If you are like most professional jazz musicians who don’t yet have a booking agent, getting one to hook you up with international gigs and festivals is pretty high on the to-do list. As a jazz booking agent, I came to realise that there are various things that you can do – away from your instrument – to make sure your project sticks out and gets the attention it deserves.
A good jazz booking agent can open the door to festivals and gigs that you might not reach on your own, at better fees than you might otherwise get.
They can put you on the radar of record labels, connect you with journalists and help you build towards earning the majority of your income from playing to ticket-buying audiences.
However, there are countless other bands out there who want the same thing and, for an agent, building a relatively unknown artist is a time consuming and long-term effort.
Before you spend time and energy emailing and cold-calling jazz booking agencies to ask them to take you onto their roster, check out these 4 points below for ideas on other, more effective, ways to reach them. When a booking agent takes on a new artist, it’s usually based on at least one of these and underneath each one, is a short note on what you can start doing right now, on your own, to make progress.
4 ways to get a jazz booking agent
1. Be proactive & get recommended
As a booking agent, I took a large proportion of ‘new’ artists via recommendations. A friend or contact in my professional network, whether that was a promoter, journalist or manager, would suggest checking something out and maybe even send a short link. Why does this work? Well it’s much more powerful to hear about something from a 3rd party you trust than from a random person.
Plus, if they are motivated to get you involved with the artist, you can probably count on some support from them at some point down the line, whether that’s in the form of a gig, a review or even a record deal. It also shows that you, the artist, are already out there building connections and making things happen.
You can massively increase your chances of being connected with a booking agency by building genuine two-way relationships with ‘industry’ connections who are interested in your music.
Make a list of the people that you could already count on for a little professional support in any way.
Some good ones could be:
- A well known promoter from your home town.
- An old music teacher who gigs around the country.
- A local radio DJ that played your record.
- A friend who works as a music agent.
- A well-connected lawyer with a passion for jazz.
- A blogger who reviewed an early show.
Keep in touch, personally, with everyone in your network.
Tell them what you are up to. Send them a pre-release of your next EP. Offer them tickets to your next show. Ask if you can buy them a coffee in return for picking their brains on something (I never once turned this down when I was an agent and I’m still in touch with many people I met this way). Don’t ask for anything in return that requires a big effort from them.
Always be aware of new people to add to this list so it is constantly growing.
If a journalist writes you a great review – send them a thank you and put them on the list. If a promoter books you and raves about the gig – on the list.
You can put together this list however you want but, if you want a hand getting started, you can download the spreadsheet template below – which includes my contact to get you started.
2. Your existing gigging is becoming too much to handle on your own
Ironically and frustratingly, one of the best ways to get a booking agent is to have gigs. If there is already a demand and some press/reviews, an agent does not have the feeling that they need to start the whole project from standstill. They can jump onboard and speed things up with their contacts and knowledge, as well as already having some proof that there is success to be had.
Whether you are already touring or not, first make some progress in your ‘local’ market – whether that’s the city or the whole country that you live in. If you start booking shows close to home, you have more influence and control to make sure they are successful and will lead to other opportunities. Remember: promoters talk and, if you are delivering great gigs, you should be able to build up a demand.
I wrote an article about how to maximise results when booking your own jazz gigs. There’s a 3-step method to figuring out exactly the promoters who are likely to book your project which you can do yourself in about 15 minutes. Calling and emailing promoters to hustle for jazz gigs might not be exactly how you want to spend your time, but you really can get results and get things moving yourself this way.
3. Build a buzz
The agents and promoters you want to reach need to have the feeling that things are happening and, for this to be effective, they need to hear it from several different sources.
Aside from traditional PR and gigging, social media is a low-cost way of reaching people and showing what you are doing. It may seem contrary to what good music is about, but there’s probably not a booking agent, manager or label in the world who doesn’t check out an artists’ reach on social media when considering taking them on. If you can show that you are able to reach fans directly yourself, there is a bigger potential for selling tickets and selling records.
Aside from your website, social media is THE place where you can showcase your successes to anyone who stops by.
+ Social media
Make sure you have a dedicated Facebook Artist Page and Twitter account for your music.
+ Share news and media on a weekly basis.
There are so many things you can come up with to keep this going, whether that’s a photo from the rehearsal studio, a live video shot on iPhone or a link to a blog that reviewed your last gig.
(via liking and sharing) with other musicians who are working in your field and with promoters and festivals in your home territory.
4. Be brilliant live
This may seem super obvious, but it’s worth reiterating. It’s almost a given that if a booking agent is even remotely interested in taking you on, they are going to want to see you live.
So, regardless of how important all the behind-the-scenes work is (social media, websites, news etc), you need to be delivering on stage. And that’s not just about playing the music, it’s about interacting with an audience and giving them an experience.
Practicing your instrument is all well and good but practicing performing can only be done on a stage in front of people, so it is worth trying to play as much as possible around your local area. It’s two very separate areas of work: improving as a musician by putting in the hours in a rehearsal studio and practice room and then growing as a performer by performing in front of people.
I remember booking a pretty well established band 9 consecutive nights of gigging and them commenting how much the music and the set developed between day 1 to day 9. People tend to form an opinion of you one time and it is very hard to change that once it is set, so try to wait until you are super confident with what you are offering musically before persuading important people to come.
+ Focusing on gigging – anywhere and everywhere – before you start inviting industry people to see you live.
+ Record and film everything and study it for tips and ideas.
Onwards and upwards
If you can start to make some progress on these areas, you will see positive results of some sort for sure. Maybe you won’t get an agent right away, but focusing on growing your network, building more gigs and reaching more ‘fans’ online can only be a step forwards.
When you want to reach out to some jazz booking agents with what you are up to, you can find a pretty comprehensive list of them on the Europe Jazz Network website.