The historically high demand for live music has made it an ideal time to harness the dream of starting a music booking agency. Despite the challenging environment, booking agency owners who find their niche can turn a lifelong love of music into a rewarding career. But how do you get started? What are some of the keys to getting your business off the ground? What are the mistakes to avoid?
While being a booking agent can often be more art than science, having a rock-solid organizational system is mandatory. Being able to balance multiple artists, negotiate fees, and ensure contracts are correctly honored requires an efficient process best managed by taking advantage of modern music management technology. With confidence in the fundamentals, booking agents can focus on the core aspect of the business—finding great artists and helping them reach their potential.
Whether you’re ready to move forward or just contemplating a career move, consider this quick guide for how to start a music booking agency of your own.
How to start a music booking agency 101: The basics
When looking to carve out your own spot in live music, it’s helpful to have a concrete understanding of the role you’re looking to take on. Beyond basic competency, you need to see your booking agency through the eyes of artists, managers, promoters, and venue operators. Before you can begin to provide a service to an artist, you have to be able to help them toward their goals from day one. This might include:
- Securing event dates with venues
- Finding opening gigs and club performances for your clients
- Negotiating fees that serve the best interests of the artist
- Serving as a middle person between the artist and venue
- Assembling tour dates and large performances (if applicable)
There is a good chance you will end up doing most or all these tasks for your artists. Before moving forward with building an agency, you need to be able to perform these essentials and more. Do you need a stronger network of industry contacts to properly serve your clients? Do you have the personnel to handle the workload? Creating a sound foundation from the outset is a critical element of building a strong agency. Moving too quickly is also an easy way to stall progress or lose a competitive edge.
Knowing the market: Finding your niche and building your brand
One of the first things you’ll need to do is determine what genres and parts of the business are a good fit for your business. Even agents with an eclectic eye for talent narrow down the playing field and focus on components of the industry that fit their strengths. What type of artists are you looking to represent? Are there any parts of the business you don’t think are a good fit? Finding a focus will help you build strong relationships and generate a positive reputation that can carry your business to new heights.
One of the easiest ways to narrow your focus is to let geography and market data be your guide, although going against the grain can also pay dividends. In Nashville, for example, it’s not hard to find country singer-songwriters, but there’s also a lot of other talent operating in Music City. Many prominent Nashville venues are proud to promote indie rock, R&B, pop music, and more.
This is why it’s so critical that a booking agent understand market data from the very beginning. Knowing audience appetites—especially on a local level—can help you determine where your agency can have the biggest impact. Market expertise will also help you find underserved areas of the industry where you can exceed expectations. Industry data is always important for an agent, but it’s especially relevant in the early days as you build your agency’s brand.
Setting your rate and taking care of legal loose ends
Before jumping ahead to the most fun and rewarding parts of the business, make sure you know how much you plan on charging your clients. A 10-15% commission is standard for a music booking agent, although a high-profile agent might command 20% in some cases. Many agents start on the low end of the spectrum while building their business, as keeping clients happy is even more important than revenue early on. You will also want to ensure total transparency about your commission from the start.
By this point, you should have already made strides on the legal side of the business. In most cases, agencies start by creating a simple LLC, which is now a straightforward process online. If you’re unsure of any of the LLC steps, however, consulting a legal expert will be worth the expense.
Beyond LLC creation, you need to know if your state has any specific requirements before you begin operating—like permits, licensing, or bonding. It’s typically helpful to have a handle on the legal end before launching a website, drafting business cards, or creating a marketing package.
As you take care of the legal necessities, it’s also a good time to figure out how you’re going to handle documentation. You’ll be responsible for generating offers and drafting contracts, so a professional touch is mandatory. Some agencies might consult an accountant who has music-industry experience, but finding the right music management platform comes with minimal cost and can set you up for the long term.
Finding artists and creating a buzz
With the business basics for how to start a music booking agency under control, you’re finally ready to focus on the aspects that drew you to the business in the first place. One of the prime functions of an agency is helping artists expand their profile. This can take on a variety of forms, but some of the ones you’ll want to master include:
Being a social media pro
Nobody expects you to have time to post on social media all day, but social media savviness is a requirement in today’s music industry. For an agency, this means knowing where to find the artists who fit your niche and/or business model. TikTok and Spotify are typically great places to start, but there are many other social media platforms that are helping artists find their audience.
Up-and-coming artists should also be putting their best music on their website and social accounts while performing at least some fan outreach. This lets agents hunt for talent and see where an artist is in their development. Experienced agents can then determine if they have the skill set to help an artist build their profile and land consistent gigs.
Social media is also an area where agents network, interacting with promoters and venue operators. If you’re not regularly nourishing relationships with other music professionals, you’re missing opportunities to expand your network of contacts—an essential component of a successful music booking agency. Cultivating a presence and using social media for scouting and networking are fundamental aspects of the modern booking agency.
