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A Guide to Working with Agents
for Folk Club Organisers
and Independent Promoters

By Jacey Bedford

In an ideal world an agent should be a matchmaker, putting the right artist into the right venue at the right price, so for venue, artist and agent it's a win-win-win sutuation. Build up a good relationship with an agent and they'll fall over themselves to make life easy for you.

Why Artists use Agents
Many artists, especially full-time performers, use a booking agent because they are too busy to deal with arranging their own gigs. If they are constantly on the road, playing music up and down the country and abroad, they don't have time to sit behind a desk making and taking phone calls, arranging tour schedules for nine to eighteen months in advance, sending out contracts and promo and following up on potential gigs. They'd rather pay someone else to do it, so they know it gets done efficiently whether they are at home or abroad.

A few artists just don't like doing the job, they're bad at paperwork and they hate dealing with money, negotiating fees. They'd rather curl up and die than pick up the phone and call someone they don't know to ask for a gig. They hate coping with the responses such as 'never heard of you' or 'our audience doesn't like [insert music genre here]'. Frankly, they are tender, shy souls and prefer to avoid getting their confidence knocked five times a night.

Besides, the other advantage of using an agent is that they already have a database of potential gigs which an artist taps into. An agent's database is her living, built up painstakingly over time.

Why You Should Respect an Artist's Decision to use an Agent
So why should you go through an agent when the artist has stayed with you after your club gig? You have his phone number and feel you know him well enough to call him direct, don't you?

An artist who has an agent most probably has an agreement to ONLY work through that agent and to pass on all gig enquiries to the agency. If they arrange gigs on their own behalf it's going to muddy the waters between an artist and an agent, breaking trust, and possibly lead to the agent dropping the artist from the agency roster if the diary gets too complicated to maintain.

If the artist accepts your gig privately, but still wants to square it with his agent to keep relations sweet, he'll probably just inform his agent, get her to send the contract and pay her the standard commission anyway. So you're causing the artist to do half the work himself and still pay the full commission.

You may also be causing the artist some embarrassment if he's one of the ones that hates discussing money and haggling over fees.


All About Fees

How Do Agents Set Fees?
The simple answer is: they don't. Artists or artists and their managers set fees. All an agent does is apply them. Sometimes there's some haggle-room if yours is a small venue, sometimes not, depending on the artist.

What is a fair fee? How long is a piece of string?
It obviously depends on the artist and it depends on the club/venue. The short answer is that it can be anything from a couple of hunded pounds to thousands, depending on the artist. But it never hurts to ask. You can always run away if it's outside your budget and you may be pleasantly surprised.

What's a Guarantee against a Percentage?
Quite often the fee will be a minimum guarantee versus a percentage of the ticket income (after expenses). If you're not familiar with how percentage deals work all is revealed here. Basically you guarantee to pay the artist a minimum fee (let's say £250) against a percentage (let's say 80%) of the nett door take (i.e. the income from tickets less the direct expenses for running the gig). The shorthand for this is: '£250 against 80% of the nett door'. The direct expenses can include: room hire, PA hire, direct advertising for this one gig and accommodation if you've agreed to supply it and had to pay for it. If you sell 80 tickets at £8 per ticket your total door take is £640. Let's say you paid £100 for an old mate to come and put a PA in for you and deducting that from the total take leaves £540, you pay the artist 80% which is £432. And your club keeps £108 over and above your expenses. If you sell 50 tickets at £8, the total take on the night is £400. Deduct £100 for PA, your nett is £300. 80% of 300 is £240, which is below the minimum guarantee, so you pay the minimum guarantee of £250 and the club keeps £50. Your break even point is 44 tickets at £8 or 39 tickets at £9.

It's important to understand the reasoning behind percentage deals. Obviously an artist would like to maximise the income from a gig, but is very aware that leaving a folk club or venue with a hefty loss is not a good way to get return gigs. And in this game it's all about repeat gigs. Anyone can get a gig once, but it's being invited back time and again that builds an artist's career and gives him steady work.

A guaranteed fee set against a percentage is a way for an artist and a venue to share the risk. An artist's guarantee is the lowest figure they can come home with, so the artist has a set figure below which his fee cannot drop. However if the artist is popular and attracts a large audience, he will get paid more when the percentage kicks in. Artists who generally put lots of bums on seats are usually happy to do a minimum guarantee against a percentage because they know that with a large enough seating capacity and reasonably priced tickets they will earn well over their guarantee, often more than double. Please don't think of the minimum guarantee as the fee the artist hopes to take home.

So when negotiating a fee an agent will need to know what the seating capacity of your club/venue is and what ticket price you intend to charge. If you only seat 50 and your ticket price is only £5 then a deal of £250 minimum fee against 80% of the nett door is worthless since a sell out will only produce £250.

Many small folk clubs have a wish-list of artists bigger than their pocket. They want a specific guest, but they're not willing to pay that guest's normal asking price and then they get sniffy when an agent turns down their gig offer, assuming it's the agent who's 'charging too much'. See again the bit about who sets the fees.

An agent will have a standard contract, sometimes these are simple letters of agreement so that everyone has a clear idea of the basic gig details, (dates, venues, fees, arrival times, publicity requirements etc.) All cointracts are different. You should read them carefully. If there are any clauses that you don't agree with, or that worry you, you can call the agent and ask them to clarify, or ask them to remove the condition. Check all the details on a contract. The agent can easily mis-type a date of a fee figure. You don't want to sign something that says £3000 when you were expecting £300, do you?

If there's an artist's rider it usually forms part of the contract, so check the rider carefully and query anything that seems unreasonable. Of all my artists only two have riders and in both cases it's to set parameters that are important for the performance. (One act which involves dance has to specify a wooden stage not a solid floor for safety reasons, for instance.) Hospitality riders are often a bone of contention, and quite rightly so. I have no intention of allowing any of my artists to request two bottles of wine per person or a dish of Smarties in the dressing room with all the orange ones removed. However a dance act expends 4,000 calories in an evening, so requesting a bowl of trail mix or nuts and dried fruit and finger foods in the interval is a top-up for energy levels and I don't feel bad about that.

A rider should be worked out on an artist's basic needs, not what an agent thinks should be nice. At my own club I once followed a hospitaity rider to the letter (and that was 2 bottles of wine per person + fruit juice, still water and sparkling water and cold food). It turned out the artists didn't even know what had been requested on the rider.

You can query both contract and rider if anything seems unreasonable.

Your Own Contract
You can send your own contract if you wish. The agent has the right to query clauses in your contract, too, don't forget. Even if you issue your own contract you shoud still be prepared to sign and return one copy of the agent's contract in a timely manner. If the agent has issued a contract it needs signing and returning.

I hope that helps. Basically if you have any issues to resolve, talking is the best way to go. Agents are human, too, you know, despite all the old industry jokes.

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