The frustrating truth about the music industry is that becoming the best musician you can be doesn’t guarantee success — nor does it guarantee that you’ll get noticed by a manager or booking agent.
These days, you’re required to be more than a musician. You’re expected to find and grow an audience, promote your own music, create a website, post regularly on social media, find paying gigs, find a way to get to those paying gigs….and fit your social life in there somewhere.
Even when you do the hard work of getting your name out there, you can’t help but think that — if you had the right connections — you would be noticed by a lot more people.
“You know what I need?” you might say to yourself, “A booking agent.”
There’s only one problem with that…
…Most performing artists aren’t ready for an agent, even if they think they are.
But Wait…How Do We Know This?
At iCadenza, we’ve worked with over 1,000 musicians to help them grow their music careers.
What you might not know is that we also have a sister company — a talent agency and music management company called Cadenza Artists.
We’ve worked with opera singers, classical soloists, classical chamber groups, jazz, world, and folk/Americana artists and groups. We’ve also worked with dance companies, theatrical projects, and multidisciplinary shows that defy genre labels (like Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall). We book shows and tours for them all across the US and Canada. We also book tours in Asia and the Middle East.
While these are separate companies with separate teams, Julia Torgovitskaya and I (Jennifer Rosenfeld) are the co-founders of both.
Our two businesses fit together to follow the natural arch of a musician’s career — career development on one side and artist management on the other.
As such, we are continuously helping our artists grapple with the big question: when is an artist ready to cross over from self-management to having an artist manager?
Before we share our answers…
Keep in mind that the ideas and suggestions below are our opinions. Yes, they’re based on years of experience in the performing arts industry but we realize that other talent agencies might see things differently.
We know how much hard work goes into a performance career. Our mission, through both companies, is to support and encourage the launch of new art and music into the world. For this to happen, creators and performers need to have the information, the skills, and the support to do this challenging work — and that’s what we hope to provide for you here.
One more thing…
We’re using “manager” and “agent” interchangeably in this post because the information herein really applies to both. In some genres of the arts, an artist will have both an agent and a manager. In other cases, both roles are fulfilled by the same person or entity. Please know that we are purposely using the terms interchangeably here.
Make sense? Let’s dive in.
Are You Ready for a Booking Agent?
Since our sister company, Cadenza Artists, opened its doors, we’ve had a steady influx of inquiries from hopeful musicians looking for representation — which is a wonderful thing.
We are constantly on the lookout for new talent, and we give thoughtful evaluation to every artist who submits their materials to us.
But, to be frank, a very small fraction of cold inquiries ever get serious consideration for our roster. And the main reason is this: most of the artists who reach out to us are not ready for management, even if they think they are.
You’re Not Ready for a Booking Agent If…
There are a few signs that demonstrate if you’re not yet ready for an artist manager and booking agent.
If any of these sound like you, don’t worry! We’ve got something that will help you jump these hurdles in less time than you think, so that managers and agents will jump at the chance to work with you.
Reason #1 You have minimal performance history
“I sound great, I have the chops, I just need a manager to open the doors!”
This is a soundbite we hear a lot from musicians who feel like a race horse chomping at the bit, ready for the start gates to open.
This statement is frequently paired with, “I don’t have time to seek out opportunities because I’m so busy being focused on my art — that’s why I need an agent.”
Unfortunately, both statements are giveaways that you are not ready for management.
Why? Because managers and booking agents are looking for more than just chops. And they are certainly not looking for someone who can’t make the time to hustle.
Essentially, managers are looking for talent, skill, and artistry in a person who has gumption, initiative, and a track record.
Fact: In most cases, you are only ready to be managed when there is something to manage.
Usually managers and booking agents choose to take on artists who either have an active performing schedule (at professional, paying venues), or the potential to have an active performing schedule in the near term.
As jaded as it may sound, an unfortunate reality of the business is that it is not financially viable to take on an unknown talent with minimal performance history. That doesn’t mean that it’s never done — it’s just extremely rare, especially these days.
In selecting artists to represent, agents want to be certain that they’re promoting artists that venues will want to hire and present to their audiences.
An agency’s job is to do the selling. Your job is to show up with a promotional package, performance history, and brand positioning that will enable the agency to convince venues that yes, you are worth the “risk.”
Reason #2 You believe you can’t get into venues on your own
Here’s another soundbite that we hear often: “I can’t get auditions without a manager.” Or, “Venues won’t take inquiries from me seriously — they need to come from a manager.”
