Booking Agent vs Music Manager (the jazz musician guide)

In an ideal world, you’d probably have an excellent booking agent and a highly effective music manager overseeing every step of your career as a gigging and album-releasing jazz artist, right?

To get to that stage, you’ll almost certainly need to do both of those jobs yourself first. So, in this article, I’ve broken down some of the possible jobs that being a jazz booking agent & artist manager entails.

Let’s not forget that the end goal is to have a great career as a musician – whatever that means for you.

Having an agent & manager is the most obvious and traditional way of getting there. But you can take matters into your own hands, for now at least, and make massive strides forwards with your career right away.

Because despite what some of you might think, there really are plenty of musicians out there doing a killer job with the non-playing side of their career and enjoying the gigs that inevitably follow.

The role of an agent & manager changes from genre to genre and artist to artist. But here’s an overview, based on my personal-professional experience of doing both for jazz musicians, in an attempt to turn 2 broad and sometimes mysterious jobs into something more tangible…


What does a jazz booking agent do?

Technically, the role of a booking agent is very simple: they book gigs.

They identify the right clubs and festivals for your music, they motivate the decision makers to book you, they negotiate the financial offer and they get a contract signed. These days, they might also book travel and prepare schedules. But that, in a nutshell, is what they do. And they do it for a fixed % of the gross fee.

Gig Booking Tasks

  • Plan tour period(s) and announce to contactsIt helps to have some focus when booking gigs. EPs or albums are obvious focal points, but you can of course tour without. It just helps (both for your planning and promoter motivation) if there’s a specific period to aim for.
  • Research new venues & festivals & maintain a good database of contactsYou can’t get good gigs without good contacts. They’re all out there, you just need to do the research… And once you’ve got them, you need to keep in touch with them and keep them up-to-date.
  • Follow up with the right promoters at the right timeHaving a strategy for how and when to contact promoters for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, time….
  • Select video/audio links to use for pitchingPutting on your promoter hat to figure out which are the best links to be sending. No more emails with 10+ links!
  • Write pitching emailsThose key sentences that will grab the attention of promoters and make them want to click ‘listen’ or ‘reply’ on your email.
  • Update target contacts with newsNot just sticking to a plan for pitching, but reacting to news and making sure that all relevant promoters are aware of it.
  • Negotiate fee + other conditions for gigsOnce a jazz club or festival is interested, fixing how much they’ll pay and what other things need to be included in the deal (typically hotels, technical, hospitality, local transport, but all needs confirming)
  • Decide required fees and plan for building these (w/manager)Thinking more long term with artist and/or manager for what they ‘need’ for a show and how this might grow as their profile and demand does.
  • Find and then co-ordinate local agents, where necessaryFor some territories, there are local specialists who can add real value to an artist’s career in that territory. France is a good example of this. Growing this network of contacts around the world can be really effective, but still needs careful managing.

Admin Tasks

Most of these are more self-explanatory and simple, but needless to say, very important. Whilst not necessarily complicated, they can be time-consuming. If you are not naturally organised, you might want to think about getting someone on an hourly admin-rate to help with some of these…

  • Negotiate performance contract & rider and get it signed
  • Send invoices and make sure deposits are paid
  • Send setlist/composer details to promoter for rights collection
  • Send musician names, passport details & addresses to promoter
  • Collect logistical info from promoter (e.g. soundcheck time, hotels & local transportation)
  • Fix announcement date for shows (w/manager)
  • Send one-sheet (photos, bios, videos, quotes) for festival/venue publicity materials
  • Pass on venue/festival ticket links for artist social media & website
  • *Co-ordinate press requests with artist/management
  • *Prepare technical & hospitality rider
  • *Book travel & produce schedule for promoter & band
  • *Help apply for work permits & VISAs
  • *Fill in tax forms

* = sometimes manager, sometimes agent…


What does a music manager do?

There are plenty of analogies, but ‘CEO of a small start-up’ is a good one.

Music managers are at the top of the pyramid overseeing everything and everyone involved in the artists’ career. Which, at the beginning, might just be the two of you!

It’s not just ‘overseeing.’ They are also getting their hands dirty with whatever is required on a day-to-day basis to make progress. And in this analogy, the artist is the founder… the ideas [wo]man… the creative one who everyone else is supporting and working to achieve the goals for.

“To be a good music manager you need to be organised, excellent with people and have a good understanding of the industry as it stands today” – The Guardian

