Sunday, June 28, 2009

Question of the Day - BOOKING AGENTS - June 29, 2009


LMU Baseball8 Asks:

I am someone who had no desire to do anything in the music industry until my late 20's, when I had a change of heart and decided the record business is for me. Would it be possible to become a successful agent without a degree or much of a background in music? How would I pursue this career track?

Hartmann responds:

The Music Renaissance is in full bloom on the Internet. The digital generation has turned its back on the postmodern record industry and embraced the blissful universe of "free" music. This cultural migration replaces a business model that systemically "forced" limited musical choices on the public with a new selection process. The net result is more music in play than ever before in history. Popular music no longer flows from the penthouse down. It grows upward from the grassroots. The fans are no longer the anvil of record business commerce. They now wield the mighty hammer of choice as they explore the extant global library of musical content.

It is important to draw a distinction between the record industry and the music business. The recording industry has flourished for over one hundred years. The infrastructure of the music business has been constructed over thousands of years. It is not surprising that a technology dependant industry could be drastically altered by the digital sword. It is impossible to think that the ancient music business would suffer a similar fate. The live music business is here to stay.

The concert business goes back to a time when men pounded on logs in caves and other guys took chickens at the door. In a recent issue of National Geographic magazine scientists declared that certain paleolithic caves in southern France were in fact ancient concert halls. It was in these prehistoric venues that performing artists and managers first conspired with booking agents to secure a fair share of the chickens. The profession of booking agent has flourished ever since.

Agents are one of the four primary players in the entertainment business. They are the well worn bridge connecting artists and managers with the producers of live music events. This ancient fraternity is not going to break up, nor is it going to surrender control of the personal appearance marketplace to digital entrepreneurs. As fragile and uncertain as the record business may be, the global concert business is strong, healthy and poised for long term survival.

The major full service talent agencies deal in every aspect of the entertainment industry and represent creators of music, theater, film, television, sports and literary works of art. There is a prevailing idea that an artist who negotiates for himself is represented by a fool. This generally turns out to be true and the fact ensures that the profession will prevail for many more years.

Agents are at the cross roads of all entertainment industry activities. The profession functions at the nexus of artists, managers, and producers. The practical activities of the agent are defined by the three "S's" of signing, selling and servicing. Agents "sign" artists to exclusive representation agreements; they engage in securing employment by "selling" the artists services to producers; and they "service" the bookings to ensure that the terms of agreement are honored.

The William Morris Agency, now known as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, was founded in 1898 and evolved into the West Point of show business. There are more highly placed executives in entertainment who started their careers in the WME2 mail room than have emanated from any other single source. It is a long established tradition at all major talent agencies that prospective agents serve an apprenticeship in the mail room and the secretarial pools of their respective organizations.

Access to these coveted positions usually requires a college degree and often some manner of personal connection. There is a comprehensive description of the system in the best selling book The Mailroom by David Rensin. Agents' careers almost always start at this level and there is no guarantee of success because you get into the agent training program. As always personality, intelligence, charm and desire play a giant role in the achievement of any career goal. The most successful booking agents must demosntrate an ear for music, an eye for talent and a head for busienss. Surviving and thriving in the agency game is about becoming a great salesman.

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