My Thoughts On Booking Agents
Booking agents. They have a hard job. They put together tours. They’re promised things and they promise things and favors are exchanged. They’re pushing an “act” or an “artist”.
A musical booking agent gets different artists OR may only have one artist. Usually they have more than a few. They book shows for said artist and try make some sort of tour out of it. A tour that makes some sort of geographical sense. You may have an anchor date in Kansas City on a Saturday in February.
An anchor date is usually a higher paying guaranteed gig. Something that you can really lock in. Maybe the talent buyer at the club is a big fan of the band and says “I’ll pay X amount of $ to get this band in February on a Saturday.”
Then the agent will contact the band or the manager of the band and relay the good news.
Now here’s where it gets tricky and creative and fun. It’s like a puzzle. The band and the agent knock their heads together and say “now we gotta route us from San Diego to Kansas City.”
There are so many factors involved here. These are just off the top of my head.
1. How many people are in the band?
2. Is the band dysfunctional?
3. Do they have longevity?
4. Have they played other markets from San Diego to Kansas City?
5. Do they have a publicist?
6. Is there a new record out?
7. Do they have a mailing list?
8. Are they drug addled drunks?
9. Will they have a meltdown on the road?
10. Will there be bad weather?
11. Are they a great live act?
12. Are there any bands they could open for in markets where they’re not as well known?
13. Are they getting any radio play?
Do they have a tour vehicle?
Do they have places they can crash at?
There are so many more questions. And in a different order. But this is what I think of right away. You’re trying to build a tour because you have this one date. Are all the members in it for the long haul?
You have to be kind of crazy to do this line of work.
When I was in The Rugburns and we started out playing shows I would drive around San Diego and look for bars we might possibly be able to play. Sometimes I’d drive around for hours on end and do reconnaissance missions. I’d be alone and I’d walk inside some smelly cigarette scented tavern and I’d look around and size up the joint. I’d belly up to the bar and order a beer and slowly make small talk with the barkeep. I’d fantasize about what it’d be like to have multiple gigs every night of the week. For me 4 gigs wasn’t enough. I wanted to play 7 nights a week and if you could throw in a Sunday brunch show too that’d be even better. 8 gigs a week!
I was obsessed. Still am.
To do this job at a high level you kind of have to be imbalanced. Moderation is a word that really isn’t gonna be in your daily vocabulary.
It’s not really a healthy vocation. It’s a nomadic lifestyle. A lifetime commitment. You’re never really gonna be satisfied. Now of course, there probably are people who are satisfied but I can only speak for myself. I always think I can do better.
I’m the guy who wakes up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. My head is busy. It’s like a shaken up snow globe when I fall asleep. Everything is fuzzy.
But when I wake up I’m always seeing things more clearly. The snow globe has settled. That’s when I usually write songs.
But I’m also going over the show I played the night before. I’m usually thinking stuff like “You idiot. Why did you play THAT song after that other cooler one? That was a terrible segue. You could’ve done it so much better. And why did you say what you did? That was dumb. Cmon man! Do better.”
Then I’ll think “I can’t wait for tonight’s show. I’m finally gonna get it right. I’m so excited. Tonight’s the night.”
It’s not all negative thoughts it’s just that it’s what keeps me going. I’m in search of the perfect show and perfect song and it’s an ever elusive hunt. A rare tiger that no one has ever seen.
Anyways, back to booking agents. I’ve always admired their hustle. They’re the real stars that keep food in our bellies.
Like anything in life, some are good and some are bad.
Our first booking agent ever? Oh man. It was a super cool agency called Lobotomy Booking. They were based Seattle. I think our agent’s name was Robin. Or Robyn. She booked The Rugburns. Man she was awesome. She used to get us shows in Seattle at The Crocodile. I remember one time she called me and said “there’s this new band and they’re starting to get a good local following in Seattle. They’re really fun and I think it would be a great double bill if you guys came up and opened the show. It’ll be at The Croc. The band is called The Presidents Of The United States Of America.”
Man, what a fun show that was. I have no idea what year it was but I remember lots of people and lots of alcohol. Maybe some nudity on stage too.
I think our next agent was a cool hippie dude named Ryan. Maybe his agency was called Presence Productions? Can’t remember. All I know is he had fire sticks he would juggle and he’d always say “hey now! It’s Ryan.” He was a super nice fella and had his hands full with the likes of us. We were out of control. I remember one time he called up and said, “Hey now! The Dragonfly in Los Angeles has asked for you guys to open for Tommy Stinson of The Replacements.”
