This is part of a sort-of series of rants and guides for musicians that I file under ‘helpful.’ You can check out the rest (updated as I add more) on my Resources for Musicians page, or if you’re interested in reading more about music and ideas, visit Secret Frequency.
I’ve been a ‘Talent Buyer’ for a decade; first, booking a local bar called The Montreal House, then moving on to become the Artistic Director for the Peterborough Folk Festival from 2006 to 2013. I’ve been a juror for the JUNO Awards and FACTOR, and run a multi-arts festival called Artsweek.
I’ve found that artists tend to make the same mistakes over and over, and I hope that by laying them out fairly bluntly I can help emerging artists understand a few things about the bookers’ side of the music industry.
Read on for things you can do to avoid being that jerk I use as an example and never book again (or in the first place).
1. Many talent buyers are also artists, often musicians.
Very few children grow up thinking “When I’m older, I want to be a Talent Buyer!” In fact, the talent buyers I know are also musicians, graphic designers, musicians, photographers, musicians, painters, musicians, and hackers. Don’t come at them with the attitude that they don’t understand what you do or that you, as the ‘talent,’ are somehow superior to them. It’s better if you behave as though you’re dealing with a peer, no matter what your general assumptions about talent buyers are.
2. One phone call, one email.
If you find yourself calling again without a reply to your previous call to pitch yourself, it’s because I get a lot of these calls/email and I don’t have time to respond. It’s not because I missed your message or email. I get tonnes of messages every week, and people who email/phone repeatedly to hassle me for gigs compound the problem. When I want to book you, I’ll get in touch.
3. Rejection doesn’t mean that you suck.
I can’t say this enough: 850 submissions this year,1 25 slots. My short list was 150. The final decision can be a painful process of whittling away very good acts I really want based on whom I’ve already got, and when it gets down to the final choices, it’s a matter of very excellent band vs. very excellent band. Not getting booked may come down to a million factors that have nothing to do with your talent.
4.Â I pay what I can pay, and my budget is largely out of my control.
Whether I’ve been booking for a bar or the festival, the money I’ve got is all I’ve got. I’m not trying to cheat bands out of money, and I don’t have a secret reserve hidden away somewhere. Last year2 after booking the festival, I came in $50 under budget, which went to something else we needed to spend money on.Â’ I also run a free festival, and don’t have to worry about ticket sales, so I’m not blowing half the budget on one headliner; everyone gets paid within a reasonable range of each other.3
5. It’s a business, and if you don’t like business, you don’t have to be in it.
I hear people complain all the time that they don’t like writing bios, selling themselves, etc. – the whole “I just wanna be an artist, man!” schtick. And that’s cool. If you want to play music in your mom’s basement for your cat and your significant other, go ahead. People who want to get paid for gigs have to work at the business side, and spend as much or more time on that than on rehearsing and playing and writing and recording.
6. I didn’t just fall off of a potato truck.
In fact, I’ve been doing this longer than many of you have been in bands. So any line you feed me I’ve heard about a million times, and any tactic you take I’ve seen played as many. Be calm, be polite, and be professional. And for chrissakes, don’t be cool. The respect of a peer plays better than what comes across as the disdain of an idiot.
7. I book musicians, not buddies or boyfriends.
I’m not Paris Hilton; this is not a competition to be my BFF. Becoming my new best friend at a conference or a bar (or god knows, on Facebook) doesn’t mean I’m going to hire your band. And it doesn’t matter how cute you are.
If you’re a friend and I don’t book you, it’s not necessarily because you suck. See point #3. Most of my friends are musicians, and I can’t very well book all of you, because then I’d be one of those nepotistic jerks.
8. No one is entitled to a gig.
Played in this community for twenty years? Been booked by every promoter in town except me? The most brilliant genius of our time? Spent a year caring for lepers? Help old ladies across the street? Good for you. I don’t care. If you aren’t what I’m looking for musically, I’m not going to book you. I have a responsibility to my audiences, my staff, my venues and my funders to book appropriately, and I’ve got my professional reputation to consider as well. If every other promoter jumps off a bridge, I’m not going to follow. Also, see point #3.
9. Always be nice/polite/respectful to staff and volunteers.
When you walk into a venue for the first time, you have no idea what the dynamic is or who people are. Be respectful; the woman in the pushup bra working merch might also be the promoter, and the frazzled guy with the ripped jeans might be the AD. And if you’re a jerk to any of my volunteers or staff (seriously, that kind of behaviour enrages me), you’re not coming back, and everyone I know is going to hear about it. I know you don’t think being nice is very rock’n’roll, but word gets round.
10. If you want to know why I didn’t book you, guess or make something up. Don’ phone/email.
I don’t have time to tell every one of the 825 bands I rejected this year4 why they didn’t make the cut. I get a lot of passive-aggressive and sulky messages from artists or their agents every year when I hit ‘Not Accepted; don’t make yourself memorable because you were a sore loser. It’s not going to recommend you for next year.5
Ah, and here’s a bonus:
11. If you know me, and you’re thinking of sending a jokey email or something about how you do some of these things, stop yourself.
There’s y’know, no point. If I like you, it’s going to make me uncomfortable, and if I dislike you, it’s not going to help.
- 2009 [↩]
- 2008 [↩]
- And we do have minimums that we stick to religiously. [↩]
- 2009 [↩]
- I’m going to be honest: 3 years later, I’m not sure I still completely agree with this one. I mean, I agree that you shouldn’t send a sulky email, nor make a bitchy phone call, nor an angry Facebook post on my wall, nor say something passive-aggressive in your band newsletter about how we didn’t book you, again. But I think there are professional ways to ask why, and most of the time I’m happy to tell you that it’s because I think your bass player sucks or because I’ve already booked one Balkan-influenced brass-heavy band or because if I book one more act with banjo my audience will probably mutiny. [↩]