We agree that it is very difficult to break into the audition circuit and to get venues to take interest in your offerings. As you may have already discovered, this business is hard and it is very easy to get discouraged.
Success in this field requires taking the word “impossible” out of your vocabulary. The truth is, if you believe you are not able to get any traction on your own (and hence, do NOT get any traction), you are not ready for management.
If that’s you, we recommend that you start to change your thinking around what’s possible for you and your career; otherwise, you could get stuck spinning your wheels year after year.
Consider hiring a career consultant or coach to help you gain momentum and move your career forward. Just like a music coach helps you build your artistry, a career coach can help you set yourself up for long-term success in the industry.
Through our work coaching individual artists and running our online course, Be Your Own Agent, we’ve seen that independent artists absolutely can book themselves if they are willing to do the work. Taking the right action steps leads to results, which builds confidence and a sense of empowerment. Plus, stepping into a mindset of “I CAN get myself great performance opportunities” helps open up a more positive and productive mindset overall.
Feeling the Struggle? It’s Not Your Fault
You’re probably asking yourself, “How do I get traction?”
We’re going to help you with that exact question in a few minutes.
First, here’s something we’ve learned that might give you an odd sense of hope.
Just because you’re struggling to get noticed, grow your audience, and make the money you want to be making now doesn’t mean it will be like this forever.
And if you feel like you should be further along by now, just remember that trying to build your career is like building a house — and right now, you’re missing vital tools.
That’s because you learned how to make music — but did you ever learn how to make a living from it?
Once you learn a few key strategies — like how to package yourself, market your work, reach out to venues, and overcome the inevitable obstacles that will come up along the way — you CAN expand your impact and share your message with more people.
If that sounds good, keep reading to learn exactly what to do to create a music career you love.
How to Get the Attention of a Booking Agent
To better understand the “why” behind all the hard work you’re expected to do as a musician trying to make it in the industry, let’s take a few minutes to peek behind the curtain and understand what’s really going on in an artist manager’s head.
Let’s pop inside the head of a booking agent.
Typically, an agent or manager looks at you and asks him/herself, “Is there a market for what this artist is offering?”
In other words, is there an audience of people who want to purchase tickets to see you perform? (By the way, if the idea of finding “market” for your “product” gives you the heeby-jeebies, check out our book, Awakening Your Business Brain: An iCadenza Guide to Launching Your Music Career.)
As we mentioned earlier, agents are hesitant to take on “development projects.” By that, we mean artists with potential but who need a lot of help in getting to a bookable level.
Agents are looking for an artist who’s easy to sell — and usually that comes from external validation, whether it be performance history, support from important artists or teachers, competition wins, or a substantial social media following.
The reason they want a “guarantee” is because of the agency business model. Typically, agents are paid a percentage of the fee they secure for artists on their roster. As a result, they are driven to represent artists who can get either a high volume of bookings or high fees — ideally both.
What Makes It Easier for an Agent to Sell an Artist?
There are three things that make it easier for a booking agent or manager to sell an artist:
Reason #1: The artist is famous
This goes without saying — if an artist is well-known, they’ll sell more tickets.
If you’re reading this, you’re potentially on the road to fame — but not quite there yet. So it’s best to aim for the next two options for getting noticed.
Reason #2: The artist has a proven track record
The goal is to have a strong performance history and be an appropriate fit for the venue, location, and community.
If you’re freelancing or representing yourself, the best way to create a track record is to reach out to venues, book gigs, and act as a marketer to make sure audiences show up.
The trouble is, many musicians who try this on their own flounder because they don’t know where to start. Even worse, when they do take action, they unknowingly contact the wrong venues or say the wrong thing — so they never even get their foot in the door.
We get it. Self-representation can be intimidating and overwhelming because there’s so much to learn about the business side of the industry.
That’s why we’re inviting you to our free webinar: Be Your Own Agent.
Reason #3: The show is unique
If your project is distinct and compelling (AND the right fit for the location), it’s easier for an agent to convince the presenter that the show will sell tickets.
This is why it’s so important to package yourself in a clear, easy-to-communicate way that makes you stand out (more on that below).
At the end of the day, agents serve venues and need to do their part to help them achieve their goals, which could be tied to certain artistic, educational, or community objectives, and likely tie to the objective of selling tickets.
Music Promotion Ideas: What You Can Do Right Now
In the examples above about what makes it easy for an agent to sell an artist, we suggest that you aim for the second and third options.
Your goal is to create a strong track record of performances, define your brand, create a compelling project, and generally be a decent human being whom people like to work with.
