to welcome Robb Johnson to the agency roster.

Robb is widely recognised as one of the finest songwriters working in the UK today. His songs feature in the repertoires of a wide variety of musicians, from folk legend Roy Bailey to acclaimed cabaret diva Barb Jungr, & he enjoys a similarly diverse spectrum of critical acclaim – “a modern-day Dostoyevsky” said the US’s Dirty Linen, Mojo made the double CD Gentle Men Folk Album Of The Month, while The Daily Telegraph made it their Folk Album Of 1998, & Tony Benn said Johnson’s “Winter Turns To Spring” was his favourite song.

He has played pubs, clubs, pavements, pickets & benefits, arts centres & festivals, local radio, BBC Radio 3 & 4, Belgian Radio 1, Nicaraguan TV & Channel 4, the Albert Hole in Bristol &, as part of Roy Bailey’s 1998 concert, the Albert Hall in London. In February 2006 Robb appeared at the Barbican as part of the prestigious BBC “Folk Britannia” series, where “for the encore, Robb Johnson leads all the artists (and the audience) in the World War I song (‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’)” (BBC Folk Britannia website) in a concert that was screened later that month on BBC4. Earlier this year Robb was the featured guest on Andy Kershaw’s Radio 3 programme. Robb also plays extensively in Belgium, Holland & Germany, & he has toured Britain supporting Chumbawamba, & the US with David Rovics.

If you want to offer Robb Johnson a booking please contact me 0n the agency email address – agency(at)jacey-bedford.com

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Why I won’t give my opinion on your music.

I recently had an email from a band thanking me for my help files and asking me to listen to their live demo (in my spare time) so that I could tell them where I thought they may fit in the folk roots scene.

This is why I said, ‘No.’

I’m very sorry to disappoint, but really-truly-sincerely I don’t have spare time. My days are accounted for 24/7. I have some great artists on my agency roster, but I’m not considering adding to my list right now, because if I did I would be less effective for the people I currently work for. When I’m not working on the agency bookings or processing Certificates of Sponsorship for performers from outside the EU, I’m writing. (Yes I’m also an author. I write science fiction and fantasy novels and my books are published by DAW, part of the Penguin Group in the USA.)

Asking for an opinion from anyone in the music industry is not really appropriate unless we (as agents) put out a call for new artists. We are music professionals. Listening to your CD and typing up an assessment is, at best, asking for a half a working day (if not longer). Listening critically is hard.

Besides, what if I don’t like your music? It may be very good and I may still not like it (because tastes vary and ‘like’ is very subjective). Your music may be brilliant; it may actually be awful. Believe me, over the years I’ve heard some demos that were winceworthy, and a lot that were average, as well as some that were utterly fantastic.  It’s hard to tell people what they don’t want to hear. So by asking you are potentially putting me in the position of either upsetting you with my honesty, or telling you a downright lie just to send you away happy. While ever I have not heard your music, it remains potentially good or potentially bad; potentially liked or potentially disliked, but I’ll (happily) never know which. (The Schrodinger’s Cat principle. Look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) If that seems a little jaded, I promise that when I hear you’ve won a folk award I will humbly kick myself.

And what use is my opinion anyway? Yes I work in the music industry, but that doesn’t make me infallible, or even competent to pass judgement on something that you’ve sweated blood over. I don’t pretend to be able to have my finger on the pulse, or to be able to second-guess what promoters will pay to present, or what audiences will pay to hear. If I could do that I wouldn’t be working sixteen hours a day and driving a ten year old Ford KA, I’d be living in a mansion and being driven in my Rolls.

I offer my help files to pay something forward to the music industry. You are welcome to whatever knowledge I possess via the helpfiles. Right now, it’s the best I can do. I wish you all the best in your music career.

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Busy Time of Year for Folk Agents

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Tanglefoot (2008)

The first couple of months of any year are busy for the agency because once the calendar tips over into a new year, far sighted folk club organisers and venue bookers start to open their diaries for the following year and therefore those of us who search for gigs for our artists have to be aware that unless we get busy, we’re likely to miss the boat. It’s especially important if the artists we’re working for are travelling into the UK from abroad. What’s really important to them is that they get a tour which makes geographical and logistical sense without nights off in parts of the country where they have to spend on a hotel/motel or B&B.

