Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Roles of the Agent, Manager, and Promoter: How Concerts Are Booked, and Who Does What

Every summer, I get questions about how concerts are booked and how the relationships between band, manager, agent, and promoter work together. Many of the questions are based on an incorrect public perception that bands “just decide” to put on a show or “just decide” to go out on tour, or that the band hires a promoter.

I’m not sure where they got those assumptions, but the public literally has the process backwards. Maybe the plot of the old Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland “Let’s put on a show!” movies still lingers on in the media. The fact that artists are contractually prohibited from discussing deals doesn’t help, so when an artist talks about the latest tour, it can sometimes seem like all the planning comes from the artist.
For those who may have missed it on MusicBizAdvice.com, once again, here’s how concerts are booked:

This post covers the traditional, local promotion method of booking shows. Unless the artist is an established star artist with a 360 deal on a major label or is the opening act for a major artist's tour, the artist is most likely to book shows by multiple promoters over the course of a tour. (Top concert artists' tours are usually handled by one promoter for the entire tour.) [Specifically, top concert artists' tours are usually handled by one promoter for the entire tour, with various services contracted out to local promoters. Added for clarification by Randi Reed 9/16/15.]

Artist = band or performer. That may seem obvious, but I include it to prevent people and search engines from inquiring about paintings.

= oversees all aspects of an artist’s career. The manager works with the artist to develop a long-term career plan and oversees all aspects of the artist’s business life. In the context of booking live performances, the manager helps the artist decide which employment offers are most helpful to the long-term career plan. The agent, not the manager, does the actual booking.

The manager has many roles in the day-to-day operations of the band’s career. A few examples include communications with the label, assisting the artist with hiring additional musicians, hiring crew members, and tasks that help the artist manage his personal life as well.

Agent (also known as Talent Agent) = Think “employment agent”. The agent seeks employment opportunities for the artist in the form of offers from promoters, presents the offers to artist’s manager, and then negotiates the contracts for the offers the artist accepts. The agent sees that all contractual obligations for the show are met by the promoter, and if something goes wrong with a booking, the agent works to resolve it on behalf of the artist. In many states in the U.S., a licensed talent agent is the only person who can legally negotiate an employment contract for an artist. Talent agencies are also governed by some of the same laws as employment agencies for other professions.
Concert Promoter (also known as Talent Buyer, aka show Producer, aka Presenter)
= the artist’s employer for live performances. Specifically, the artist is an independent contractor hired by the promoter.

The title “concert promoter” is a bit of a misnomer, because the promoter’s job is everything relating to the entire show, from hiring the artist to advertising and promotion. Venue rental, permits, staging, local personnel, security…if it’s needed to make a show happen, the promoter is responsible for doing it. That’s why some show contracts refer to the promoter as “Producer”. (In some cases where the artist travels with their own staging or production, the promoter reimburses the artist’s costs. But not always.) Other show contracts refer to the promoter as “Purchaser” because the promoter is purchasing a service from the artist, but in context of live entertainment, they all mean the same thing.

The relationship between Agent, Manager, and Concert Promoter, and how they work together in a traditional booking arrangement:

   The artist’s agent obtains offers for show bookings from promoters. For artists with an established reputation, promoters usually reach out to the agent with offers that include breakdowns of ticket prices proposed by the promoter, the expected gross, and expected expenses.

2.    The agent presents the offers to the artist’s manager, who helps the artist choose the offers that stand the best chance of helping the artist’s career.

3.    The agent then negotiates the contract for the accepted offer, issues the contracts, and obtains a non-refundable deposit from the promoter. The dollar amount of the deposit depends on talent agency policy and the promoter’s stature and reputation in the industry, ranging from 10% to 50% of the artist’s guaranteed fee.
4.    The promoter does his part, the artist shows up and performs the show, and everyone gets paid.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned specific types of deals, or "standard" or “typical” percentages of splits, or “typical” artist guarantees. That’s because despite what you may have been told by an insistent promoter, there’s no “standard” type of deal or “standard” split between artist and promoter. I say this as someone who has worked on both sides of the contract, who has seen offers come in and go out for many types of artists, from local club band to international superstar, for every major city in the U.S. and abroad. There are many different types of deals and splits. Here’s why:

Ticket prices and artist guarantees are based on whatever the market will bear at a given time.

The conditions of the concert marketplace vary from year to year, as well as by artist (and that artist’s accompanying demographics and box office history), place (and that city’s accompanying demographics), and by what time of year the show will happen.

Other major factors include the type of show (Is it a one-off show or part of a tour? Is the show at the beginning of a tour? Or is it part of a string of added dates to a sold-out tour? Is the tour a reunion tour? Is the show at a special venue? What's the venue capacity?), where the artist is in the arc of their career and what’s expected to happen during the period the show or tour takes place, the number of artists of a particular genre who are on tour at that time, how many other artists with similar ticket prices to the artist's are out on the road at the same time, and how many artists with big ticket prices will be going on sale or will be out on the road at that time.

I haven’t even mentioned the overall economic conditions of wherever the concert or tour will take place: do people have money to spend, and if so, are they likely to spend that money on entertainment? Are gas prices expected to be unusually high or low? That affects the costs of touring. All these things are major considerations.

Given all those variables, you can see how types of deals and their accompanying ticket prices and splits can vary tremendously. Now throw in relationships and any favors one party may happen to owe another—remember, the music business is a people business based on relationships, favors, and timing. Suddenly, what might seem “standard” to one may be very low or very high to someone else.

At this point, you may be wondering, "What about agent-less booking apps indie musicians use to book shows?"

In that case, the artist is acting as their own agent, so everything the agent would do becomes the artist's responsibility.

In some ways, agent-less booking apps make it easier for artists who don't have access to a good talent agent. It's hard to get a good agent, and to get a good one, more often than not the artist must be signed to a label.

However...After a certain point, using an app instead of a good licensed talent agent can be detrimental to the artist, because apps tend to devalue the artist in the live music marketplace. A good agent constantly reassesses his clients' value in the live music marketplace and knows how and when to negotiate better offers to advance the artist's career.

Most importantly, if something goes wrong with a show, the agent is the artist's most important ally. In the legal agreement between an artist and a licensed talent agent, the agent agrees to represent the artist in matters relating to any employment he or she has procured for that artist. Not only that, in many states a licensed talent agent is legally bound to represent the artist when something goes wrong with a booking they procured.

Promoters know this and tend to treat artists with good licensed talent agents more professionally. Without a good agent, the artist is vulnerable.

My advice for artists? Use an agent-less booking app only as long as you have to. Meanwhile, never trust a promoter to do all the advertising for your shows. In live entertainment, the artist's only leverage is the number of people who actually buy tickets and concessions, so work your butt off to promote and advertise your band and your shows in order to consistently increase the size of the audience for every show. Then use the leverage of your ever-increasing draw to get a good licensed talent agent.

Randi Reed, 

Founder, MusicBizAdvice.com

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