I am writing in response to the recently published missive by Gordon Perry, “Booking Agents 101.”
As a working musician in this town for many years, I can understand Mr. Perry’s frustration with the unprofessional way in which some businesses which present live entertainment (i.e., restaurants and bars) handle their agreements with regional acts.
He is correct when he infers that it’s not unheard of for such businesses to inadvertently “double book” or to decide on a whim they can’t afford to pay live entertainment, without informing previously scheduled artists in a timely fashion that might allow them to find alternate gigs.
He’s also correct that most local venues which offer live entertainment as a “loss leader” to draw customers in hopes they’ll buy a meal or a drink (as opposed to dedicated music venues which present “name” talent) rarely insist ––or even allow–– such engagements to be confirmed using written contracts, preferring instead to do business informally, and usually over the phone.
From my experience, that’s not because they’re sneaky weasels angling for ways to screw over hardworking performers, but rather because most folks in charge of such establishments feel intimidated at the thought of entering into legally binding contracts.
They’d rather keep things on a friendly basis, and, if that less formal arrangement lets them rationalize leaving a musician hung out to dry with no advance notice (something they’d likely never do with to one of their “regular” employees), all the better.
These unprofessional practices are not exclusive to Savannah, although they are longstanding here, and over time have become codified — primarily because the owners and/or managers of such “venues” have few other direct examples in this market on which to base their approach to hiring and managing live acts.
That said, Mr. Perry is mistaken when he complains about the manner in which so–called local Booking Agents are behaving towards area musicians.
His description of the defining characteristics of a “Booking Agent” are largely accurate: If they are legitimate and esteemed, they actively represent their clients (as opposed to themselves or a given venue), look out for said clients’ interests above all else, etc...
However –and this is important– the people in this town who Mr. Perry is disgruntled with ARE NOT BOOKING AGENTS.
They would more accurately be called “Talent Buyers” or “Entertainment Coordinators,” and there is a HUGE distinction.
A Booking Agent, of which there are scant few legitimate ones in the greater Savannah area, is hired by an artist or act to represent them in negotiations with potential clients. These agents then handle the minutiae of promotion, scheduling gigs, handling contracts, etc... And in return, CHARGE THE ARTIST a significant amount for these services – either a flat rate or a percentage.
They have business licenses, pay taxes and operate legally.
In all the years I have worked in this town, I have never had any major problems with any legitimate Booking Agent who has represented any act I was a part of.
On the other hand, Talent Buyers or Entertainment Coordinators work EXPRESSLY for the venues, and are charged with finding and scheduling performances by whatever specific types of artists the venue management deems appropriate. Their job is to look out first and foremost for the interests of their employer, the venue.
Such folks are usually paid a flat salary, or given a percentage of the monthly entertainment budget. In some larger markets, it’s common for exemplary Talent Buyers to also receive a small percentage of gross bar or food receipts for nights when they book live acts.
A few local venues have chosen over the past decade or so to “hire” highly visible local musicians as their Talent Buyers. Why? Because these artists are usually acquainted with a wider variety of local and regional artists than the management –– who often have no desire whatsoever to field calls from dozens of area acts, let alone suss out which of them might be A) talented, B) popular, C) reliable, and D) willing to work for cheap.
They’d much rather leave that up to someone who’s already familiar with that world, and if it’s someone who they’d already be happy having play in their room anyway, it’s easy enough to “pay” these folks for their time and effort through the desirable perk of letting the Entertainment Coordinator’s act have first pick of the available dates.
Does this make a lot of sense to a business owner? Yes.
Can such purview over a given venue’s live entertainment schedule be abused by an unscrupulous artist through either monopolizing the calendar or by playing favorites? Sure.
Do most of the bar, club and restaurant owners care? Nope.
They just like the idea of having a live act set up in the corner as a draw for potential diners and drinkers. As long as someone ––anyone–– is playing music of some sort that’s not A) painfully ear–splitting, B) unbelievably shitty or offensive, or C) making patrons run for the door in droves, then all’s well as far as they’re concerned.
People who care much more about the caliber, style and presentation of live music choose to open up concert halls, listening rooms or showcase–style clubs, and control all aspects of that process with an iron fist.
However, those aren’t the kinds of places Mr. Perry is complaining about, and it’s worth noting there are many places in town that DO NOT conduct themselves in the unflattering manner described in his Letter to The Editor.
I am sad to say I do not see the care or attention to professionalism in “loss leader”venues rising anytime soon to the levels found in bigger markets such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Asheville or Athens, and I understand Mr. Perry feels aggrieved at the current state of affairs in Savannah. As a fellow musician who runs in some of the same circles, my sincere recommendations would be:
1. Find a highly respected area Booking Agent who’ll take him on as a client.
2. Pay said agent a fair, mutually agreed upon rate to represent Mr. Perry in all matters of this sort.
3. Be as sweet as pecan pie in all personal interaction with owners and/or employees of every local venue he and/or his band is asked to perform in.
4. Don’t unrealistically expect Talent Buyers/Entertainment Coordinators who he does not pay directly to work in his best interest.
5. Consider that sometimes, the folks in these positions are merely doing the bidding of the business owners who aren’t interested in having certain acts play their venue but would rather pull their own teeth out than say that to someone themselves, so they use their Entertainment Coordinator as a buffer.
My experience has shown me that in Savannah at least, one must lead by example rather than wait for anyone else to do your bidding. If he charges ahead , Mr. Perry may not only find greater success in this market as a performing artist, but inspire others to do the same.