No, we’re not talking about Rick Rubin, Beyonce, or even Tim Cook. The most important person in music, or more properly, the music industry, are people that you as a listener probably almost never think of, and, unless you were to have some sort of insight into the industry, might not even realise exists. We’re talking about the booking agents. With live performances now the biggest source of income for artists, booking agents are quickly becoming the first point of call for the management of upcoming artists and now more than ever, finding a well-connected and pro-active agent early on in an artist’s career can be the make or break moment in their career.
Agents and promoters have always been considerably important. It is impossible to assess the historical impact of people like Sid Bernstein, responsible for bringing acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to America. Men and women like Sid were largely to thank for bringing some of the world’s most influential bands to new parts of the world, turning bands into pandemonium inducing demi-gods and some of musics most recognisable names. But back then agents’ main goal was once to bring the most exciting talents to new parts of the world to become worldwide superstars (and cash in on the new demand). Now, they are becoming absolutely crucial even for any artist who wants a longterm career in the music industry.
And note that we I don’t use the word career here lightly. Momentary popularity is easy with the internet, but careers are very difficult. As technological innovations destroy any semblance of decades past in terms of how artists are rewarded for their recorded material, artists must be willing to earn their keep on the road, and in turn need a well-connected agent in their corner to provide them with a consistent stream of paid gigs – no easy feat. Crowded line ups, venues offering no pay (but “hey, the exposure will be great!”), and one-off shows based off unfounded hype must all be avoided.
The entire revenue structure for artists has been gradually doing a 180 for years now. Where The Rolling Stones would have toured to promote album sales, online digital releases are now seen as ways to create buzz for the actual income streams offered by live performances. As detailed by Pitchfork here, the value of recorded music is at an all time low, but successful careers are still possible if opportunities from placements, branding, and most importantly, live shows are properly utilised from early in an artist’s career. In a world where hype is easy to get and even easier to lose, talent agents have a massive role to play in deciding who is here to stay, so you better get to know them!