Back to the bookings

My post on Gold City moving their booking in house brought some interesting mail this evening that has got me thinking, and never one to shy away from a good discussion, I thought I’d synopsize some of it. First word from a reader with a fairly reliable hunch that GC may (just may) be moving their bookings in house long enough to find someone else to book for them (they were with Becky Simmons most recently). This might suggest that I was slightly off the mark in my hypothesis about GC being in demand enough that it could survive off in-calls alone, since if you were in demand and well-organized enough to do your own booking, why go back to an agency? Hard to say. At any rate, the Harper Agency seems to be the current favorite, but who knows how these things will or won’t shake out. Maybe GC’s in-house arrangement will work out and they’ll go agent free.No matter what GC does, it’s probably worth noting some potential drawbacks that come from working with a booking agency - drawbacks that aren’t necessarily dealbreakers but rather, unavoidable downsides to a necessary relationship.

  • Agencies can of represent too many artists. There are only so many “A” dates available for agencies to book, so the booking agent has to try and share those with all the artists on the agency’s roster. The raw math here means the more artists on an agency’s roster, the fewer “A” dates there are to go around. The high-ground, perfect-world solution to this problem is for agencies to represent groups of varying formation: one male quartet, one mixed group, one family group, a trio and so on. When there aren’t three or four male quartets on one agent’s roster, there’s no potential conflict of interest when the booking agent tries to figure out which quartet to push when a promoter calls looking for a male quartet. I call this the perfect-world solution because, in fairness, the booking agent’s position is something like, “someone is going to book them; Why not me?” Fair enough, market realities being what they are. Still, the closet idealist in me wishes there was a way to avoid pitting artists with the same agency against each other.
  • Commissions on repeat dates aren’t normally graduated down. In other words, if a booking agent has an annual date that is on the calendar every year, the artist typically pays the same percentage of the honorarium (usually 15%) year after year when all the agent did after the first year was send out the new contract.
  • Agencies aren’t always terribly interested in artist development. Translation: agencies generally only want to work with you once you’ve done the work needed to create some sort of demand for your act, which is not so different from a label. Again, the perfect-world solution here is for agencies to make a point of signing one or two up-and-comers whose career the agent essentially decides to buy into with their time and effort. I gotta say, I’m of two minds about this one. The part of me that is fed completely up with hacks and third-rate amateurs and the no-talent howlers who manage to chart a song or two and curry favor with powerbrokers whose favor is curryable in order to get taken seriously in the SN and at NQC because this new group right here just love the lord and sing their hearts out … well that fed-up part of me thinks there ought to be some threshold for who gets put on the circuit of good dates. Just like I think some labels ought to be more discriminating and not take every talent-night runner-up who decides to sing a few of the good ole songs and wants a tape to sell at the WMU convention (is WMU even around anymore?). Anyway, I offer this point for the good of the exchange.

Like I said, these downsides are in many ways unavoidable and probably not even always the case. And it’s important not to forget that even the groups that can do their own booking, there’s a certain irreplaceability to the booking agent who gets a call from time to time from from someone saying, “I need a good, male quartet” or “I need a good such and such. Who can you get me?” Some opportunities only present themselves because the agent has a roster and a reputation. Plus, agents (at least the good ones) have databases of churches and promoters they can call on when they need to fill in a hole in an artist’s calendar.

And finally, to prove that the perfect-world solution sometimes takes root and flourishes right here in this regular world, a story. Specifically, a story about the Cats and a tale that disproves my argument against agencies taking on unproven talent. Toward the end of their run, the Cats were pulling down a solid $15,000 flat for their gigs. But for years back in the early days, Herman Harper, the Cats booking agent, made cold calls begging folks to book the Cats. Then, finally after 20 years, slowly, he started answering the phone taking incoming calls as the Cats became a bankable commodity. When he was working his tail off to keep the Cats booked, he wasn’t making much money because the Cats weren’t either. So, all his work was on the front end, and the paycheck was on the back end. That’s because Glen Payne stayed with him, long after the Cats could have stayed plenty busy without a booking agent, solely out of Glen and George’s a sense of loyalty and payback. The good kind of payback.

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