General career promotion tasks

  • Oversee and up-to-date and effective website
  • Pitch to relevant press/journalists or oversee publicist
  • Get promo materials ready for release/tour deadlines
  • Oversee newsletter for fans (content, sign ups, schedule)
  • Arrange promo videos (lyric videos, ‘making of’ videos, music videos)
  • Investigate sponsorship & endorsement possibilities
  • Ideas for ‘news’ to share with team Whether you’re just starting out or already touring internationally, you need to be creating news – reasons for people to check you out – to make progress. Releasing music is the #1 type of news as a gigging musician, but it’s not happening frequently enough to suffice on its own. For that reason, there’s a real need to brainstorm ideas for ore news and put them into practice. Whether that’s filming a music video or putting together an EP, the manager is often crucial in getting the creative process started and keeping everyone motivated and on-schedule throughout.
  • Help put together a 12+ month plan for touring and releasing musicIf you are going to ‘succeed’ in your career, you need to have targets & goals. “Being a touring jazz musician” or “play at international jazz festivals” might be what you really want to do, but they are not very well-defined. A manager should help turn these ideas into specific plans, with step-by-step methods and measurable goals. Focusing the mind on what you want to achieve has amazing results and it’s important to always know what’s next.
  • Draft social media posts (or nudge artist to do this) These days, social media is a hugely important tool in building your fanbase and showing potential promoters, labels & journalists what you’re doing. Every artist feels differently about this and, in my opinion, it’s the managers job to get a feel for what needs doing and make sure – somehow – that it’s done regularly. I’m a big believer that representatives should not be regularly posting as the artist – it’s obvious and misses the point of social media – but drafting, nudging and sharing can be important.
  • Accepting/rejecting offers for touring (usually via the agent) Despite the name, a manager works for the artist and not the other way around. Despite that, a good artist-manager relationship is one where their ideals are well-aligned and there’s a lot of trust. So whilst the musician generally makes the final call on important decisions, a manager is well-placed to advise on these and is often required to push for a ‘no’ when it serves the long-term plan. Turning down gigs or opportunities is always counter-intuitive to a musician but can be as important as the things you say ‘yes’ to.
  • Other revenue streamsAside from the obvious area of playing gigs and touring, a manager will usually also think about other possible revenue streams that could be built into what you do. Depending on your situation, this could include writing music for film & TV, performing as a sideman, producing merchandise to sell, monetising a large reach on social media (Youtube/Instagram in particular)…
  • Build your networkIn order to build your career – both in terms of touring and everything else – people need to know you and be motivated to support you in some way. A good manager is not only able to introduce you to useful people they’re already connected with, but figure out who you need to meet to get ahead and to then try to engineer that.  

Help Releasing Music

  • Look at best options for release: label? self-release? digital only? EP first?
  • Book studio & musicians
  • Set deadlines make sure they’re stuck to
  • Oversee recording budget
  • Fix release date
  • Help collate credits & liner notes
  • Arrange for photo shoot & artwork design
  • Introduce you to a lawyer & record labelsTo have a strong career, it’s like you’ll have multiple people working with you at various points. This might be short-term relationships, like publicists and designers (for an album release) or more long term like a record label and lawyer. In all these cases, the managers role is to help identify the right people for each of these jobs, to get them on board and then to make sure everyone is working on the right things.
  • Creative input on music Unlike a lot of jobs, it’s very difficult to stereotype a music manager. They tend to fall into the job from a huge range of directions, from entertainment lawyer or music accountant through to producer, promoter or even musician. For this reason, the approach differs greatly, but the manager should always be able to give opinions and suggestions on music, to some degree. Whether that’s taking on the role of an A&R and coming up with suggestions, or just giving feedback on final mixes.

Management admin

Alongside some of the more intangible work of a manager to generally grow the artists’ career in whatever way possible, there’s also the very important role of ‘taking care of business.’

Arranging travel for a touring musician is not only important in getting them to the right places on time, but – done efficiently – can also save thousands of pounds/dollars/euros a year.

Similarly, filling in foreign tax forms and waivers, preparing invoices and making sure sidemen are paid are the not-so-glamourous essentials to running the ‘business’ of a musician.

  • Manage artist diary (a gmail calendar can do this effectively)
  • Check band availability for shows & agree fees with musicians
  • Banking/payments (or oversee an accountant doing this)
  • Budgeting/financial planning with artist
  • Help register music with relevant collection societies
  • Funding applications (there can be a lot of money out there for those willing to jump through the hoops!)
  • *Co-ordinate press requests with the artist
  • *Prepare technical & hospitality rider for agent to use
  • *Book flights, hotels & trains (I use Skyscanner, & Trainline)
  • *Produce schedule for tours
  • *Help apply for work permits & VISAs (via a lawyer)
  • *Fill in tax forms

* For newer artists, it might be done by an agent if there is no manager in place…


Round Up: Booking agent vs Music Manager.

You might notice how many of these jobs you could actually pass onto someone else to do for you, if you want. It’s a very simple decision of time vs money, but it’s good to know that option’s open to you.

Some examples of tasks that I ‘oversee’ on a pretty regular basis…

  • Promo video for an artist
  • Produce travel schedules for a tour (I have a colleague who is amazing at these details)
  • Update agency database with some new contacts (I paid a virtual assistant to copy a website list of festivals onto a spreadsheet)
  • Chase up on a due deposit invoice (this isn’t even a human job, I use Xero – there are lots of other choices!)
  • Social media posts (I scheduled the non-time-sensitive ones last week so they went out automatically)

If I’ve missed something, feel free to write in the comment section. And I hope that at least a few of the points have given you extra ideas for how you can get your project moving quicker, if you don’t have an agent or artist manager in place already.

If you’re interested in finding more gig-related content, here are the recommended articles:

12 thoughts on “Booking Agent vs Music Manager (the jazz musician guide)”

  1. Matt this is tremendous! Thanks so much for this! I’ve been waiting to see this information from the standpoint of the jazz industry because I definitely think there are some aspects of these jobs that are unique to this genre and the opportunities that are available to musicians. So I really appreciate your work on this article!


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