The formula may be simple but, as you know, executing it is the tricky part.
The internet makes connecting to people easier than ever before — but the flip-side is that it feels like there are even more musicians who are trying to be seen and stand out above the noise.
Still, you won’t be able to simply play beautifully and get noticed. You need to take action and set aside time to promote yourself.
The good news is, you’re no stranger to hard work. You have shown dedication to your craft — and it’s time to transfer that same dedication to the business side of art. And you can have fun with it, too.
Here are music promotion ideas you can implement now to help you get noticed by an artist manager.
Step #1 Create effective, on-brand, professional-quality promotional materials
As I mentioned, Booking agents, at least the ones at Cadenza Artists, work extremely hard. Our team works around the clock, travels extensively, and gives everything they’ve got to the job. They are driven to do right by the artists on our roster, and to satisfy the programming needs of the venues we serve. They seek to focus all of their time on that activity.
When we work with an artist whose package is incomplete, it slows us down. Whether it is promotional materials (biography, headshots, video footage, etc), website and social media presence, and logistical needs (programs, repertoire, technical riders), it not only makes it harder for us to sell an artist, it makes it extra time-consuming for our team to work on pulling all of that together. Again, a booking agent is less inclined to pitch an artist that is not fully-formed and publicly presentable in all of their materials.
If our booking team is excited to bring an artist onto the roster but then it takes them a year to get us high quality video of their performance, our team loses momentum and may struggle to do a good job of selling the group.
Similarly, if an artist has materials that are complete but inconsistent, it makes our job more difficult. All materials should tell a piece of your story — the same story. So we are talking about two things: a cohesive, definable brand that can be conveyed visually and verbally, and materials that are high quality and consistent with that brand.
Here’s a checklist of all the promotional materials you might need:
As you well know, there is a huge amount of competition in the music and performing arts world. The artists that tend to succeed nowadays are the ones who are very clear about a) what they want, and b) what they stand for, artistically and personally. Defining and communicating your niche has everything to do with your artistic identify as well as your personal brand.
This process starts with a lot of introspection. What are you about and what are you trying to say to the world through your art? How can you come up with creative outlets for your artistry, on your own terms? Do you know what your core values are, or what your mission is?
Every artist has something unique to offer. The challenge lies in identifying, committing to, and communicating that uniqueness.
By necessity, this means deciding what you are not and putting on some constraints, so to speak.
You may seek out or rely on other people’s input in defining your niche. Input is useful, but when it comes to something as personal as your artistry, ultimately the decision must be yours and it must be authentic.
Stepping into your artistic niche and defining your brand can feel vulnerable and risky. In fact, in our consulting work, we often address this area with artists so that they can have support around this big decision. We also tackle this issue in our online course Career Development Bootcamp.
In essence, you must come to us as a complete package (or be a very very special case). By complete, we don’t mean perfect or “done” in terms of your artistic development, but it’s important to have an artistic and promotional package that’s geared toward the next two to three years and that requires minimal tweaking.
Step #2 Seek out and create your own performance opportunities.
Create your own market history. Yes, you can do this yourself! Many artists have, and so can you. It is not easy or quick, but it is doable.
There are countless ways you could do this. But nearly all of them will require two things, which may or not currently be in your wheelhouse or area of interest:
Collaboration. You must be ready and willing to work productively and effectively with others (primarily musicians or other artistic collaborators).
Self-Producing. Creating performance opportunities takes a lot of work that may not feel especially artistic, creative, or fun. It can often be logistical, administrative, and very likely stressful. But the efforts are well worth it – both in the fruits of your labor and in the resulting knowledge and experience.
Creating your own performance opportunities often means forming musical groups AND staging performances. Now, these two activities can be separated — you can create a musical group that performs on other peoples’ series. You can also create a series where you don’t perform and you bring in other groups.
Keep in mind that if you start a series so you can perform, it requires a huge time commitment because you’re organizing and performing.
Can you do this as a soloist? Theoretically sure, but keep in mind that creating your own performance opportunities means creating a context for your performances that draws in audiences. If you can do that through your performance alone, great. But in many cases, the results are amplified from collaborative efforts.
The truth is, booking yourself isn’t rocket science. But there is an art to it, and it is a process that takes refinement and iteration in order to get the results you want. That is why we provide several training options for musicians who are hungry for this information.
Step #3 Get to Know Your Network
No one will argue that the performing arts industry is all about relationships. Part of it is who you know, another part is how people feel towards you. This means that for any musician, networking needs to be a part of your job.