RPR-NeelyG-Banner

RPR (Canada)

In some cases, artists have ‘safe houses’ scattered around the UK, i.e. family or friends they can stay with for a few days when they have ‘down time’ and I try to take that into account when planning tours. Of course, when in Yorkshire, my artists usually stay with me. They have all become personal friends. I once worked out that Tanglefoot, over the course of several tours, had actually spent 13 months based in our house. Good job they are nice folks and good houseguests (though let’s not talk about the amount of hair in the shower plughole). I’m looking forward to hosting RPR in May/June of 2016 – that’s Tanglefoot’s two Ritchie brothers, Steve and Rob, with bassist Al Parrish, and percussionist Beaker Granger – the only one who hasn’t got prior history with Tanglefoot.

Cloudstreet Three B

Cloudstreet (Australia)

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Eileen McGann

Right now I’m working on 2017 tours for Cloudstreet (over from Australia from late April through to the end of June) and Eileen McGann (touring from Canada in September). Plus I’m doing Dan McKinnon’s annual tour from Canada, so I’m still adding occasional 2016 dates for Dan whilst working mainly on 2017. Neither Cloudstreet nor Eileen tour every year, so their tours are always more self-contained.

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Dan McKinnon (Canada)

The diary gets complicated, so I keep a grid of who’s touring when, which is on the website for organisers to check and also as a tool for me to use. It always helps to plan ahead.

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Keith Donnelly

Planning tours for UK artists is very different from planning tours for artists coming in from abroad. When music is the day job artists tend to want a different pattern of gigging from those who fit in music around their day job. And, of course, UK artists do have a home to go to when they’re not out at a venue performing. Some artists are very specific in their requirements and vary from: not more than two gigs in a row to go anywhere, do anything. Some artists are happy to take one-off gigs, others want gigs that are a distance from home to be part of a mini-tour. Some artists are self-employed or have day jobs (hey, making a living from folk music is not easy!) and for them I have to know how far they are prepared to travel on a work-night and when they can take time off from the day job.

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Vin Garbutt

A couple of my artists are hugely popular with festivals, but clubs tend to book before festivals, so I have to take that into account when accepting weekend gigs in festival season.

I also have to be really careful not to take gigs with overlapping audiences too close together. This is especially important for artists like Vin Garbutt who tend to have areas of the country where there are clusters of venues who want him back year after year. I have to spread out his gigs, especially in his home area (the North East) and in the West Midlands. And, of course, sod’s law says that two great gigs will be offered in adjacent towns in the same month, and we can only take one of them.

If you are a club or venue booker you are likely to get a small flurry of emails from me at this time of year as I start to put in lynchpin dates for tours in 2017 while still filling in dates for 2016. Bear with me, please, and if I email you for something specific (i.e. to fill in a date between two others) please get back to me quickly, even if the answer is no. No is the second best answer to yes because it frees me up to search out something else on that date instead.

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UK Certificates of Sponsorship: Fast-Track Processing Charge

As you already know if you follow this blog, I process Tier 5 UK Certificates of Sponsorship (the equivalent of electronic work permits) for performers coming to sing, play dance or act in the UK from outside the EU. (I can also process certificates for sportspeople, too.)

There’s a charge for this, of course, because I not only have to pay a fee to the government for a) each certificate and b) my licence to issue certificates, but I also have to take on legal responsibility for the artists I sponsor and therefore I have to do a lot of checking (of artists and venues) and a considerable amount of very careful form-filling.

In the past few months a small number of regular promoters who employ me to process certificates for artists have been leaving it until the last minute… and I do mean the last minute… and expecting that I will be able to perform a minor miracle. This has necessitated losing sleep, losing my weekends and – most important – losing family time.

I’m not saying that I will be refusing to do last minute certificates, however, to encourage people to send forms and payment to me in a timely manner I will be charging a premium rate for fast-tracking any certificates required within 7 days

If you’ve left it until the last minute expect to pay an additional £100 for a group application and £50 for a soloist’s application.

