WHY I FINALLY DECIDED TO START MY OWN BOOKING AGENCY
(and how I did it)
think you start something new when you have something to say. So if you’re in a position to start a new booking agency -- what is it that you need to say? What ideas and values make up the foundation of your new agency?
Think about this: many of us are in positions of listening, which is one of the most powerful positions to be in as a booking agent. As you probably know, listening is invariably more important than speaking. How do we form a relationship with a talent buyer? We listen. How do we discover or find the artists you want to represent? We listen. How do we figure out what promoters are looking for in booking an artist? We listen. How do you interpret industry trends, and integrate new ways of working? We listen.
Listening, or seeing, or feeling -- using our collective senses for learning, integrating, and understanding -- is how we grow, how we learn, and how we operate as booking agents. The ways in which we listen, and what we do with that listening, defines our booking style and efficacy.
If you’re ready to start a booking agency, it’s because you have something to say.
I know in my case, I yearned for a different way of working with artists. I yearned to say: I believe in thriving artists untethered by convention, engaged with their practice, and connected with their fans and champions. And while many former “acronym” agents can relate to stories of starting out in the mailroom, or stories of red-faced bosses hurtling abuses while off on coffee runs … my own story was quite different. I rose the ranks at a boutique booking agency that was supportive to their staff, thoughtful with their message, and engaged in their practice. There was a lot to be thankful for. But I found myself spending months on end ignoring my inner voice. My inner voice was urging me to create a platform to speak out loud my truth. I found myself dreaming of new ways to push the careers of artists forward. I had something new to say.
I believe our role as booking agents is to let our artists be unbound (the name of the agency I started, as it turns out!). Our job is to empower our artists. I have observed numerous booking agencies who signed dozens of artists at a time. These artists put their faith in these agencies, only to find later on that their touring careers are languishing on the vine. They get promised the world, but then little is actually delivered. We as agents have a tremendous responsibility. We are charged with ensuring that the artists we sign to our agencies thrive.
Let’s say that you are ready to launch a booking agency. Perhaps you already have artists lined up, ready to sign with you. You’ve designed a new logo while doodling at a coffee-shop, launched a website with the help of a technical friend, and printed some business cards with a gleaming new title. It will feel great to take these first steps.
But there comes a point when thoughtful dreaming must turn into exacting execution.
Starting an agency is like starting any business. Your processes and your administration are as important to your business as your message and your product. If your clients depend on your work, you can’t afford to make administrative mistakes. You will have to move quickly in developing the processes, infrastructure, and team to underpin your work.
In my case, I was lucky to be starting an agency in the 21st century. I had access to both free and affordable tools that made work organized and efficient. I started with specialized software products that were efficiently priced, so that I was making a series of small investments in tools that could have a huge impact -- for myself, and for the artists I represent.
The devil is in the details, as they say. The work you do for your artists will be judged at a macro level (from afar) and a micro level (up close and personal). At the macro level, you’ll be able to point to what kinds of venues and festivals you got your artists into, and the number of fans who were able to connect with artists as a result of your work. At the micro level, you’ll need to send contracts quickly and efficiently to talent buyers. You will need to collect deposits, and pay out settlements. And to do that, you’ll need to be able to send invoices, and have a portal for payment.
Software services like Gigwell have helped me dig into the details of contracting, and administer my deals efficiently. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I utilized a software that had been designed for other booking agents. Inside Gigwell, I injected my own style into the multitude of ways that Gigwell can be customized (with templates, logos, and pre-drafted language). Instead of spending an hour or more creating a contract in Google docs, I’ve been able to cut that down tremendously. The tools that Gigwell provides to its users, in order to advance dates and collect details from promoters, have saved me the pain of so many back-and-forth emails. Gigwell, for instance, saved me from putting unnecessary energy and resources into contracting administration. As a result, I could put a large portion of my time (right off the bat) into developing the careers of the artists I represent, without risking my bottom line. Considering this is what I set out to do when starting an agency, I was impressed with how quickly Gigwell integrated into my processes. It created the structure to help me thrive inside of my own mission statement.
Tools like Asana helped me work with a remote team of collaborators: assistants, financial consultants, and project managers. In Asana, which can link up perfectly with your Google drive, I was able to track a long list of to-do items, organized inside of projects, and administered by defined teams. As my team expanded, and our projects became more complex, I upgraded to Asana Premium, which gave me better tools to track progress, and create space for break out groups to share more sensitive information and complex projects.
When it came to getting in touch with the right presenters and promoters, and keeping in touch with them regularly, I bought into talent buyer directories like Pollstar and Gigwell’s Tour IQ, and invested in Salesforce Essentials to serve as my trusted CRM (customer relationship management). I used Calendly to help clients have better access to scheduling meetings with me, and a combination of GMass Mail Merge Tool and MailChimp to create both personalized, as well as branded, e-marketing campaigns. All of these digital tools had free and premium versions, and were a helpful boost as I built out the first layers of my business administration.
Remember, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your artists’ careers, and to your own. You will need to think through the laws that pertain to your state or country, and whether an agency licenses (in US states like New York and in California, for instance). So at the same time as you are finding the software products that work for you, think through all aspects of your business in addition to procedural and marketing -- and especially legal and financial. You will need to think through what kind of corporation to create, the accounting system you will use, your taxes and your state regulations, and the banking and financial processes for collecting deposits and paying out settlements.
How you organize your business administration will color every nook and cranny of your new agency. So really focus in here when you start out.
No matter where you are right now in the process of starting an agency, consider the dream you have, and the tools you will use to achieve this. Whether you’re solo, or starting out as a team, you can make a big difference in your artists’ careers. Make sure your first steps get you there faster.
Greg Kastelman is a contributor to The Advance, as well as the founder of Unbound Artists LLC, based in San Francisco. Unbound Artists was founded to be a unique space for thriving artists untethered by convention, engaged with their practice, and connected with their fans and champions. His portfolio of work consists of agency work, management, creative production, and a coaching practice for surging artists and arts professionals.