15 years ago, booking agents were much more specific in terms of the sound they catered for. However, the electronic music scene has evolved and got a lot more diverse in recent years and that’s been reflected in the types of acts that nightclubs are booking. As the electronic music scene has changed, booking agents have also had to adapt, but the one factor that does not change is that they’re always on the lookout for new and exciting acts alongside those that possess a solid heritage.
Booking agents are renowned for developing artists and taking them to the next level over a two-year period, starting with small-capacity nightclubs to booking support line-ups at bigger shows until their roster of artists are playing at a festival or main stage. Once booking agents get an anchor date for an artist to play in a certain territory, they’ll try to build a tour on the back of that and have meetings with clubs. They might start an artist off with a solid UK tour and if that goes well they’ll get on board the festival circuit and seek wider exposure in Europe.
Booking agents will also look to hook artists up at conferences like ADE in Amsterdam, the International Music Summit in Ibiza, or the Winter Music Conference in Miami for artists looking for exposure in the US. They’ll also speak with labels interested in working with artists to see if they can get them on their showcase before looking to conquer other territories like North America, Australia or Asia.
Promoters are a lot more open-minded these days regarding the artists they’re looking to sign, while clubs and festivals are more willing to mix their line-ups, which is great for the longevity of the industry. When it comes to servicing a particular territory, it’s important that booking agents are able to diversify and operate in many different regions.
For example, the US is the most buoyant market in the world right now, so it’s good to find an agent that’s capable of servicing that market. Remember, some artists struggle to get gigs in their home country but might be huge in other regions, so you’ll want a booking agent that can focus your touring schedule in the region that you’re most successful.
For up-and-coming artists wanting to break through the noise, while it’s great having a booking agent in your corner they can only really facilitate the demand that’s coming through for you. Yes, they can help build tours and open doors, but promoters will either book unique and experimental artists they feel might blow up or those they know for a fact will put bums on seats – and 9 times out of 10 it’s the latter.
Therefore, the biggest thing you can do is to work on building your profile. Ask yourself, what makes you special or stand out from the crowd? Deadmau5 attracted attention for his name and quirky mouse hat. We’re not saying you should go out and put a funny hat on, but that was his USP. Today, people just want to go out, have fun and party with DJs again, so it’s good to cultivate a personality and interact with fans on your socials, where it will be easy for booking agents to find you.
Of course, you still have to be a great producer or DJ, because that’s what you’re getting booked for at the end of the day, but the best producers in the world won’t get found if they’re stuck in their bedroom all day. You need to go out there, get a feel for gigging, see what your music’s doing on the dance floor and rub shoulders with the promoters you want to go and play for. The guys who are the most successful are the ones willing to put in the hard graft!
The beautiful thing about dance music compared to the rock or pop world is that there aren’t huge backlines. A DJ can pretty much travel anywhere with a passport, a pair of headphones and a USB stick and perform at 10,000-20,000-capacity events.
However, as far as booking agents are concerned, the principles are the same. Once an artist reaches a certain profile it’s about sitting them down and strategising their career through touring, creating affiliations with brands, festivals and nightclubs and kicking on from there.
There’s a number of angles booking agents use to find talent, but there’s no set template. Sometimes artists will recommend each other or management companies with a portfolio of acts might be impressed with the job a booking agent has done with certain artists and want to add their act onto their roster. Sometimes a nightclub – the booking agent’s proverbial golf course – is the best place to get business done.
Nowadays, the market is saturated with youngsters who want to be footballers, rock stars or are attracted by the DJ lifestyle, but booking agents are looking for acts that have a USP, whether it’s your personality, performance skills or the music, and will want to see your drive and commitment to making things happen.
Be professional. Although there are lots of courses out there these days, you don’t need to have a set of qualifications to be a DJ. If you’re an act that’s starting to become in-demand, try and build a good team around you, which means having someone work on your socials, good PR and a manager in your corner.
If you haven’t got those things yet, be realistic in terms of what you want and where you’re heading. Work towards your ambitions, but realise they’re not going to happen overnight. Facebook and Instagram are completely free tools that you can use if you want to build your content, profile and fan base.
We’ve all got to start somewhere and at the start of a DJ’s career you can expect to start where most do, with a gig at the local pub. Most of today’s DJs were in those rooms with five of their friends or at a 200-capacity venue that was only 10% full. That’s where you learn and hone your craft and eventually your skills will get better and move you forward.
However, the beautiful thing about the music industry today is that while you can spend hours, days or years working on your image, you could also make an amazing track that blows up overnight. You just never know, but it’s still important to keep yourself grounded and know where you’ve come from.
A booking agent is not going to put you on the main stage of Tomorrowland immediately. If one of their artists has a track blow up and everything’s kicking off, they’ll sit down with you and look at strategies on how you can build your career without biting off more than you can chew.
Having loads of gigs doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of building your career, especially if you want to be an international DJ. It’s more about quality than quantity. A good booking agent won’t focus purely on money; they’ll look at the end game and book a show that’s going to earn you respect and further demand for your career.
A headline act that’s already established could average between 75-125 shows a year. Many do not want to work that much because they have a family or prefer to spend more time in the studio making music. I’m sure we’ve all seen the sad story about Avicii and how many shows he did, which was just too much, and that’s where artists need to have good management around them. A booking agent will want to make sure that, while their artist is doing a fantastic amount of shows, they’re not burning themselves out.
People think touring is really glamorous, especially when they see DJs staying in hotels and flying business class, but that’s not the whole story. You’re often getting little sleep, stuck in nightclubs until the early hours of the morning and probably not eating a good diet globetrotting from city to city. The DJ lifestyle might look amazing on Instagram, but the reality is that it’s stressful.
When you’re breaking into the scene and there’s demand for you, it’s important to tour as much as possible, but a good booking agent will want to make sure that an artist’s health and well-being is paramount. Once a strategy has been set, look to them for transparency and guidance and talk regularly about what’s working for you and what’s not. After all, booking agents are dealing with human beings, not merely selling a product that doesn’t feed back to them.