Getting signed to a jazz booking agency is a big goal for a lot of musicians.
But with so many great projects out there – compared to a relatively small number of agents – it can be a bit of a mystery as to why some artists get representation ahead of others.
There’s not one easy answer to this but, in today’s article, I wanted to share some info on why I personally chose to work with some of the artists I represented over the years, ahead of others.
I hope the key ‘takeaways’ after each example will give you some extra insight for your own journey!
As a side-note, this was written pre-covid so whilst my working situation and roster has changed a lot, the key advice remains!
Alongside running the Jazzfuel website, I’ve worked more than 15 years as a manager and/or agent for a small roster of jazz musicians who are touring internationally.
As all agents, I get a lot of emails from bands looking for representation.
SO many of these are really interesting projects from excellent musicians, but I have to turn down a lot just because there are not enough hours in the day… and, with bands that are ‘new’ – internationally, at least- it can take a lot of time to get things moving.
And, even then, there are no guarantees of any real success.
So for all those great musicians without an agent, I thought it might be useful to give a bit of general insight into how it works, for me at least, along with some specific examples of artists I work with right now and how we started out.
Signing New Artists
There are one or two projects that come by each year that seem to make sense for my roster at that specific time – usually for a variety of different reasons.
And it does very much depend on the roster at that specific time.
The decision is not just about the band in question, but about how they could fit into the overall agency workload. It’s necessary – in my opinion – to keep things balanced and have a wide range of artists so that:
- I can work with a wide of festivals and venues (within the jazz genre)
- I don’t have too much of the same thing, which leads to artists competing against each other for the gigs
Is it just about the music?
Of course, great music is super important!
This is especially so in a genre like jazz where most people we deal with are knowledgeable on the subject.
Performing well is just as important in most cases. If you intend to reach an audience outside of ‘other jazz musicians’, you need to be able to take people on a journey and make them feel something during your gigs.
Aside from these two obvious factors, there are lots of other things that are very much worth considering in my opinion:
- Promo materials (how easily can I SHOW the project to a jazz festival booker?)
- A unique selling point (is there a ‘story’ I can spread to grab peoples’ attention?)
- A team (are other people taking an interest, officially or otherwise, in this career or am I going to be doing it alone?)
- Demand (are there at least a few people who already want this project, or am I starting from zero? Of course, that might be frustrating for the newer artist but there are plenty who have managed to get to that stage on their own)
- Social media & website (maybe the band haven’t been able to afford PR and marketing, but have they at least really got to grips with those free direct-to-fan tools that will be useful throughout their career?)
- Record label (is their music going to be distributed overseas and with the possibility of PR?)
Lastly, as an ex-jazz musician & independent agent, I also have the luxury of being able to throw all of that out the window and take something on purely because I catch a gig and think it’s brilliant and that I have some time to make a difference!
The Priority as a Jazz Booking Agency
Most agents & managers earn a living by taking a % on the work their artists do.
So one priority is working with bands that can attract a good audience internationally – or at least who have proven that they have the potential to develop this quickly.
Then there’s the creative aspect; trying to build a group of artists that I feel each have something unique to offer.
So whilst there’s no fixed criteria when it comes to taking on new artists, here are some of the reasons why I signed some of the bands that I have worked with over the years, to give you at least one insight as to how an agent approaches these things…
British jazz singer-pianist-songwriter signed to French label Naïve Records. Has performed more than 200 gigs around the world, including the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl, Jazz in Marciac, Java Jazz Festival, Stuttgart Jazzopen & Oslo Jazz Festival.
“A show you’ll be talking about for years to come!” Litchfield Jazz Festival (USA)
This is where it all started!
I had graduated from music college (jazz saxophone) and was gigging and teaching but wanted to get into booking and management. Around the same time, a good friend of mine – singer/pianist Anthony Strong – was looking for a new manager and agreed to try working together.
He was lucky in that whilst I lacked experience, I had a lot of motivation and soon got offered a job with a well-known London booking agency where I made a lot of contacts that benefitted him.
On the flip side, I was lucky in that he was already a great live performer and developed very quickly once he started touring. He is also writing and/or arranging all the music himself so the process from concept to execution is quick, which is useful in this digital age.
Now, 14 years and 200+ shows later, it’s still growing!
Find a friend/contact with a motivation to become an agent/manager and develop with them. It’s often (but not always) better to have 100% effort from a new agent than 5% from an established one.
Get The Blessing
Formed in the year 2000, Bristol-based four-piece Get The Blessing boast a truly international fan base, having forged a unique signature sound that defies easy classification, yet never loses sight of thumping tunes, monstrously infectious beats, or joyous collective spontaneity.
“Jazz-rock, yes, but not as we know it…” The Sunday Times
Get The Blessing were one of the first bands I ‘inherited’ back in 2009 when I started working as a booking agent.
Although I technically didn’t take them on myself in the beginning– they were already signed to the agency when I joined – there are several reasons why I would have anyway – and why we continue to work together almost 8 years later!
The band had already released 2 or 3 albums on a well known British label by the time we started working together and, partly through the BBC Jazz Award which they won, had a reputation as one of the leading bands on the UK jazz-rock/crossover scene. So, immediately, there was a recognition amongst promoters in the UK and the beginnings of this further afield in Europe.
The band includes the bassist and drummer from legendary trip-hop band Portishead which gives them a unique angle, both musically and from a PR point of view.
