Why are some organisers scared of agents?
When I was a performer I used to play at Mr. X’s folk club regularly. I even stayed in his house after the gigs. We got on just fine. Once I became an agent he stopped returning my calls and never answered my emails. Mutual friends have told me that it’s because he thinks that if he books an artist through an agent it will cost him a lot more money, therefore he’s pathologically afraid of negotiating fees with an agent, even me.
I want to set the record straight.
An agent works for the artist and is paid by the artist. Yes, it’s in the agent’s best interests to get the artist the maximum amount for the job because 15% of £1000 is always better than 15% of £100, however the fee must not be at the expense of the venue or event because that’s counterproductive. The venue must not lose money on the gig.
Getting a single gig is reasonably easy, but building up a relationship with a venue and getting multiple gigs for multiple artists and then repeat gigs for those artists is much more difficult. It can only be achieved by being scrupulously fair to both venue and artist. Sometimes you sacrifice a short term gain for a long term good relationship. In the end you don’t lose by that and neither does the artist.
Artists’ fees vary. Some are negotiable, some aren’t. Some are a flat fee and some are a basic guarantee set against a percentage of the box office income. The artists are the ones who set the fees and conditions or give me the power to negotiate with a certain upper and lower limit. Some artists insist on a rider, others do not. Some artists insist on hotel accommodation, others are happy to stay with the organisers and a few prefer to arrange their own accommodation because they like to get away after a show. As an agent, all I can do is work within the guidelines the artists set me. (Note that I do discourage the sort of riders that ask for champagne and Smarties in the dressing room.)
So if Mr. X books an artist through me he’ll pay the same as if he (theoretically) books direct with the artist. My percentage comes out of the artist’s fee. And since I have an exclusive deal with my artists, they don’t actually deal directly with a booker. Instead they pass the enquiry on to me. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
The only time Mr. X might get a cheaper deal from an artist is if he pulls the old pals act, tries to go direct and browbeats them into a fee that’s lower than their minimum. Some artists are pathologically afraid of refusing a gig even if it’s not paying enough to more than cover their expenses. He might feel as though he’s put one over on both the artist and the agent, but this kind of deal doesn’t foster a good working relationship. Mr. X becomes known as a cheapskate pennypincher and artists avoid working for him.
NO. The N-word is really difficult to say, but it’s more difficult for an artist than for an agent.
“Ah, but…” Mr. X might say. “Whenever an act signs to an agency their fees immediately go up.” That is sometimes true for a few acts who are rising through the ranks, becoming more popular, growing and pulling bigger audiences. A long established act knows his worth, knows his audience and his fee is not likely to go up when he takes on or changes an agent. An up and coming act is still discovering their value and may well have been woefully underselling themselves prior to joining an agency. Upon joining the agency the artists and the agent might sit down together and review fees and may well set different fee limits. With the new fee limits set, however, Mr. X will not get the act at their old pre-agency price, no matter who he talks to. So I urge all the Mr. Xs out there to lose their fear of agents. We’re here to ensure that every booking is a win-win, or between artist, agent and booker a win-win-win.