So many musicians feel very uncomfortable with networking. They find it slimy or sales-y, like it forces them to be someone they don’t want to be. Or, it feels awkward and foreign and just plain difficult.
We hear you, and we can relate. However, we’ve worked on developing strategies to overcome the challenges of networking and we think they could help you. Like anything else, networking is a muscle and there are things you can do to practice getting better at it.
The big secret to networking is to not thinking of it as networking, but instead, think of it as friend-making. We talk more in depth about this in our book, Awakening Your Business Brain. In short, networking is a long game — it takes time to build meaningful relationships with people.
Step #4 Be Easy to Work With
With so much competition in the performing arts space, one of the best things you can do for yourself is develop a professional, cordial demeanor and a reputation of being great to work with.
That doesn’t mean being a pushover and having no boundaries. But it does mean being responsive, professional in your communications and presentation, patient and understanding in challenging situations, and flexible and accommodating. It also means being respectful to those who hire you and committed to the fact that their success is your success and vice versa.
Obviously, rumors run rampant about famous performers who are notoriously difficult to work with. And, maybe you’ll have the luxury of being one one day. But, if you’re not enjoying the stardom you think you deserve, then it is too early to act like a diva. And frankly, the longer you want to work, the harder you should strive to be someone people want to work and interact with.
Here are some examples of behavior that makes some artists difficult to work with, from the manager’s perspective:
Being an “Undercover” Diva: we don’t mean the traditional sense of “diva” where you make unreasonable demands or act like people owe you something. Undercover Divas tend to be rude, late, unprepared, ungracious, and unwilling to go the extra mile. Tip: be a good colleague to your peers. Don’t gossip or stir up drama. Treat anyone who hires you with respect. And be on time.
Being Unresponsive: this is a very common mistake that artists make! They don’t respond to emails or send information in a timely manager. Tip: stay on top of your inbox and reply promptly to emails.
Leaving It in Everyone Else’s Hands: even if you are surrounded by a team, stay involved in decisions and opportunities. Tip: Don’t hesitate to reach out with your thoughts and ideas for new performances or promotional opportunities.
Expecting People to Drop Everything: when you do have an idea, understand that it might take time to implement. Agents and managers are juggling a lot, so allow them the time to strategically plan your ideas so you can get the most bang for your buck. Tip: Get in the habit of building in time to promote your projects and schedule tours.
Forgetting That Everyone’s on the Same Team: Sometimes, artists get adversarial in the contract negotiation process. When that happens, things usually don’t work out. Tip: Ask your questions and courteously, and don’t assume that people are out to get you (unless you have a valid reason to think that, in which case you probably shouldn’t work with them).
Step #5 Be Persistent and Never Give Up
Booking gigs for yourself is not easy. Going down this road means acknowledging that it is a numbers game and that many people may say “no” before any say “yes.” But there is only one thing that really makes a difference between the artists who book performances and those who don’t: you have to believe that you can do it, and then take action to make that belief a reality.
Many artists WANT to book performances, but they don’t actually believe it is possible. They are overcome with self-doubt (hey, we all experience it), which prevents them from taking action. It’s normal to experience fear, self-doubt, and lack of confidence, when it comes to pursuing these opportunities. It is not about making those feelings disappear; it’s about taking action while experiencing fear. Can you tap into your belief in yourself and your artistry in order to make that call or send that email, even if you are not feeling confident?
The biggest challenge we all have to overcome is our own mindset. Perhaps in an effort to protect ourselves from risk or disappointment, our brains come up with reasons for why we should not do the scary thing. But if we can put those feelings to the side, bolster our belief in ourselves, and take action repeatedly, it will ultimately lead to results.
The Way to Success
Even if you have all the skills — and all the tools that we spoke about here — it still doesn’t guarantee success. There’s one thing that could still hold you back: your mindset.
The artists who break through are the ones who don’t buy into the “truths” about what is or isn’t possible. They hold tight to a vision and keep plugging away at it. They know to just keep playing the numbers game. The long game.
That’s why if you see your lack of a manager as the impediment to your career success, you’re in trouble. Why? Because you’ve given up your agency (pun intended!) in your career.
With this mindset, you are disempowered from creating momentum on your own because you believe someone out there should be doing it for you.
The thing is, even if you get a manager, you must still be the driver of your career. You should never give up your agency, even if you have an agent. Even if getting a manager is a sign that you’ve “made it,” it doesn’t not make your job as a musician any easier.