A booking agent seeks to match performance artists on their roster with corporate events and public shows, for the purposes of welcoming, educating or entertaining a crowd of people.
A booking agent is the first port of call for public venues which wish to stage a live performance, conference or event, and which require hired acts to perform on such occasions. The booking agent can operate in any sector of the entertainment industry, but can also work to place notable speakers, celebrity personalities, respected industry people or fringe entertainers with hiring venues. Most choose to diversify across a broad range of sectors and specialisations. Popular requests for bookings include singers, dancers, clowns, musicians, speakers, magicians, hosts, MCs, DJs, and a whole raft of unusual side-arts, such as contortionists, belly dancers and striptease performers.
The booking agent agrees a fee with the client, and then places the booking with a given entertainer by way of a “one-day” contract. Assuming the process has worked smoothly, the booking agent derives their commission by charging more to the venue than the artist, speaker or entertainer has demanded for the appearance. Booking agents should not be confused with artist managers, whose role goes much more deeply into public relations and artist career betterment. The booking agent works in the interest of the performer in an attempt to create more demand for bookings of that particular act, but they do not manage their roster on a personal level. The booking agent’s customer is the hiring venue, and in this respect, the artists “on the books” are effectively the business’s “operating stock.”
The potential scope of earnings goes from absolute zero to some fabulous highs; there are several agencies in the UK who operate internationally, providing high-cachet acts for global expos, events and concerts. Candidates are most likely to be familiar with booking agents as the “one man band,” the guy with the small operation who provides entertainment at village fetes and local community parties. In this respect, the earnings potential is limited initially by the agent’s ability to sign up acts for possible placement. At the top end of the scale, some of the larger operators have 15,000 acts on their books yielding enormous earnings potential, even if just a small number of those acts are being placed regularly. According to Payscale.com, the average UK salary for a booking agent ranges from £14,751 to £24,536, but this is an indicative index only; an agent with two DJs and a magician available for parties in a 15km radius will obviously not get close to this revenue potential.
- Understand the hiring client’s request, in terms of event type and entertainment requirement
- Actively market the agency to attract new artists to register as being “on the books”
- Manage the exchange of booking contracts between the client, the agent and the artist
- Seek out new markets and speciality acts to better equip the agency for expansion
- Handle the flow of money from client to artist, retaining a reasonable commission for the agency
There are no formal requirements in terms of qualifications. Anyone can set up a booking agency as it is down to the entrepreneur’s ability to network, their self-motivation and their ability to cross-sell that is more important than anything else. Marketing experience from college or university is helpful but absolutely not essential; the same goes for general business qualifications.
- Ability to understand exact requirements of an event or request
- Be able to administer contracts effectively
- A reasonable head for figures is needed to derive commissions and account effectively
- Should be sympathetic to the requirements of the artist, and to recommend them only for appropriate events
- Good general marketing skills will enable the agent to market acts, and also to grow their own agency
“Place of business” in the entertainment promotion game can be anything, ranging from the back of a rusty transit van to the back seat of a long-wheelbase limo. It really depends on what the agent is willing to invest in their own business development, and how they wish to be portrayed. The agent will sometimes visit an event to supervise the effective placement of their entertainers, so duty of care should be paid to site conditions, and any health and safety advice notifications should be observed. Much of the work is done whilst pounding the streets with a mobile phone attached to the ear, or in a base office, if the agency has their own.
Most entertainment agents begin as part-time “hobbyists” with just a couple of local artists on their books. This is largely borne out of necessity in the first instance, as the agent simply will not have a large talent pool upon which to base their marketing. Promoters often grow very quickly though because a large number of artists are desperate for bookings, and so will sign up with several agents concurrently. The more time spent on the promotion scene, the more the talent pool grows, and the greater the number of retained clients the agent will have. Then it becomes simply a matter of talent “matching” i.e. recommending the right act for the right event.
Some agencies have gone from being tiny operations to being industry leaders with large books and an international client base. Development from initial “one man band” status can happen very quickly in a major city like London, but agents who are restricted to smaller towns in other parts of the country will need to be prepared to travel and promote on a more macro scale in order to pick up new artists and new clients. The independent promotion scene is thriving in London, and has been doing so for many years due to the large number of venues and the huge numbers of acts who are seeking to perform at any given time.
In the UK, some of the major and highly successful agencies include The Agency Group, MN2S, Contraband, Coda, ITB and Elite. Some of these companies have thousands of artists on the books and an international presence. Since most new booking agents will be self-employed, they are not usually interested in taking roles with other agencies, but this is another possible approach for those who do not wish to become self-employed.
Also known as…
- Local promoter
- Live acts promoter
- Entertainment agent
- Talent manager
- Record industry A&R
What’s it really like?
Archie Archer is the Managing Director of Contraband Events, a leading London-based booking agency dealing with a large client base and a directory of talent that bridges many disciplines.
What made you decide or choose to get into this type of career?
My main aim was to own a sports car, so in 1996 I sold everything I owned and went to India to buy stock to sell on a stall in Portobello Market. One of the things I brought back was bindis – the decorative spots you put on your forehead. Before I knew it, I was supplying 50 shops, and then signed contracts with Miss Selfridge, Top Shop, everyone. I sold 300,000 units in the first six months, the fastest-selling accessory to date. With a loan from the Prince’s Trust, I was determined to expand. I hired a couple of henna artists to help sell the bindis at the Clothes Show Live and it was so successful I began hiring out henna artists for corporate events. People started asking if I knew of any magicians or stilt walkers, and in 2004 the entertainment agency was born.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise’?
In terms of our performers, our street dance acts and burlesque are the most popular. There are acts that will always be popular, like magicians, but it’s about finding new performers that deliver in a fresh and exciting way. We also have the most sought-after Santa; he looks amazing with his white beard, his pot belly and Rudolf puppet. And in his magic shows he showers children with snow – it’s the attention to detail that makes them believe he’s the real.
What’s the most common enquiry/call-out/request to which you must attend?
We have a very broad scope with respect to our clients. Whether you are an international business with untold millions to spend, or a young couple wanting to make their wedding day even more special, we treat every enquiry with equal dedication, speed and fairness. It’s this kind of approach that causes clients to return again and again – and tell their friends!
What’s the most bizarre act you have available?
We have plenty of freak-show type acts, like the World Record Holder of the stretchiest skin. I think
our most bizarre act, however, is Humanimal. He’s a performer who uses prosthetics and body paint
to transform himself into various animals. It’s so realistic, it’s totally weird!
Do you have any high-profile customers?
Harrods, John Lewis, Sky, BBC, Disney, Cadbury, Cancer Research, Wembley Stadium, to name just a handful.
What do you like most about the job?
I’ve got a great team and it’s a really busy but fun office. I love the fast-paced element of working in events, and in that respect, every day is different.
What do you like least about the job?
Juggling being a mum and a boss. I’d love to be able to pick my seven-year old son up from school every day. I love to race fast cars too. My dad was a racer and it’s definitely in the blood, so I need to give myself time to do that in order to relax. It can be very stressful at times.
What advice would you have for someone who is considering doing this as a career?
Always be on the look-out for acts that will make your own agency unique. If you are covering the same areas as your competitors, you will have limited scope for a unique selling point, and hence, limited opportunities for growth. Just always be open to anything new and unusual, and treat your customers with a great deal of respect.