What's the Right Way to Book a First Tour?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Dear Fan, As of late, I have had the pleasure of helping my friend's band book a tour, and as excruciatingly painful as it can be, I'm doing it because I'm an aspiring booking agent. Now I'm not helping a band lucrative enough to even need an agent, nor am I the "CEO of Spanky Nuts Agency." I'm just someone helping his friends book a tour, and that consists of finding bands from other areas who would want to share a bill with them. I still have a whole lot to learn about it, as this is the first tour I am booking. My questions to you are the following: 1. Am I doing something wrong? 2. What all should I do as an aspiring agent? 3. When is the right time for a band to have an agent?
See also: Should I Manage My Husband's Band?
Dear Garrett, Heck no, Garrett! You are doing something all the way right! Perhaps you were concerned that you are impeding your friends career by helping them "too early" after last weeks letter (see "See also" link above)--but don't sweat your technique. You and Your Friend's Band (YFB) are actually doing something I often suggest, and it sounds like you are doing it collaboratively, for mutual benefit. So A+ for Teamwork.
Booking is one of those music industry jobs that you can really only learn by doing. It sounds like YFB have the tour routed and confirmed and you are doing some of the hustle, which is putting together support/headliners. This is crucial work if you want a successful tour and make the show promoters happy. Self-booking a tour can be a full time job, especially if you are a baby band, which is to say you'll be lucky to get a second hold on a Monday night at a downmarket wine bar in Fayetteville.
An unsigned local band at that level is not a usually hot prospect for an established booking agent, because most people are not interested in the Sisyphysian task of establishing a band's live career and making 15% of $20 for doing so. If you can't get on a tour with a more established or connected band, you have to book yourself, and wisely, YFB has outsourced some of the burden of this tour to you. And while you are a newbie, you are clearly energetic and eager and have an some stake in the outcomes here. Small bands write in every week about their inability to draw the attentions/help of someone bigger to help them access "the next level"--when bands could be building a grassroots team, or at least temporarily employing an eager friend who wants the experience.
What should you do? Pay attention (so you only make horrible mistakes once or twice), be organized (get a binder/do spreadsheets/make a little database). Be honest with everyone so there aren't unrealistic expectations. Ask for help when you need it, and be easy to get ahold of. Be concise in your communication--persistent, creative and reliable. They are your friends but make sure you represent them in a professional manner. Don't be a dick to anyone--but don't be a doormat either. Booking is a world where everyone is harried and effusive, seemingly, at all times. Don't take it personally.
Your work with YFB is kind of an internship. Make yourself indispensable; fill the space that needs to be filled and you will find yourself with a job. Maybe not with this band quite yet, but if you are useful--if you are better at this than bands who don't have the time or skills or connections, people will hire you. See if you can't network your way into doing another two or three tours on a help out basis for free/a small fee (no commissions) and then start putting the word out and approaching bands that you like that have a moderate draw and are not assholes.
Lastly, why not be the CEO Of The Garrett's Hot Nuts Agency LLC, effective right now? Put it in your email signature and give yourself a title that indicates, yes, you are the boss ("Agent--GHN Agency"). It's not an up-sell, dude. You are the founding agent of your agency, this tiny thing you are doing is building it. Get that shit off the ground and get business card official with it.
Best of luck to you and YFB, Fan
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