I remember we were jumping for joy. We loved The Replacements. We were so excited. So anyways, the day of the show we went up to LA to go thrift store shopping and find some new duds for the gig.
By the time we got to The Dragonfly the talent buyer at the club said “hey you guys, bad news. Tommy Stinson wants to go on early so you guys are gonna have to go on after him.” We thought we were going on at 10 but now we wouldn’t get on till Tommy was done. Like maybe midnight. So we had lots of time to kill. So the Dragonfly gave us an open bar tab. MISTAKE! We started drinking at 8. By the time Tommy finished his show it was after midnight and I was no longer making any sense. We got on stage and proceeded to destroy the place. We told people to knock over tables and none of our songs were even coherent. We insulted Tommy Stinson. It was a shit show. There were promoters and record labels and other agents there to see us.
The next day we got a call from Ryan and he didn’t even say “hey now”. He said “I just heard deom the Dragonfly and they will NEVER have you back in their club again. Tommy Stinson wants nothing to do with you guys ever again. There were two record labels that walked out of our show and a couple other promoters who want nothing to do with The Rugburns. EVER! Nice job guys. You’re basically fucked.”
This was on my answering machine. I swear we saved the message. I hope to find it one day. I wanna use it on a recording and write a song called “you’re basically fucked”.
The Dragonfly ended up having us back a few months later and we sold out the place. I was told they would t have us back unless I wrote a song called “I love the Dragonfly”. I made some song up on the spot. I wish I had a recording of that show because the song I ended up singing said something like “I like the Dragonfly but I’m not in love with it. We’re not getting married but I like sleeping on the stage. They give me free beer.”
Many years later I found myself touring solo. I was no longer on the road with Jewel and I’d been dropped from Mercury Records. I was booked by a huge agency called C.A.A. They were a behemoth and didn’t really know what to do with a smaller artist who no longer had a major label record deal.
So somehow I got asked to open for a guy named Bob Schneider. My agent threw me a crumb. He said something like “hey man, you wanna open for some guy named Bob Schneider. The gig is in San Francisco at a small club. The pay is 75 bucks. It’s next weekend and you’re off.”
I was in San Diego so I said “sure, I’ll drive 9 hours for 75 bucks.” I used to say YES to everything. I hated off nights.
So I opened for Bob. He watched my set and heard me talking about The Rugburns. He said “ you were in The Rugburns? I saw you guys in Hollywood at Club Lingerie years ago. I was blown away. You guys were all wearing black suits and ties. You’re the reason I started The Scabs. You guys were having so much fun.”
I was amazed. Then he said “why don’t you come out on the road and open all the shows in May. It’ll be about 25 gigs.”
Of course I said “yes”.
So we did the tour and we ended in Austin. He asked me to open for him at The Saxon Pub. AKA The Saxonian Institute Of Alcoholism.
Well, the place was packed and there was a gal named Roggie in the audience. She had a booking agency called RajiWorld. I’d heard of her through my friends in a band called Dash Rip Rock. The Rugburns and Dash were close pals and had done a few tours together through the Midwest.
So Roggie (pronounced Raji) says to me. “Hey I’m Roggie. I liked your show. Do you have an agent?”
“Yeah, but I’m not that happy with em. They don’t really know how to book small clubs. It’s not really in their wheelhouse so I’m not working enough. I wanna play every dive bar in America.”
So Roggie says “why don’t we meet up for breakfast tomorrow? Meet me at The Four Seasons.”
“The Four Seasons???”
So we went to brekkie and sealed the deal right there. I left CAA and signed on to RajiWorld. From huge to boutique.
So Roggie proceeded to book me everywhere. I was never home. I got my wish. I played houses bars and cafes. Anywhere. Insane asylums, prisons, picnics, weddings, old folks homes etc. I owe a lot to her. We strategized and commiserated and made a little cash. It was a blast. I still keep in touch with her today. I love her.
Now it’s 2019. Yikes. Where did the time go. My hair ain’t the color it once was but I’m still out there.
My agent today is a cool dude named Adam Bauer. He’s with a pretty big agency. They’re called Madison House. Not only is he my agent but we’ve become good friends. I’m lucky to have him on my side. He’s one of the greats. He takes my calls and has my back. When my mom died last month he was Johnny on the spot. He cancelled shows and kept checking in with me. Love❤️!
8 billion gigs later and here I am getting ready to head out to Florida for some shows.