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So you wanna be in a rock band?: Booking your way to the main stage

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | December 1st, 2008

The latest tactic that the industry has adopted in order to maintain its hegemony within the biz's changing climate has its roots in booking practises, and derives its strength through the creation of a system based on exclusivity. As much as I, a proud DIY advocate who singlehandedly managed to book two successful North American tours for my own band, hate to admit it, in reality, because of the structure of the industry, truly, there is only so far an indie act can go on their own. In today's economy of corporate conglomeration, if you're looking for that super rockstardom, whether your band is composed of ladies or gents, it is inevitable that, without an inside connection, you will eventually collide, face-to-face with the music biz's “glass ceiling”.

Aside from the enforcement of the “no unsolicited materials” policy which is held by most of the world's predominant booking agencies, the internal politics of these companies dictate that the support slots for any major bill are to be granted to lesser known acts from the same label and/or booking agency family, therefore disallowing the consideration of any outside indie bands (even if their genre would be more complementary to that of the major acts and, even if they've established a strong local following in the concert area). Likewise, when you see listings of obscure bands of which you've never heard on major festival circuits, like that of, The Taste of Chaos concert series, you can bet on pretty good odds that again, they were already somehow associated with the headliners.

If you think that you can supercede the powers that be (aka these booking companies), think again, as unfortunately, a vast majority of the large concert halls responsible for bringing acts like AC/DC to crowds of 72,000 are actually directly affiliated, if not owned by the booking companies themselves. LiveNation, for example, after their acquisition of the House of Blues in 2006, is now the proud owner of over 160 venues worldwide.

For the few companies, such as Canada's Agency Group and SL Feldman & Associates, which are willing to consider reviewing material from an act with whom they have not yet established a business acquaintanceship, this does not mean that getting picked up on their roster is as easy as just sending in a professional press kit (and, well, crossing your fingers).

First off, the fine print on both of their sites explicitly outlines that they will not consider your act unless you've already established a substantial following, and have gigged around extensively. What this means in translation is that you likely would have already had to release at least one full length which has consistent sales, received a decent amount of radio, if not video play, and as well been around the block, for at least a few years, before they will even contemplate giving your materials a once over (ie: they don't want to do the hard work for you).

Secondly, from my own experiences, I've noticed that booking agencies tend to shy away from signing punk, metal and generally hardcore bands which may be deemed offensive because these forms of music tend to be “acquired” tastes, and therefore don't have as strong of a profit-making potential.

Thirdly, because although there are lots of companies out there “claiming” to be legit booking agencies, but realistically, there are really only a select few who control about 80 per cent of the marketplace, having your material reviewed will inevitably be a lengthy process, and by that I mean, it may take several months to almost a year just for your package to arrive on the appropriate person's desk, let alone be assessed. With that in mind, it's important, that if you do wish to attempt, in the words of Jim Morrison, “To break on through to the other side” (of the glass ceiling, that is), that you specifically address your package to the agent who already works with artists who are comparable to your genre of music.

From all of the aforementioned details, as I'm sure you've deduced for yourself, if you thought achieving label representation was difficult, obtaining a booking agent is in a whole other ball park; the reason being that control over all of the world's major concert events is in very few hands, and so, said companies can afford to be extremely picky with whom they chose to represent.

Booking agents typically get a flat fee for each show they book, and receive additional compensation derived from a percentage of ticket sales, and so, they are only going to be interested in working with you if your act is a guaranteed strong investment. Additionally, upon being signed, booking (promotional companies in general), often expect their newly signed artists to sink in funds into areas that they feel are a concern in order to up the band's market appeal. These investments are expected to be made, irrespective of the fact that bookers offer no guarantee that they will be able to get the act touring opportunities.

With all of that being said, if you're interested in trying to reel a booker in, here are a few quick last pieces of advice:

1) Do your homework. Learn about the various companies and see which one best suits your needs in terms of both its booking capabilities as well as the genres it represents.

2) Make a direct contact.

3) Rather than sending out a press kit and waiting agonizingly for it to be reviewed, I suggest inviting your booker of interest out to an important live performance (cd release party, or a slot at a national conference) so that they can see you in action, and you have a chance to make an in person connection. However, if you are going to go down this route, make sure you are ready (and I mean REALLY ready) because you'll only get one shot.
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