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.

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.


About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com).
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