Agents in the Music Business

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Agents in the Music Business
The Real Power Players

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

It used to be, a recording artist needed strong vocals, compelling songs, and charismatic looks, to get a good record deal in America. Once signed to a record company, the label would carry you through, bridging your talent with money, styling, and opportunity to become the star they knew you were.

But that was then, and this is now.

In today-s music business with rare exception, it-s most important that artists prove their talents in financial terms first, before a record label makes the big investment. Nowadays, labels often wait until the artist has generated a sizeable live following, coupled with significant sales of a self released or independent CD, before they make a commitment in signing the act. Artists like Howie Day, Jack Johnson and Damien Rice are all excellent examples of this model in action. Only after these artists generated serious buzz from the public, through ticket and CD sales, were labels ready to commit with considerable investment.

So in order to build the live audience attendance and generate strong cd sales, you-ll need a good live booking agent. In many ways, the booking agent is the real kingmaker in the music business these days and his or her expertise is heavily sought after. Their job is to map a strategy for the artists- live performances, both locally and nationally. Once the artist has agreed to the plan, the agent executes that strategy, hoping for well promoted shows with sold out audiences, to build the artists- word of mouth buzz. On the heels of a successful tour, the agent will continue to build the touring potential as much as possible, to bring thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people to the stage where the artist performs each year.

Booking a band is actually a high risk business. Most agents start with baby bands, to try and develop their careers. Agents take 10 percent of the income generated, as defined by law. It-s not a lot of money when you consider the time and energy invested in the beginning. Acts start out earning about $50 a show, and work their way up over many years to try and generate $100,000 a show. The key for agents is to keep their business relationship with the act strong and in tact. Agents do have contracts, but they are rarely enforced and it-s not uncommon for artists to change agents. Booking artists is a shrewd business based on financial results, confidence and loyalty.

The pond for booking agents is very small and highly competitive. Unbelievably, only about 30 agents control about 85 percent of the live rock bookings, if you take small clubs out of the equation. This means there-s an enormous demand for a good agents- time, with thousands of acts seeking national representation.

Some of the most successful contemporary booking agencies in America are William Morris, CAA, The Agency Group, ICM, Monterey Peninsula Artists, Little Big Man, Evolution and High Road Touring, They can make amazing things happen for talented artists.

And labels are seeking an interest as well. Sony announced late last year, they were exploring the possibilities of negotiating for financial participation in touring income from artists. This was originally considered outrageous by managers and agents.

But given that major labels often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars advancing tour support for artists to tour, it-s not surprising that labels would want to participate financially in that area, further down the road.

As our digital music world continues to allow us to discover more music, it-s my hope the love of the live performance will continue to grow as well.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.