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What an agent does (and does not) do for
their performers

By Jacey Bedford

What an agent Does

JaceyThe simple answer is that an agent finds fee-paying performances for an artist, negoitiates the terms, sends the contract and sends the posters, flyers and promo as supplied by the artist. In return for which they receive a percentage of the negotiated fee. This percentage is paid by the artist to the agent after the gig has taken place.

That's the theory anyway. But please understand that even the best agent in the world does not guarantee to get gigs. All an agent can do is try. It's up to the artist to create a demand for their music.

  • An agent does not make an artist famous
  • An agent does not work miracles.
  • There is no guarantee of work.

Sheesh - if an artist can't get gigs for him/herself, how do they expect an agent to? Let's be realistic.

All agents are slightly different, but this is the way I do it.

In the beginning: When an artist is accepted on to the agency roster we agree specific terms. I require that an artist agrees to forward enquiries to me rather than take bookings independently. This may seem that the artist is occasionally giving me money for nothing, but it makes up for all those times I try for gigs that don't come to fruition. It also makes it easier if I'm dealing with gigs on an exclusive basis then there are not multiple people calling the same venues on behalf of the same artists. That gets messy and any agent would quickly lose incentive if they called up a venue only to be told that another agent or even the artist themselves, had made the same call last week.

I add new artists to the website, design and print postcards, flyers and leaflets to tell venues and events what the artist does, where they've played before and - of course - how good they are. I send round an email to my regular venues to announce that the artist has joined the agency. I continue to include them in any and all appropriate email and snail mail mailshots.

Ongoing work: I contact the person in charge of booking artists for a venue that I think will be a good fit for a specific artist. I send on the artist's promo matrerial and a sample CD (or direct the booking person to information and music on my website if that's their preference - and these days it usually is because there's video on there, too). When the booking person (let's call them the BP) has had time to listen and peruse the promo I follow up and try and get a gig confirmed. If the BP is agreeable (a very big presumption because so many times the answer is no - for a wide variety of reasons) we agree upon a date within the guidelines that the artist has given me and we negotiate a mutually acceptable fee - often a minimum guarantee against a percentage of the door. (See here if you don't understand percentage deals.)

If necessary I confirm with the artist before absolutely accepting the gig, but I prefer to know in advance that the artist is available at specific times and will do any gig I get within previously agreed guidelines - otherwise it gets messy.

Then I draw up a contract and send it to the BP together with a starter pack of posters and flyers, basic artist information (bio, photo, programme write-up) and a tech spec if appropriate - keeping a file copy of the gig details. I add the gig to the artist's Google Calendar - which they can check any time - and the Google calendar sends the artist an email with details of the gig. At which point I hope the artist does their bit and puts it on their website.

When the contract comes back from the BP I check to see what additional promo (posters and flyers) the BP has requested and send it off. Sometimes I send it later depending on the printing schedule of tour flyers. (NOTE: The artist provides tour flyers and posters at their own expense.) Then I file the contract ready for the start of the tour if they're coming in from abroad (or I forward it to the artist in timely fashion if they are UK based).

If the artist is coming in from abroad (outside the EU) and wishes me to arrange a Certificate of Sponsorship (i.e. permission to work in the UK under the new points-based immigration system), I do this approximately a month in advance if their tour. The artist pays upfront for this.

In the month in which the tour takes place, or at the start of a tour I present the artist with an invoice which they pay on completion of the tour or completion of the gig - depending on what we've agreed. If it's a long tour I might split it into monthly bills to be paid at each month end.

What an Agent Does Not Do

Sometimes there are false expectations. I'm an agent not a manager. There are other industry professionals whose job it is to do artist publicity and advertising, to plug CDs to radio stations and to generally further an artist's career in many ways. If you want those jobs doing you have to employ the relevant industry professionals or you have to do the job yourself.

Let me say that again. Though I may from time to time make helpful (or unhelpful) suggestions, I do not manage an artist's career

An agent is not a tour manager. (Yes I know what my agency is called and I will tour manage for artists, but at a substantial additional cost.) It's generally the artist's responsibility to get to the gig on time. An agent does not arrange transport to and from the gig, or overnight accommodation except where accommodation is part and parcel of the remuneration for the gig. An agent does not arrange accommodation on days off.

I am not a publicist. I am not responsible for sending out or paying for artist advertising. I do not send tourdates to magazines and websites. Artists retain the responsibility for promoting the gig to the world at large and their own mailing list in particular. An agent is not a publicist. It's up to artists to do PR work and to crank out adverts and gig publicity or employ someone to do so.

I don't have any artistic input or any say in an artist's show. I don't arrange for venues to provide elements required for shows. If an artist needs a xylophone, they'd better have one in their kit.

Beyond what I need to sell a show to a BP I don't have any responsibility for designing, arranging for or paying for an artist's print promo, though I do require that it's available in the required quantities for venues. Sometimes venues (particularly mutiple venues on rural touring schemes) will have very spcific print requirements as part of the contract for a run of gigs. I will pass these requirements on to the artist and it's up to the artist to deliver the print material either to me or direct to the touring scheme. If the artist is touring from abroad I may organise the print run via a UK printer. The artist pays.

I do not deal with an artist's taxes. Artists touring from abroad can get withholding tax waiver forms from the Foreign Entertainers' Unit of the Inland Revenue. Your tour finances are really not my business and I don't need to know your personal financial details - which is why I like taxation issues to remain between the Inland Revenue and the artist and (possibly) their accountant.

On the subject of what an agent does, respected American agent, David, Tamulevich has this to say in his excellent article on 'Working with an agent':

"This question is cause for endless confusion. In theory, an agent finds fee-paying performances. This involves their being given direction from an artist or manager as to what the artist/manager would ideally like to see happen in terms of fee, number of gigs, which gigs/towns/type of venues to play (coffeehouses, clubs, colleges, concert halls, festivals, etc.) and when to play them. It is the agent's job to negotiate the contractual details with the promoter and then present the offer to the artist/manager for their approval. Once an offer is approved, the agent issues a contract along with a rider which has been supplied by the artist/manager. Generally, in addition to the contract and rider, the agent sends press/bio, promotional photos, maybe posters, maybe a CD. What is sent, the amount sent, and who pays for such are all negotiated before entering into artist/agent relationship. Agents are not generally publicists, they don't advance shows for you, they don't negotiate your merchandising deals, arrange for hotels, rental cars, flights, take care of immigration or tax forms, deal with fans or mailing lists, supply radio stations with promotional CDs, or do long term planning with record companies. All of these things fall under the general management category. At times an agent will take care of some of these details, dependent on the situation, but it is not their primary function."

You'll see that there are a few differences here. I do get work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship) for my artists, but knowing what the American work permit system is like, I can thoroughly appreciate why David does not.

So remember, your agent might collect you from the airport, cook you dinner, nurse you if you're sick, arrange for you to stay at her mom's house when you're not gigging and sort out your parking tickets, BUT YOU MUSTN'T EXPECT THIS! The contract only says that she will get gigs (or try) in return for an agreed percentage of your gig fees. More than that is good nature or an additional pre-agreed service which you will be charged for.

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