Since the rules changed in 2008 I have done almost 800 Certificates of Sponsorship for performers, and very few leave it until the last minute, however it has become a problem specific to just a few.

Sometimes it goes like this:
<Phone Rings, Sunday evening at 6.00>

PHONE: Hello do you do certificates of sponsorship for Mexicans?

ME: I do certificates of sponsorship for any performers from outside the EU, so yes, that includes Mexicans.

PHONE: How long does it take?

ME: Well, I ask that you get all the paperwork to me about four weeks before you need the certificate, but I can do them more quickly in an emergency. When do you need them for?

PHONE: Now.

ME: You mean your performers are already in transit?

PHONE: Errr, they’re in the holding pen at Heathrow and about to be sent back to Mexico if I can’t get certificates for them within the hour.

This is not a made-up story. It really happened. Names have been withheld to protect the… errr… organisationally challenged. And yes, I did manage to issue the certificates in time, though not quite within the hour, but the Immigration people kindly gave an extension once they knew it was in hand. However it meant I had to ignore visiting family and work on Sunday evening.

I’ve also had to do certificates for Americans who were in transit and arriving the following morning and for Africans whose visa applications were due right NOW! or they stood a good chance of not getting them back in time.

Though some of these late applications were genuine mistakes (The Mexicans hadn’t checked and didn’t even know they needed certificates of sponsorship!) many of the delays are due to people not wanting to pay until the very last minute, i.e. until they perceive that they really REALLY have to. So from October 2015, these are the prices. They will only rise when the government puts its prices up.

CoS Fees 2015

Good reasons for getting your Certificate of Sponsorship in a timely manner

  1. Your peace of mind.
  2. My stress levels.
  3. On occasions the Government web site has been malfunctioning and it has not been possible to issue certificates. If this happens over a weekend of a bank holiday there could be a delay of 3 – 4 days.
  4. Other performers may be in the queue before you and need their certificates equally urgently. I’m only one person. There’s a limit to how fast I can type.
  5. When I check your application I may need clarification of some information or more details.
  6. When I attend conferences I am unavailable for between three days and a week. Usually I am not checking email  while I’m away because – hey – I’m busy with other things. Besides if I’m not in the office I don’t have access to make the applications.
  7. The office is always closed for a full week in September, so if you hit this week I won’t be able to help you.

So thank you to all those people who send their applications to me four weeks before they need their certificates. Score bonus points if you’ve followed my guidelines, typed rather than handwritten your forms, sent me clear copies of the documents I require and filled in every box, remembering to include your post or zipcode with your home address. Add extra bonus points if all the information you’ve typed on the application form is correct.

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Notes to Artists

To all artists: With sometimes ten or more artists a week knocking on my door, you can bet that I only take on the best… and then only VERY rarely. I won’t say my books are closed (I’ve tried saying it and I still can’t resist the occasional great artist that comes along), however if you’re an artist, especially a new one, please don’t call me until you’ve read my article on Why You Don’t Need an Agent.

If you’ve got more gigs on the books than you can handle and you’re never at home when the phone rings because you’re out gigging, then… sure, call me. If you’ve never toured the UK before or are only just starting out in your career and have no British profile, I’m not likely to take you on. It’s very hard work breaking a new act into the British folk scene and I don’t have time for it right now even if you’re very, very special.

To artists from outside the EU: Yes you do need a Certificate of Sponsorship to come into the UK to perform if you are travelling from outside the EU. Artists from countries that do not require their citizens to have a visa for tourism to the UK can come into the UK to perform for less than three months with only a Certificate of Sponsorship. No further pre-processing is required. But artists from countries whose citizens require a visa for travelling to the UK as a tourist, will need to convert their Certificate of Sponsorship to a full work visa. This is also the case for artists from any country intending to stay in the UK to perform for longer than three months. This conversion process is called ‘Entry Clearance’ and takes approximately four weeks to complete after you’ve got your Certificate of Sponsorship.

If you are from outside the EU and you get your own UK tour together, and you need someone to process your Certificate of Sponsorship, then please feel free to get in touch.

