Pitching to Booking Agents: 8 Things

When it comes to pitching, theres not a one-size-fits-all approach and, in this article, we dive into the holy-grail of pitches: getting a booking agent.

Pitching: the process of presenting an idea, product, or service to someone with the goal of convincing them to take some sort of action 

When pitching to a journalist, you’re asking them to spend some time with your music and then write about it. 

For a promoter, you’re not just asking them to risk their money on presenting your project, but also to choose you over all the other great offers they’re getting.

When it comes to a booking agent, though, you’re asking something much bigger: that they spend months or years working closely with you, with no guarantee of payment for their work (assuming, like most good agents, they work on a commission basis).

So it stands to reason that pitching to these people should be a approached differently to a review request or one-time gig booking. 

Across 12 years as a booking agent, I received a lot of pitches and took on just a handful of those artists. So whilst there’s not some magic formula, here are 8 things you need to know about pitching to an agent. 

“I’m having no luck booking gigs for this project!”

Whilst it might seem logical to look for an agent when you’re struggling to get gigs, it’s pretty much the worst thing you can say. 

Essentially you’re telling them “it’s not even sure if there is a demand for what we’re doing, but we’d like you to spend your time finding out.”

An agent’s job is to maximise results, or to speed up momentum.

Much better to frame it as needing help to get to the next level. 

“A couple of big festivals have been in touch recently to book us so I thought it might be a good idea to speak to an agent”

“Our next release will be out in 6-months and we’re looking for someone to add to the shows we’ve already got in place”

“Our last tour went great but I reached the limit of how much I can manage myself whilst also playing in the project”

That’s not to say you need a bunch of gigs before an agent is interested – a great record with an enthusiastic press response would also be a good angle – but don’t give them the feeling the project is already struggling or that you’re lost with your plans.

Hello, will you be my agent

I can safely say that the amount of times I received a pitch from an artist I didn’t know and immediately took them on as a client was Z.E.R.O.

Before an agent decides to invest a huge amount of time in working with an artist, they don’t just want to know how good the music is, but what the artist is like to work with, what the plan is and if there is some momentum to the project. 

Essentially: not possible in one email. 

Shifting your mindset to your pitch being ‘the start of a conversation’ not only helps get you better results, it also takes the pressure off needing to get everything into one email.

Once you’ve introduced the project, you should follow up every time there’s relevant news. 

And all of that leads very neatly into…

The psychology of selling

It’s common knowledge that to get someone to buy something (ie, your project in this case) you want them to get used to saying ‘yes’.

Each ‘yes’ continues the discussion and gets them familiar with replying to you. 

The easiest way to grind that to a halt on day one is by a big ask which they will almost never say yes to at that stage: 

Will you be my agent?

The other big thing here is that once someone has said ‘no’ to something, it’s very hard to change their mind. 

Maybe you follow up 6-months later with a bunch of progress and a new album, but they will probably just remember that they already considered the project and, for whatever reason, said no. 

Much better to wait for the big ask until you’re more likely to get a yes. 

Social proof // Risk-reduction

I don’t know about you, but I’m massively more likely to watch a movie, eat in a restaurant or listen to an album if someone I know and trust recommends it. 

Even if I was completely sceptical before.

The same thing works with agents for both persuading them to check something out, and getting them to take it on. 

All of these things say: you’re not the first person in your network who is interested in this project. Essentially, it’s less of a risk for them to take.

Even better, get a mutual contact to introduce you by email.

“Fees are not important” 

Most good booking agents need to book well-paid gigs to generate commission.

Not every time – there are plenty of situations where strategy beats short term finances – but on the whole, yes. 

Not just because it’s how they pay their bills, but also out of a sense professional pride that they are getting the best for their artist. 

So whilst it’s great that you have funding to cover all your expenses, or have a way of touring at a super budget price, it’s not necessarily the #1 thing an agent wants to hear. 

Keep in mind: the lower the fee, the lower their commission. 

This shouldn’t be confused with being flexible.

Understanding that some shows (ie in key media cities) are not going to pay well, and having a plan for managing that so you  don’t miss the opportunity, is important. 

Selling yourself as “a cheap option” is not.

Not researching the agent

Whether it’s press outreach, gig pitching or connecting with agents, it’s tempting to go for the mass-mail option. 

Find every possible agent you can and send them a message.

But actually if you have a well-honed project, a large sub-section of jazz booking agents are probably not a good fit. 

Reaching out to those ones is not just a waste of their time, it also means that you have less energy to craft a super focused and personalised pitch to those agents that would be a match. 

It’s worth noting that simply knowing the agency is a good fit is not enough. You have to show them that you’ve checked it out. 

  • Reference bands they work with and festivals they book at frequently.
  • Comment on the territories they seem to focus on and how that matches with your plans. 

Essentially, leave them in no doubt that this is a super personalised pitch.

Have a master-plan 

An agent is essentially there to harness the attention you’re creating with your music and turn that into maximum touring. 

They’re not expected to conjure up a busy schedule out of thin air.

So bearing in mind that an agent’s job is not (technically) to help you plan a new release, get press coverage, build your audience or any other part of your career which is not “getting gigs” it’s important to show that there is a plan for that too. 

That doesn’t mean sharing your 5-year plan with them, in detail.

But over the course of your discussions, letting them know any big milestones (ie album releases and projects) is important. 

And then showing them you have a plan by doubling down on at least one avenue of audience development on social media or Youtube. 

All of that could probably be included in the larger topic of: 

The Two P’s

If someone is going to work with you long-term, they will probably want to know that you are both professional and personable. 

Essentially, that you are taking care of business and are a nice person to be connected to. 

Having an up-to-date website and taking care of your social media is a good and quick snapshot of professionalism.

No agent is going to sign you because you have a nice website and thousands of followers on Instagram, but before they get to know you it’s an easy way to see that you understand and care about the ‘career’ and not just playing great music. 

In terms of being personable, sending a highly personalised email is a great start, but something that will only really be discovered over time. 

It sounds so simple, but it’s hard to overstate how important it is to be a decent and friendly person in every situation…

Knowing what makes you stand out

You only need to hop over to Bandcamp to hear just how many killer projects are out there.

And it seems to be growing each year. 

So essentially: simply being a great musician or band is probably not enough to interest an agent. 

The music needs to have found its niche-within-the-niche and bring something, if not unique, then different to the table. 

And not only that, you need to be able to communicate it in a very concise way by email. Because an agent would then need to communicate that to the clubs and festivals they’re working with.

  • Is there a great press quote which gives an interesting view on the music? 
  • Can you pull together that (essentially meaningless, but super useful) “like X meets Y” quote? 

Those things might seem superficial, but they are an important way in.

Round Up: Booking Agency Pitches

For most successful jazz musicians, their booking agent is one of the most important and long-term relationships in their career.

If we were using a dating analogy, it’s for sure a marriage.

So you wouldn’t expect this to happen on the first date and you would expect to put in some careful thought and attention to make it happen.

Essentially: do your research, send great pitches and keep pushing your career (including booking gigs) in the meantime.

Because that’s the final important thing to remember: a booking agent is just one way to get gigs. The other (which many touring musicians are doing) is to form great relationships with clubs and festivals and get it moving anyway, without pausing until you find an agent.

2 thoughts on “Pitching to Booking Agents: 8 Things”

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.