The old-school approach
Live music promotion isn’t only about the digital universe; booking agents often have success attending open mic nights, writers’ rounds, competitions, and other performance events. Such events are also great opportunities to introduce yourself to venue owners, band managers, promoters, and more.
Another tactic is to utilize hometown newspapers to advertise your business or even use flyers and brochures to grab the attention of local artists. Social media can often be overwhelming, while traditional approaches can create a more direct channel between an aspiring musician and a booking agent.
Whether you’re looking to advertise your business on social channels or in traditional print, it might be a good idea to hire a graphic designer to provide a professional gloss. The goal is to showcase some creativity and inspire a musician to want to work with you. An eye-catching ad can be a great way to introduce yourself to an artist who needs a booking agent.
Tips for your new agency
As soon as you have artists on your roster and relationships with a few venue managers, you’ll be ready to schedule performances. But it’s also wise to balance confidence with a keen eye for things that can go wrong. In the early phases of a booking agency, mistakes can be very costly to both your reputation and bottom line. Consider these tips to help you avoid mistakes and stay focused.
1. Develop a superb system for scheduling
You need to do everything you can to avoid messy gigs, communication breakdowns, and unnecessary conflicts. As the number of clients you work with expands, an organized and up-to-date calendar will be essential for making sure everything goes smoothly. Using a cloud-based calendar enables you to take your show dates with you as you meet with your artists or venue representatives. A venue operator or artist who doesn’t think you’re on top of scheduling might quickly move on to someone who provides a more professional touch.
2. Create spotless contracts
Your ability to produce equitable contracts will be one of the most important factors when it comes to how to start a music booking agency on the right foot. Agents succeed when they have a transparent process that proves they know the ins and outs of the industry.
Alongside other essentials, a contract needs to include how much a musician will get paid, the payment method, and the number of total payments. If a deposit is part of the contract (it usually is), this needs to be considered in the early stages of negotiation to ensure a smooth signing process. Any percentage bonuses (e.g., door sales) need to be clear in the contract. Contracts also need to specify any expenses that will be included, such as travel costs and fees for additional crew members.
Some of the other aspects a contract typically covers include:
- Complimentary tickets
- Setup times
- Safety considerations
- Merchandise splits
It can be a lot to keep straight, which is why most agents try to work from a standardized template when negotiating a contract. The easiest method is to use a software platform for contract generation, allowing you to take what worked in the past and apply it to the present. Tweaking a contract to fit the specifics of a show is easy if you already have a polished contract template. A great contract process will demonstrate your professionalism and set you up for a quick settlement after the show.
3. Develop a reliable list of venues (and look for some hidden gems)
It’s not the most exciting element of the business, but reliability is often what makes a booking agent worth their commission. Musicians have a hard time improving their music or trusting the process if they’re struggling to get by. To counter this, agents who can tap a dependable network of venues can help musicians obtain the consistency they need. With consistency comes smoother performances, reliable income, and better connections with audiences.
Once you have a foothold with prominent venues, agents can also show their worth by finding hidden gems. Community events, restaurants, and private gigs can all lead to a solid payday. Smaller-scale shows can even help artists reach new audiences that may not have been on their radar. Having both firm ground and a wandering eye for new opportunities will help agents deliver for their musicians.
4. Be ready to adapt as you go
The steady advance of new technology forces booking agents to stay on their toes. The landscape of the industry is constantly changing, with new trends always threatening to alter the fabric of how we experience live music. Agents who can utilize the power of automation and AI will have a clear advantage over those who are slow to shift gears.
Meanwhile, agents should be able to move from one social media platform to another to find the best audience for their artists. As in many businesses, flexibility can be invaluable for a booking agency.
Agency owners also need to look over the horizon and get ready for the future. In live music, this will likely mean the integration of augmented reality, which has the potential to revolutionize the connection between artist and fan. The savvy agent tries to duplicate past success, fine-tunes their approach over time, and does whatever they can to get ready for an uncertain future.
Create a lasting footprint with your booking agency
Running a music booking agency can be a deeply rewarding experience, though it also requires an iron will and ability to overcome obstacles. By combining industry insights with a strong organizational system, new agencies can carve out their niche and help their clients realize their potential on the stage.
While the back end of the business can seem daunting, Prism’s all-in-one management platform offers all the assistance an agency needs to succeed. Our toolkit helps agencies seamlessly handle contract generation, financial documentation, secure file sharing, and more. With real-time market insights and a cloud-based calendar, agents can handle a fast-paced industry that is always hurtling forward. Try a demo of the platform today to see how automation and cloud technology can help you figure out exactly how to start a music booking agency and get your agency off the ground.