Whilst we don’t sell the gig on this fact alone, it is a good part of their story when introducing promoters to the project and getting them to check it out. It’s also something promoters can clearly see they could use when telling their audiences about an upcoming gig.
The band have a great way of presenting themselves towards the public, with their iconic head-coverings which dates back more than 10 years and helps them really stick in peoples’ minds. I’ve lost count of the amount of venues, festivals and journalists that choose these images for the front page of their brochure or website.
The musicians are also a strong part of the creative scene in Bristol which means they’ve consistently been able to provide great videos to promote their music.
Lastly, but certainly not least, they are 4 super nice people to work with which counts for a lot!
Strong promo photos and video content can really give an agent an edge when pitching your project to promoters and journalists.
Form long term relationships with the people you’re working with.
Binker & Moses
In just 2 years, fiery saxophone-drum duo Binker & Moses have won a loyal following for their intense, hypnotic live show. Their debut album “Dem Ones” won the coveted MOBO award for Best Jazz Act, also seeing them named as both Breakthrough Act & Jazz Act of The Year at the 2016 Jazz FM Awards.
Binker & Moses’ label – Gearbox Records – got in touch with me about the project before their first album but I already had too much other stuff to work on, even though I thought the music was really cool.
Then, they won the MOBO award which of course created a lot of interest around the UK. They kept on gigging and I heard from various industry people how great they were.
Finally, I was speaking at the InJazz conference in Rotterdam and they showcased. Not only were they brilliant live, but I was sat next to 2 big festival promoters who said they wanted to have them. So I decided to join the party too!
Be so brilliant live that people in the industry spread the news for you. Well chosen showcase events can be worthwhile if you prepare in the right way.
Like it or not, awards do grab you more attention for your project, so apply for them (if you can)!
Born in Austin, Texas, Hailey was raised on a diet of 1930’s jazz, vintage dresses and black & white movies. Dressed straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, with a uniquely captivating voice that sits somewhere between Billie Holiday, Regina Spektor and Ella Fitzgerald.
“The soul of a Jazz Age libertine” – Entertainment Weekly I heard Hailey Tuck sing in Paris by chance (her Mum had sent a link to my then-boss the week before I was visiting the city) and thought she had a very unique voice and an engaging personality.
We actually kept in touch for well over 18 months before we worked together in any official capacity, with her reaching out every now and again for a chat or a second opinion.
She didn’t have a label, team, press, video or touring history so in that sense it went against quite a few of the usual things I’d look for. But, after discussing things on and off over a long period – and having some additional validation when a big car company came close to using her for a big TV advert – I decided it was something I had to do.
Also, underneath the quirky and interesting personality, there’s also a steely determination to succeed which is very encouraging for an agent/manager!
Keep in touch with all your industry contacts, one-on-one, on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean hassle them constantly, but reach out every now and again and share big news.
Put yourself in situations where you will meet the sort of people you want to connect with.
Jasper Høiby’s Fellow Creatures
Combining a deep sense of groove with strong lyricism and featuring both young & seasoned lights of the London jazz scene, this band is the first new venture for Jasper’s own music since his formation of Phronesis in 2005.
“I can only describe it as joyous!” Jamie Cullum, BBC Radio 2
When I started my own agency a while back, I was in an unusual situation of needing to quickly sign a few new bands. The previous 6 years were spent with quite an established roster and, whilst there were changes, there was never a time where I really had to take on a few new things.
I knew Jasper Høiby from his popular trio Phronesis and thought he was a brilliant musician as well as an exciting live performer, so when he got in touch about this, it seemed like a good fit.
His trio, Phronesis, already had a strong European profile and I felt that this new project of his could quickly reach the same level due to a combination of his musical talent, intense vibe on stage and the fact that a lot of promoters I already work with around Europe know and like him.
I also liked the fact that the project encompassed 3 generations of jazz musicians and felt that was something the international promoters would also be keen to check out.
Make sure you are delivering brilliant live shows ! (If that doesn’t come naturally film your gigs and think further than just the music that’s being made; how are you communicating it with the audience?)
Stick with projects for the long term so you can really build a reputation. Works much better than flitting from band to band before anything really develops.
Conjuring big beats and a vast array of sonic possibilities, jazz-math-rock trio Strobes flickers effortlessly between the worlds of electro-improv, minimalist polyrhythm, Afrocentric grooves and distinctively original hooks.
“beats that make loose clothing shimmer and earrings rattle” – TheArtsDesk
When she started out, she needed some projects to work on and I put together a few good options to present to her and she choose to take on this one.
Whilst it’s quite a new group, the musicians involved have all done other well-received projects and have reputations under their own names.
Musically, it sits somewhere between the jazz-rock-electronic scenes which gives it quite a broad appeal and also differentiates it from everything else on my roster.
The band also have some serious video skills and produce their own music videos. With music videos being more and more important these days, having the skills and technical ability to produce these consistently, to a high level, is a massive bonus.
Work with other talented musicians on your scene and see what can be developed together. Unless you are only focused on being a solo artist, the old saying of “two heads are better than one” can be true when coming up with new music.
Hope that provides a little ‘food for thought’ in building your project.
And remember: getting more gigs and building your profile is the goal. Getting a booking agent (or manager or label) is merely one way to make progress in this area and certainly not the only way!
Let me know how things are going and, if you haven’t already, join me on the Jazzfuel mailing list!