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All About Being a Folk Music Booking Agent in the UK

Jacey at Winnipeg Folk Festival

Jacey – Winnipeg Folk Festival

Before opening the music agency I  toured as one third of vocal trio Artisan from 1985 to 2005 plus the 2010 and 2015 reunion tours; also as one fifth of the Brian Bedford Band through to the summer of 2006. I’ve played thousands of gigs and hundreds of festivals across the UK, Germany, Belgium, the USA, Canada, Australia and even (once) Hong Kong, so I reckon I know the business from both sides.

After the farewell Artisan gig in 2005 I counted the stamps in my passport and realised I’d notched up thirty one North American tours in a decade and decided I must be bonkers! I now sit at home and drive a desk for a living – sending out other performers to do the hard work. Instead of thirty thousand miles a year the Bedford motor now does less than three. Probably just as well since it’s not getting any younger! I can absolutely confirm that folk agents don’t drive around in sleek BMWs – well – this one doesn’t anyway.

I know a thing or two about clubs, festivals and venues. I even ran my own, putting on concerts at Birdsedge Village Hall for thirty years and booking the acts for Birdsedge Village Festival for ten as well as running the occasional bigger gig at the Paramount Cinema in Penistone, Nr Sheffield.

Band on stage

Tanglefoot at Penistone Paramount

I’ve got some fantastic artists on my books from all over the world.
Vin Garbutt, Zulu Tradition, Ritchie Parrish Ritchie, Cloudstreet, Union Jill, Dan McKinnon, Tania Opland and Mike Freeman, Eileen McGann, Artisan, The Salts, Lee Collinson and Al Parrish, and I’m currently talking to another well established artist, but I can’t tell you who that is yet, or I would have to shoot you.

It’s my job as an agent, to match-make artists and events. I’m not looking for ‘gigs at any price’. Making the right connections helps both artists and bookers to get the best deal and build up ongoing relationships. A lot of the people I deal with are friends, or become friends in the course of our business relationship.

Obviously if I never call or email a venue I’m not doing my job properly, so if you’re a booker in the UK, expect to hear from me at least once or twice a year, possibly with a few emails in between. If you want to be added to my mailing list please email me. My email is above in the header. Ditto if you want to be removed from it. I’d appreciate it mightily if you could let me know of any email address changes, of if you hand over the job of booking-contact to someone else.

To all bookers and festival organisers: When I call you or email I want you to know that I will always take no for an answer. In fact, next to yes, no is the second best answer because it enables me to move on and call the next venue or festival. Those maybes and call-me-back-in-a-month answers are killers… unless of course, you really mean it. Unfortunately some bookers are dear sweet people who don’t like to disappoint and who don’t know how to say no. I hope no one ever feels they can’t say no to me. Of course I like it best when you say yes, but to go round full circle… I really am not looking for gigs at any price. It’s got to be the right gig at the right price so that everybody wins.

That’s what my job is about, creating a win-win situation for the venue, the artist and, oh, yes, for me too.

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The Salts and Lee Collinson

I don’t take on new artists very often (hardly ever, in fact) so it’s a measure of how impressive they are that I’ve taken on shantypunk band, The Salts. Check them out at http://www.jacey-bedford.com/salts.html

The Salts

The Salts

And I’ve also added Lee Collinson (solo) to the roster. Lee is front-man of The Salts and enjoyed much success on the folk scene before family life and his day job caused a hiatus. He’s back now and better than ever.

Lee Collinson

Lee Collinson

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Jacey’s Music Business Help Files

It’s not because I know it all – (blimey, I wish I did!) – it’s because I didn’t know anywhere near as much as I do now when I started in this business and I figure if people understand a bit about how things work we’ll all be much better off. So here’s a series of FAQs

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Artists

Here’s a list of all my current artists. You can find a run-down (words, music, video) at my web page.

Vin Garbutt (UK)

Zulu Tradition (South Africa)

Ritchie Parrish Ritchie (Canada)

Cloudstreet (Australia)

Dan McKinnon (Canada)

Union Jill (UK)

Eileen McGann (Canada)

Tania Opland and Mike Freeman (USA/UK)

Al Parrish (Canada)

And Artisan is currently on tour for the second reunion tour which lasts from April to early October 2015. After that there are no further plans, but never say never again.

Artisan

Artisan

Posted in Artisan, Music business, My Music Agency